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“The Italian law on civil unions inaugurates a de facto equivalent of marriage and the family. The differences are nothing but little nominalist gimmicks or legal devices that can be easily circumvented, waiting for the ‘deathblow’, this is what they publicly say, including the practice of surrogacy, which exploits women’s body, taking advantage of their poverty”. Thus has spoken the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa, in the opening speech of the second day of the General Assembly of the IBC this morning. The conference brings together 400 bishops of the Italian Diocese who are going to stay in the Vatican till 19 Thursday. The attack on the family, “the natural womb of life; a gym for humanism, civil virtues, sociality and education across generations and genders, and the first social safety net”, is therefore an attack on a certain idea of man and society.”

Politics should be working on “real” and “serious” common problems: lack of jobs, poverty, addictions (gambling-related, for instance). “People want to see the Parliament committed to finding a solution without waste of time and energy, because these are the true problems of the country, that is, the people. Hence, it is not clear how so much emphasis and energy has been lavished for reasons that do not answer real needs – besides being already codified in the law – but to ideological schemes.”

ISTAT statistics “remain merciless: those concerning 2015 are the worst indicators since the Unification of Italy”. Last year, 653,000 deaths and 488,000 births were registered; besides, 100 thousand Italians went abroad. “Demography is a key indicator of a country’s health status, especially in the west, where economy’s and work’s development, along with a dense culture of ideals and values, give hope in the future and the courage to create new lives, taking on the educational mission of the children with confidence,” the cardinal has said. So, the President of the Italian Bishops has asked: “What is doing the State to reverse this trend?” There might be an urgent need – he continued – for “audacious fiscal actions that will finally provide fairness to the families with dependent children”. This “would be a concrete and important step.” In fact, “the weight of everyday life, in search of goods, becomes increasingly untenable, which is true even for the primary asset: a house”.

“Absolute poverty is trampling one million and a half families, that is, 4 million people, 6.8 percent of the Italian population,” according to Cardinal Bagnasco’s analysis of the current social situation in Italy. “While poverty is spreading, engulfing yesterday’s middle class, the portion of wealth is growing and gets increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people, unfortunately sometimes also through personal or collective corruption”. Thus, “our parishes see queues of people who come to our canteens searching for a meal: 12 million meals were distributed in 2015”. Thus, the responsibility of those who administer public affairs and “the various actors on the labor market is called into question.” The Church, for its part, will “keep doing everything in its power to be next to people, applying all the resources: from the groups of many volunteers to resources coming from the taxpayers’ Eight Per Thousand, which, besides allowing a totally available clergy, allows to meet the huge demand for charity and pastoral works maintenance”.

The cardinal recalled “the third ghost” that “is growing in the country”: gambling. “A recent law summoned the reduction of the number of slot machines by 30 percent over the next four years; in the truth of the situation, it grew by 10.6 percent over a period of four months, reaching 418 210”. Whereas “poverty has grown among the population over the last six years, the profits of the gambling business has reached 350 percent (84 milliards euros)”. “Faced with such substantial interests on different levels, who will be able to withstand the pressures of the lobbies and intervene in a radical way?” – Wonders the President of IBC. The cardinal has also pointed out that the “social fallout” of gambling addiction is “devastating for individuals, who lose their jobs, break family ties, and become an easy prey for other addictions and even suicide”, but also for “the society as a whole.” “How can citizens manifest their will in the face of such serious long-term problems, demeaning people’s way of thinking and lifestyle? Can we leave all the problems to Europe and the global world?” – These are the pastors’ questions for the political and institutional leaders.

“We would like to see a more peaceful country, busy at work, projected into the future with confidence, encouraged by prospects for young people, happy in the intertwining of generations that look at each other with sympathy, trust, and solidarity” – Has been Cardinal Bagnasco’s comment on behalf of Italian Bishops. “The indicators we reaad, unfortunately, do not seem to be moving in this direction.” Since the beginning of the crisis, he said, “employment has dropped by 4.8 per cent, one of the most significant contractions in Europe: data show that young people in the 15-24 age group who are looking for a job are almost 40 percent (against the European average of 22 percent). In terms of statistics, we are the worst, just before Bulgaria. “Shepherds are “very much concerned about the adults who lose their jobs and experience difficulty in finding another one are in trouble for coverage, with serious consequences for their families and dignity.”

Cardinal Bagnasco has also touched on the humanitarian tragedy of our century. “The southern hemisphere has been set in motion under the pressure of difficult or tragic circumstances. It is an unstoppable exodus”. Hence, we should ask ourselves whether this is not a test case, so Europe based on rights, democracy, and freedom, the cradle and source of humanism, watered by the perennial source of the Gospel, can rediscover itself.” Then, Cardinal Bagnasco has quoted Aldo Moro, the statesman, “martyr of democracy”, twice President of the Council of Ministers and the Secretary of the Christian Democrats, who was killed by the Red Brigades on  9 May 9 1978. Visiting Aachen, he said that it was “the center of a united world, based on two fundamental pillars: the Roman legal system and the spiritual strength of Christianity.” “May Europe rediscover its soul and love towards peoples and nations. May it finally meet people, who are not ‘pawns’ on whom a bunch of ‘illuminatos’ claim to decide or make experiments; nor are they stateless, since everyone belongs to a history, has a vision of life and basic values. Europe should understand that being a European does not mean to enter the limbo of the single thought.” – The Cardinal expressed his hope.

“Laws and agreements are necessary, but they are not the spirit of a continent, I assume,” – Cardinal Bagnasco went on -. On its part, “the Church needs a renewed passion for Europe and, together with the Holy Father, they hope with firm conviction for a bold new momentum for this beloved continent.

The appeal is not to “step back on the front of reception.” The “historic visit” of the Pope to the Greek island of Lesbos, the border of migrant’s arrival and of hospitality,” reminds everyone – the Cardinal has said – that communication routes are for goods, but especially for people; he encourages people not to give up the European dream, in which the synod fathers believed.” Italy’s constant commitment, always in the forefront to accept and save lives from the ignoble merchants of desperate people” has been acknowledged. And “the Italian Church continues to offer its contribution”. To date, it has welcomed “about 23 thousand migrants, with an increase of 4,500 people in the first few months of the year.” IBC President then expressed his “thankful encouragement” to parishes and religious communities, supported by the diocesan Caritas and Migrantes Offices.

We live in dark and obscurantist times. “Alongside the victims of religious persecution, there are also victims caused by terrorism, which continues to sow death, anguish, and kidnappings”. In his analysis, with an eye on international scenarios, Cardinal Bagnasco has asked a question that sounds like a plea: “Is there anyone who can stop so much political, social, and religious obscurantism, on which arms trafficking prospers?” In the field of security – the prelate went on -, it seems that the ability to exchange and cooperate is growing between European countries.” Therefore, the Cardinal has thanked “the Italian services, which are showing aptitude and determination.” Then, he has asked the West a political, civil, and educational question: “What is the cultural offer it puts forward for the generations of immigrants who have become naturalized on the continent? What is the spiritual outlook it offers?” In fact, “material comfort is sought and often achieved; but consumer goods alone are not enough. A vision of values ​​and ideals is necessary, supported by high education and by a context of good relations. Otherwise, the soul remains empty and exposed to suggestion, even of the most absurd and shameful”.

Pope Francis’ Magisterium, “along with his tireless ministry,” – said the President of IBC – is a continuous stimulus to convert our personal and pastoral lives “for us and for the ‘holy faithful people of God'”. The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia provides “guidance to re-launch the new family ministry and encourage the discernment and help, a role every pastor has been always called to fulfill wisely, according to the teachings of the Church and the Bishop’s guidance”. The extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, “is increasingly proving to be a source of grace for all.” “No age group has been left out of it, just think of the great gathering of young people – seventy – who joyfully crowded St. Peter’s Square on Sunday 24 April. It was a glimpse of what really dwells in the hearts of young people; their presence showed the intuition that the truest answer is Jesus within the Church: ‘You have the words of eternal life'”.

A “major innovation” introduced by the papacy was Motu ProprioMitis iudex Dominus Iesus“, with which the Pope “has reformed the processes of nullity of marriage embracing the aspirations of the Synod Fathers during the Extraordinary Synod”. “We are working hard, so the aims of the reforms can find an efficient and comprehensive answer in judicial practice, combining cozy closeness to people and the need to always ensure a rigorous assessment of the bond truth, which is indissoluble by nature if validly formed,” – said President of Bishops. “In the exercise of this responsibility we know we can count on the help of the operators of the Courts, whose solid training and experience are a valuable asset to achieve the realization of the principles of the reform”. In this perspective, where “a prudent pastoral discernment will allow the right balance in the choice of the most appropriate structural solutions in the various single Churches.” The IBC “will offer its support at all levels of competence and in communion with the Regional Episcopal Conferences”.

The pastors have thanked also “brothers and friends priests.” “The Lord has brought us yogether so we can live in communion with the diocesan presbyterate, with ideals and confident realism,” Cardinal Bagnasco went on. “Our unity and our prayer are the earliest form of taking care of ourselves and of our people, so much recommended by Pope Francis”. However, as the Council affirms, “the prists’ sanctity is primarily a serious responsibility of their Bishops.'” Hence the need to “take care with utmost seriousness of the continuous training of its priests”.

“Intensifying adoration in parishes, spreading subsidy for daily prayer in the bosom of the family, using the theological-pastoral document, distributing outreach the message signed by the Permanent Episcopal Council”: these are the “decisive steps to better prepare the ‘appointment, if we think it is really an event of grace for us and for our community.” Among the most important coming ecclesial events, Bagnasco cited the World Youth Day, to be held in July in Krakow, and the National Eucharistic Congress in September in Genoa.

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