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from issue no. 12 - 2007

Memories of Saint Peter’s Square


Senator Andreotti participated in the Angelus of 20 January to testify closeness to the Pope after the missed visit to La Sapienza University of Rome. A reader of the daily newspaper Il Tempo asked him what memories that Square evoked for him. This is our Director’s reply


by Giulio Andreotti


I saw you on television in Saint Peter’s Square. Does this Square evoke particular memories for you?

Marcello Marucchi

Even if it is doubtful that one could attribute felix to the culpa of the small nucleus of university professors who, by their expression of dissent, provoked the cancellation of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Roman Sapienza University, the popular reaction – genuinely nationwide – gave rise to an expression of devout affection, that saw Saint Peter’s Square crowded as on the “historic” occasions, with people, mostly young people, enthusiastic and moved.
Spontaneously the “previous ones” return to my mind.
With a university group of the Catholic Federation we went to attend, outside, the Coronation Mass of Pius XII. The loudspeakers made it possible to follow the solemn ritual with the famous, evocative ritual of a summons to humility proposed to the new Pontiff. It was chance that the photograph of us lads kneeling on the first step should appear in the weekly magazine La Domenica del Corriere (many years afterwards it no longed impressed me to see photos of me in the press, but then my vanity was tweaked and I kept the cutout).
Audiences as officials of the Catholic University Federation took place not anymore in the square, but in the halls of power; at first in the small executive group led by our president Aldo Moro and then, when I took over the presidency from Moro, in a personal visit, seated with great emotion in front of the desk of the Pontiff.
Whereas in the public or in any case group audiences one had the feeling more of a ceremony than of a conversation, in the “private” encounter moments of extraordinary communicativeness came about.
And for that matter the Pope was most careful to put his interlocutor at ease. In one of the audiences, I was waiting in the reception area when the door of the study opened and Pius XII came out, asking me to be patient because he had had to include an unscheduled visit.
As for the contents of the private audiences, I remember well how he was particularly anxious to know the state of mind of our students who were on the war fronts, suggesting also the idea of sending them some university textbooks so that they would not lose all contact with their studies.
The Monsignor of the Antechamber half opened the door to indicate that time was up, but the Pope did not stop asking questions and making observations.
Senator Giulio Andreotti in Saint Peter’s Square listens to the words of Pope Benedict XVI, Sunday 20 January 2008, at the end of the Marian prayer

Senator Giulio Andreotti in Saint Peter’s Square listens to the words of Pope Benedict XVI, Sunday 20 January 2008, at the end of the Marian prayer

The emergence of a group of so-called Catholic Communists at the Marian Congregation of the Jesuits of the Scaletta (next to the Roman College) greatly preoccupied the Holy Father, who had the promoter, Father Giuliano Prosperini expelled from the Society. Franco Rodano and other promoters were arrested and put in prison, while the same fate was reserved to a group of Calabrian members of the Students’ Federation.
The Pope, who as nuncio had lived through the Communist assault first in Munich and then in Berlin, was genuinely allergic to any form of Socialism and Communism. An audience of workers having been programmed (promoted by Monsignor Baldelli), I knew that the Holy Father would touch on the topic of the political deviations of Catholics. I took license to write him a letter imploring him not to do so because the friends who were in prison would get the impression they had been abandoned to the hands of the Fascist secret police.
The Pope didn’t say a word about it, but receiving us some days afterwards as Superior Council, he asked me with a very severe air: «Did it go well?».
In the sending of the note I had not followed the usual procedure, entrusting it personally to the understanding secretary Mother Pascalina. Monsignor Tardini telephoned, reproaching me for this direct communication. I justified it because of the urgency and he made no further reproaches.
On another occasion also I did not respect the procedure.
With the approach of a Roman municipal election they had let the Pope know the forecast that the relative majority would go to the Social-Communist alliance, with the consequence of a Communist mayor in the City Hall. To parry this, a depoliticizing line was devised, channeling all the ballots of the non-communists into a long list with an apolitical look. Relying on his priestly obedience, Don Sturzo was asked for his signed backing for this maneuver.
De Gasperi was deeply preoccupied in those days. I took hold of my courage and wrote a letter to the Holy Father to make clear the politically catastrophic consequences of the initiative: beginning with the crisis of the coalition government.
On the telephone Monsignor Tardini reproached me for not having followed the hierarchical path, but in his heart I believe he was not in fact at all displeased. It is a fact that the very unhappily named “Sturzo Operation” was blocked. And the voters did not make the mistake the pessimists had predicted.
There have often been controversies about the political activity of the clergy, and of various types. I declared, perhaps in a more colloquial Roman key than Italian, this thesis: just as the Direct Farmers, brilliantly organized by Paolo Bonomi, defended their rights with force, so also the “direct farmers of souls” should (and not only might) fight against all the initiatives that, more than anticlerical, it was right to define antichristian.
For that matter, it was not by chance that outstanding figures in the secular world found themselves coming together operationally with us in forming a front against the Communist threat.
I remember the firmness with which the Minister of Justice Giuseppe Grassi, a very important figure in southern liberalism, defended that same coming together.
The position of President Luigi Einaudi should also be stated, when the newspapers headlined Gronchi’s election as: «A Catholic in the Quirinal». He was keen to emphasize that he too was a Catholic; I also saw him attending Mass with a small missal in his hand, something I don’t remember of Gronchi or others of “our lot”, so called.
It is right to return here to the subject of the relationship between Pius XII and De Gasperi, leaving platitudes aside. Pope Pacelli – I have written many times and I have testified also in the process [for beatification ed.] – was instinctively contrary to a political blending of Catholics with other groupings.
There were not however any papal reserves about the person. A precise memory may help here. When a very exclusive performance of Claudel’s The Annunciation made to Mary was organized in the Vatican, among the few invited by the Pope were De Gasperi and Signora Francesca, received by the Pontiff with particular warmth. Mine is firsthand testimony.


Taken from Il Tempo 23 January 2008.


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