The success of the “Lega” in the recent European elections was no surprise, even though the extent of the consensus received was not easily imaginable. Politicians and political journalists have extensively reasoned about the causes of this small earthquake, which, while it has not significantly shifted the European balance, on the other hand has changed the Italian political framework making it even more problematic. The support for Matteo Salvini came largely from the North, where the League was born and has always had a strong consensus, but this time also from the areas of Central and Southern Italy, where in the past there was a strong hostility towards the “Lega” project; it came from the middle class, but also from the urban suburbs until a few years ago in favor of left-wing parties; and it came from a substantial part of the Catholic world.
For many of us this is a fact that is difficult to understand, especially at a time when the teaching of Pope Francis is moving along radically different lines. Yet there are so many Christians (lay people, but also priests) who feel no discomfort at supporting intolerant initiatives towards migrants, at accepting defined security policies, but who are in reality the way to a progressive social barbarization, at aligning themselves with an arrogant style, at sharing forms of conflict with the European institutions. Salvini knows this, and the gestures that he inserted with great expressive force in his electoral speech in front of the Cathedral of Milan, are the sign of the link with an important part of the Catholic world: the one that feels the need of an identitarian and sacred tradition, and that does not recognize itself in the great project of reform of the Church that Pope Francis initiated, or even in his drawing on the essence of the message of the Gospel. It almost seems that decades of Christian proclamation, of catechetical formation, have evaporated before our eyes, incapable of illuminating the personal and collective journey of entire communities.
We were perhaps deluded that this pope would progressively change the Church, make it more attentive to the signs of a new and complex era. Reality, at least in Italy, tells us that only a part of it approves this process, and even less supports it and participates actively in it. I witness, and hope that the events of the next few years will deny me, a gap, mostly not declared but in fact, in the way of thinking of so many men and women, who participate in our liturgies and also offer themselves as forms of service to the parish community, with respect to the teaching of the pope, who speaks to us, every day, of the Kingdom of God, announced above all to the poor and weary of this world. I know well that the proclamation of the Gospel is demanding, and it is the experience of all those who want to follow Christ; it is not for nothing that the rich young man, who says he keeps all the commandments, before Jesus who asks him: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; then, come and follow me”, leaves saddened, because he possesses many goods. And today’s goods are not only the economic ones, but the tranquility, the certainty of being on the right side, a social order that you want to defend at all costs.
I feel with concern that the Christian faith of many of my brothers and sisters is different from mine, not only because it is expressed in different religious forms (which is also healthy), but more radically around certain essential themes. And I listen to so many friends who tell me how urgent it is to say clear words about the issues on which we are challenged today; and how necessary it is not to leave Pope Francis alone, accompanying his magisterium with our support and our commitment.
I totally agree with this request, but I confess that I am at the same time concerned that, precisely by expressing my convictions sincerely and clearly, I may increase the distance with respect to believers who think differently from me or even simply are uncertain and fearful at this juncture in our history.
I wonder then if we should not place at the center of our attention, even as an association, the dialogue with those who today do not recognize themselves in the path of renewal of the Church. With those who feel the need above all to be reassured, so much so as to turn our gaze to the past in the hope of finding in the most solid models of reference to which to adhere. First of all to understand their reasons and their feelings, because a true dialogue presupposes respect for the other, the absence of any form of intellectual superiority; and then to talk to one another, to compare one’s convictions, to find points of contact, but above all to compare one’s differences. Dialogue is never without consequences, because it establishes a good relationship with the other, and obliges us to give reason for our faith.
Dialogue, however, requires that we speak with clarity and freedom. The excess of prudence that often leads to circumventing problematic issues to ensure harmony within the ecclesial walls, generates great cultural poverty and makes believers often unable to understand the dynamics of history and to read the Gospel within the facts and ideas that are manifesting themselves in public space.
Cardinal Bassetti indicated some time ago the need to “mend the social cloth”; this is very true, but I think it is equally urgent to mend the ecclesial cloth, where stretch marks, and even some tears, are often more hidden but no less present.