CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Thou Shall Not Kill are not my words

HONG KONG (SE): “It has been said that we did not wish well to Don Primo. It is not true: we, too, wished him well! But you know how things went. His stride was too long and we struggled to keep up with him...,” Pope John XXIII said upon the death on 12 April 1959 of one of the most remarkable advocates for peace through justice the Church of Italy has seen.
Father Primo Mazzolari, better known throughout the land as Don (Father) Primo, spent a good deal of his life at odds with bishops’ conferences and even copped a scolding from the Vatican for daring Catholics in the badly splintered French Church to vote according their consciences, rather than the political agenda of their country’s bishops.
But beyond his public revolutionary persona was a quietly devoted priest, who despite the anti-clericalism of prewar Italy was much loved in his parish of around 1,000 people in a region described by his bishop as hostile to anything that even remotely resembled a priest.
Although criticised for his friendship with the socialist mayor and eating at the tables of what were regarded as the ungodly; the labour unionists, Communist rabble-raisers and social reformers despised by a Church toadying to the Fascist powers of the era; his fellow priests saw him as offering a witness more of silence than protest, of prayer than violence, and of waiting than attack.
Father Mazzolari was praised by the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, as a prophet of his time in launching a Chinese translation of his best known work, Thou Shall Not Kill, at the offices of the Justice and Peace Commission in Sai Wan Ho on May 21.
Father Bruno Bignami, the president of the Fondazione Don Primo Mazzolari, and Father Maurizio Ghilardi, from the same diocese of Cremona that ordained the often controversial author of the book, made the trip to Hong Kong to be present at the occasion.
Thou Shall Not Kill was published anonymously as a reflection on his time as a military chaplain in World War I, a conflict that not only took the life of his brother but, he notes ripped a million souls from this world prematurely and brutally.
The book attacks the Just War Theory of the Church and even more so the ideology of military victory in the name of nonviolent Christian resistance to war.
Attempts were made on his life and he was viciously criticised by the institutions of society when he refused to sing a Te Deum in thanksgiving for the war time prime minister of the country, Benito Mussolini, surviving an assassination attempt.
Father Mazzolari survived his own attempted assassination too, when he was called out at night and two shots were fired at him. His advocacy for peace also saw him spend most of World War II in confinement
But the influence of Father Mazzolari has been spread well beyond the shores of his native Italy to countries to which he never travelled through the Italian Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, many of whose priests have been deeply affected by his life and work for the poor and the struggling classes of humanity.
Father Franco Mella, well known around Hong Kong for his dedication to the people of the streets and the poor and downtrodden, was present at the launch of his hero’s master work in Chinese.
On June 20, Pope Francis will pay his respects to the priest who was not afraid to ruffle the feathers of the high and mighty when he visits his grave in Bozzolo, on the same day as he acknowledges another priest, Father Lorenzo Milani, who spent his entire life at odds with the Church and the state over of the uncompromising attachment of both to the philosophy of violence.
But the man once censured by the Vatican was forgiven many times before his death, ultimately being invited to the Vatican and consulted on his views in preparation for the Second Vatican Council.
Father Mazzolari had a magnetism for the poor and the exploited, but he always maintained that his method was not of his own making.
He said of himself, “There really was no need to invent anything... I’m not an inventor, but a repeater... I must therefore read the Mass and the gospel as it is... When I preach to my poor people I am the repeater of the word of another: I have to repeat what Jesus said: not my gospel, but the gospel of Jesus...”
He would have said of himself, “Thou Shall Not Kill are not the words of my mouth.”

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