Pope honors ‘rebel’ priests censured for commitment to poor
BY NICOLE WINFIELD AND ANTONIO CALANNI
Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to northern Italy on Tuesday to honor two 20th-century parish priests whose commitment to the poor and powerless brought them censure from the Vatican.
Francis flew by helicopter to Bozzolo, near Cremona, to pray at the tomb of Don Primo Mazzolari. Mazzolari, who died in 1959, was an anti-fascist partisan during World War II who, like Francis, preached about a “church for the poor.”
Afterward, Francis flew to Barbiana, near Florence, to pray at the tomb of Don Lorenzo Milani, a wealthy convert to Catholicism who founded a parish school to educate the poor and workers. He died in 1967.
Both priests were considered rebels in their lifetimes and were censured by Vatican authorities for their writings. By honoring them with his brief visit, Francis sent the church a message of the type of priest he wants today: simple, guided by Gospel values, devoted to the poor and uninterested in careerism.
At his first stop, Francis stood in silent prayer before the simple tomb of Mazzolari, who is considered now to be “Italy’s parish priest.”
He then delivered a lengthy tribute to the priest, quoting Mazzolari’s writings about the need for the church to accompany its flock that Francis himself could have penned.
The Argentine Jesuit, who has emphasized the church’s merciful face during his four-year papacy, recalled Mazzolari’s exhortation that a priest’s job isn’t to demand perfection from the faithful, but to encourage them to do their best. Quoting Mazzolari, he said: “Let us have good sense! We don’t need to massacre the backs of these poor people.”
Mazzolari’s social activism got him in trouble with church authorities: For a time he was forbidden from preaching outside his diocese without permission, and a magazine he founded was so controversial the Vatican suspended its publication in 1951.
Church authorities announced Tuesday that the process to beatify Mazzolari would begin in September.
Milani, for his part, also emphasized social justice issues, especially about the rights of workers to go on strike. The Vatican in 1958 ordered the retraction of a book of his on his pastoral experiences.
Francis said Milani taught the importance of giving the poor the capacity to speak up for themselves, “because without the word, there’s no dignity and therefore no justice or freedom.”
Pope Francis upholds legacy of two ‘inconvenient’ priests
Don Mazzolari, who died in 1959, was the parish priest of Bozzolo. He was also a scholar who wrote about St. Francis and Blessed John Henry Newman, an anti-fascist activist who opposed the Mussolini regime and an ardent champion of the poor. Sanctioned for a time by diocesan authorities, Mazzolari was a friend of Pope John XXIII and praised by the future Pope Paul VI.
Pope Francis’ lengthy tribute to Mazzolari – whom he described as Italy’s parish priest – was above all a call to priests not to demand perfection from the faithful, but to encourage them to do their best and an exhortation to them to take the Gospel message into the peripheries in poverty and with simplicity, turning away from the temptations of clericalism and careerism.
Francis then flew to Barbiana, near Florence, to pray at the tomb of Don Lorenzo Milani, a man he has described as “a believer, enamored of the Church” a “passionate educator” who used “original ways.”
Milani, who died in 1967, is universally acknowledged for having been an optimum interpreter of modern and contemporary pedagogy, a priest attentive to formative methods for young people, and especially alert to the needs of the poor and the rights of workers.
Milani, the Pope said, taught the importance of giving the poor the capacity to speak up for themselves, because “without the word, there’s no dignity and therefore no justice or freedom”.
A pilgrimage the Pope himself said was undertaken in the footsteps of two parish priests whose legacy he described as “scomodo” which means challenging or inconvenient, but that has left a radiant trace in their service to the Lord and to the people of God.