Pope Francis pens a preface to a book-interview with a former Mafioso who is now collaborating with Italy’s justice system.
“Never reduce another to his or her mistake,” writes Pope Francis, because making a mistake “is an episode, a segment of life, not its unique and definitive condition.” On the contrary, he says, “it is necessary to help each person, with love, to move beyond his error.”
The Pope makes this observation in the preface to Passiamo all’altra riva (“Let us pass to the other shore”; the title is taken from the Gospel of St Mark), a book-interview by Father Benito Giorgetta with Luigi Bonaventura, a former Mafioso now cooperating with the judiciary.
Published directly by the author through the Youcanprint platform, the 194-page book has the subtitle “Switching life? There is another shore to reach in each one of us” and is based on the intense activity of the Italian priest from Molise, the pastor of San Timoteo in Termoli, a volunteer in the Larino prison and head of the Iktus family home that houses prisoners on probation, semi-release, or in the care of social services.
With an afterword by Don Luigi Ciotti, founder of the association “Libera” which works against the abuses of the mafia throughout Italy, the work has an “added value” in the papal text that summarises the “frequent and striking magisterium” of Bergoglio “imbued with the message of God’s mercy” towards prisoners, as explained by Don Benito.
Above all, Pope Francis emphasises the importance of “fraternal correction” as a “gesture of love for one’s brother.” This does not mean, he clarifies, “feeling superior or better, but helping and assisting the other person to overcome their difficulties, shouldering their problem because they are weak, fragile; and if your shoulder is not there, he will collapse.”
Moreover, he adds, “to correct means ‘to hold with’: not to reproach others for their sins, but, by being their neighbour, to help them overcome them, walking together towards healing or towards its beginning.” In fact, “the other will be healed because he has felt your love and has felt a longing to love.”
What is more, “if you leave the other in his error, without correcting him, you become co-responsible; if you do not help him this is tantamount to a failure to help”; like that of those who witness road accidents and pass by without stopping.
Sometimes, continues Pope Francis in his analysis, “one is almost afraid of being contaminated” by the wicked. Instead, “I must take an interest in them, take charge of them, do all I can to save them.” How? The Pope lists a series of practical, concrete responses, as is his pastoral style.
“First of all, I must give them what they need. Immediately. Love them with sincerity and then suffer for the sins they commit. And then pray for them, because prayer makes me God’s hand on them, the sign of His fatherly concern through my presence. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.”
In short, the Pope suggests, “one must take a first step”, while “it is unworthy when a person looks down on another with an attitude of superiority.”
“This finds a concrete example in the experience” of the interviewee, who has become, “with his courageous and risky choice a seed of hope sown in the furrows of a society caught up exclusively in its own affairs and its thousand commitments, distracted with respect to what really counts. But it is also a seed sown in the lands most affected by the scourge of the Mafia. Just as every seed receives rain and is fertilised and germinates, so the testimony of a man of the Mafia can take root in the consciences and sensibilities of those who want a society where there is room for the rights of the person, legality, and dignity recognised for all, especially the weakest, most fragile, discarded, and marginalised.”
Glimmer of new life
At the same time, “Bonaventura’s answers-testimonies are a rich exposition of the tormented life of a person who, indoctrinated and imbued with the Mafia, acted criminally; but they are also a glimmer of light and new life because, having abandoned the logic of abuse, Luigi opened up to a new vision.”
Therefore, Pope Francis can conclude that “one can”, indeed “one must change, not remaining buried by the evil done; one can always pass to the other shore even if the navigation is tiring and full of dangers. The important thing is not to feel alone but accompanied. Just as Jesus said,” on the seashore “when He issued the invitation to the disciples, saying: ‘Let us go to the other shore’. He with them, together. Not alone!”
With thanks to Vatican News and Gianluca Biccini, where this article originally appeared.