There are different ways of interpreting Pope Francis’ visit to the President of the Italian Republic at the Quirinal Palace, but two words suffice to sum up their meaning: friendship and simplicity. As the meeting unfolded, these two striking traits emerged and were evident in their their speeches, but more than that these traits, in general, mark the relations and shared concerns of Rome’s two high hilltops.
Friendship is undoubtedly the first aspect to describe this new meeting between Napolitano, a re-elected president — a first in the history of the Republic — and Francis, a Bishop of Rome brought “from the ends of the earth” — a first in the history of the Church — though, of course, his roots are indisputably Italian. If, in fact, Napolitano spoke about a closeness and affection “well beyond the fabric of relations between Church and State in Italy”, the Pope echoed him by stressing the “sign of friendship” which his visit represented.
Already several times, in the first months of the pontificate, President Napolitano showed Pope Francis an attention that surpasses even “the excellent state of mutual relations”, thanks also to the friendship shown by the Head of State to Benedict XVI. And to the latter, Francis gently turned his thoughts, for he never lets an opportunity go by without expressing sincere affection for his predecessor; Napolitano, too, referred to the venerable emeritus, by recalling his message for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy.
The picture is that of truly excellent institutional relations, built in the time after the end of the Church’s temporal power, which was a dramatic event but, as Cardinal Montini once said in a memorable speech on the eve of the Council, a providential one. Relations then matured over the course of the 20th century from the insertion of the Lateran Pacts into the Italian Constitution and the agreed revision of the Concordat to their “daily collaboration in service to the human person”, as Pope Francis recalled.
This is precisely the other dimension of the meeting between the Head of State and the Pontiff that indicates a common path: one of simplicity, mirrored by seriousness and by several novelties in the unfolding of the visit, such as Pope Francis’ meeting with families of the Quirinal staff. This was a step beyond “the horizon of relations between institutions, President Napolitano stated in a firm and authentic speech.
Once again we are struck by the synergy between the two hills of Rome in their attentiveness to both Italian and international affairs and even more so is the common invitation to care for the human person, whether believer or nonbeliever, “in the distinction of their respective roles and spheres of action”. This falls against a dramatic backdrop of challenges posed by the present time, which are further threatened tensions and a persistent economic crisis.
The most pressing concerns now are building peace and supporting the family. President Napolitano’s acknowledgment of the “new potential” of the Christian message is important: not only in the fight against social insensibility but also as a stimulus in political life. To build together a culture of encounter and to raise our gaze on High.
St. Peter’s Square
Nov. 20, 2019
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