VATICAN CITY, NOV. 8, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II highlighted the civil and political commitment of Giorgio La Pira, a one-time mayor of Florence whose work reflected the fruit of prayer and contemplation.
The praise came in a papal message that helped mark the celebration of the centenary of La Pira’s birth.
In the message, read Friday during the solemn celebration in Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, on the 27th anniversary of La Pira’s death, the Holy Father praised the layman’s “great intellectual and moral energies, empowered and refined in the daily exercise of study, reflection, ascesis and prayer.”
“Intuitive by nature, he felt called to develop his commitment as a Christian in the footsteps of Jesus sent to proclaim a joyful message to the poor,” said the message sent by the Pope. “It was necessary to avoid the ‘temptation of Tabor,’ as he called it, to descend to the plane of daily dedication to the many needs of his neighbor in difficulty.”
Giorgio La Pira was born in Pozzallo on Jan. 9, 1904, to a humble family. Having obtained his licentiate in law, he moved to Florence where, in 1934, he was appointed to the chair of Roman law and undertook an initiative called the Mass of St. Proculo to offer spiritual and material help to the poor.
Between 1929 and 1939 he carried out an intense activity as a university professor that put him in touch with the Catholic University of Milan. He was dedicated to Youth Catholic Action and to Catholic publications, writing in numerous reviews, including Frontespizio.
In 1939 he founded and directed Principi, a review that presented the Christian premises of a genuine democracy, at the height of the Fascist regime. The regime banned its publication.
In 1943, La Pira created the clandestine publication San Marco, while the secret police sought ways to arrest him. He moved to Rome and, the following year, taught a course on “The Premises of Politics,” an initiative of the Catholic Institute of Social Activities, at the Lateran Athenaeum.
“From the fruitful tension between contemplation and action (…) stems also the spiritual heritage he left the Church of Florence and the whole ecclesial community,” the Pontiff added in his message.
Mayor of Florence in 1951-’58 and 1961-’65, La Pira left an indelible mark on the city’s conscience and appearance, through numerous administrative endeavors and political and social initiatives. He promoted works of reconstruction on the city’s outskirts and toiled to defend workers and to help the poor.
La Pira played an important part in the drafting of the Italian Constitutional Charter, upholding the immanent value of the human person and the inviolability of his fundamental rights. He also fought for the insertion of the right to work as an inalienable element of the human being’s dignity.
“His was a spirituality, which we could say was ‘immanent’ to his daily activity: for him there was no dichotomy between Eucharistic Communion, meditation, cultural commitment, and social and political action,” the Holy Father said.
La Pira professed a special devotion to the Most Holy Trinity, “which attracted and recollected his soul in contemplation and adoration,” the Pope said. This devotion impelled La Pira to write: “The root of action is always here: in this ‘ecstasy’ of the enamored soul that sheds tears saying to the Lord: My Lord and my God! My God and my all!”
“His mind illuminated by faith was capable of premonitory intuitions for the course of the Church and the world, especially in regard to the need for peace among peoples and the overcoming of atheist and materialist ideologies,” John Paul II added.
During a trip to the Soviet Union in 1959, La Pira addressed in the Supreme Soviet in the Kremlin not only the question of disarmament but the topic of religious freedom, as an essential element for a complete process of peaceful building.
His commitment to interreligious dialogue was highlighted by the Pope last April 26, when he received in audience the participants in a meeting promoted by the National Association of Italian Municipalities.
On that occasion, John Paul II recalled as “emblematic” the “Congresses for Peace and Christian Civilization,” promoted by La Pira in Florence from 1952 to 1956, “to foster friendship among Christians, Jews and Muslims.”
“Faithful to the magisterium of the Church (…), he understood public office as a service to the common good, outside of the conditionings of power and the pursuit of prestige or personal interest,” the Holy Father wrote in the message.
“Let us pray that his example will stimulate and animate all those who are committed to witness the Gospel with their lives in present-day society and who are at the service of others, in a special way of the poor who always had in him a solicitous and faithful friend,” the message concluded.
Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, archbishop of Florence, announced that the conclusion of the diocesan phase of the cause of beatification of La Pira might take place Jan. 9.