The Catholic archbishop of Florence has said he hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to the Italian city on Sunday will “revive the spirit” of its “holy mayor” Giorgio La Pira.
In an interview with EWTN Vaticano, Cardinal Giuseppe Betori said that La Pira had a gift for combining the spiritual and political that is desperately needed in the world today.
“I believe that the fundamental intention is to revive the spirit of Giorgio La Pira today,” he said.
“In his human and political experience, he combined the spiritual dimension with the project of a more just and peaceful society. We place ourselves within this tradition and we would like to actualize precisely this strong link between the spiritual and political dimensions of human life.”
The meeting will echo the “Mediterranean colloquies” that La Pira held from the 1950s onwards in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall, with the aim of strengthening ties between Mediterranean peoples.
Pope Francis’ speech to bishops and mayors will also take place at the Palazzo Vecchio. He previously visited Florence on Nov. 10, 2015, delivering a landmark speech on the future of the Italian Catholic Church in the birthplace of the Renaissance.
La Pira, who helped to draft the Italian Constitution after World War II and served as the mayor of Florence in the 1950s and 60s, died in 1977. Pope Francis declared him Venerable, the step before beatification, in 2018.
“La Pira was convinced that a good society could not be created without a high degree of spirituality,” said Betori, who has led the Florence archdiocese since 2008.
“His first conferences were called ‘conferences for Christian civilization’ and he thought that only the Christian spirit could inspire a just society, and for this reason, it was necessary to bring back a strong spirit of religiosity within a world that at that time was dominated by materialism, the historical materialism of the communist world and the practical materialism of the capitalist world.”
The cardinal said that the mayor fought against a “one-dimensional” image of the human person, insisting that humans have a spiritual as well as a material aspect.
“I believe that this is what we have to do today to bring spirituality back into the great problems that are shaking our Mediterranean,” Betori commented.
“Looking at the agenda, both of the meeting of the bishops and of the meeting of the mayors, I think we have a good list of what are the real deep problems that we have to face today,” said Betori.
“The climate problem, first of all, with the serious crisis especially of water, the problem of social justice and the dignity of the human person that is not always and everywhere respected.”
The archbishop of Florence said that the meetings would also address the “great tragedy” of the deaths of migrants seeking to cross the treacherous Mediterranean Sea.
After his address to bishops and mayors, the pope is expected to meet with refugee families.
Betori said that the Florence archdiocese oversees around 250 reception centers for refugees and displaced persons. He explained that while some of the centers provide initial support for new arrivals, others offer “real paths of integration” into society.
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He said that the latter centers were “the most important ones, in my opinion, because it is not enough to welcome.”
“The pope reminds us that welcoming requires integration and this is another effort that we are making,” he said.
“All this is part of an attention to all situations of poverty, of marginalization that we follow, for example, with the soup kitchens, with the winter shelter for the homeless, and other services for children, especially in family homes, so that no one is left alone in his marginalization and poverty.”
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In a lengthy speech to the Italian Church at large, Pope Francis said that true human and ecclesial advancement can only be achieved when founded on the humility and detachment of power exemplified by Christ.