What This Pontificate Means to an Atheist

Interview with Giuliano Ferrara, Director of Il Foglio Newspaper

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ROME, OCT. 16, 2001 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- Giuliano Ferrara, director of the Italian newspaper Il Foglio, was a Communist leader in his country when he learned of John Paul II´s election to the papacy. Now, 23 years later, he analyzes the meaning of this pontificate.



"When I saw the announcement of the new Pope on television, I had the feeling that my convictions were shaken," Ferrara recalled. "The fact that he was a Pole was a thunderbolt. I understood that something had happened, that it was a decision with the ´breath´ of history or the Holy Spirit, I´m not sure."

--Q: With hindsight, what is your judgment of this pontificate?

--Ferrara: For a secularist like myself, outside the faith but always a papist in attitude, in part, perhaps, because I am a Roman, John Paul II´s pontificate must be judged at the vertex between doctrine and politics.

One must combine the Pope as defender of a faith and spokesman of an extraordinary historical and moral culture, with the geopolitical element of a Pontiff who has constructed an army of saints and blessed, of multicolored cardinals, who has explored the whole world, who has redesigned the planet´s geography, helped, also, by the media, which has multiplied the possibilities to hear his word.

--Q: Meanwhile, the world has not ceased in its secularization.

--Ferrara: In a certain sense, the Pope continues to be someone who speaks in Latin. However, never as in these years has tradition been combined with strong elements of modernization, introduced by John Paul II, which has conferred on the pontificate an element of grandeur, which will remain as Wojtyla´s most striking imprint.

Today the Church is not a curial institution, a small conclave; it has seen its voice amplified. It has inundated the world with the singular force of an institution that has preserved some of the most valuable realities of humanity.

--Q: How weighty are the Pope´s words today?

--Ferrara: The ethical teachings, the magisterium on life, even the most rigid positions on customs, the simple things it says -- all this is of enormous value because the Pope has remained as the isolated witness of a world whose length and breadth he has traveled.

John Paul II has exercised all his prerogatives, but he has done so within the contradictions of our time. He has sullied his hands with the world, and this moves me because it means that, not only is he "the Pope of the Church," but of all: of the intellectuals and journalists, from whom he has elicited both accurate and mistaken reactions, of communists and former communists.

He is an important Pope for anyone who has tried to understand the closing of the last century.

--Q: What word of the magisterium has had the greatest impact on nonbelievers?

--Ferrara: The primacy of life, which in fact is in the origins of liberal philosophy. The constitution and defense of the individual, stemming from modernity, has the right to life at its roots.

Secular thought in our time has forgotten this dimension, transforming life into a variable depending on demographic evolution, women´s choice, changing customs. That the Pope confirms life as an absolute is the strongest, most scandalous and incomprehensible word, but, at the same time, it is the one most listened to in the world of nonbelievers.

--Q: In dark days like the present, the Pope calls for prayer. What do you think?

--Ferrara: The Pope cannot but be a peace fundamentalist, with prudence and wisdom. I don´t have a rosary, I don´t know how to pray, but the appeal for prayer at a moment like this has a specific place in the world. And who is to say if the prayer of a great leader Pope does not succeed in playing even a political role.

--Q: A leader Pope who does not hide his physical frailty. What do you think?

--Ferrara: He is elderly, sick, but strong. He does everything in a very human way and also a bit superhumanly. Physical decline, coupled with great spiritual energy, inspires feelings of genuine love.

--Q: What is Pope Wojtyla´s Church like today?

--Ferrara: It is a Church that triumphs by integrating itself into history and not opposing it. It is neither provident nor proselytizing, it does not crush our humanity, our civil piety, which has been built into thousands of cultural streams.

He is not a Pope who asks for a personal act of submission to the divine in order to be loved. His is a Church that triumphs in its secularism. That Oct. 16, an energy was released that has never disappointed.