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PHOTOS: Birthplace of St. Bonaventure celebrates his feast day

July 15, 2023 Catholic News Agency 1
Four men carry a statue of St. Bonaventure during a candlelight procession on July 14, 2023, in Bagnoregio, Italy, his birthplace, on the vigil of the saint’s feast day. / Patrick Leonard/CNA

Bagnoregio, Italy, Jul 15, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

The birthplace of St. Bonaventure, a 13th-century intellectual giant now revered as a doctor of the Church and the “second founder” of the Franciscans, paid homage to its patron Friday night on the vigil of his feast day with music, prayers, and a candlelight procession.

For the citizens of Bagnoregio, an idyllic town nestled in Italy’s Lazio region about a 1½ drive north of Rome, the July 15 feast is both a solemn holy day and a wellspring of civic pride. Bonaventure’s “braccio santo,” or holy arm — the only surviving relic of the saint — is kept in a silver, arm-shaped reliquary housed in a side chapel of Bagnoregio’s Cathedral of San Nicola and San Donato.

Religious sisters participating in a candlelight procession on July 14, 2023, in Bagnoregio, Italy, in honor of the town's patron saint and native son, St. Bonaventure. Patrick Leonard/CNA
Religious sisters participating in a candlelight procession on July 14, 2023, in Bagnoregio, Italy, in honor of the town’s patron saint and native son, St. Bonaventure. Patrick Leonard/CNA

Friday’s procession, which commenced at the cathedral, was led by the town’s confraternities of the Most Blessed Sacrament, St. Francis, and St. Peter. Following them were a brass band, a statue of the saint adorned with flowers and carried by four men, and a priest carrying the holy arm. Then came Cardinal Fortunato Frezza, numerous priests, and this year’s first communicants, followed by other religious and residents.

As the participants made their way down the candlelit Via Roma, onlookers watched from windows, balconies, and restaurants bustling with patrons on a warm summer evening.

A resident of Bagnoregio, Italy, watches a candlelight procession through the streets of the town in honor of its patron saint, St. Bonaventure, on July 14, 2023. Patrick Leonard/CNA
A resident of Bagnoregio, Italy, watches a candlelight procession through the streets of the town in honor of its patron saint, St. Bonaventure, on July 14, 2023. Patrick Leonard/CNA

Arriving at the piazza Sant’Agostino, Cardinal Frezza, standing beneath a monument of Bonaventure, offered a brief reflection on the importance of the saint and of procession as a form of popular devotion.

The relic “gives us strength to sustain our weakness … It is a relic that is alive and active,” observed the cardinal, a noted biblical scholar. It is “an arm that teaches,” he said, the very right arm that “wrote his works of great intellect and wisdom.”

The cardinal closed his brief catechesis by saying “our life is a holy procession, an itinerary of the mind towards God.” Here he was playing on the title of one of Bonaventure’s most important theological works, Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, “The Journey of the Mind to God.” Following a benediction with the relic, the procession continued down Via Fidanza, looping around the main gate and then back up Via Roma to the cathedral. The faithful entered and Cardinal Frezza imparted the final blessing, again with the relic.

Cardinal Fortunato Frezza leads a prayer service on July 14, 2023, in Bagnoregio, Italy, in honor of the town's patron saint and native son, St. Bonaventure. Patrick Leonard/CNA
Cardinal Fortunato Frezza leads a prayer service on July 14, 2023, in Bagnoregio, Italy, in honor of the town’s patron saint and native son, St. Bonaventure. Patrick Leonard/CNA

The Franciscans’ ‘second founder’

Born in 1217 (or 1221, according to some accounts) as Giovanni Fidanza in Civita di Bagnoregio (then in the territory of the Papal States), he displayed great acumen and intellectual curiosity. He was, however, plagued by ill health in his youth. His mother called upon the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, and he was, according to the legend, miraculously cured.

The young Bonaventure studied at the nearby Franciscan convent. Given his great talent, at 18 he left Bagnoregio to study in Paris, then the intellectual capital of Europe.

He joined the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor in 1243. At the University of Paris, he studied under the renowned Franciscan theologian Alexander de Hales; in 1257 he earned his teaching license (magister cathedratus) in theology there. Bonaventure was a contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas, whom he met as they were both teaching at the university. The two future doctors of the Church were united in defending the then-nascent Franciscan and Dominican orders, whose orthodoxy was called into question by the secular clergy.

A statue of St. Bonaventure is shown during a candlelight procession on July 14, 2023, in Bagnoregio, Italy, his birthplace, on the vigil of the saint's feast day. Patrick Leonard/CNA
A statue of St. Bonaventure is shown during a candlelight procession on July 14, 2023, in Bagnoregio, Italy, his birthplace, on the vigil of the saint’s feast day. Patrick Leonard/CNA

Bonaventure’s teaching career was cut short; in 1257 when he was appointed minister general of the Franciscan order, which was then plagued by internal factionalism due to divergent understandings of Francis’ spirituality following his death.

To rectify this, Bonaventure spent much time traveling around Europe to help maintain the unity of the order. In 1260 went to Narbonne, France, to solidify the rule of the order and that same year he started writing (which was completed three years later in 1263) the Legenda Maior, “The Major Legend,” considered the definitive biography of St. Francis. For Bonaventure, the key to righting the order lie in Francis’ ideals of obedience, chastity, and poverty, which he re-established as the Franciscans’ guiding principles.

A woman venerates the “braccio santo,” or holy arm, of St. Bonaventure on July 14, 2023, the vigil of the saint's feast day, at the Cathedral of San Nicola and San Donato in his hometown, Bagnoregio, Italy. Patrick Leonard/CNA
A woman venerates the “braccio santo,” or holy arm, of St. Bonaventure on July 14, 2023, the vigil of the saint’s feast day, at the Cathedral of San Nicola and San Donato in his hometown, Bagnoregio, Italy. Patrick Leonard/CNA

Enduring influence

In addition to his contributions as the “second founder” of the Franciscans, Bonaventure had a profound impact on the papacy. Following the chaos of the three-year conclave in Viterbo that elected Gregory X in 1271 (the longest papal election in the history of the Church), the new pontiff, also a Franciscan, entrusted Bonaventure with preparing many of the key documents for the Second Council of Lyon (1272-1274) which sought to unify the Latin and Greek Churches.

He was made a cardinal in the consistory of May 28, 1273. He did not, however, see the end of the council, as he died on July 15, 1274. He was canonized in 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Sixtus V in 1588.

A candlelight procession through the streets of Bagnoregio, Italy,  on July 14, 2023, honors the town's native son and patron saint, St. Bonaventure. Patrick Leonard/CNA
A candlelight procession through the streets of Bagnoregio, Italy, on July 14, 2023, honors the town’s native son and patron saint, St. Bonaventure. Patrick Leonard/CNA

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, who was a great admirer of Bonaventure, visited the saint’s birthplace to venerate the relic and address the faithful. In 2010 he dedicated three consecutive Wednesday audiences on the saint, outlining the importance of his governance of the Franciscans and his theological, philosophical, and mystical works. Bonaventure’s writings, Benedict observed, demonstrate that “Christ’s works do not go backwards, they do not fail but progress.”

“For St. Bonaventure, Christ was no longer the end of history, as he was for the Fathers of the Church, but rather its center; history does not end with Christ but begins a new period,” Benedict said.

“The following is another consequence: Until that moment the idea that the Fathers of the Church were the absolute summit of theology predominated, all successive generations could only be their disciples,” Pope Benedict explained.

“St. Bonaventure also recognized the Fathers as teachers forever, but the phenomenon of St. Francis assured him that the riches of Christ’s word are inexhaustible and that new light could also appear to the new generations,” he said. “The oneness of Christ also guarantees newness and renewal in all the periods of history.”

[…]

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News Briefs

Italian bishops release report evaluating diocesan efforts to prevent abuse

November 17, 2022 Catholic News Agency 0
Press conference held by the Italian bishops’ conference on Nov. 17, 2022 to present a national report on the protection of minors within Italy’s 226 Catholic dioceses. / YouTube Screenshot

Rome Newsroom, Nov 17, 2022 / 05:40 am (CNA).

Catholic bishops in Italy released a national report on Thursday evaluating the recent implementation of diocesan services to aid victims of abuse across the country. 

The report published on Nov. 17 provided data from 90 listening centers and on the establishment of other resources for the protection of minors within Italy’s 226 Catholic dioceses. Its scope was limited to the two-year period from 2020 to 2021, years when lockdowns in Italy restricted movement and in-person gatherings.

The Italian bishops have said that the release of the report represents “the immediate and concrete implementation” of  Pope Francis’ call in April for the Protection of Minors to produce an annual report on what the Catholic Church is doing around the world to prevent the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

The report found that 70% of dioceses in Italy had set up counseling centers and that nearly 20,000 people participated in diocesan training sessions on child protection in 2020 and 2021.

The data from the diocesan listening centers included 13 reports of sexual harassment, 21 reports of “touching,” 4 reports of pornography, and 9 reports of “sexual relations” across Italy over the two-year period with a total of 89 people who reported the violations.

According to the report, 68 alleged offenders were defined as 30 clerics, 23 laypeople, and 15 religious and the alleged incidents took place mainly at the parish (33%), at the headquarters of a movement or association (21%), or in a seminary (11.9%).

The first national report on the protection of minors in the Catholic Church in Italy was prepared by the Piacenza branch of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart.

It was released one day ahead of Italy’s National Day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors of Abuse. The Italian bishops established the day of prayer to align with the European Day for the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse established by the Council of ‘Europe on November 18, 2020.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, has said that the bishops also plan to issue a separate national report on clerical sex abuse in the country that would cover abuse in the Catholic Church in Italy from the year 2000 to 2021. According to Reuters, Zuppi said that this future report will be carried out  “in collaboration with independent research institutes.”

Zuppi said in May that the consequences for bishops found to have covered up abuse would be “very serious.”

[…]

The Dispatch

What does Giorgia Meloni’s victory mean for Catholics in Italy?

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) holds a “Thank You Italy” sign during a press conference at the party electoral headquarters on Sept. 25, 2022 in Rome. / Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Rome, Italy, Sep 29, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The victory of Giorgia Meloni and her “Fratelli d’Italia” (Brothers of Italy) party in Italy’s recent election made global headlines.

Meloni won with a platform that supports traditional families, national identity, and the country’s Christian roots. In a speech earlier this year, she said “no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology.”

As the leader of a party that originates from a postwar movement born from the ashes of fascism, Meloni can neither be called a post-fascist nor simply a far-right leader.

Her international position is Atlanticist, and she has supported Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, congratulating him on his election.

On European issues, Meloni is critical of how Europe runs the risk of imposing policies on nation-states, but she is not against the principle of a European Union.

In short, the reality of Meloni’s politics is much more nuanced than it may seem at first glance. This explains why Catholic hierarchies in Italy have shown a degree of openness toward the politician following her electoral victory.

Italian political background

Italy’s history plays an essential role in understanding this reality. After fascism, the Italian state was reconstituted with a powerful Catholic party, the Christian Democrats, which for decades was the undisputed leader in the elections. 

Catholics had been among the first opponents of fascism. 

The Italian Constitution was inspired by a group of Catholics who, in 1943, already toward the end of the war, had gathered in the monastery of Camaldoli in Tuscany to define the principles for a post-fascist state.

In the early 1990s, a widespread corruption scandal in Italian politics called Tangentopoli wiped out traditional parties, including the Christian Democrats.

New parties arose, and members of the Christian Democrats joined these or were part of varying political formations.

The current Italian Democratic Party, considered center-left, is made up of former members of the Christian Democrats as well as members of the old left parties.

The secretary, Enrico Letta, had a background with the Christian Democrats. Similarly, parties considered to be center-right in Italy, such as Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, include among their ranks heirs of the Christian Democrats but also former socialists and former members of the Italian Liberal Party, traditionally secular and in some respects even anti-clerical.

The Italian Church had initially supported the so-called center party, which was the first direct heir of the Christian Democrats. Soon, however, the policy of the Italian bishops became not to support political formations but rather the values ​​and themes promoted within the various parties — no longer, therefore, a Catholic party, but Catholics in politics.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Cardinal Camillo Ruini was the Italian Bishops’ Conference president. In the face of tremendous parliamentary battles, Ruini coined the expression “nonnegotiable values.”

By nonnegotiable values, ​​he first meant the importance ​​of life at a time when political actions promoted euthanasia, in-vitro-fertilization, and even abortion as a matter of personal conscience.

After the bishops’ conference presidency of Ruini and that of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the question of nonnegotiable values ​​has become more nuanced.

With Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, who became president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference in 2014, the Church in Italy has aimed more at a concrete look at the issues of poverty and the economy, arguably losing sight, somewhat, of the values platform.

It was a strategic choice dictated by the fact that Catholics in politics were increasingly marginalized and that the social doctrine of the Church took less and less space in the formation of the new ruling class. There were attempts to create new platforms of Catholic culture in the early 2010s. These were sidelined by an economic-institutional emergency that had led to economist Mario Monti leading the government.

To all this, it must be added that the culture in Italy has been strongly forged by leftist thinking. It should be remembered that Italy had the largest Communist Party beyond the Iron Curtain after the war.

The Communist Party strongly developed an anti-fascist resistance narrative. Yet, the communist partisans were also authors of heinous murders and systematic elimination of priests — for instance, the recently beatified seminarian Rolando Rivi.

The Catholic platform in Italy

The historical context explains how Catholic thought in Italy was forged, especially in the years following the Second Vatican Council. Then, Catholicism in Italy fluctuated between the need for identity and the narrative of a rupture, which wanted a Church more committed to social issues and less to the centers of power.

A case in point: The latest bill against homophobia, which could have introduced gender classes in schools, was strongly supported by the Italian Democratic Party, led by the former Christian Democrat Letta.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Catholic vote in Italy has rewarded Giorgia Meloni. Lacking a political party of reference, the Catholic center looked to the party that most corresponded to specific values.

Meloni’s voters are likely people who attended Family Day events held in Italy in 2007 and 2016 to oppose two bills on the civil unions.

The organizer of the most recent Family Day, Massimo Gandolfini, said in 2019: “We recognize that Brothers of Italy and Giorgia Meloni are pursuing a policy to the advantage of the family, for the defense of life from conception to natural death, and the educational freedom of parents.”

On the other hand, Meloni has been met with skepticism and concerns over leading a party with a fascist legacy.

Much attention was paid to her meeting with Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship. But there were other talks with Vatican figures. Rumors also speak of contact with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state.

Added to this is a meeting with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. In an interview with the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire on Sept. 28, Zuppi made it clear that he knew Meloni well. He also described the Church in Italy as committed to collaborating with all parties.

To fully understand the context, it is worth remembering that Zuppi is an exponent of Sant’Egidio, a movement closer to the demands of the center-left than the center-right.

The Italian bishops’ position

In general, the Italian bishops do not endorse any particular political candidate, keep a low profile, and only issue statements regarding the bishops’ conference president or possibly the secretary of state.

Meloni also kept a low profile. Compared with others, her campaign did not exploit religious faith. While setting what is generally considered a conservative tone, Meloni’s rhetoric was political, not religious.

The president of the “Fratelli” is described by those who know her as someone “who considers herself part of the Church, very respectful of Pope Francis even when perhaps she does not understand or share certain [aspects] of his statements or acts.”

She was also present at the Communion and Liberation Meeting in Rimini, which takes place every August, and spoke about Catholic social teaching.

Brothers of Italy and the Italian Church

Cardinal Ruini, whose voice still carries weight, said in an interview with Corriere Della Sera on Sept. 28, “intellectuals are on the left, but the real country is on the right.” He acknowledged the reality of Meloni’s role and her party’s election.

In doing so, Ruini pointed out that the Catholic world in Italy has been closer to the so-called center-left rather than the center-right. In Italy, as elsewhere, there is a perception of a deep rift between those who stand up for nonnegotiable values and those who instead support a more pragmatic approach to dealing with contemporary challenges. But this is a perception, and reality is more nuanced.

Perhaps now is the time for a nuanced reconciliation of opposites for the Italian Catholic world. Giorgia Meloni is not a Catholic politician. The values ​​she espouses, however, also won over the Catholic electorate. This is a reality to be ignored at peril.

[…]