By Benedetta Capelli
"Yesterday was Father's Day. My two daughters wished me a ‘Happy Father’s Day’ first thing in the morning. But all day long, I couldn’t help thinking about my son, Giovanni. When I got home, I started looking through his things, something I hadn't done since he died. I found greeting cards from friends, stickers of his football team, photographs... and a piece of paper in Giovanni’s handwriting that began: ‘Dear Dad...’”.
Massimo Raimondi is the “Dad” Giovanni addresses in the letter. He has kind eyes and working hands. Massimo spends his days assisting the needy at Rome’s Caritas Centre, the Citadel of Charity that Pope Francis visited last December. He speaks slowly and thoughtfully as he tells the story of finding his son’s letter.
Since Giovanni’s death, nearly eight years ago, Massimo and his wife Anna have been trying to live their lives as best they can. They attend Mass regularly, together with their two daughters, Antonella and Alessandra. But Giovanni is always present. Every 23rd of June, the feast of St. John the Baptist, his friends gather to eat a pizza in his honor. Then, on 20 March 2019, Massimo came across an unread letter addressed to him from his son.
"Dear Dad, I know it may seem strange to you, but it's me, Giovanni, writing this letter. Every time our family was in some kind of trouble, you always blamed yourself. But maybe you didn't notice all the good you did. I could make a list for you, but it would fill a whole diary...".
Belief in ideals
Massimo was overcome with feelings of love and loss as he read the words of his deceased child. In the letter, Giovanni refers to the many challenges the family has had to face, situations “that would have broken anyone”, he says. But he praises his father’s ability to bounce back and to provide the family with a home and security.
“Have you ever stopped to think”, writes Giovanni, “about what you were able to build? Despite the difficulties, you continued believing in your ideals". Ideals like trusting in God’s love and Providence, respecting others even if they fail to respect you, opening your home in welcome to those who have no home.
That’s what happened with Daniel whose mother was in prison. Massimo, Anna, Giovanni, Antonella and Alessandra became the child’s Italian family. It all started when the prison chaplain of Rome’s Rebibbia penitentiary asked Massimo to accompany a young boy on a visit to his mother who was serving a jail sentence there. Massimo was volunteering at the prison facility at the time. “Every Saturday I would collect Daniel from the religious community where he lived and take him back there afterwards”, recalls Massimo. “But I realized the child needed something more".
So Daniel started staying over at Massimo's house, playing with his children. Eventually, the Raimondi family took him into foster care.
A test of faith?
Giovanni’s illness was totally unexpected. He woke up one morning and found he couldn’t walk. The long trial of diagnoses, hospitalizations and unanswered questions began. His sisters and parents never left his side. When he died, the family was more united than ever. "Giovanni’s death”, says Massimo, “brought us together, thanks to our faith”.
On the day of the funeral, someone suggested the Lord was testing that faith. “Impossible, I said. The Lord I love so much, the Father who picked me up me so many times, couldn’t take my son away from me”.
He is with us
"I’m convinced he’s in Heaven, waiting for us”, says Massimo. “It feels like he’s still with us: I see him in the kitchen, on the balcony when I’m watering the flowers". Giovanni lives on in the memories of those he loved, and who love him.
They feel his presence and take comfort in imagining how happy he would have been to know he would soon be an uncle – to Nicholas, his sister’s first child, and Massimo and Anna’s first grandchild.
“Dear Dad, let me tell you with all my heart: you’re a winner!”
Reading those lines from his son on Father’s Day, says Massimo, was like reading something that came straight from Heaven.