The helicopter that took the Holy Father Francis to the Italian city of Bozzolo from the Vatican, landed at 8:55 am in the city’s sports field. After greeting the civil and religious authorities, the Pope went to the church where the sepulcher is found of priest, Primo Mazzolari.
Father Primo Mazzolari (1890-1959) is known as “Italy’s parish priest,” whose thought anticipated some steps taken by Vatican Council II, concerning the Church and the poor, religious freedom and dialogue with the estranged to avoid rejections. During World War II he saved many Jews and anti-Fascists. When the War ended, he saved some individuals who were involved with Fascism and were being unjustly persecuted.
Awaiting the Pope in front of the Cathedral of this small city was a crowd that received him very enthusiastically. The Pontiff paused to greet some persons and to bless some of the children.
Once in the church, he laid a bunch of flowers at the foot of the image of the Heart of Jesus and stayed a few minutes in silent prayer before the tomb of the Italian priest. Then, in front of the altar, he listened to the greetings and, visibly moved, he addressed a few words to those present.
“I have come here to Bozzolo and afterwards to Barbiana, following the footsteps of two parish priests who left a luminous but also ‘uncomfortable’ wake in their service to the Lord and to the People of God.” Pope Francis stressed that “parish priests are the strength of the Church in Italy.” He recalled that Blessed Paul VI pointed out that Father Mazzolari “walked ahead with too long a step and often, one could not follow him.”
So Francis proposed analyzing the priest’s message with three scenes of the area: the river, the ranches and the plains.
The river symbolizes “the power of God’s grace that flows incessantly to the world” and Father Mazzolari “never took shelter from the river of life, from the suffering of his people.
And he warned against “the way of letting things pass” of one who stays at the window without soiling his hands, or limits himself to criticize errors without a proactive capacity. He also warned against “separatist activism,” which builds institutions, cooperatives, schools, labor unions, but “can generate an elitist Christian community” where “clienteles are favored with Catholic labels.”
The third error is “dehumanizing supernaturalism,” distancing oneself from the world, which is a true field of apostolate, to prefer devotions, from which “stems a weak and loveless apostolate.”
The ranches or country estates, are the second scenery that at that time “was a family of families’ awaiting “a change that would put an end to the exodus to the cities,” explained the Pope.
Mazzolari used to say: “to walk one must go out of the Church” and be concerned also with “those needs that, although not spiritual, are human.” And he made “of his humanity an instrument of God’s mercy, not implementing a method of apostolate valid for all, but preferring to “propose discernment as the way to interpret the spirit of every man.” He was also able to “give value to necessary gradualness,” namely, not to exact perfection from all but to invite them to “give the best of themselves,” explained the Pope in describing Father Mazzolari, whose way elicited a call of attention from his Bishop, which he accepted “kneeling down and kissing the Bishop’s hand.”
The great plain is the third scene “and whoever heard the address of the mountain,” does not fear to enter “as wayfarer and witness in the boundless plain,” he said.
The Pontiff recalled that Father Mazzolari had to “face wars and totalitarianisms, fratricidal fights, the difficulty of a gestating democracy, the misery of his people.” And that he invited to love the poor the way they are, “without doing calculations on poverty, without pretensions of mortgage rights, not even that of making them citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and even less so, making them proselytes. Moreover, he lived “as a poor parish priest and not as a parish priest who was poor.”
“With this spirit of fraternal communion, with you and with all the parish priests of the Church in Italy, I want to end with a prayer of Father Primo, parish priest in love with Jesus and of his desire that all men have salvation,” concluded Pope Francis.