Cardinal Tettamanzi Gets Ready for Milan

“I Am Sure They Want a Holy Bishop”

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MILAN, Italy, SEPT. 23, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Next Sunday, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi will officially take over as leader of the Milan Archdiocese, one of the most important in the world.

During the solemn ceremony, his predecessor, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, will hand him the flame of this millennial diocese, which has its own rite — the Ambrosian — and counts numerous saints among its past archbishops. Dionigi Tettamanzi was born on the outskirts of Milan.

Here, Cardinal Tettamanzi expresses his wishes, fears and hopes for his new post.

–Q: Eminence, in a certain sense, you are returning home. You must have learned much in your life spent all over Italy. Could you indicate the most valuable lesson?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: All are very valuable when they enrich a human and faith experience. There is no local Church or territory that is not original and indispensable in some way so as to merit attention and acceptance. Perhaps this is the most important lesson.

–Q: You know the Milanese faithful. You are one of them. What do they expect from their archbishop?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: I am sure they want a holy bishop, who will make every effort to live in profound and constant communion with the Lord and, as a result, immersed in the life of the people, willing to share their problems and hopes.

–Q: And what will you expect from them?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: That they be happy and proud of the gift of faith and, at the same time, consistent and proud in living it. In the ecclesial realm, obviously, and within lay groups but, above all, in the realms of life, rediscovering a missionary tension. Christianity is a novel experience open to all, in simplicity and audacity.

–Q: Milan is a large diocese, very large. Is it too large?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: What history gives is never too much, even if it presents problems of adequate leadership and organization. …

–Q: After the initial welcome, there have already been those who have given you pointers. Don’t you think that the Milanese are a bit conceited, that they feel they are first in the class?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: We all have qualities and defects, and the Milanese are no exception. I do not excuse them but ask them to harmonize their own self-awareness with everything that is beautiful, too, in the smallest communities and to commit themselves that much more to thoughtfulness and brotherly dedication.

–Q: You have chosen to make your official entry into the diocese not by crossing a geographical border but by beginning from within, from Renate, your birthplace. Why?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: I think that by doing this I give greater honor to the Pope’s call. My human and Christian roots are in Renate. I journeyed toward the priesthood with that community. It was there that I learned the language of simple and cordial relations.

I would also like to have the model of a small parish appreciated in which, however, the presence and closeness of the Church to the people is felt tangibly in the midst of men’s homes.

–Q: It is difficult to be in your shoes. But no one would be surprised if they saw in you a suggestion of disturbance. You will cross thresholds but you will do so as archbishop. What do you feel at this time?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: A great tremor, I would almost say fear, which I hope to bear by surrendering to the will of God, entrusting myself to his merciful goodness, along with the generosity of the Milanese people.

–Q: The Gospel warns us not to look back. This might seem too much when you leave a diocese like Genoa, important and full of history — a diocese where you have felt welcome.

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: I am amazed by the Genoese people’s capacity to love. If I had not realized it before, I would have understood it absolutely over these last weeks. With them I played the card of a humanity moved by the spirit of the Gospel. But I have learned many things from them, which I now would like to take with me as spiritual endowment; they will undoubtedly be very valuable in the new stage of my ministry.

–Q: Let’s talk about the Milanese clergy. From now on, they are your priests. You know many and many know you. And yet, each one has rights or at least they will have ideas of how they would like the new archbishop to be. What are you promising them?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: I have already written a personal letter to each one of them, to let them know that my greatest and most audacious desire, I know, is to be confirmed as their father and brother in venerating and serving each one’s priestly dignity.

–Q: It is often pointed out that many novelties that emerge in the political realm in Milan are later spread to the rest of the country. Is it also the case that the archbishop has been supported by some and criticized by others? How do you see the political realm?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: I feel I must urge greater participation in civil society, hence, of each individual in the life of the polis, to pay attention to his/her own moral conscience for choices that are consonant with the real common good, and to live in the freedom of the children of God, which has a privileged expression in the bishop, who stands before all and is available to all, following the example and with the grace of St. Ambrose.

–Q: It seems that there are also great expectations among non-believers in regard to the new archbishop. In your opinion, do they expect social speeches, moral exhortations and spiritual calls?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: The grace of the bishop is connected to the saving Gospel. However, a spiritual call molds the commitment of the whole human person and of all human beings, beginning with the weakest, the most forgotten, those who suffer.

–Q: In Milan, civil marriages will soon outnumber the religious ones. How do you evaluate this reality?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: It is a sign of psychological frailty but also of the prevailing culture, marked by a secularism which has as a goal what, in fact, is objective and subjective impoverishment. Of course, the problem is not to impose but, rather, to make desirable and, therefore, to proclaim with “parresia” [frankness] the grace and strength connected with the sacrament.

–Q: I do not mean to delve into secrets, but I imagine that the Pope must have said something to you, when he entrusted you with the diocese of Milan. Can you tell us what he said?

–Cardinal Tettamanzi: Beyond any word, a gesture of the Pope will always remain alive in my memory. I was standing before him, and, in connection with the appointment proposed to me, I tried to object, expressing my limitations and lack of ability. In a flash, his expression became an encouraging smile. At the same time he patted me, in a gentle and unexpected way, which I shall never forget.

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