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Benito Mussolini, 29 July 1883 – 29 July 2013

Today, 130 years ago, Benito Mussolini was born.

A highly controversial, and highly fascinating man, Il Duce continues to polarise opinions.

Violent, emotional, and very much the ladies’ man; but generous, honest, and deeply patriotic, Mussolini incarnates the passions and the vices, the big heart and the big mouth, the beautiful and the darker side of Italy. Many Italians still like him deeply. Your humble correspondent is proud to be put in their number.

A deeply pragmatic man, the then-atheist Mussolini gave the Italians the greatest gift they had received in 60 years, putting an end to an extremely painful fracture that had lacerated Italy since 1870, dominating not only its spiritual, but its political landscape all the time in between.

Still, the same pragmatism moved the Duce to accept the imposition of racial laws, requested by the Germans against their huge economic help in the time of the Sanctions. Mussolini – and the soft, conciliant, utterly un-fanatical Italian character – took care the already extremely soft measures against the Jews remained lettera morta pretty much everywhere. There were isolated exceptions, though, and if you are interested in those times in the Italian history I warmly suggest you read The Gardens of the Finzi Continis, not only a stunning piece of literature, but a fantastic portrait of a Jewish and Fascist well-to-do environment at the vigil of the Second World War.

It is today well-known that Mussolini “got religion” after the death of his beloved and very Catholic brother, Arnaldo, who besides being the most powerful influence on the Duce until his death was the real engine behind the Patti Lateranensi. Mussolini discovered the faith, but, too concerned with his public image, gave instruction to keep schtum about it, so that only the most trusted friends knew the “secret” of the once aggressively atheist Duce. He wrote beautiful lines about it on his diary, though, and whilst he never became a practising Catholic, we hope his Guardian Angel and the prayers of his mother and brother managed to obtain a happy death for him in the end.

Allow me to ask you to, in your charity, say a prayer for the Duce on this anniversary day. Easier to do if you like the man, far more difficult if you don’t.

If you can, in your charity, remember our Duce.

As Alessandro Manzoni let Lucia say, Dio perdona tante cose per un’opera di misericordia.

God forgives many things for a work of mercy.


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