“… Hence justice, right reason, and the recognition of man’s dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race. The stock-piles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned. “. Thus reads the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, written by John XXIII in 1963, in the middle of the Cold War and with the risk of a nuclear war on a global scale.
Patron of the Italian Army
Those prophetic words have made Pope Roncalli an icon of peace, universally recognized. It is for this reason that many believe a contradiction the fact that from today “the Good Pope” is remembered as the “patron of the Italian Army“. The Papal Bull containing the decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship has been delivered by the military ordinary for Italy, the Archbishop Santo Marcianò, to the Army Chief of Staff, General Danilo Errico.
The choice originates from the fact that don Roncalli, in addition of having being called up for military service in 1901, at the time of the Great War was lieutenant of health and military chaplain. Don Ezio Bolis, the director of the Foundation Pope John XXIII, explains on the pages of the Osservatore Romano that this decision is justified for “his zeal as military chaplain in promoting the Christian virtues among soldiers, the shining example of his whole life and his constant commitment in favour of peace“.
The perplexity of the Bishops
But these reasons are not enough to curb the controversies in particular against the Italian Military Ordinariate. “Maybe it would have been better to have a confrontation on the decision, as it has been done on previous occasions, within the Italian Episcopal Conference,” says the Archbishop Giovanni Ricchiuti on behalf of Pax Christi. “But I also say this as a simple Bishop – he added – and many of my confreres in these hours are expressing their concerns about this choice“.
No comment on the part of the card. Gualtiero Bassetti, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, who emphasizes to have been unaware about the decision until today. “It is a matter in which I do not want to enter because unfortunately I was informed only this morning and I see that there have been controversies – he replied to the journalists – but I want to get detailed information from the Secretariat of State, from the Congregation for Divine Worship; therefore, I do not issue any statements on this point”.
The position of the Community Pope John XXIII
The decision provoked criticism even within the Catholic Association. Giovanni Paolo Ramonda, President of the Community Pope John XXIII, founded by don Oreste Benzi spoke about this issue. The Community – says Ramonda – “was born from the dream of thousands of young people to give their lives in a nonviolent way at the service of the country, in the common good and especially in sharing with the poor, choosing the possibility of the civil service and of conscientious objection to the use of arms”.
“Magisterium of peace”
Ramonda also explains the importance of the “Magisterium of peace” of John XXIII for the Community of which he is the president. “Among our sources of inspiration – says Ramonda – there is precisely the Magisterium of peace of Pope John XXIII and his way of working always committed to promote the encounter and not the conflict. Famous is his sentence ‘Insist on what unites you rather than on what divides you’, often cited by our founder”.
Patron of the operators of peace
Ramonda considers “a stretch to make him become the patron of an army“. And he adds – on behalf of the Pope John XXIII Community – that “it would seem more appropriate that the Good Pope could be the patron saint of operators of peace, starting from the many young people who spend with us their civil service in the areas of war, to heal the wounds and build bridges’, as Pope Francis recently invited to do “.
The Pope should not be pulled by the mozzetta
In view of the Synod on young people in October 2018, Ramonda also asks to take into consideration the hypothesis to appoint John XIII as “patron of young people”. He states this talking to in Terris, and also specifies that “it is not a question of attacking an institution, but Pope John cannot be ‘pulled by the mozzetta’, he is a universal patron. With all due respect, the army is functional to the survival of armaments and to their use. Therefore, the fact that the Pontiff of the Pacem in Terris may become the patron of armaments, clashes “.
Ramonda concludes with a prayer to the Sky: “Let us pray that the Lord may enlighten the hearts for a choice that takes account of the feelings of the whole People of God”.
Castagnetti: “Absurd Choice”
The first person who expressed his opposition on the choice of John XXIII as patron of the army was Pierluigi Castagnetti, the last secretary of the Italian People’s Party with a post on Facebook last Monday that has defined the choice “something simply absurd“.
“I do not understand the need of designating a patron of the Italian army – he continues -. But if it was really necessary – says Castagnetti – I wonder why this choice. He is the Pope of the Pacem in Terris. Do they want to associate with the army a patron that is a sign of contradiction with his institutional function or do they want to ‘limit’ the prophetic substance of a Pope whose memory is alive in the conscience of all as the symbol of goodness and peace? But is Pope Francis informed?”.
The Italian Military Ordinariate faced many other controversies. We are talking about those in relation to the reform of the military chaplains, which should provide for the waiver of military ranks and also of the lavish salaries that this assignment entails. Who knows that the intercession from the high of the new patron does not contribute to complete a reform that, today, remains incomplete.