Traces N.6, June 2007

The Surprise of St. John Lateran Square An Event No Scheme Can Classify

A bitter cultural battle has been going on in Italy for months now, in defence of the family.
On May 12th, Rome was the scene of a demonstration that saw the participation of over a million Catholics and non-Catholics, resolved to reaffirm and promote the value of the family as a fundamental human good. Subsequent to this event, Giancarlo Cesana wrote the following article published in the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire on May 24, 2007

The Family Day demonstration was a surprise first of all for the opponents, but even for those who went. A good number of people was expected, but nothing like the overwhelming throng that arrived. There was such an exorbitant number of families present that it makes little difference whether there were five hundred thousand or a million. As I looked around, there came to my mind the episode in Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus speaks of marriage (Mt 19:3-10). I went to look it up because the memory can be inexact at times. It’s really worth reading it again: “Some Pharisees approached Him, and tested Him, saying, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?’ He said in reply, ‘Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator “made them male and female” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.’ [His] disciples said to Him, ‘If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’”
Even the disciples could have tried to opt for a civil union; they were inclined to consider the family a difficult experience, if not an impossible one.
In St. John Lateran Square, there were hundreds of thousands of “difficult” experiences, and yet so positive as to be publicly defended not only by followers of Christ, but by so-called “secularists” or non-believers, certainly more numerous than the other secularists who were in Piazza Navona for a counter-demonstration. In St. John’s Square, there was a huge presence of a strange fact, strange precisely because it was so day-to-day and popular that you wouldn’t suspect the power that it so extraordinarily expressed. In fact, if the disciples’ question was justified, as it still is today, how is it that a family can last? What a mystery is a people made up of families!
Whatever one may think, on March 12th we saw a piece of Italy, obstinately and overwhelmingly convinced that love is definitive, and resists the corrosion that comes from cinema and television, from the newspapers and neighbors, from colleagues at work… everywhere. It was an event that overflows any box you could try to close it up in. Even the explanations of the commentators seem often insufficient because the Family Day represented not so much a plan or an idea, but rather a fact to be accepted for what it is. As Battiato says in one of his songs, it is “a permanent center of gravity” in a society that could not do without it.
Those most enthusiastic about the demonstration are asking themselves what can be done to develop its full potential. It’s been said that a new movement has been born, whose leaders are ready for the political battle. There are those whose hands are itching in view of the forthcoming fight for a more human and more Christian society. Perhaps the first thing to do is to try to understand what holds families together, their affection and their fertility–not just pre-marriage courses, which, by now, as a pastor I know says, are courses for couples already living together… and not even a political party–.
It is not by chance that May12th was proposed by a group of Catholic associations–not by a political line-up, but by a world in which the family is the normal means of transmitting, along with life, faith as the criterion of knowledge and morality. It is a novelty in Italy that this world and this conception won the allegiance and sympathy of many non-believers. The participants in Family Day, in their simplicity and firmness, expressed the civic value of the faith, which is not an obstacle, but a factor of reason and freedom for all. The great demonstration that they created was, after all, a mass adhesion to the Pope’s invitation to broaden reason; it is the need for a new secularism, which, religious or not, does not presume to know everything, but wants first of all to learn.