On Tuesday Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to the graves of two 20th century Italian priests, reflecting on charity and education, and calling on adults to form their consciences well, so that they may teach young people to do the same.
Addressing educators, Pope Francis said June 20, “Yours is a mission full of obstacles but also of joys. But above all it is a mission. A mission of love, because you cannot teach without love and without the awareness that what you give is only a right that you recognize, that of learning.”
“This is an appeal to responsibility. An appeal to you, dear young people, but first of all, adults who are called to live the freedom of conscience in a genuine way, as a search for the true, the beautiful and the good, ready to pay the price that this entails.” The Pope’s June 20 pilgrimage to the small Italian towns of Bozzolo and Bariana took place in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Fr. Lorenzo Milani, who lived from 1923-1967. He also visited the grave of Fr. Primo Mazzollari, who lived from 1890-1959.
Both priests have been wrongly portrayed as “anti-clerical” and their writings have often been misquoted in order to make them appear to dissent from the Church. However, during their lives they always obeyed any restriction the Church placed upon them, and they never preached or taught outside of the Catholic Church.
“There are so many things to be taught,” Pope Francis continued, “but the essential thing is the growth of a free conscience, capable of confronting itself with reality and of orienting itself in (reality) guided by love, by the desire to compromise with others, to take on the weight of their difficulties and wounds, to escape from all selfishness to serve the common good.”
Fr. Mazzolari believed that a parish priest was called to be a reference point for the community, and also called to work for the re-evangelization of Christianity. Fr. Lorenzo Milani had a similar approach, which he applied by teaching poor children about the social doctrine of the Church. At a time of increasing communist influence in the region, he declared that “only the Gospel” would be his guide.
“The school, for Fr. Lorenzo, was not something different from his priestly mission, but the concrete way to do that mission, giving it a solid foundation and the capacity to rise up to heaven,” Francis said.
A teaching of Fr. Milani was, he said: “Give to the poor the word, because without the word there is no dignity and therefore no freedom and justice.” If we teach them the Word of God, this is what will open up the path to full citizenship in society, through work and through full membership in the Church, Francis explained.
This is still true, even in our time, he said. It is only the Word of God that can help us to discern between the many false and confusing messages that we are bombarded with by society. It is also only the Word that can help us to make sense of and express the deep feelings and desires of our hearts and of the lack of justice for many of our brothers and sisters.