Being Christians in a great city: the witness of Giorgio La Pira


Encountering God in the Heart of the City: scenarios of evangelization for the Third Millennium” was the theme of the last Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. During the assembly we tried to discover the true countenance of modern great cities nowadays, where undeniably protagonists are the lay faithful. In the city we find a huge space for the prophetic mission: to be salt of the earth and light of the world, besides being that evangelical yeast that transforms urban neighborhoods from within. As in the times of Saint Paul, also today the city seems to be a great ‘aereopagus’ in which we are called to announce Christ. It is our specific task to give a soul to the city, to humanize urban culture, that is to promote and defend the dignity of the human person and their inalienable rights. It means also to take up and give voice to all poor people, the marginalized, the forsaken –true ‘discarded’ humans of the urban peripheries, those who are the privileged receivers of the Gospel message. It means to create meeting places where dialogue and communion can be realized to help people coming out of their isolation, overcoming selfishness and indifference; places where the ‘mystic’ of living together could be transmitted, where each one-even the poorest- has something precious to share with others.

For us Christians to be the soul of a city means also to participate actively and responsibly where we live: in the life of condominium, of neighborhood, contributing also at the institutional level. We are called to exercise conscientiously our voting rights at the time of election of the mayor and city administration. Today a dangerous indifference of people is widespread in regard to politics, that is expressed through massive abstention from voting in the political and administrative elections. It is necessary that Christians citizens do not desert the political field, and that they be guided by the criteria of the social doctrine of the Church in the evaluation of political programs. Those who have a role of governance in our cities should remember that it is their priority and exclusivity to serve: to serve the people and the community. They should not be possessed by power that is given to them and that too often is abused. Too many scandals are part of almost everyday news by the media from corruption to surplus, and malfeasance. Scandals that, unfortunately, often implicate politicians who define themselves as Catholics!

I think it is helpful to look at the example of lay Christians who had the courage to witness thoroughly their faith in the exercise of a public duty. For example, let us think about Giorgio La Pira (1904-1977), University professor, congressman, mayor of Florence during the fifties and sixties, but above all a Christian of unsurpassable coherence. His process for the cause of beatification has been underway since 1986. For La Pira to be a Christian was not an accessory, rather the axis of all of his life. He used to say: “My vocation is only one, I would say structural: even with all my shortcomings, my indignities, I am - because of the grace of God - a witness of the Gospel; my vocation, the only one I have is that. Under this light has to be considered my ‘strange’ political activity”. What was the city of Florence for him, when he was mayor there? “For a Christian -he used to say- the city is not only the result of the historical evolution of man, but the model of life foreseen by God from eternity. A model of life that started to be realized in the course of history, in the time of ‘now and not yet’. Our cities, earthen icons of the heavenly Jerusalem, will realize themselves in the measure they will get closer to their eschatological model”. His look over the city was a look of faith and, at the same time, inspired to his convinced personalism. “The city, built according to the true measure of the human person, centered around the cathedral, rooted in workshops, united in squares, are the real great homes for people”. As mayor of Florence, his preferential choice was always for the poor: “A mayor that, being afraid of the powerful and rich people, abandons the poor - evicted, dismissed, unemployed and so on - is like a shepherd that, being afraid of the wolf, abandons the sheep”. He explained his preferential choice in a tangible manner: “The Gospel speaks clearly: in choosing between rich and poor; powerful and fragile; oppressors and oppressed; dismissing and dismissed; those who laugh and those who cry; our choice is without question: we are decisively for the second category. The reason is manifest: where there is a trampled poor, where there is a beaten weak person, where there is an oppressed, offended or one who suffers, there there is Jesus; and where there is Jesus there we are! Standing by!” And he specified: “It is my fundamental duty the following: if there is a suffering person, I have a precise duty: to intervene in all ways possible with all devices possible so that his or her suffering is diminished or at least relieved. There is no other norm for a mayor in general, and specifically for a mayor who is a Christian!” “My vocation is only one, structural, irremissible, not modifiable: to be a witness of Christ, it doesn’t matter how poor or unfaithful I am! I can be put in prison for this: I will never betray the poor, the defenseless, the oppressed. I will never add to the contempt of the powerful, the forgetfulness and or the disregard of the Christians.” Half a century has passed from the time these words were pronounced, they even have the power now of shaking consciences. Giorgio La Pira was a coherent Christian, a man who took seriously the Gospel, choosing of living it ‘sine glossa’ (without comments) , in a radical way and without making compromises. One is deeply touched by noticing the complete harmony between what La Pira said- and what Pope Francis is saying regarding the poor people-: that is looking at the relationship we have with them we will be consistent Christians or not.

Card. Stanisław Ryłko

Message from the President

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