I thought I would confide to the blog some of the differences I noticed between English and Italian Catholicism over Christmas.
1. More people in church, even considering there are many more churches. Still, I think Catholic Church attendance in Italy is even lower than in England. I draw the conclusion that in the last decades the number of masses has been reduced, or the number of churches, or both. Perhaps the Christmas season favoured higher Mass attendance, though I think this only works for Christmas day, or perhaps the churches in central Rome are particularly busy during the Christmas period. I went to Mass on several occasions, and visited more churches where Mass was ongoing (some of them threw visitors out; most didn’t), stopping for the homily whenever I could. Packed everywhere. This was, I think, surprising, and even the contrast with last year was visible. Again, perhaps it’s just me, or it is only in the historic centre.
2. Compared to England, Confession in Italy seemed a mass sport. Wherever I went confessionals were open for business, three or more at a time, and rather busy. This went on basically every day. I do not have comparisons with England because I never spend the Christmas holidays there, but it seems to me the use of the Sacrament was massive compared to what I am used to see. Suspicious that this was purely Christmas-related, I started to check the confession times on the billboards, and it seems to me the situation is much better than in England even outside of the Christmas time. At least in the centre of Rome, I’d say Confession is taken pretty seriously. It might change in more “progressive” parishes in the suburbs, though…
3. Confession in Italy is often lacking in privacy. You have those beautiful, old, carved wood confessionals basically wasted by having the penitent approaching the priest from the front and kneeling in front of him. The others who are waiting are just three-to-four metres away. There’s a continuous buzz in the air, and the constant danger of having your confession made public if one is a bit old and accustomed by declining sense of hearing to speak somewhat louder, whilst the church acoustics certainly does not help privacy. There was, in fact, no privacy at all. I know difficult situations can always happen (from one of the “closed” confessionals came the thundering voice of a Jesuit confessor certainly advanced in years, and in need of a good hearing device…; pretty much a nightmare scenario for the timid penitent…), but it seems to me the system of approaching the priest from the front with no other privacy than a handful of metres of thin air in a resounding old church isn’t the done thing.
4. I have assisted – adding the Masses I have attended to, and those where I stopped to listen to the homily whilst visiting – to at least a half-dozen homilies. All of them were of very high quality, with no trace of the “social smartass” attitude I remember of my younger years, and sound Catholicism wherever you turn. Again, I might have been lucky, or perhaps the central parishes tend to be more conservative. It angers me these obviously smart priests – those I have seen were generally fairly young – are either unwilling or not allowed to wage open war against the secular thinking. They are doing a good job nevertheless, though, and I never had the impression I could have heard the same homily in an Anglican or other Protestant church, as it happened to me in the UK on several occasions.
5. The santino (holy picture) was back in force. Many church had them printed and stored in front of several altars, for the faithful to take them away. Whilst I have seen them very occasionally in England, this was massive and the clear result of some concerted action or directive from the higher echelons. It wasn’t standard fare, either, but rather the santino of the saint to whom the relevant altar is dedicated. They were eagerly taken away by the Italian visitors and clearly ignored by most tourists, which I think is a clear sign they were taken up by those really interested in using them. A beautiful revival of just another Catholic tradition, which I hope will soon find its way to Northern European shores.
In general, my (highly subjective) impression is the Church is more robustly followed by her followers compared to two-three years ago, though as I have already written she is clearly slowly losing the battle of demographics in the country at large. A country where for decades a diffused Catholicism was often only a hand of varnish – but where Catholicism was deeply ingrained in the collective way of thinking – is probably polarising and dividing itself between those clearly taking their distances from Church teaching and those getting closer to her.
As I have already written, Italy is at the vigil of historic elections, whose effects might be felt for decades to come. Let’s hope the dam holds for as long as it can, and that it gives a more assertive, but still rather soft church the time to reorganise and prepare for an unavoidable war for the country’s soul.
When you regularly visit a country and tend to always see the same set of people, it is easy to be tempted to think said country doesn’t change much; but in fact, it does, and it does in a very slow way that actually hides the danger of the movement.
Every year, perhaps 1.3 percent of the population dies. It may not seem like a lot, but it adds up. The last attempt of the leftists to introduce institutionalised perversion was in 2006-2007 and it failed so miserably – reinforced by the crushing victory of centre-right in 2008 – that one thought the country would be safe for a long time. Five years later, and with perhaps 8 to 10% of the electorate having changed the picture looks different already.
Mind: Italy is still emphatically not Spain, and the Vatican is still so powerful Berlusconi doesn’t dare to openly attack them even after the men in red threw him out of the window. But this strong power – not so strong as it used to be, but powerful nevertheless – is clearly, if slowly, vanishing. It appears clear to me what scandalised very many in 2006 scandalises fewer people in 2013, and what was inconceivable then (the homo “marriage”) is very well conceived now.
Therefore, 2013 or 2014 could be the year pro-homo legislation makes its entrance in this once so proudly Catholic country; it might not be so of course, and as I write I’d say it’s fifty-fifty; but the tragic reality is that the demographics are against us, because a generation of pussycat clergy was not able to convey the simplest truths to their sheep; therefore, whilst the clergy can still connect to those formed in years where sanity was considered normal, they have – irretrievably, in all probability – largely lost the younger generation of the 18-35 years old. These people are going to vote for another half century (if democracy survives for so long) and not very many of them might be re-shaped even by long years of assertive Catholic propaganda.
How do you remedy to this situation? By hammering the Truth into the head of the young, say I; through a relentless, daily bombardment from the churches (many of those in Italy), the TV stations (the biggest of them all), the newspapers (many of those, too). The alternative is the danger of becoming just another godless wasteland like England, when Christianity is now largely reduced to senseless slogans with the addition of a Christmas Pudding. We need a new Crusade aimed at reviving a dying Catholicism in Western Europe.
Did I see any of this assertive Catholicism during my stay in Italy? Not much. Of course, Italy is different from England, and Catholicism does have a different place in the public discourse; but there is no assertiveness, and no real grit. The left coalition is openly in favour of institutionalised sodomy, and there should be brimstone falling on them every day from the very powerful Catholic media; but you really can’t see anything of that; rather, some polite remark at the most. I concede Italians are better acquainted with Catholicism than the Brits and might (perhaps) need less shouting, but I do not think anything near enough is happening.
I will not bore you (for today) with the intricacies of Italian politics, but my impression is that the Catholic hierarchy are lulling themselves in a rather complacent optimism that they will manage to avoid the worst (as they have managed to do it in the last years) whilst still avoiding to openly support the Berlusconi-led right wing coalition. They seem to think that putting all their weight behind the centre coalition will be sufficient to avoid the worst. A very risky strategy, if you ask me, with no room for error: if the centre coalition fares badly whilst weakening the right-wing coalition, we are – as they say – in un mare di guai.
We will soon know where we are as the 24 February approaches rapidly. Let us hope Italy remains exempt from the heathenish, perverted madness we can observe in such a large part of the Western world.