Milan. August 1st, 1995. Political tension and division right across Italy. The country seems to be going from bad to worse and is more divided than ever before. It is a deep cut which worries Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the Archbishop of Milan. “Italy” he observes, “is like the woman who was cut up into twelve different pieces.”
Your Eminence, how do you see the situation in Italy today, and how do you think it is possible to get around this impasse?
In the pages of the Bible we find descriptions of moments both of great unity, such as under kings David and Solomon, and also of great division, as during the time of the Judges. You will remember the gruesome episode of the woman who was divided into twelve pieces mentioned in Chapter 19 of the Book of Judges. Right now Italy is divided by controversy and feelings of separation. However, there is still room for reason and for listening to one another. We shouldn’t generalise without taking into account the many common values we share, and the fact that people really just want what’s best for their country.
Do you think Italians want the return of a Catholic political party? Do you think such a party would align itself with parties like the Lega (far right), PDS (centre left), or even Forza Italia (centre right)?
I don’t have any political solutions, nor the power to foresee the mood of the voters. I do think however that working solely on the basis of current alliances doesn’t allow us to take into consideration the fluidity of the present situation. I truly believe it’s important that there are political forces that adhere to the values of the Gospel, and incorporate them into the secular world. In the present situation I think there’s too much talk of power and alliances, and not enough about values and ideals. The goal of politics is always the common good, and people who truly believe in that will be serious politicians, and will deserve to win the vote of intelligent and forward-looking people.
You have many international contacts: how is the situation here viewed from outside Italy? Is it true that people are concerned about the presence of the Alleanza Nazionale in the government and the current climate of division?
Italy is arousing concern around the world. People don’t understand what we are living through, and it’s also very hard to explain in a convincing manner. This spectacle is not helping our international image. Even if there is still faith in the Italian ability to pull back from the proverbial abyss at the last minute. We should be able to convey a more general sense of stability though, and the media has an important role in doing that.
The Pope expressed his appreciation for the end of year speech by the President of the Republic, but there is division and tension between the two institutions. Does this concern you?
The President of the Republic gave everyone an objective and honest speech with the sole intention being the true good of the nation. Everyone appreciated his tone and his demeanour. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is tension between the institutions as such, but there are people within them who are not always as calm and rational as is really necessary.
Do you think the media is being used properly? Do you think that reforms are necessary?
I have already expressed the hope that the media help people to think, to read about events with critical reasoning and objectivity, without exaggerating the emotional aspect of things. I have no expertise to speak about any reforms that need to be done. Personally, I think that first we need a change in our hearts and minds based on togetherness, so that we can see through the division and conflict that the mass media often artificially inflates.
What are some of the issues in this country that most urgently need to be solved?
Speaking as someone who is not qualified to make political judgements, I believe the most urgent things to do are to ensure that everyone has a job, to improve the economy, and to help the weakest among us. As for more fundamental morals, I would say respect for our constitutional and democratic values, and the dignity of each individual.
You are the head of the largest diocese in the world. What are people within the diocese saying? What is the mood?
I’m going to try and explain using the analogies of “night” and “fog”. This Christmas I have seen that the same images occur in the following passage in Isaiah: “For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; But the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you.” (Isaiah Chp 60, Vs 2). What this means is that you do not have to wait for sunny days to hope, but rather the time for hope is when darkness comes. Hope then encourages you to act with consistency and righteousness.
Regarding religion, do Italians seem more in need of the Church’s consolation than ever before?
It’s difficult for me to answer these generalised questions, because even the most detailed statistics fail to give satisfactory answers. The human heart is always in need of hope and meaning. At this time, perhaps more than at others.
In summary: what’s going wrong and what’s going well in our country?
Many things are going well, because there are many honest people who love their family and work, serving institutions in a spirit of sacrifice and with a great capacity to shoulder heavy responsibilities. But less satisfactory are those factors that determine the social and political framework, which should give hope and inspire a will to take action and to open up perspectives. We’re still on solid ground, but there is a fog that prevents us from seeing the wider horizons that exist, and which could take us to the forefront of a wider community of nations.
What role do you think the Church should play in the Italian crisis?
We do not have a divine order to impose on people who are working to identify political solutions, but a more prophetic one where we give people a glimpse of the great horizons that fill the heart and show that a few sacrifices today can benefit a larger common good in the future.