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Tenda del Magnificat

· The witness ·

 If we were to take a photograph from the outside of the Tenda del Magnificat [tent of the Magnificat] we would see some women who live in a rented flat in the heart of a popular district, earning their keep by their own work and creating sisterly relations with those around them. And this image suffices to explain what the Tenda del Magnificat actually is.

Community life, renouncement of the superfluous and openness to one’s neighbour are in fact the pivots on which is founded an experience unique and powerful in its simplicity. Stefania Lecce, one of the 10 consecrated laywomen who today animate the female community that came into being in Milan with the blessing of Archbishop Montini in 1957 and in 1965 was established as a private institution of the faithful, forcefully stresses this: “For us, what counts first and foremost is being there, identifying with the environment where we work, keeping pace with others”. Visiting counts, just as God visited his people and Mary visited Elizabeth: loving encounters that pass through the sharing of the Word.

From the very outset the women of the Tenda – which today has three fraternities, in Lamezia Terme, San Benedetto del Tronto and Pesaro – have in fact put down roots in the suburbs, telling of Jesus in a language comprehensible to all, and every week, together with friends, they meet ever new “Gospel groups?” to pray and to interpret the Gospel in the light of daily life. These are meetings in the name of the Lord which bring people closer to one another, as well as to God; meetings between lay people, the faithful and friends – there are hundreds throughout Italy today – which continue even when the women of the Tenda, summoned to other milieux, can no longer take part in them.

What inspires these experiences are the monastic spirituality of the early centuries and the desire itself for a return to the origins that guided the great witnesses of the Church’s history. Among these were many women. Stefania Lecce mentions the Carmelite Sisters and Madeleine Delbrêl, the 20th-century French mystic who, living and suffering among workers in a milieu steeped in Marxism, claimed social justice in God’s name.

Costanza Badoni, Foundress of the Tenda del Magnificat, is a tenacious revolutionary, albeit discreet. Today she lives at San Benedetto del Tronto and, like Madeleine, has found fertile ground for her spiritual fervour in the world of workers. It is a world that she sought and chose, in spite of her privileged social condition. Indeed Costanza is the daughter of an important industrialist of Lecco; although he gave her a Christian upbringing he finds his daughter’s wish to follow the Gospel message so radically as to choose to live with and among the lowliest strange. However, his attempts to dissuade her, including the request for a meeting with Montini, were in vain. Perhaps disappointing her father’s expectations, the future pope grasped the depth of Costanza’s vocation – her spiritual director is Michel Ledrus, a Jesuit – and, instead of dissuading her, urged her to continue on her way. Thus began an adventure which is identified with the image of a tent, a shelter without walls that is not isolated from the world and, at the same time, can filter the light that shines inside it.

People enthusiastically welcome this offer of fraternity, which includes a convinced renunciation of every material certitude and demands “the same patience in weaving” which the Apostles had.

The clergy are more bewildered. The tenants of the Tenda frequented the neighbourhood parishes but were not easy to contextualize. “Are you sisters or not?”, parish priests would ask them. And the women of the Tenda often had to accept a certain marginality.

Yet it was a bishop who encouraged the greatest turning point experienced by the Tenda in the almost 60 years of its life: its transfer to southern Italy. It was Bishop Giuseppe Agostino who in 1985 asked Costanza and her sisters, now present in five cities in the centre and north of the country, to bring their witness to Calabria. Crotone was then the Milan of the South because of its high concentration of factories and workers. The Foundress decided to accept his summons. It was a problematic time for the Tenda, many of its members were not in agreement, but the step was taken and was to prove fruitful, being replicated in various southern contexts. At its root was always the same intuition, defined by Juan María Laboa as the enormous Christian paradox: “To remain immersed in the world without letting ourselves be dominated by worldliness”.

Silvia Gusmano

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Aug. 22, 2019

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