He is a “priest of the street,” emulating qualities praised by Pope Francis, never bent over his desk but always over the sufferings of his neighbor and of the diocese.
The Pontiff himself asked him this year to write the meditations for today’s Via Crucis at the Colosseum.
His name is Archbishop Giancarlo Bregantini, prelate of Campobasso-Bojano since 2007, president of the Italian episcopal conference’s Commission for Social Problems and Work, Justice and Peace, for 14 years leader of the Calabrian diocese of Locri.
In those years in the south of Italy, the prelate came into contact with the reality of poverty and organized crime, against which he fought body and soul. He has left for history – also because of the sensation it created – his book of prayers “Prayer Challenges the Mafia.” His 14 years of pastoral commitment are relived now in the texts of the 14 stations of the Via Crucis.
In them, the archbishop thrusts his finger into the wounds of the present-day world through a radical and experiential spirituality.
ZENIT spoke about all this with Archbishop Bregantini.
ZENIT: The Pope’s visit to Campobasso and Isernia planned for July 5 and his choice of you as author of the meditations of the Via Crucis – a twofold attention to the Church of Molise on the Pontiff’s part. How do you live all this?
Archbishop Bregantini: I still don’t know why the Pope chose me for the meditations of the Via Crucis. I can say, however, that I am profoundly grateful to him because, through the Stations, I have relived so many moments of my life, be it during the years in Calabria, at Crotone in the factories and the prisons, then in the Locride with the challenge of the Mafia, and now in Molise, a fringe region. All these experiences that God gave me to live have come back positively as a memory of blessing, memorial of grace and of joy, but also of courage in face of the trials of life.
ZENIT: Has your archdiocese already begun to work to receive the Pontiff?
Archbishop Bregantini: Yes! I have come to Rome these days precisely to organize the reception of the Holy Father. We have sketched a very interesting profile of the visit with the bishop of Isernia and the Papal Household. We will highlight four places in particular: the rural world, the table of the poor, the prisons and the sick.
ZENIT: Speaking instead of the meditations, the theme is face of Christ, face of Man. The face of man that emerges from your reflections is that of the unemployed, of the victims of corruption, of usury, as well as the face of immigrants, of women who suffer violence, of abused children, of the sick. How were you able to find the face of God in all this?
Archbishop Bregantini: Because two verbs unite: the face of Christ illumines all of man’s sufferings. And the face of man incarnates the light of Jesus. As the Fathers of the Church say, “we could never have redemption without a Jesus who was made man so that man could become God.” Therefore, the face of Christ is light, while that of man is history, realized prophecy. The beauty of the Via Crucis is, in fact, the fact that Jesus went through all of man’s sufferings. This strikes young people very much who do not see in this a book a lesson, but a face streaming down with blood which reflects their face furrowed by the fear of unemployment, crime, violence and suffering that characterize the present-day world. This is the overwhelming force that the Via Crucis has.
ZENIT: Ample space is dedicated also to the realities of the south of Italy, as, for instance, the children killed by tumors caused by toxic waste or the conditions of the detained in prisons. However, above all, the guiding thread is the Mafia, a very “dear” topic of yours, recalling your strong pastoral commitment against the “ndrangheta” during your episcopate at Locri. In those cases are we still speaking of meditations or of true and proper denunciations?
Archbishop Bregantini: The subject of the Mafia occurs often in the meditations, even if in reality I refer to it indirectly. I speak of it, namely, as the evil at the base of corruption and of other crimes, as the negative force in society, as accusation against pollution, the very great weight of the economic crisis, the suicide of entrepreneurs which, unfortunately, are tragic matters every day …
ZENIT: In regard to the Mafia, I would like your opinion on the recent directives of the Calabrian Episcopal Conference for the seminaries, which state that seminarians will have to study the “ndrangheta,” in keeping with Pope Francis’ indications on the “courage of denunciation” and on the “flight of every conspiracy of silence.”
Archbishop Bregantini: I am very happy! I see realized many of the things that I myself wrote, many choices that, together with the other bishops, we made and lived in 14 years, in our everyday experience. I am happy about this decision because the future priest, from his formation, will be able to prepare himself, to read the facts, and not live from the “gossip at the bar” and not just able to repeat common places in a homily. By studying and learning these dramas, the priest won’t be afraid, but will be capable of giving and creating a new face to a prophetic Church.
ZENIT: Among all the social wounds listed, in your opinion, which is the worst, the one that must be urgently cured?
Archbishop Bregantini: Certainly unemployment, the crisis that becomes precariousness and which contaminates a great part of the new generations. Young people are constrained to face daily a thousand dramas due to pre-existing causes that do not depend on them. And this, in my opinion, is the gravest evil today.
ZENIT: In your meditations, however, there are not only sufferings but also much hope …
Archbishop Bregantini: It’s true. The message of hope is given by four wonderful figures who restore a “smile” to the Via Crucis. First of all, Simon of Cyrene, who carries the cross together with Jesus and who I have portrayed in the whole world of volunteer work, of contracts of solidarity. There is then the gratuitous gentleness of Veronica, who represents all that is done not to have but to give. In this there is also an indirect reference to the subject of Sunday, which must be respected in a holy way and which I would have liked to develop more explicitly. Then the third element, which is very beautiful, which are the women of Jerusalem to whom I dedicated more space than all the other subjects …
Monsignor Bregantini: Because it is a question of great present importance. Suffice it to think only of femicide! I wished to restore the image of woman not as object but subject. Subject of hope … however, with a most delicate clarification, namely, that Jesus asks for compassion, not commiseration [compassione, non commiserazione]. The difference is enormous: compassion matures a person, while commiseration crushes him. Christ suffers and wants the women close in this suffering; however, he doesn’t want to be commiserated, he wants to suffer in dignity. And it is important to understand that situations are not resolved with “look at what’s happened to that poor little one …,” but through the strength that is rooted in the grief of the other, making it one’s own and redeeming it.
ZENIT: Which, then, is the fourth element of the meditations?
Archbishop Bregantini: It is the embrace between Mary and Jesus, portrayed sublimely in Michelangelo’s Pieta. At the moment in which the Virgin embraces her dead Son, to which I associated all the sweetness and beauty of a Mother who has never forgotten her son in heaven. I thought, that is, of all the mothers who have lost a son in an incident or by a Mafia crime, who, however, do not feel their son is lost while yet loved, because love – says the Canticle of Canticles – is stronger than death.
ZENIT: In conclusion, therefore, what effect do you hope your reflections will arouse?
Archbishop Bregantini: I transferred to them my heart and all that it has lived. Therefore, I hope that one who reads the meditations will not feel crushed under the weight of the Cross, but that this same Cross, as it redeemed my heart, will be able to redeem everyone’s heart.
ZENIT: What has the Pope said about all this?
Archbishop Bregantini: Nothing, I’ve yet to meet him. I hope he’ll be happy.[Translation by ZENIT]