Friends send this story from Italy, summarized thus by La Nuova BQ, my favorite source of news and commentary on the Church in Italy. (I’ve translated it with Google):
The mayor plans to distribute condoms during the events related to the feast of the patron saint of Nichelino. The local Church is not there and cancels the procession of St. Matthew and the mass in the square, retiring to the church. A countercultural testimony of the renunciation of a civic space that brings to mind the Benedict Option: retreating to be freer and not to compromise with the world. And in this way to give a stronger testimony to the young than the one he would have given if he had pretended that nothing was wrong.
And at that point the ruckus that led the town on the front pages of all the newspapers was unleashed. Provocation and anticlericalism, even the most coarse, for an occasion that is born anyway as a religious holiday. The parish priests had to make an announcement and explain in a press release the reasons for that decision.
“For the Christian community, which has always been present in the social fabric of Nichelino as an active part in the service of young people, families and needy people who respect secularism as a space for dialogue and collaboration, it is difficult to understand the meaning of this choice”, say the parish priests, but they do not want to enter into the choice of the municipality. Even if between the lines we perceive something more than the simple “perplexity” highlighted in the communiqué in which we reiterate that “we do not want to enter into merit”.
“The thing that strikes us deeply is the choice of the context in which this initiative will take place, the feast of the patron saint of our city, a feast that by its nature is born and finds its reason for being in the context of the Christian faith to which sum up significant initiatives and events “.
But that is emblematic of a process in progress. Don Robella [the priest], in fact, contacted by the New BQ, asked the newspapers to rely solely on the press release and did not add further details, especially with regard to relations with the mayor Gianpiero Tolardo, which should not be easy anyway. But one aspect in assessing this story has not escaped him. And it is precisely having to be forced to renounce a public and civic space that the Church as an institution has always occupied.
That’s right. It is the withdrawal of faith from the now-dominant private sector. Everything is fine, as long as you stay at your home. Yet even in a public square we can bear Christian witness because even the civic spaces are subordinated to the creator of the world and are not a foreign body to it.
Instead we witness a soft expulsion, which now happens not because someone with force or violence prevents the Church from occupying a civil area, but forcing the Church into the conditions of defense and retreat. An escape from the world to preserve [the dignity of the faith] and to continue to testify, caused by conditions that made it impossible to be present.
In his own way, it is a Benedict Option: To withdraw not to stop witnessing to the faith, but to do it in a context where you can exercise that freedom without compromising. That freedom that the mayor of Nichelino has limited and humiliated with his misguided decision.
This really is an example of the Benedict Option. The insulting culture-war aggression of the town’s progressive mayor is not a humiliation the Church should accept for the sake of keeping the civic peace. By retiring to the Church to celebrate the holy rites, the priests of the parish kept what is holy, holy. I completely agree that they made a powerful witness to sanctity. This really is, as La Nuova BQ says, “An escape from the world to preserve [the dignity of the faith] and to continue to testify, caused by conditions that made it impossible to be present.”
Some Christians criticize the Benedict Option as retreatist and defeatist, saying that to the contrary, Christianity is called to be “salt and light” to the world, as Scripture says. True, that is what Christianity is supposed to be. This is precisely an example of the parish priests making the faith salt and light to the world, by testifying against the world by example.