The Pope in Naples
(as translated from the Italian by Emanuel L. Paparella)
Translator’s note: this reflection on the Church and the Papacy was published in Repubblica-Naples (a widely circulated newspaper in Italy) on the 12th of March 2015. It is reprinted with Professor Paolozzi’s permission. It announces the visit of the Pope to Naples on Saturday the 21st of March. Let me add here that I found the reflection quite relevant to our present existential situation in the West where much lip service is paid to solidarity and mercy and social justice but the fruits of such a rhetoric remain miserly.
“The Church’s raison d’être is not that of creating emotions, even if it be the visit of a Pope. It exists to announce Christ’s salvation. Unless this is understood, we run the risk of widening the gap between gospel and life.” Thus does Gennaro Matino write in Repubblica. It is hard not to agree with such a statement. But I’d like to raise another question in the context of the imminent visit of the Pope to Naples which in various aspects is similar to Matino’s.
Let me preface it with a revelation: after an initial enthusiasm I had begun to perceive, even if respectfully, some perplexities on the social function which Francis’ pontificate had begun to incarnate before public opinion. After all, I would remind myself, attention to poverty and social justice is not only a prerogative of the Church. To the contrary, in the Western world, besides Christian charity there is such a thing as the sense of social justice as espoused by communists, liberals, progressives and democrats. Without raising again the polemical aspects of Marxism, it has to be acknowledged that in some aspects to a charity which remained voluntary was added a wider and more rigorous sense of socialism. It was impressive to see how old Marxists and communists were deeply moved by certain symbolical gestures, as important as they are but not more than that, of Pope Francis.
I and some of my friends, who are experts in Church affairs, have then reflected on the fact that probably this kind of reasoning may have its value for the Western world, but in other regions such as Latin America, Africa, parts of Asia, Christian charity still has its own original and hardly substitutable energy, given that the socialism to which the West has acceded is still very far from being realized world-wide. Aside from positions on universal thinking, on neo-liberalism which dominates globalization, which need to be inserted in a hermeneutics much more complex than what actually prevails nowadays, the reality is that in the Western world socialism has found a big space and is a protagonist of our cultural, social and political life. It would be enough to think of the dimensions, high and low, of the so called Welfare State.
Secular but not a secularist, I attempted to place myself within the perspective of the Church and I asked myself, at times, if those theologians and Churchmen (which I consider conservators), did not have a point after all: that the duty of the Church is not that of substituting itself to political parties and unions, but at best to walk part of the way with them. Otherwise, they argue, the Church loses its function, and after a banal populist victory, risks losing the fundamental aspect of religiosity, which consists, as Matino argues, to give some answers to the great questions of life, to which I’d add existence, to complete the reasoning. On this we would need to considerably deepen the discussion.
What has surprised me, in a positive sense, has been the announcement of the jubilee year dedicated to the theme of mercy. This is what indeed seems to have disappeared in many parts of our world, especially in the Western world, is the exactly the sense of compassion, of forgiveness, the ability to conceive of man in its fragility, as a sinner who has a duty to redeem him/herself and a right to be forgiven. This is not a subject matter for unions and political parties, but perhaps it belongs within philosophy, science, art, sociology, essentially humanistic fields.
If I can be permitted a self quotation, some years ago I wrote a little book titled “The Stingy Revolution” to point out the great gap that there is between real and authentic revolutions, which even when claiming victims and unleashing great tragedies, were fought within the realm of generous ideas, such as freedom and the equality of all citizens, the redemption of the workers and the underprivileged, and so on. The Italian turmoil, on the other hand, was born under “tangentopoli,” under the sign of anger, of stinginess, and vengeance. It has in fact yielded few fruits and almost all of them bitter. Certain current movements of so called anti-politics are nothing else but the residue of those angry revolutions.
And therefore, if the Church places on center stage once again the idea of mercy, we may perhaps start all over to construct a new future, a new idea of human solidarity. Beginning with Naples, which still remains, when all is said and done, a merciful city.