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from issue no. 09 - 2004

A Christianity that amazes

The introduction of the archbishop emeritus of Florence to Marco Politi’s book Il ritorno di Dio, viaggio tra i cattolici d’Italia

by Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli

The cover of the book <I>Il ritorno di Dio. Viaggio tra i cattolici d'Italia (The return of God, a journey among Italian Catholics)</I> by Marco Politi, published by Mondadori, Milan 2004, 455 pp., euro 20,00

The cover of the book Il ritorno di Dio. Viaggio tra i cattolici d'Italia (The return of God, a journey among Italian Catholics) by Marco Politi, published by Mondadori, Milan 2004, 455 pp., euro 20,00

I’m not in the habit of presenting books. Not even books born within the Church. While having great respect for those who give birth to them and myself enjoying the fruit of their labors.
Then why have I yielded to the amiable insistence of the author?
The first reason is strictly personal. I carry in my heart, most vividly, the memory of Bishop Vincenzo Savio who recently left us with a moving testimony of love of Christ and of life. A week before he died, worn out by illness and chemotherapy, he wrote: «The most important thing is to tell everybody that I am without measure content with God. A marvel! A continual surprise such as to be able to tell myself, with conviction, that in each instant his measure was full and pressed». Monsignor Savio was always alert to the world of social communications and spent attention on his friendly relations with journalists and writers. I’m certain he would have said to me: «You do the presentation».
The second reason is the serious and courageous commitment of this book. A book that must also have cost toil because it is up-front, consisting of interviews and focused meetings from the North to the South of Italy, making contact with priests and bishops, with parishes and movements, with nuns and theologians, with those who spend themselves for the poorest in society and those who live a life of wide-ranging cultural commitment, with those who devote themselves to social communications and who in thousands of ways promote justice and peace, with those who live the good of the family and those in touch with the desperate situations of men and women, with those who are engaged in politics and strive with hope for young people.
Often even excellent historians leave Christianity wholly out of their research and thinking. As if they weren’t aware of its presence and of its influence on the history of Europe and, markedly, of Italy. Henri Fesquet, who belonged to the group that founded «Le Monde», declared: «This Catholic Church that I myself have often reprimanded, if always with the truth that is born of love, is still extraordinarily interesting when set against the bleak squalor of the political world or of so much of the intellectual world.
This Christianity is the strangest and vastest zoological garden in the world, with every sort of animal: some mediocre and by now lazy, but many others exceptional, full of creativity and charity. A zoo where love has stimulated imagination in every century and still does so, so as to explore ever new paths and so put itself at the service of the needy who continuously emerge in society».
«But», as Father Peter H. Kolvenbach, General of the Jesuits, has expressed it, «we are men, and crisis, strains, difficulty are possible in the search. I see all this ebullition as the outward face of an extremely vital organism that tends towards equilibrium in many spheres: in relations between bishops and theologians, in relations between local Churches and religious, in collaboration among different forms of the lay apostolate. In this process of growth toward an ever larger community the dialectic between the criticism of theologians or of other ecclesial components and the calls to order of the hierarchy should also be seen. Of course, if violent, aggressive expressions are used in the dialectic, one should expect replies equally violent. In the Church the law of charity should govern all our behavior, even protest, but is hard to die to ourselves, and hence there will always be resistance dictated by a worldly spirit».
I hope that this book helps to make amazement blossom in the hearts of many. «Christianity always surprises those who go into it», said Pascal. It even surprises those who were born into it. Just imagine those who discover it for the first time! It amazes, but not, so to speak, a theoretical Christianity, that one can’t see how it connects with people’s lives, but a Christianity that shines in the lives of Christians.
The resurrected Jesus and the apostles on Lake Tiberias, Duccio di Buoninsegna, a dais behind the Maestà, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena. Detail below

The resurrected Jesus and the apostles on Lake Tiberias, Duccio di Buoninsegna, a dais behind the Maestà, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena. Detail below

In 1948 Don Lorenzo Milani, wrote to a young man friend, a communist, from San Donato a Calenzano: «But tell me, Pipetta, have you really understood me? It’s chance, you know, that you find me battling with you against the Lord... Pipetta, everything passes. For those who die lacerated at the door of the rich, beyond there is the Bread of God. It was only this that my Lord told me to tell you. It’s history that’s hurled itself at me.... Now that the rich have beaten you... it’s up to me to come down with you to fight the rich… you’re right, yes, you’re right, between you and the rich it will always be you the poor who’s right. Even when you’ll do the wrong of taking up arms I’ll agree you’re right. But how little what you’ve made me say is. Pipetta, my brother, let tell you straightaway... The day that we’ve broken through the fence of some estate together, set up together the home for the poor in the mansion of the rich, remember it Pipetta, don’t trust me, that day I shall betray you. That day I shan’t stay with you. I’ll go back to your sodden and stinking hut to pray for you in front of my crucified Lord. When you’re no longer hungry nor thirsty, remember it Pipetta, that day I shall betray you. That day I shall finally sing out the only cry of victory worthy of a priest of Christ: Blessed... are those that hunger and thirst for justice!».
I hope this book will help many to consider the mystery of Christianity with more attention: «No religion», said Pascal, «so corresponds to the real nature of man as the religion of Christ, albeit none seems to be so counter to it!» And I hope that many are helped to recognize that, if cathedrals and works of art mark our culture in such an evident way, this is another presence, more important still: the lives of people and of communities that are like leaven in the mass and constitute a supplement of soul, a reserve of hope for the whole of humanity in the frenzied and tormented history of our time.
Softly, I make myself another wish also: that Christians, reading this book, become more aware of the treasure of the faith and therefore realize that the only Gospel that people still welcome is that written in their lives.

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