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from issue no. 08 - 2009

When confessing also becomes difficult

by Sandro Veronesi

One day, nine years ago, I felt the desire to confess. In Rome, on the Feast of the Assumption, there was the Youth Jubilee and I was looking around the city amid a million youngsters come from all over the world to celebrate. In the Circus Maximus there was a row of tents similar to those of the Feste dell’ Unità [popular Italian Communist festival], beneath which a battery of priests was confessing people. I don’t know why, but that vision triggered in me a lacerating desire to return to the fold. I leaned against a low wall and I began to think: when had I left the flock? Thirty years earlier, shortly after confirmation – I was still a child. And how many commandments had I broken since? All except the fifth and seventh. And maybe I didn’t notice that those confessions attracting me so much were being made face to face with the priest, without the merciful filter of the confessional – something that in my time, burdened me with an awful shame? So, after thirty years making my confession face to face with an unknown priest would be a huge thing: did I really want to do it? Was I prepared to face the consequences? For example, would I perform the penance I would be allocated? Strange as it might sound, the answer to all those questions was always yes; there was nothing else for me to do but cast the dice, I thought, without taking too long. I hopped over the wall and headed – decided, inspired – to the tent with a black priest inside. Immediately a volunteer with the blue shirt (the ones with the inscription “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”) appeared in front of me and asked me where I was going. “To confess”, I replied, solemnly. “You can’t,” he said, “you don’t have the pass”. I was dumbfounded – I hadn’t expected this – but I maintained a calm, to be precise, sheeplike: “And where can I get it?” I asked him, submissively. But the answer was an axe-blow, “On internet”. It was late afternoon, were I to go home now in search of this pass on internet (and on which site, then? Should it be printed out directly or was it to be picked up somewhere else?) it would be night. “Come on”, I said, “let me through. Please, I just want to confess. What harm am I doing?”. But no: “You have no pass”, repeated the boy – and he smiled, ineffable, inflexible, and also quite large, unfortunately, so as to remove any temptation in me to break through. So my re-entry to Catholicism faded away.

(taken from la Repubblica of 3 September 2009)

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