In the face of the lack of peace, of war even in Europe, I ask myself the question: how can I contribute to the development of an art of peace? I find in the words of Jesus: “Learn from me who am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29) a strong invitation not to give up “even when the weight of sin crushes me” (Leo the Great). And omissions are also “sin”.
I want to put my whole self into humble listening, into the attitude of welcoming everyone, with reverence, with mercy. There is a special beatitude, a stronger invitation: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). We are all “Children of the same God, and of the same Earth; we must make visible this Kingdom of Siblinghood with tenderness” (Pope Francis), in solidarity.
Truth, the inseparable companion of justice and mercy (FT 227)
I am writing these words as I contemplate a photograph of the Mayor of Florence Giorgio La Pira, ‘artisan of peace and justice’, against the backdrop of Florence Cathedral, next to the Municipal Tower, equally tall, in different shapes. From all parts of the city, Florentines, in order to live a human life worthy of the name, must keep their gaze on these two realities: the Dome that recalls Christ, the Tower that recalls fraternity and sorority, collaboration, expressed in political terms.
All the towns that arose in the Middle Ages are dominated by these two realities: the Dome-Cathedral, a sign of the presence of God, and the Civic Tower symbolising human communion. The ancestors believed very much in these two aspects of life. They could not think of noble, joyful human coexistence without the presence of God and without peace and working communion between citizens.
La Pira was a source of great inspiration to me, I followed his thinking and then had the opportunity to meet and listen to him personally. My home town is not far from Florence and he would go out to visit the nearest town halls, including my own, even though it is in Umbria. He was a great politician, one of the founders of the Italian Republic after the end of the Kingdom of Italy (1946). The Constitution of the Republic, of which he was one of the inspirers and drafters, contains the fundamental principles for a peaceful and just social coexistence, strongly inspired by the Social Doctrine of the Church.
A striking example of La Pira’s concrete commitment to justice is when in 1948, faced with thousands of homeless Florentines, he confiscated a house by public authority from those who had two or more, in order to ensure a roof over the heads of those who had lost it due to the war. A decision that was not formally legal according to the legislation of the time, but he stated in no uncertain terms that he was ready to go to prison if that gesture merited sanctions, because he had decided it for justice, truth and mercy.
La Pira’s action did not only take place in the West, in Florence or in Italy. As a true forerunner, he undertook peace journeys for a new openness to the world. He went to Moscow, Peking and Hanoi, which were the symbolic cities of the communist world, to get closer, to seek dialogue, to build bridges that would favour understanding, friendship and global world peace.
In my missionary life in Africa, especially in Kenya, I cultivated a lot of relationships with politicians, inspired by La Pira, and I came to found a Political Caucus of Catholic Legislators to help and enlighten them with my solidarity, friendship and my commitment to the dissemination of the Social Teaching of the Church, so that they would become politicians worthy of the name, artisans of peace, reconciliation, fair welfare for all, since no one in society should be left behind, nor should “the least” exist.
On 4 November 1974, in Florence, in the Church of the Santissima Annunziata, I was invited to a public discussion with La Pira and other participants. I was at the Podium with him because I had been asked to make a speech. I did it as a Missionary, on Politics and Social Transformation. At the end, taking his leave, Giorgio La Pira said to me: “Francesco, we are close, we understand each other at once. I see in you a successor of mine. I am now an old man and there is a need for you young people to continue on this path that we have started. I will accompany you with my prayers” (he died in 1977). I felt invested by the social mission that La Pira had assigned to me. Since then I have counted on his intercession to unite in my life and in my teaching, the faith that leads to Social Transformation, which can also be considered the new name for ‘mission’. Not “evangelisation” that sounds too generic, nor “development” that has brought exploitation to the bitter end, not even “justice and peace” without change in society, but it is: “Social Transformation”: Gospel, truth, peace, justice, solidarity, mercy, bearing fruit in true fraternity and sorority.