By Don Francesco Ramella
I am 31 years old and I have been priest for six years. I was born in Genoa, Italy, to a Catholic family. Nowadays, I am vicar for the Parish of San Matteo in Laigueglia (a small town in the province of Liguria) and I also teach Dogmatic Theology at the Diocesan Seminary and at the Superior Institute of Religious Sciences. I can say that I know the needs of Italian Catholics, not only due to my ministry in the parish, but also because I come from this culture. So, mine is a direct and vital experience.
Nowadays, Italian Catholics need to rediscover their faith and to deepen it. There are a certain number of Catholics who are devotees; they are reinforcing their faith with the liturgy and devotional practices.
On the other hand, however, there is a whole range of people who don’t care to be Christian. For a lot of people, in fact, being Catholic is more a cultural belonging than something they need in their lives.
UNTIL THE RECENT PAST, ITALY WAS A VERY CATHOLIC COUNTRY. The entire Italian society was formed by the Faith. It is actually not a blunder to say that rural Italy for centuries was a huge open air monastery in which time was measured by religion’s calendar. This deep Catholic culture was even discussed by Benedetto Croce, a well-known agnostic Italian intellectual of the 20th century. He said “We cannot say we are not Christian”.
NOW, THE CULTURE HAS CHANGED. In the last fifty years, Italy has been experiencing a progressive, violent secularization which has damaged every aspect of Italian society. We are living in an era of crisis, which has reached the family, education and vocations. To face up to it, we must rediscover our traditions.
UNDOUBTEDLY, ITALY IS A COUNTRY WHERE PEOPLE LOVED BEAUTY and concretized it in painting, architecture, music and art. In the past, Italian people – even the poor – had a great sense of beauty, due to the contributions of Catholicism.
ONE DOES NOT NECESSARILY HAVE TO SEEK OUT AN IMPORTANT CHURCH TO NOTICE THIS. If one enters into the church of even one of the smallest towns in Italy, it will likely be a great temple filled with fine masterpieces and beautiful vestments.
UNFORTUNATELY, EVEN THIS ASPECT IS FACING A CRISIS, WHICH AFFLICTS LITURGICAL LIFE. In fact, liturgies are often noticeably awful, though it seems as if Catholics do not notice this. However, there are a certain number of people who are asking for a return of the elegance as a basic element in Catholic worship.
MODERNIST AND LIBERAL IDEOLOGIES INFLUENCED MOST ITALIANS SLOWLY, BUT EFFECTIVELY. I do not think nowadays I can define Italy as a Catholic country. Italian law in fact strikes at the Divine Order, and Catholic people don’t seem to notice this either.
IN LIGURIA, MY REGION, FEW PEOPLE ARE MARRYING AND FAR FEWER ARE HAVING CHILDREN. Obviously, I am talking about the general tendencies. On the other hand, a noticeable number of people still have a sincere Faith, are devoted Catholics and are managing to witness to Christ’s life and doctrine.
YOUNG ITALIANS AND THE LATIN MASS: In general, young people show a certain interest in knowing about and participating in the Traditional Mass. I think that, unfortunately, in Italy the Tridentine Mass is not very available. The young who have not the grace of meet a priest who talks about it, can hardly know and appreciate the Traditional Mass.
AFTER HAVING EXPERIENCED THE TRIDENTINE MASS, A LOT OF ITALIAN YOUNG PEOPLE ARE EXPERIENCING A VOCATION to the priesthood or the consecrated life. Also many young men who are already studying to be priests discover, know and appreciate the traditional liturgy and then notice spiritual improvements.
Italian Folklore and the Faith
Popular traditions are still lively. In Italy, even in Liguria, one can easily find public demonstrations such as processions, feasts of the Patrons or pilgrimages. Nevertheless, most of these are in fact folkloric events.
On the other hand, most of the clergy use these manifestations to evangelize the people. There is a need of diligence here as demonstrations which are not transmitting an authentic faith are like empty shells without hope of survival.
Personally, I notice that if people regain the sense of the traditions in which they are involved, they become more interested in them and are affected positively. For example, this is the case of the confraternity of Saint Maria Maddalena, in the parish where I am working. When I arrived, it was nearly extinct. As young Catholics entered in it, however, it was unexpectedly reborn and today we have more than 40 members.
Human Freedom and the Priesthood
Vocations to the priesthood originate with God. He never stops sending the Church people who are able to serve Him in an extraordinary way. Obviously, humans’ decisions depend on their freedom. For that reason, your question may be: how is human freedom conformed to God’s will? The wider their knowledge of the real Doctrine, the more humans are free.
In our time, the young men who are called to become priests do not lack in generosity. What they do lack is knowledge of the real Doctrine, and sometimes seminaries may not transmit a completely Catholic education.
IF THEY HAVE THE GRACE TO KNOW AND LOVE CATHOLIC TRADITION, THEY CAN BECOME HOLY AND SANCTIFYING PRIESTS. If they do not know the holy Tradition, they will have inadequate skills. There is a great need for prayers, so that God may not only call men to the priesthood, but also permit that those vocations are educated in the Truth. The Traditional Mass is a wealth for everyone. It is necessary to do all is possible to make more and more people know it and appreciate the improvements and the graces it brings.