Cardinal says it is time to rebuild, as economic crisis hits northern Italy

CNA 5d9f6299a3749 165516 Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, Italy, in St. Peter's Basilica on Oct. 5, 2019. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

A cardinal in northern Italy said Friday that the COVID-19 health crisis has created "immense" poverty in the area, and now is the time to rebuild, to take responsibility, and to share resources.

Indications from local charities and soup kitchens show that poverty in Bologna right now is "immense," Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the city's archbishop, told journalists July 3. "The economic crisis has already started."

"We should have a sense of great closeness, of solidarity, of sharing," he said.

Zuppi, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis last October, spoke to journalists in an informal online meeting organized by the Iscom Association. Since 2015, Zuppi has led the Archdiocese of Bologna, which is located in northern Italy, one of the regions worst hit by the novel coronavirus, with more than 28,000 total cases and 4,200 deaths.

The cardinal said the pandemic had involved everyone, at every level of the Church, and had given us "a sense of responsibility" and "an opportunity for sharing resources."

Reconstruction, he added, would require "much humility and much determination," not unlike Italy's efforts in the post-war period.

Zuppi also referenced the idea of society's "next to lasts" ("penultimi" in Italian), and the need to look out for those people in this period. Unlike society's weakest, such as the homeless and those in abject poverty, the "next to lasts" are those one often does not realize are in need of help, who now, due to job losses, are really struggling. 

In the rebuilding period, the cardinal said there were two temptations to avoid. One was to want to change everything and another was to want to go back to the way things were.

Zuppi paraphrased a quotation from the famous Italian novel "Il Gattopardo" ("The Leopard"), noting that "to change everything is to change nothing."

Rebuilding community in the Church after public gatherings such as Mass were prohibited during the lockdown will be a challenge, but change requires welcoming both the possibilities and difficulties, he said.

According to Zuppi, living out Christian community will follow where there is first a missionary and pastoral conversion.

The cardinal also pointed to Pope Francis' 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, and its call to live the Gospel in one's daily life.

He emphasized that, moving into this new period post-lockdown, Catholics need "to understand more who we are and to understand more the Gospel."

"My perspective is the perspective of Evangelii gaudium," he said.

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