Pope Francis congratulates Italy’s president on re-election

President Sergio Mattarella enters the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis on Dec. 16, 2021. President Sergio Mattarella enters the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis on Dec. 16, 2021. | Vatican Media

Pope Francis congratulated Sergio Mattarella on his re-election as Italy’s president this weekend.

In a personal telegraph sent to the Quirinal Palace on the evening of Jan. 29, the pope wrote that Mattarella had accepted his high task “with a spirit of generous availability.”

“In these times characterized by the pandemic, in which many hardships and uncertainties have spread, especially in the work sector, and fear has increased along with poverty … your service is even more essential to consolidate unity and bring peace to the country,” Pope Francis said.

“I assure you of my prayers that you may continue to support the dear Italian people in building an ever more fraternal coexistence and encourage them to face the future with hope.”

Mattarella, 80, was elected for a second seven-year term as president, after he had expressed a desire to leave office.

“Duty to the nation must prevail over my own personal choices,” Mattarella said in a speech after his election on Jan. 29.

Pope Francis received an audience with President Mattarella on Dec. 16, 2021. Vatican Media
Pope Francis received an audience with President Mattarella on Dec. 16, 2021. Vatican Media

Italy’s president is elected every seven years by a group of around 1,000 electors made up of both the members of the parliament and regional delegates.

There is no official list of candidates and any name can be submitted throughout the multi-day process. After the first three rounds of voting, a candidate only needs a simple majority to win.

Voting in this presidential election began on Jan. 24 and lasted for eight rounds of voting.

On Jan. 29, Mattarella received a majority vote after Prime Minister Mario Draghi appealed for him to reconsider his decision to leave office after his first term.

The presidency in Italy is a largely ceremonial role as the head of state, though the president does have the ability to appoint prime ministers and cabinet ministers, dissolve parliament, and promulgate temporary government decrees in a time of crisis.

Mattarella served as a constitutional court judge before his election as Italy’s president in 2015.

Born in Palermo, Mattarella was an active member of Catholic Action in his younger years and started a promising career as a law professor.

Mattarella's elder brother, Piersanti, served as governor of Sicily and was assassinated in office by the mafia in 1980.

After his brother’s death, Mattarella entered politics among the ranks of Christian Democracy party.

Christian Democracy was founded in 1943, and inherited the legacy of the Italian People's Party, which was founded by Father Luigi Sturzo – the party offered a Catholic point of reference, and attracted those formed in Catholic associations.

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The party came to an end in 1994 with the Tangentopoli scandal, a nationwide investigation into political corruption.

In Palermo, Sergio Mattarella established ties and friendships with Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo, who is considered a symbol of anti-mafia activism.

During his years as a member of parliament, Mattarella served as the minister for defense, the minister of education and the minister for relations with parliament. He had frequent contact with the late Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, who managed many connections between the Holy See and Italian Catholic politicians.

After Christian Democracy's collapse, Catholics politicians were scattered among several political parties.

Mattarella remained on the center-left, and served from 1998 to 1999 as deputy prime minister for the first ever Italian administration run by a former member of the communist party, Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema. Mattarella was elected as a judge in Italy’s Constitutional Court in 2011.

With his re-election as president, Mattarella is expected to take the oath of office for a second term on February 3.

“I wish to extend my sincere congratulations for your re-election to the highest office of the Italian Republic and best wishes for your carrying out your high task, which you have accepted with a spirit of generous availability,” Pope Francis wrote.

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“May the patron saints of Italy accompany you and intercede for you,” he said.