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Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus
Vocation stories

Leonardo Vezzani SJ

In search of a place, my place

WYD 2000: 2 million young people had a place in the Church, where each one was irreplaceable and expected. Yet free to choose it or not. Which was my place?

Leonardo Vezzani SJ, Jesuit

I was born in Prato in 1978 and I have always had a great passion for chemistry. If, at the beginning, what fascinated me was the way in which substances change color when they mix, with time, this passion shifted to the study of how these changes occur and according to which laws and rules are realized. The same curiosity that pushed me to go deeper and deeper in investigating matter, slowly led me to the depths of my heart.

WYD 2000

I spent a good part of my adolescence in the parish oratory, which I always attended because all my friends were there: it was chance (let’s call it that…) that gave me the impulse to begin the journey that I am still following today. It all started in the summer of 2000: my friends were all determined to attend WYD in Rome, while I had rejected it, out of hand. Ten days in the middle of August spent in the heat of Rome with a “sea” of sweaty, sticky boys? No sir! In the end, I realized that everyone was going to this meeting, so, either I would go, or I would stay home alone. So it was that, one day in August, I arrived in Rome. I was struck by many things, about that experience, but the one, that marked me, was the awareness that each of the two million young people (sweaty and sticky) had a place in the Church, a place where each was irreplaceable and expected. Yet free to choose it or not.

My place in the Church

So then came the big question. “Which is my place in the Church?”. This question became like a drop of water that slowly carved the rock. Even though it took three years before the question came up again, with all the strength it brought with it… It was the encounter with Don Luigi Ciotti, the founder of Libera, that led me to a turning point: listening to a priest talk about his fight against the Mafia, was the opportunity to ask myself what my role in the Church was. And, that time, the answer came. Something inside me said: “Be a priest!”. I have to say that I had never thought about the priesthood, because I really didn’t see anything more distant than a priest, from the 21-year-old Leonardo. Strangely enough, at that moment, I didn’t mind the idea so much: it was the day after, coldly, that I realized that that life would have asked me to renounce something impossible for me and so I decided to drop this idea, labeling it as the result of a religious moment of enthusiasm, or something similar.

The struggle with vocation

Thus, began one of the worst periods of my life. By now I had become aware of where my heart was, even though I had no desire to accept it. For a year and a half, I tried to do everything to prove to myself that the life of a priest was not suitable for me, but this always came back, with greater force. I had even come to think of forms of “spiritual counterbalancing” that could find a compromise between what attracted me and a set of needs that I thought I couldn’t give up. For example, I was willing to become a permanent deacon: on the one hand, I could save the possibility of having a family, on the other hand, I would do the service that was closest to that of a priest. But it wasn’t working out.

The god of myself and the fall

Meanwhile, my life continued. My chemistry studies continued, and I managed to keep up with my exams while working, as a scholarship holder, for the Province of Prato, in the Environmental Protection sector. I liked this activity and I felt appreciated in the office. In spite of everything, I was experiencing a feeling of uneasiness and emptiness that didn’t give me serenity, but, basically, I was fulfilled. I didn’t need God, because I was my own god. And as a god, I expected to “save” people. But, it was a difficult moment that showed me that I was not capable of saving anyone; in fact, the more I put my hands in other people’ lives, the worse things got. I then fell off the pedestal I had put myself on, and because I was so high up, I hurt myself badly.

Welcomed as I am and a book makes me feel “at home”

That was the opportunity to entrust myself to the last hope I had left: the Lord. I felt welcomed for who I was, with all my limitations and with all my attitudes as a supposed “savior”. And this serenity was the occasion to take up again the idea of the priesthood and welcome it. For me, the only way to live the priesthood was the diocesan one, but I was not at ease; I felt a bit stuck inside a reality that I found too narrow. The turning point that led me to the Society was a book given to me by my spiritual director: “On Love”, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I was very struck by his ability to see, in science itself, the place to see God at work. Reading this book gave me the impression of being “at home”, of having found my place.

The time of discernment and the time of formation

At that point I just needed to get to know a real, living Jesuit, so I contacted Fr. Paolo Bizzeti, who invited me to experience a period of discernment in Bologna. On March 12, 2002, I went to Bologna, and on November 1, I entered the novitiate. My life began anew. In Genoa I had the opportunity to have, as companions, people with whom I am still in great friendship, a friendship that we have built over the years. After studies in Padua and an apostolate with university students, I went for regency to L’Aquila, at the University College and the University Chapel. Here the experience was not easy, especially because the beginning of my second year was marked by the announcement of the work’ closure and by organizing the move: the fatigue and suffering experienced in seeing something beautiful come to an end, however, were only the occasion to rediscover the profound meaning of that difficult vow that is obedience. I continued my formation with theology in Rome and a licentiate in Paris, before being sent to the University Chapel of La Sapienza in Rome.

Between gratitude and healthy restlessness, the mission continues

After tertianship in Cuba, I was sent to Genoa, where I am now the director of a youth center. The Lord has not lost his trust in me yet, and, many years after the beginning of my journey, I feel great gratitude, without losing that healthy restlessness that does not prevent me from continuing searching.

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