By Losana Boyd
PHOTOS: Losana Boyd and Beverly De Soto Stevens
In the Fall 2014, his Eminence Guiseppe Cardinal Betori of Florence designated the Church of Santi Michele e Gaetano as a parish church of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, giving the Institute the opportunity to staff the parish with a full-time priest. While the Institute has celebrated the Latin Mass on Sunday in this church since 2008 — following the Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI — October 11, 2014 marked the official start of the Institute’s full-time ministry in Florence.
The rector, 34-year old Canon Federico M. Pozza, was ordained to the priesthood in this church in 2011, and spoke to REGINA in this exclusive interview on his initial experience as rector and on the general condition of the state of the Church and the faith in Italy.
REGINA: Florence is a city full of tourists. How does this impact your role as rector of Santi Michele e Gaetano?
CANON POZZA: Sometimes, I just have to answer questions on external things, like construction dates and so forth. Sometimes tourists come for Confession, which is available here throughout the day in Italian, English, and French. Often travelers will know that we celebrate the Latin Mass here, and will come for Mass during their stay in Florence.
REGINA: What are the Institute’s hopes or goals for the apostolate?
CANON POZZA: To keep this church at the disposal of souls. To help those souls who need the Extraordinary Form of the Mass for their holiness to go towards God.
“ONE THING PEOPLE NOTICE WHEN THEY WALK BY THE CHURCH IS THAT SANTI MICHELE E GAETANO IS OPEN for 11 1/2 hours in the day. When we were a Christian society, all of our churches were open during the day. Today, most remain closed throughout the afternoon hours. What has happened is secularization. Corporate thinking has entered the Church; the idea that if only one or two persons enter during the afternoon, perhaps it isn’t “worth” keeping the church open. This is something that has disconsoled me personally, and I wanted something different for Santi Michele e Gaetano.” – Canon Pozza
REGINA: Santi Michele e Gaetano is situated in a very exclusive part of the city, alongside Gucci, Prada, Armani, Hermes and other icons of earthly treasure. What goes through your mind regarding these places and the Real Treasure in the Tabernacle?
CANON POZZA: If the earthly treasure is well used, it could bring us to the Real Treasure. All of these things are instruments for the Glory of God. It is how we live with them and how we use them that matter. When we are “poor in spirit,” we will have a natural detachment from these transitory things. So it is fine and good to use them appropriately.
“IF COMPARED WITH OTHER EUROPEAN COUNTRIES, THE CHURCH IN ITALY WOULD SEEM TO BE IN GOOD CONDITION. Increasingly though, the Church is being attacked by secularity. Congregations are less crowded, young people don’t go to Mass, even the priests are unable to properly present the Gospel.”
“IN THE LAST TWO DECADES, THE SITUATION HAS WORSENED IN ITALY, through a succession of governments and laws that directly violate Christian principles. Within the culture, the quality of entertainment has really fallen. Today’s television and internet are having a terrible influence on young persons. Their intelligence is less patient, terrified in fact by silence and the necessity of taking time to really study and comprehend anything. Teaching the complexities of Christian mystery and the depth of Christian history becomes increasingly difficult in this environment. “
“YOUNG PEOPLE DON’T BELIEVE BECAUSE THEIR PARENTS DON’T BELIEVE. They don’t believe that through the Church they can find the truth, the answers to their deepest questions about life. Instead, they want work as little as possible with the goal of simply enjoying themselves.”
“FAMILIES ARE NOT TRANSMITTING THE FAITH and we don’t have enough priests or sisters for all the work that needs to be done.”
“AND THE CHURCH BEARS SOME RESPONSIBILITY FOR THIS DOWNTURN. The churches are empty because they are closed. After the sixties, it was accepted that we would become a minority within the society.”
“TODAY THE CHURCH IN ITALY HAS LARGELY CEREMONIAL STATUS. DUE TO THE MEDIA CAMPAIGN AGAINST HER, SHE IS SEEN AS RICH AND POWERFUL and not wanting to pay what is perceived as her share of taxes.”
“IN TERMS OF MORAL ISSUES, PEOPLE SEEM TO BE ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL. As the society becomes increasingly secularized, the Church is less visible. In the 1970s, for example, the butcher shops throughout Italy were closed on Good Friday. RAI would only broadcast classical music. Forty years ago, people accepted the importance of the Church within society. Now they refuse it.” –
“NEVERTHELESS, THE CHURCH IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE ALL OF HER HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS, Caritas, and the Red Cross (a cross, after all..) Misericordia, the schools, and so forth. Her usefulness is measured in what the Church is able to give to the society materially.”
“THE FLORENTINES ARE JUSTLY PROUD THAT THEIR CITY WAS THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE RENAISSANCE. They have high standards for beauty and culture. Florentines love polemics, discussions of all kinds, spiritual and intellectual brightness. In Milan, the Ambrosian priests tend toward a more pastoral simplicity; a priest here in Florence has to have a stronger personality.”
REGINA: How do tourists, shoppers, and Florentines in your neighborhood react to the Latin Mass?
CANON POZZA: I would say that easily ninety percent of those who come are pleasantly surprised by the Latin Mass. We have had no bad reactions at all.
REGINA: The Latin Mass is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and not “user friendly”. Can you comment on this?
CANON POZZA: I do understand this perception, and much of the problem is that the faithful are not catechized. Too many do not understand even what the Mass is. We have to educate from the pulpit, become more visible, to help people understand the rubrics. In fact, catechesis is something we need throughout our lives.
“I WENT TO THE LATIN MASS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2002 while I was a student at the Catholic University in Milan. It was in a very tiny church, but with the permission of the Archbishop. In this church I saw that there exists a Mass that reconciles me. In fact, I was better able to accept the New Mass once I could see it through the lens of the Old.”
REGINA: Can you tell us a bit about your journey to the priesthood?
CANON POZZA: I was brought up Catholic in Milan and educated by the Jesuits for all of my elementary and high school years. Until the beginning of high school, I had good priests who celebrated well the New Mass.
In high school, however, there was a priest who taught very strange things, pantheistic things. He proceeded to describe the Divine as a kind of energy or presence, something akin to the power of music. For me, our Lord is a Person with whom I can speak. I could not accept this other way of considering God and began to feel alienated from the Church.
For many years, I remained outside of the practice of the faith, though I went to church daily to pray. It was the experience of the Latin Mass that initiated my return to full communion.
At the age of 22, about halfway through my law studies at the Catholic University, I experienced something in the process of law itself that troubled me: that the trial truth is not always the real truth.
I began to challenge myself if I should not be giving my life to something superior. Around this time I met a priest of the Institute of Christ the King and began going to Gricigliano for Feast Days and retreats.
After graduating from college in 2004, I made the decision to enter the Institute seminary. As the only native Italian speaker in the seminary, I was given the opportunity to travel with my French-speaking superiors to Rome and as a result, I have seen the Church from quite inside. This was a great privilege of my seminary experience.
Every vocation has its own odd story, one that makes it different from any others. But fundamentally, when our Lord calls someone to follow Him, it is a calm and peaceful process, which is not hard. Every time God asks for something, it is something fit for us.
REGINA: What are the chief obstacles for moderns in confronting the Catholic faith?
CANON POZZA: We live in a very unclear time, and don’t accept that there is a higher way to think about things. From the French Revolution to the present there exists a distrust of hierarchy, but our Lord is not democratic; He created everything without asking for our vote or opinion. In the past, this was understood very well.
“The current society needs witnesses, credible witnesses, of the Gospel. And we need to start with the priesthood. Think about how St. Patrick returned to Ireland. He came as a king, with a full retinue. He was impressive, he got the people’s attention, and turned them away from pagan worship.”
“The truth is that we are made to worship. And if we do not worship God, we will worship something else, such as wealth, health, social status. Even if the person doesn’t acknowledge it directly, he is doing it.”
“WHEN I HEAR THAT SOMEONE HAS LEFT THE FAITH, my immediate reaction is that they will come back. When all the assurances that they assumed would give them happiness have failed, they will return to the truth that never disappoints. We have a splendid faith. We are rightly astonished by the beauty of the Church.”
“IN THE FUTURE, WE WILL BE AN ELITE CHURCH. NOT IN TERMS OF SOCIAL ELITE, but in terms of our reduced size and that we will exist in the margins of society. Pope Benedict often spoke of the new evangelization as emanating from a smaller church, a remnant, if you will. But let’s also remember, this whole enterprise started with a group of twelve; so I think that with the help of God the Church could find again her true position in the world.” – CANON POZZA