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'We are still among the mass of honest people'

· Rhymes and cartoons by Jacovitti in the Catholic graduates' magazine ·

“The years pass, the clock ticks, it strikes and strikes from dawn till late at night […] / from dictionaries to the cinema, to ties, / from taxes to clothes, to Gruyère cheese, page after page of the calendar / the most varies spectacle is performed. / And the day comes at last – alas fatal day - / on which people say: “We are no longer making any headway! […]. Europe in a frenzy / from China disturbing news arrives / so I shall not mention the slaughter.... / and pessimism gnaws”. The song goes on and on. It should be said straight away that it was written 62 years ago.

We found it at the back of an illustrated publication composed of four pages, entitled “Film Almanac of Graduate Families 1949”, complete with the unmistakable cartoons by Benito Jacovitti, then illustrating Il Vittorioso. The verses are by Ugo Piazza, a doctor-poet from Faenza, a friend of Paul VI and for years a contributor to L'Osservatore Romano and to our weekly, L'Osservatore della Domenica. The doctor from Romagna directed this weekly for many a year before the arrival of Enrico Zuppi to whom he handed over the post of editor. He retained, however, the weekly “Poetry Corner” with the pen-name of PUF (Piazza Ugo Faentino), until his death in 1975.

The Almanac starts with a typically Jacovittian domestic scene. Its central pages contain 12 family cartoons for the 12 months of the year which, in their turn, are accompanied by the same number of amusing sub-titles for the use and consumption of the Roman Group of Catholic Graduates. The movement, known in history for the influence in religious and social life exercised by many of its members in post-war Italy, was founded in 1932. Since 1980 it has been known as the Ecclesial Movement for Cultural Commitment (MEIC). It was conceived of by Igino Righetti with the crucial backing of Mons. Giovanni Battista Montini, who, for years, were respectively president and national chaplain of the Italian Catholic University Federation (FUI).

Piazza, a member in the 1920s, had immediately distinguished himself by his free and easy, smiling ways which so often cheered and revived the atmosphere of FUCI, even on the summer days in 1931 that were dramatic for all Catholic associations which were the victims of the Fascist repression. Thinking back to what Cardinal Achille Silvestrini once wrote on the doctor-poet, we realize that the smile elicited by these rhymes does not reflect naïve optimism. On the contrary,  it expresses hope, fortified by “a simple, forthright faith, a fresh spring of love welling up from the heart, a delicate respect for every person”, yet at the same time, by “a faith simple but not facile, nor ignorant of human problems, life, culture, contradictions and suffering”. Indeed, Ugo Piazza was truly such.

In 1949 post-war Italy was still grappling with enormous economic problems to which the Marshall Plan had been giving some relief for two years. These four pages unconsciously offer us a lesson of a simple and courageous life that pays attention to the essential; of a model of a family rich only in its good harmony and trust in Providence, in the passing of days marked by school and work commitments. Yet also by free time lived in joyful moderation and without pretences. All this portrays the image of a country humbly on its way towards rebirth. “The first to weep is later to smile”, Piazza sings further, “And only think: 'Well, all things considered, we are still among the mass of honest people. The friend who is a minister or a deputy also sweats and works, as I do / and pulls the cart of the State / together with his wife and children. / Whereas at school or at my desk, basically, I only pull my own'”.




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 28, 2020