Pope's Letter on 150th Anniversary of Italian Unity
"Christianity Contributed in a Fundamental Way to the Construction of the Italian Identity"
| 1935 hits
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 16, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the letter Benedict XVI sent to the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Italy's political unity. The message was delivered by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope's secretary of state.
* * *
The 150th anniversary of the political unification of Italy offers me the happy occasion to reflect on the history of this beloved country, whose capital is Rome, city in which Divine Providence placed the See of the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Hence, in formulating to you and to the entire nation my most fervid good wishes, I am happy to share with you, in sign of the profound ties of friendship and collaboration that link Italy and the Holy See, these considerations of mine.
The process of unification that took place in Italy in the course of the 19th century, which passed into history with the name Risorgimento, constituted the natural outlet of a national identity development that began a long time before. In fact, the Italian nation, as a community of persons united by language, culture, sentiments of the same membership, though in the plurality of political communities articulated on the Peninsula, began to be formed in the Middle Ages. Christianity contributed in a fundamental way to the construction of the Italian identity through the work of the Church, of her educational and charitable institutions, fixing models of behavior, institutional configurations, social relationships, but also through a very rich artistic activity in literature, painting, sculpture, architecture and music. Dante, Giotto, Petrarch, Michelangelo, Raphael, Pierluigi of Palestrina, Caravaggio, Scarlatti, Bernini and Borromini are only some of the names of a long line of great artists that, through the centuries, have made a fundamental contribution to the formation of the Italian identity.
Also the experiences of holiness, with which numerous individuals have studded the history of Italy, contributed strongly to construct such identity, not only under the specific profile of a peculiar realization of the evangelical message, which has marked in time the religious experience and spirituality of Italians (one thinks of the great and manifold expressions of popular piety), but also under the cultural and even political profile. St. Francis of Assisi, for example, is pointed out also for his contribution in forging the national language; St. Catherine of Siena, though a simple ordinary woman, offered a formidable stimulus to the elaboration of Italian political and juridical thought. The contribution of the Church and of believers to the process of formation and consolidation of the national identity continues in the modern and contemporary ages.
Also, when parts of the Peninsula were subjected to the sovereignty of foreign powers, it was precisely thanks to this identity, now clear and strong, that notwithstanding the persistence in time of the geo-political fragmentation, the Italian nation was able to continue to subsist and to be conscious of itself. Because of this, the unity of Italy, realized in the second half of the 1800s, was able to take place, not as an artificial political construction of different identities, but as a natural political outlet of a strong national identity, rooted and subsisting for some time. The nascent unitary political community at the conclusion of the Risorgimento movment had, in short, as cement the still subsistent local diversities, precisely the pre-existing national identity, to whose molding Christianity and the Church made a fundamental contribution.
For complex historical, cultural and political reasons, the Risorgimento passed as a revolt against the Church, against Catholicism, and at times against religion in general. Without denying the role of traditions of different thought, some marked by jurisdictional or secular veins, one cannot omit the contribution of thought -- and at times of action -- of Catholics to the formation of the unitary state. From the point of view of political thought, suffice it to recall the whole affair of neo-Guelphism which had in Vincenzo Gioberti an illustrious representative; or to think of the Catholic-Liberal orientations of Cesare Balbo, Massimo d'Azeglio, Raffaele Lambruschini. Outstanding for philosophic, political and also juridical thought is the great figure of Antonio Rosmini, whose influence was displayed in time, to the point of informing significant points of the present Italian Constitution. And in that literature which contributed so much to "make the Italians," namely to give them the sense of belonging to the new political community that the process of the Risorgimento was molding, how can one not recall Alessandro Manzoni, faithful interpreter of the Catholic faith and morality; or Silvio Pellico, who with his autobiographical work on the painful vicissitudes of a patriot was able to witness the compatibility of love of the homeland with an unbending faith. And again figures of saints, such as St. John Bosco, driven by his pedagogical concern to compose manuals of homeland history, which molded membership in the institute founded by him on a paradigm consistent with a healthy liberal conception: "A citizen before the state, and a religious before the Church."
The political-institutional construction of the unitary state involved several personalities of the political, diplomatic and military world, among whom were, also, exponents of the Catholic world. This process, in as much as it must be inevitably measured with the problem of the temporal sovereignty of the Popes (but also because it led to extend the territories it gradually acquired a legislation in ecclesiastical matters of a strongly secular orientation), it had lacerating effects on the individual and collective conscience of Italian Catholics, divided between the opposite sentiments of fidelity born from citizenship on one side and of ecclesial membership on the other. However, it must be recognized that, if it was the political-institutional process of unification that produced that conflict between state and Church, which passed into history with the name of the "Roman Question," arousing as a consequence the expectation of a formal "conciliation," no conflict was verified in the social body, marked by a profound friendship between the civil and ecclesial community.
The national identity of Italians, so strongly rooted in the Catholic traditions, constituted in truth the most solid foundation of the acquired political unity. In short, the conciliation should have happened between the institutions, not in the social body, where faith and citizenship were not in conflict. Even in the years of the conflict, Catholics worked for the unity of the country. The abstention from political life, following the "non expedit," turned the reality of the Catholic world toward a great assumption of responsibility in the social realm: education, instruction, charity, health, cooperation, social economy were realms of commitment which made a solidaristic and strongly cohesive society grow.
The controversy that began between the state and Church with the proclamation of Rome as capital of Italy and with the end of the Papal State was particularly complex. It was undoubtedly a wholly Italian case, to the degree in which Italy alone has the singularity of hosting the headquarters of the papacy. Moreover, the question also had an undoubted international relevance. It must be noted that, with its temporal power at an end, the Holy See, though claiming the fullest liberty and sovereignty that corresponds to it in its order, has always rejected the possibility of a solution of the "Roman Question" through impositions from outside, trusting in the sentiments of the Italian people and in the sense of responsibility and justice of the Italian State. The signing of the Lateran Pacts, on Feb. 11, 1929, marked the final solution of the problem. In connection with the end of the Papal States, in memory of Blessed Pope Pius IX and of his Successors, I take up again the words of cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, in his address held in Campidoglio on Oct. 10, 1962: "The papacy takes up with unheard of vigor its functions of teacher of life and witness of the Gospel, so as to rise to such heights in the spiritual governance of the Church and in her radiation on the world as never before."
The fundamental contribution of Italian Catholics to the elaboration of the Republican Constitution of 1947 is well known. If the Constitutional text was the positive fruit of a meeting and a collaboration between several traditions of thought, there is no doubt that only the Catholic constituents presented themselves to the historic appointment with a precise project on the fundamental law of the new Italian State; a project matured within Catholic Action, in particular by the FUCI and the Laureates' Movement, and of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, and object of reflection and of elaboration in the Camaldoli Code of 1945, and in the 19th Social Week of Italian Catholics of the same year, dedicated to the topic "Constitution and Constituent." From there began the very significant commitment of Italian Catholics in politics, in labor union activity, in public institutions, in the economic realities, in the expressions of civil society, thus offering a very important contribution to the growth of the country, with demonstrations of absolute fidelity to the state and of dedication to the common good, placing Italy in a European projection.
In the painful and dark years of terrorism, then, Catholics gave their witness of blood: How can one not remember, among the different figures, that of the Honorable Aldo Moro and of Professor Vittorio Bachelet? The Church, thanks also to the long liberty ensured by the Lateran Concordat of 1929, continued with her own institutions and activity, to furnish an energetic contribution to the common good, intervening in particular in the support of the most marginalized and suffering persons, and above all continuing to nourish the social body with those moral values that are essential for the life of a democratic, just and ordered society. The good of the country, understood integrally, was always pursued and particularly expressed in moments of high significance, such as in the "great prayer for Italy" proclaimed by the Venerable John Paul II on Jan. 10, 1994.
The conclusion of the Agreement of revision of the Lateran Concordat, signed on Feb. 18, 1984, marked the passage to a new phase of relations between Church and State in Italy. This passage was clearly perceived by my Predecessor who, in his address given on June 3, 1985, in the ceremony of exchange of instruments of ratification of the Agreement, noted that, as "instrument of concord and collaboration, the Concordat is now situated in a society characterized by the free competition of ideas and by the pluralistic articulation of the different social components: this can and must constitute a factor of promotion and growth, fostering the profound unity of ideals and sentiments, by which all Italians feel themselves brothers in one same homeland." And he added that in the exercise of her diakonia for man "the Church intends to operate in full respect of the autonomy of the political order and of the sovereignty of the State. Likewise, she is attentive to the safeguarding of the liberty of all, indispensable condition for the construction of a world worthy of man, who only in liberty can seek the truth fully and adhere to it sincerely, finding in it the motive and inspiration for solidaristic and unitary commitment to the common good."
The Agreement, which contributed largely to the delineation of that healthy laicism which denotes the Italian State and its juridical ordering, has evidenced the two supreme principles which are called to preside over the relations between Church and political community: that of the distinction of realms and of collaboration. A collaboration motivated by the fact that, as Vatican Council II taught, between both, namely the Church and the political community "even if with different title, are at the service of the personal and social vocation of the same human persons" (Constitution "Gaudium et Spes," No. 76).The experience matured in the years of enforcement of the new agreed dispositions has seen, yet again, the Church and Catholics committed in various ways in favor of that "promotion of man and of the good of the country" that, in respect of their reciprocal independence and sovereignty, constitutes the inspiring and guiding principle of the Concordat in force (Article 1). The Church is aware not only of the contribution she makes to the civil society for the common good, but also of what she receives from the civil society, as Vatican Council II affirmed: "whoever promotes the human community in the field of the family, of culture, of economic and social life, as well as of politics, whether national or international, offers not little help, according to the will of God, to the ecclesial community in the things on which she depends on external factors" (Constitution "Gaudium et Spes," No. 44).
In taking a long look at history, it is necessary to recognize that the Italian nation has always perceived the burden but at the same time the privilege given by the peculiar situation by which there is in Italy, in Rome, the See of the Successor of Peter and, hence, the center of Catholicism. And the national community has always responded to this awareness expressing affectionate closeness, solidarity, and help to the Apostolic See for its liberty and to support the realization of the conditions favorable to the exercise of the spiritual ministry in the world of the Successor of Peter, who is bishop of Rome and Primate of Italy. The turbulence having passed of the "Roman Question," having arrived at the hoped for Conciliation, the Italian State also offered and continues to offer a precious collaboration, which the Holy See enjoys and of which it is consciously grateful.
In presenting to you, Mr. President, these reflections, I invoke from my heart on the Italian people the abundance of heavenly gifts, so that they will always be guided by the light of faith, source of hope and persevering commitment to liberty, justice and peace.
From the Vatican, March 17, 2011
[Translated by ZENIT]