Christmas, poverty, migrants, the mosque… So many questions in Cardinal Betori’s greeting to journalists

The archbishop of Florence started by quoting the annual Censis report which speaks of melancholic, insecure and disheartened Italians: “It seems worrying to me, on the other hand it cannot be different if we see wars, including the one closest to us which is that in Ukraine. If we look at how badly we came out of the pandemic, which we hoped would cure us of our distortions. The economic crisis, climate change of which we are beginning to have a perception as a fact that affects us closely. Poverty that is growing numerically. … All the prerequisites for being melancholy and disheartened are there. The number of young people who do not study and do not work is worrying, at 23%, 10% more than the European average. If the new generations do not grow culturally and do not have access to work is a problem. The aging of the country, the demographic curve in decline, births are declining: this country seems convinced that it has no future”. In the face of all this, Betori said, “The announcement of Christmas is important, someone who should have despaired of us continues to have faith in humanity. Anyone who believes in God knows that he must give a testimony of love, introduce one principle of attention to the other. But Christmas questions us all, about how we become an instrument of human growth for people who have reasons of distrust. This is the wish: let ourselves be enlightened by the child God”.

Regarding the issue that sees the Islamic community looking for a place of prayer, given the eviction to which the current mosque is subjected, Betori underlined: “Personal rights are all held together. The right to freedom of worship is essential component of the dignity of the person and of the social good, we cannot make discounts on this. The way in which the matter of the mosque is being treated also by the institutions seems to me to be careful. We must all help each other, each in his role: it cannot be the Catholic Church to offer a solution, it would be an invasion of the pitch”. The archbishop recalled his excellent relations with the community and with the imam Izzedin, and how the first place of worship for the Islamic community was at the La Pira Center, in rooms made available by the Catholic community. But it was, he underlined, a temporary solution at a particular moment: today the diocese does not have suitable premises, in the center of Florence, to host the Islamic community which has grown a lot over the years. To those who asked him if, in principle, he would make spaces available, he replied “Why not” specifying, however, that they could never be deconsecrated churches, a solution that would not be respectful of the two religions. In Florence, he underlined, there is an atmosphere of welcome and dialogue. The experience of the training school for interreligious dialogue demonstrates this.

Regarding the affair of the former Gkn, whose workers are without salary, Betori affirmatio: “I am not a trade unionist or an economist, I have no solutions but I am convinced that the solutions come from the collaboration of all the players involved, workers, entrepreneurs, institutions. It’s not me who has to take initiatives, other than being close to those who then suffer the difficulties, which are the workers”.

On the subject of poverty, the archbishop recalled what is being done “by the diocesan Caritas and its operational arm, the Caritas Solidarity Foundation. It is not that Caritas has to do everything: its task is to raise the attention of all Christians towards charity. Caritas listens to people’s problems and raises them again, soliciting answers. If there are no other answers, through the Foundation Caritas gets to work with canteens, shelters and various services. In these needs have increased recently. Charity is not programmed, one must respond to the needs that arise, as happened with the refugees from the Ukraine. Our sources are the people’s charity and the funds that come from 8 per thousand, from which every year one million and 400 thousand euros go to diocesan charity”.

Speaking of the ships loaded with migrants arriving in Livorno, Betori recalled the commitment of many realities linked to the Church, but not only, and affirmed that migrations are part of human history, we ourselves are the fruit of migrations: ” there are no walls sufficient to close people off. We must confront this reality and make it inclusive. Because it is not enough to welcome, we need to integrate, include within society, even in different identities, making mutual understanding grow”.

On the pastoral visit to the parishes, resumed in recent days, he stated that he had seen a change after the pause due to the pandemic: “the synodal journey to which the Pope calls us has started with more conviction, and thanks to this mutual listening is becoming a model of doing Church. I see this also in the pastoral visit. I still have three vicariates to visit (le Signe, Mugello and Porta al Prato), if I have the time I don’t know, the Pope will decide it. A bishop – he added – he decides many things but not the diocese in which to carry out his ministry, and when to finish his service. This is the stuff of the Pope. In this period I try to stay in the midst of the flock, to accompany rather than guide, closer to the priests and people”.

Regarding his relationship with the various souls of the Florentine Church, he stated: “In recent years I have tried to recover the soul that stood behind the various souls of Florentine Catholicism to find the fabric that held them all together, which is love for the Church. Among the various strands, from the more orthodox to the more exposed or critical ones, everything is animated by a great love for the Church. We still have so much to discover, next year there will be the centenary of Don Milani: I had a nice conversation with Rosy Bindi, who chairs the national committee, and we agree that we must begin with his being a priest, which is the aspect from which everything else derives”.

Speaking of tourism, which often creates inconvenience for the city: “The pandemic could have been an opportunity to change something. Are museums open or not on December 25? Since the supermarkets are open, let the places that give us cultural bread also be open and spiritual can be a sign. But we should go there more prepared, with greater awareness. Florence must not be just a tourist attraction, but tourism is part of our nature, we cannot tell others not to come and admire Michelangelo. When I saw the people in the square, after the pandemic, I said “finally”. When I saw everyone running as it happened before, I thought that this is not the way to visit Florence, a like on social media is not enough. We need more awareness. In the past, i Florentines built a society around art and culture, without forgetting the wool from which the money came and the banks that multiplied it”.

Christmas, poverty, migrants, the mosque… So many questions in Cardinal Betori’s greeting to journalists