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EDITORIAL
from issue no. 01 - 2007

A memory of Don Primo


Among the papers from my student days I have come across the notes taken during a meeting of the Federation of Italian Catholic University Students (FUCI) with Don Primo Mazzolari, the combative priest from Cremona who was tenaciously opposed by Farinacci’s fascists but also viewed with considerable reservation by circles in the Roman Curia


Giulio Andreotti


Don Primo Mazzolari

Don Primo Mazzolari

Among the papers from my student days I have come across the notes taken during a meeting of the Federation of Italian Catholic University Students (FUCI) with Don Primo Mazzolari, the combative priest from Cremona who was tenaciously opposed by Farinacci’s fascists but also viewed with considerable reservation by circles in the Roman Curia.
Cremona was a quite peculiar area where the process whereby Fascism became middle-class never took place, after all the voices of even minimal opposition had been silenced. And even the slogans written on the walls asserted that Mussolini was always right. A university professor (who became a member of parliament after the war) even wrote an essay on the “Perpetual Duce”. One’s duty was that of not disturbing the “Great Navigator”.
Even some Catholic circles, perhaps considering it a lesser evil, had settled comfortably into the politically uniform status. The Conciliation between the State and Church was both cause and effect of that co-habitation (in the agitated years after World War I). Don Sturzo had been sent into exile and the surviving leaders of the “Popular” party were advised to keep out of politics. Some, like De Gasperi, were subjected to persecution. The State Archives contain the dossiers of these politicians who were “under surveillance” and ill looked on because they had not aligned themselves.
Pius XI was long attributed with praising Mussolini as the “man of the Providence”. In truth what he said was only that Providence had let him meet a man with whom it had become possible to reconcile Church and State. Before Fascism attempts in that direction had failed.
Vittorio Emanuele Orlando had come close to the solution. During the peace conference in Paris he had met the envoy of the Holy See (Bonaventura Cerretti, later cardinal) arriving at a definitive draft. The ministerial crisis – they were frequent then – prevented its formalization. But some phrases from it are to be found in the Concordat of 1929, like for example, curiously, the ban prohibiting clergy from enrolling in parties (in 1929 only the Party existed).
There were those who attributed the detente to the Milanese roots both of Fascism and of Pope Ratti. They may have helped, but they were no more than contingent co-causes. The times were ripe for moving beyond the situation created by the occupation of the Papal States in 1870. And certain openings by the fascists (such as religious instruction in schools and the role of the chaplains in the Balilla organization for young fascists) facilitated the detente.
Pius XI went in public fashion to Castel Gandolfo in 1938 (during the State visit of Hitler) declaring he could not be in Rome while homage was being paid to a cross (the “hooked” one of the Nazis) that was not that of Christ
On the other hand the contradictions in the reality of things soon brought on crises, such as that caused by the persecution of the Catholic clubs in 1931. Almost by chance, since I belonged to a boys’ club founded by the Prefect of the Pontifical Ceremonies, Monsignor Carlo Respighi, I was present on 31 May 1931 in the consistorial Hall when Pius XI pronounced his solemn protest. I didn’t really understand (I was only twelve) what the trouble was but I was so horrified at seeing the Pope shouting and weeping that I fainted. I still remember the white silk curtain behind which I was put so as not to disturb the audience.
The coming together of Mussolini and Hitler was the cause of a firm setting at a distance. Pius XI went in public fashion to Castel Gandolfo in 1938 (during the State visit of Hitler) declaring he could not be in Rome while homage was being paid to a cross (the “hooked” one of the Nazis) that was not that of Christ.
In a more general way, I would say that the air one breathed in Catholic Action (especially in the FUCI, of which I have personal memory) was of a-Fascism, rather than of anti-Fascism.
The war brought the wane of Fascism and in the difficult period of the German occupation the Church was an essential point of focus and protection against Fascists and Nazis.
The nucleus that gave life to the resurgence of popular Catholicism (the Christian Democrats) immediately underlined the positive gain of no longer being faced with the conflict with the State. De Gasperi said that for democrats, and especially for Christian Democrats, it would have been a serious stumbling-block.
There was a very bitter clash on two crucial matters (divorce and abortion) which made clear that Italy, statistically almost entirely Catholic, is not obedient to the Church. And increasing conflict on delicate matters, like that of the family, is ongoing.
Recalling Don Primo helps clarify ideas and shape intentions. Among his writings there is a pamphlet that would be a good idea to republish to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Benedict XVI. It is entitled Anch’io voglio bene al papa
The more rabid secularists have a complaint against the Catholic schools, forgetting the contribution made, even in advance of the times, as in the case of the professional training given by the institutes of the Salesians and of the Giuseppinians, as factors in industrialization and modernization.
In a general way we must, without clamor and in well-mannered fashion, leave less room to these agents of a conflict that no longer has any objective reason for existing, without infringing on mutual rights and duties.
I shall come back to enlarge on one particular aspect to the subject. The intrinsic social nature of the Christian inspiration.
I recently said that we too often forget that the first Christians even had shared ownership of property.
Recalling Don Primo helps clarify ideas and shape intentions. Among his writings there is a pamphlet that would be a good idea to republish to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Benedict XVI. It is entitled Anch’io voglio bene al papa (I too love the Pope).


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