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A starry sky from the depths of hell

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26 April 2024

War leads to fear. And fear leads to war. It’s a vicious cycle. Humankind, a slave to its own fears, becomes aggressive and violent. After all, man’s fear is the fear of death. Paradoxically, because of this fear, he ends up dealing out death. The violence of a frightened human being in turn spreads fear around him or her, and everything continues like that, in a spiral sowing death and terror in the world. After many years of peace, Europe is now surrounded by wars that break out within or ever closer to its borders. It is a suffocating feeling, of lack of air, light and hope — an anguishing feeling of suspension, with an inability to see far away. One’s vision is limited to today, to tomorrow, and the scenario is increasingly gloomy, as if we were blindfolded and were walking along the edge of an abyss. At times, a glimmer, a light that leads the way and gives hope and warmth, seems to penetrate this darkness in which man has placed himself. It is the light of faith. Recently, Pope Francis showed the faithful a prayer book and a rosary that had belonged to a young Ukrainian soldier, Oleksandr, who was killed in action — the prayer of the “precarius” man, who senses the transience of his own existence and entrusts himself to something greater.

It is precisely the horror of war that drives soldiers to have a tenacious solidarity with life, with other human beings, with friends, with compatriots, but also with enemies, with the living and with the dead who experienced that same horror before them, struck by that blind and inhuman violence.

On the front lines of the First World War, Tuscan poet Giuseppe Ungaretti “exploded” with the memorable verses of Vigil: A whole night long / crouched close / to one of our men / butchered / with his clenched / mouth / grinning at the full moon / with the congestion / of his hands / thrust right / into my silence / I’ve written / letters filled with love / I have never been / so / coupled to life.

Just like another Aleksander, whose last name was Zatsepa. He was killed on the Russian front during the Second World War. He left behind a letter, later found in his coat pocket, addressed directly to God, which needs no comment: “O God, hear me! Not once in my life have I ever spoken to you, but today I feel the urge to make you an act of worship. You know that even from my infancy they always told me that you didn’t exist … I, stupid, believed them. I had never marvelled at your great works. But tonight I looked up from out of a shell hole at the heaven of stars above me! And fascinated by their brilliant magnificence, all at once I understood how terrible the deception …I don’t know, O God, if you will give me your hand. But I say this to you, and you understand. Isn’t it strange, that in the midst of a terrible inferno, the light should appear to me and I should have discovered you? Beyond this I have nothing to say to you. I am happy just because I have known you. At midnight we must attack. But I have no fear, you are looking out for us. It is the signal. I have to go. It was wonderful to be with you. I also want to tell you, and you know it, that the battle will be hard: it could be that, in this very night, I’ll come to knock at your door. And even though up to now I haven’t been your friend, when I come, will you let me come in? But what’s this? Am I crying? My Lord God, you see what has happened: only now I’ve begun to see clearly …Farewell, my God, I am going. It’s scarcely possible that I’ll return. Strange; Death now has no fear for me”.

Andrea Monda