There are various innovations in President Giorgio Napolitano’s visit to the Pope: for the first time the Vatican welcomed a re-elected Italian Head of State; for the first time the meeting took place after a Pontiff’s renunciation; for the first time, in a setting of solemn simplicity, a president officially met a successor of Peter: “it seems from the ends of the earth”; for the first time a Bishop of Rome has chosen the name of Italy’s Patron. These are new things but come in continuity with relations that are marked by normality and excellence, as Pope Francis wanted immediately to emphasize.
In this new framework the harmony of their discourses was striking, first and foremost in the common and reiterated reference to Benedict XVI, to whom Giorgio Napolitano wished to address a thought and a hope which certainly had nothing to do with protocol. This confirmed the relationship of esteem and profound friendship that Pope Francesco gently recalled. And he evoked once again the metaphor of the two hills laden with history, as are the Quirinal and the Vatican, and that now “face each other with esteem and liking”.
Two main concerns were voiced at the meeting: the effects of the global crisis and freedom of religion. Moreover the latter, in the year in which the anniversary of the Edict of Milan is being celebrated, affords an opportunity — and not only in Italy — to reflect on the need to protect and promote a fundamental principle that Giorgio Napolitano described as the “pivot of the Italian Constitution, and likewise of the system of every State of rights”. And he added that it is a duty to “defend it everywhere, especially where the freedom and life of Christians are targeted”. What the President said was perfectly in tune with Pope Francis’ words: “it is the duty of all to defend religious freedom and to promote it for everyone”.
The gazes of both the President and the Bishop of Rome, focused on the disturbing panorama caused by the crisis, then proved to converge in an unprecedented reciprocal exchange of requests. Giorgio Napolitano, for his part, stressed “the need for a new vision of the development of the economy and of development”, which would take into account “spiritual and moral values which alone can inspire the search for sustainable solutions” and for “more serene and secure prospects”. In his turn Pope Francis said that “it is fundamental to guarantee and develop the overall structure of the democratic institutions, to which in these past decades Italian Catholics have made a crucial, loyal and creative contribution”
In the background was the common desire to work “for the good of the Italian people”. And in a clear collaboration” which flows from relations that are not institutional but “lived in depth, rooted in history”, the President emphasized. A history built by “believers and non-believers alike”, and addressed to the future with hope.
St. Peter’s Square
Nov. 21, 2019
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