Flavio E. Bottaro SJ
When science is not enough
All it took was an unrequited falling in love for the results of “my” equations to go wrong. It was an existential crisis, which inevitably affected every aspect of my life.
I was born in Milan, on December 23, 1971, in a family from Veneto region. An only child. My parents pass on to me their sense of beauty, their dedication to work and the typical immigrants’ desire for redemption. They educated me in faith, above all, by their example. An affective faith, simple and not unrelated to daily life, strengthened at Sunday Mass, experienced as a family event.
There are three fundamental stages in my life that revolve around three places that are significant for me: the Politecnico in Milan, the Seminary and the Society.
Studies and passion for equations
The Politecnico di Milano is, first of all, the symbolic place that condenses my childhood and adolescence, because, since I was a child, I wanted to be an engineer. My favorite games were legos and disassembling and reassembling other toys, to see how they worked (and especially if they still worked after reassembling them…). Then fairy tales and stories. I love to daydream! So I learn to let my wishes fly high. And in seventh grade, my first computer: the “VIC20”. A passion was born…
No particular discernment was necessary to choose high school: scientific high school, in an archiepiscopal college, in continuity with middle school and elementary school. In the 70s and 80s, the private Catholic school was a myth to which my parents were particularly receptive. And then, Computer Engineering, specializing in “industrial automation and process control”, completed with a specialized thesis in automatic robotics. Wonderful years, in which I gradually discover a taste for studying. I was fascinated by how equations can describe, with a good degree of approximation, the phenomena of the world around us. Solving a system of equations is like touching, for a moment, the thought of God! Even Galileo said so… What an emotion!
Something doesn’t add up
All it took, however, was an unrequited falling in love for the results of “my” equations to go wrong. It was an existential crisis, which inevitably affected every aspect of my life. I realized that the truth I thirst for is not in what I was studying. What a pain! And then, one Sunday, the Gospel spoke to me of “eternal life.” That’s what I was looking for. It was the good news for me. I asked for an appointment with the parish vicar in my village and poured out all my discomfort on him. And what did he do? He simply listened to me. I felt loved. And I thought: how nice it would be if I too…But no, let’s not joke, I have to become an engineer. Attending the “School of the Word”, a diocesan initiative promoted by Cardinal Martini, I discovered that the Word of God spoke about my life with disarming clarity. And again I thought: how wonderful it would be to be able to dedicate myself to that Word that gives me life.
That Word that speaks
It was time for explicit discernment: after graduating from University, after a short period of work, I left for civil service in a small town in the Ligurian hinterland. Far from my family, far from work, far from the parish and friends. Ten wonderful months, in the midst of simple people who love me, with whom I established a deep friendship, that lasted over time. It was a taste of paradise. Yes, it was worth it: I wanted to listen to this desire that was so deeply rooted in my heart.
Challenging my parents’ despair, I entered the Seminary. Philosophy and Theology, approached with a rigorously scientific method, gave me satisfaction and finally seemed to provide some answers to my questions. After all, “being” a priest seemed easy to me: it was enough to build an unassailable theological system, capable of providing answers to any question. And I invested a lot in this direction. Until I met young people of my own age who, given my valid arguments, agreed with me, but didn’t convert.
Theological systems that do not convert. The desire for the Society
It was crisis, again. How was it possible that people, upon hearing a well-articulated theological exposition, did not convert? Well, actually, it hasn’t been that way for me, either. I entered into frank and close dialogue with my fellow seminarians and a different sensibility of mine began to emerge in thinking of myself as a priest.
I asked to be introduced to the Society. At first, I was fascinated by the idea of these priests who were all of one piece, well educated and knew their stuff. That’s exactly what the Church needed! So I attended a summer camp in Selva and there I meet dear Filippo, who disarmed me with his humanity. I exclaimed: this is a man of God! I became aware of my smallness, but I also discovered my intention to mature, to grow. I rediscovered, in the depths of my heart, the original desire that had brought me there: to be, for others, what others, in turn, have been for me. In agreement with the Rector of the Seminary, on the one hand, and with the Jesuits, on the other, I decided to complete the first Theology cycle, attending the last year at the Seminary, even though I knew that I would not become a priest of the Ambrosian Diocese. A year of grace. I enjoyed Theology, the friendship of my companions and, above all, my desire to enter the Society grew.
From novitiate to mission
In November 2003 I joined the novitiate in Genoa, after which I was sent to Rome to set up the office of vocational promotion, in collaboration with Fr. Paolo Bizzeti. I immediately developed a passion for this apostolate, in which I rediscovered the origin of my vocation: the experience of listening and the continuous marvel before the Lord, who invents everything to make Himself known, in everyday life.
I was then called to work as the Communications Officer of the Province of Italy and, later, I moved to Bologna, to accompany Spiritual Exercises and training courses in personal and communal discernment, cultivating my interests in Ignatian spirituality and transpersonal psychology.