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My friend Benedict XVI

· Our interview with President Napolitano ·

Benedict XVI welcomes him and acknowledges him with the warmth one feels for an old and dear friend. Maestro Daniel Barenboim points to him as “the architect” of yesterday's event, when the sun set on an historic evening at Castel Gandolfo. He, who is President Giorgio Napolitano of the Italian  Republic, shows all his pleasure at having succeeded in his intention of getting these two men who spread the same message of non-violence and peace to know each other better: one, the Pope, with his words that resonate in every corner of the earth; the other, Maestro Barenboim, taking the same paths, keeping pace with the rhythm of a symphony of peace interpreted by young Israeli, Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian, American, German, Spanish and Argentine musicians. With his innate cordiality and his exceptional readiness for dialogue, never faltering before either great or small themes of life, President Napolitano willingly agreed to speak to L'Osservatore Romano .

Cardinal Ravasi first, followed by Maestro Barenboim, gave away a tiny secret: it was you who inspired and arranged an evening that went far beyond its exceptional artistic and cultural value. Can you tell us why you were so keen on this event?

For many years I have known and maintained a relationship that consists of admiration and profound friendship with Maestro Barenboim. I am also well acquainted with his youth orchestra. Indeed, I was extremely pleased to pass on to this orchestra the Dan David Prize which I was awarded on 15 May 2011 in Tel Aviv [editor's note: a scholarship of a million dollars] in order to help it consolidate and develop its activities in the world. I have seen marvellous pictures of its concerts throughout the world. I was deeply struck by the concert it gave gave in Ramallah: it is incredible how these young people succeed in making brothers and sisters of such a number of different young people and how music conveys what, unfortunately, still today Governments and politics do not manage to provide: that is, a sense of peace, of participation, of sharing in common values that speak of solidarity and spirituality. These are values that really could facilitate the solution of such an age-old, tragic problem as the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. The Pope is thus acquainted with this situation.

When did you have the idea of getting them together?

A short time ago I had the opportunity to speak personally to the Pope about this youth orchestra and about the message it is taking to the world. The Pope showed that he immediately understood its importance, he wanted to know more about it. And then the great gift. The gift that he made to these young men and women by receiving them in his house. And this was also an immense gift for Maestro Barenboim. They were deeply touch by such great sensitivity.

Where does your obvious harmony with Pope Ratzinger come from?

Six years have passed since the beginning of my mandate. The last of my seven years in office began in May. I do not hesitate to confess that one of the loveliest elements that has marked my experience has been, precisely, my relationship with Benedict XVI. However there is something more, something that has plucked at our human heart strings. And I am profoundly grateful for this. Today, for example, we have spent a moment together characterized, precisely, by so much simple humanity. We strolled together, we spoke to each other like people who have a relationship of forthright friendship, with all the respect that I have for him and for his most lofty ministry, for his most exalted mission. Part of the reason why we feel close is because we are both called to govern complex situations. The Pope, of course, in addition to being a “head of State” is also and above all the head of the universal Church. I find myself at the helm of the institutions of the Italian Republic in an extraordinarily difficult period. It is necessary in any context to make strong motivations of serenity, peace and moderation prevail. I am therefore very deeply aware of my mission as moderator, and what can one say of the similar mission which is incumbent on the Holy Father?

And then you are both united by the ideal of peace.

In the meantime I believe that the Holy Father's continuous appeals are accepted and shared by a great many people throughout the world. Of course, exhortations to peace, especially in areas such as the Middle East, collide with a certain gangrene of conflicts and clashes, as always happens when decades and decades pass without a solution being found. Something hardens into an incrustation that is very difficult to remove. Each one of us does what he or she can and the Pontiff can do a great deal with his inspiration and the constancy of his action. At least this is what I hope.

How do you see the relationship between Benedict XVI and Italy?

I shall never forget the message he addressed to us on the occasion of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy: I cherish and will always cherish it as a legacy of my presidential mandate. We might naturally have expected a cordial and formal message, but not, on the contrary, one as demanding as were his words, as well as his view of history. And this really shows that in Italy the State and the Church, the people of the Republic and the people of the Church, are very deeply and closely united.

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Dec. 14, 2019

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