Towards the National Day of September 18th. The president of the CEI, interviewed for the magazine “Sovvenire”, reflects on the characteristics that the priest must have for Italy today and on the importance of supporting our priests with offerings. And then he gives us a memory of his first mass, when his “basilica” was a basement on the outskirts
The archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, is a shepherd with the smell of the flock and it is certainly also for this reason that Pope Francis wanted him to lead the CEI. On the occasion of the National Day of Offerings, on September 18, the magazine “Sovvenire” collected his testimony: a reflection on the characteristics that the priest must have for today’s Italy and on the importance of supporting our priests with offerings . In conclusion, a memory of his first mass, when his “basilica” was a basement on the outskirts.
Eminence, let’s try to trace the identikit of the priest who serves Italy in 2022 …
In reality he is the priest of all time, who must however speak the language of today. In that language he must translate the Gospel of all time and his own service as a priest, which is a service to communion, a service of proclaiming the Gospel and above all of accompanying his brothers and sisters, in addition to the fundamental one of the sacraments … The problem is always language and there are two fundamental issues. The first is to talk about what people understand, not into ecclesialese, in Latin or with categories that sometimes we ourselves find it hard to explain. The Gospel is very well explained. We must do as St. Francis did in September 1222, exactly 800 years ago, when he spoke in the square in front of the Municipality of Bologna. The thing that struck everyone was that he did not lecture but he seemed to “talk”: he spoke Italian, not Latin, and he spoke to the heart. And then there is the second issue, which is the problem of speaking to everyone, which is what every priest tries to do.
Looking at our priests, the almost 33,000 Italian priests, how close do you think they are to this model?
We all struggle and above all we do not want to become the ones who adapt and try to be fashionable, risking to trivialize things and make the content the most important tool … We have a lot to learn about language but we must be careful not to get into the big proud of the trivialization of contents, which is the great risk of the internet.
For more than 30 years now, there has been a tool (that of deductible offerings) given to communities to take care of their pastors. However, proportionally few Christians still use it, so much so that the offers cover less than 2% of the total need for the support of the clergy. Why do you think?
I think the problem is the tool. It had to be a guarantee of participation, as the State no longer took care of the priests with the congruous, but the faithful themselves, with the deductible offers and the signing of the 8xmille. But this system was taken almost as a sort of delegation (“so much is the CEI that deals with it”). No: we must be able to explain to people the meaning of participation.
What would you say to the faithful who fill our churches every Sunday to invite them to make an offering for the priests?
That the Church is your home and it is nice to want to make it work, supporting the priests; it’s nice that you want to help out too. There is no Pantalone who pays, as they say in Rome: we have the trousers – he laughs (ed) -, and sometimes even with some patches …
Sometimes, however, it is the priests themselves who are hesitant to face this discourse: what would it mean to them?
Not to be afraid. It is also about sharing difficulties, because we need them. We priests live off the generosity of others; it is important to remember this and that we learn to share this too.
In conclusion, we ask you for a gift: your best memory of when you were a young priest …
The first mass, undoubtedly, with the joy it brought to so many. Indeed, to tell the truth the first two masses. The first was in Santa Maria Maggiore, for my family. We were immersed in the greatest beauty of Rome and its history. But the second mass was also celebrated in another “basilica”: the basement, on the Roman outskirts of Primavalle, where I went to school for the children and where the community of adults and elderly of the neighborhood met every Sunday. Seeing their joy, their satisfaction, their pride in feeling loved and part of the Church is something that I will always remember because even today it makes me understand how the priest can help many to discover the presence of the Lord and to become themselves a presence of God, in the most unthinkable places. Even in a basement, in one of the neighborhoods that was then one of the most violent in Rome.
Who is Cardinal Zuppi
Matteo Maria Zuppi was born in Rome in 1955, the fifth of six children. As a student of the Virgilio high school he met Andrea Riccardi, the founder of Sant’Egidio, he began to frequent the community and committed himself to the service of the poor and marginalized. At 22, after graduating in Literature and Philosophy, he entered the seminary in Palestrina, where at 26 he became a priest.
In 1988 he hinged in Rome, where he was first assistant pastor and then pastor of the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Assistant general ecclesiastical of the Community of Sant’Egidio, he was a mediator in Mozambique in the process that led to peace, after over seventeen years of bloody civil war. In 2010 he was called to lead a suburban parish, Sts. Simone and Giuda Taddeo in Torre Angela, until in 2012 Benedict XVI appointed him auxiliary bishop of Rome. In October 2015, Pope Francis calls him to the metropolitan see of Bologna and four years later creates him a cardinal. From 24 May 2022 he is the new president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference.