Assisi (Fides Service) – A Congress on “Italian Catholicism from 1958 to today”, held 23 to 25 October at the Sacred Convent of Assisi promoted by various Universities (Sacred Heart Catholic Unviesrity in Milan, Roma Tre, Perugia, Salerno, Bari, Cagliari,) and the Luigi Sturzo Institute, which compared Catholicism in the different countries of Europe revealed “the Italian exception ”. According to French historian Jean-Dominique Durand, this exception consists first of all in an Italian model of “the lay state”, pragmatic and quite different from the French ideological model, which has led Catholics to play a role in society and culture and to assume a social – directly and indirectly– not found in other European realities.
The role of Rome, the presence of the Papacy, the effectiveness of the Concordato, the impact of a strong and compact Catholic democratic party are some of the distinctive marks of the Italian case. Round table discussions in Assisi focussed on the motives for these specific characteristics. The Italian Bishops, the Bishops Conference, parishes, new Church movements, Catholic Action, the clergy, Religious, spirituality, the role of women, popular piety, Catholic dissent were re-considered in speeches by the historians present at Assisi as protagonists of Italian modern history. Other themes discussed included relations between the Catholic world and political traditions, the economy, communications, intellectuals, third world.
A Catholicism which has passed through the acceptance of the Council, secularisation, which no longer proposes an all-knowing and all-understanding doctrine, is once again a Catholicism of witness, as the 91 Italians “new martyrs”, killed in Italy and elsewhere in the world because of their Christian commitment between 1958 to 2000 prove, as it was said by Adriano Roccucci of Roma Tre University, a former member of the Vatican Commission which on the occasion of the Holy Year 2000 collected, more than 13.000 reports on 13.000 men and women who died for the faith in the 20th century.
There exists “an Italian religious case”, said Andrea Riccardi in the closing address of the Congress: the vicissitudes of an extremely plural Catholicism, rich in subjects and identity “not confined to political Catholicism incarnated in the Christian Democrat experience.” (A. Giovagnoli), and which in the past 50 years has known a serious of crises. “The crisis –Riccardi said – can be considered a permanent condition of Italian Catholicism: amidst the threat of communism, secularisation, Catholic “dissent”, de-Christianisation. Nevertheless – as the studies presented at Assisi demonstrate – precisely these crises and threats had a positive and long term vivifying effect. Other European realities of Catholicism, the Spanish during Fascism or Protestantism in a position of state monopoly in northern Europe, experienced serious crises in the 1970s. (S.L.) (Fides Service 27/10/2003 – lines 38, words 475)