Mattarella remembers Don Lorenzo Milani: “Never silence a book or presentation”

The words of the President of the Republic for the centenary of the birth of the priest of Barbiana: “His ‘I Care’ universal motto. Merit must not amplify advantage but give opportunities”

“Don Lorenzo Milani was above all a teacher. An educator. A guide for the young people who grew up with him first in the popular school of Calenzano, and then of Barbiana. A coherent and inconvenient witness for the civil and religious communities of his time. Outrider of a culture that fought against privilege and marginalizationwho understood knowledge not only as a right for everyone but also as a tool for the full development of the human personality”. the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarellaon the occasion of the opening of the celebrations for the centenary of the birth of don Lorenzo Milani.

“Having been a sign of contradiction, even a stinging one, means – added the Head of State – that it has not passed among us in vain but, on the contrary, it has fulfilled the function that was closest to its heart: making people growmake their critical sense grow, really give an outlet to the anxieties that have accompanied the new Italy from the republican choice”.

“Don Lorenzo – underlines Mattarella – would have smiled at a representation of him as anti-modern if not medieval. Or, on the contrary, at a representation of him as a forerunner of subsequent disputes aimed at the dismantling of a school model considered authoritarian. In his inimitable action as an educator – and his ‘boys’ can testify to it – rather, he thought of the school as a place of promotion and not of social selection. A conception full of modernity, far ahead of those who lingered in models that differed from the constitutional provisions”.

The priest says, “he had an acute sensitivity to the supposedly hierarchical relationship between centers and peripheries. How to get out of a condition of marginalization? How to solicit curiosity, propeller of maturity? How can we contribute, as citizens, to the progress of the Republic? The prime mover of his ideas of justice and equality was precisely the school. The school as a lever to fight poverty, indeed poverty. It is no coincidence that today the expression ‘educational poverty’ is used to affirm the risks deriving from a school that fails to be a vehicle for the citizen’s education”.

The school – continued the Head of State – to learn. To learn, above all, the language, to be able to use the word. ‘The world – Don Milani said – is divided into two categories: it’s not that one is more intelligent and the other less intelligent, one rich and the other less rich. A man has a thousand words and a man has a hundred words.’ We start with different assets. His great respect for culture can be seen from this anxiety. Poverty in language is a vehicle of complete poverty, and generates further discrimination. The school, in a democratic country, cannot fail to have the elimination of all discrimination as its primary purpose and horizon”.

It’s still: “‘Letter to a teacher’, written with his boys as the disease progressed – which would have taken him away at the age of only 44 – it is an indictment, merciless. ‘Letter to a teacher’ it represented a lesson taught in the face of the laziness of the education system and prompted change, it helped to improve the school in the midst of a profound social transformation of the country. He helped to better understand the duties of the institutions and urged them to consider the duties towards the community”.

“Teachers have worked more and more with passion – the Head of State recalled – to implement the new constitutional principles. Because we need to look at this. School belongs to everyone. School should be for everyone. Don Milani explained, having before him peasant children who seemed inexorably destined to be extraneous to school life: ‘A school that selects destroys culture. It takes away the means of expression for the poor. It takes away the knowledge of things from the rich.’ Impossible not to grasp the wisdom of these thoughts. It was his pedagogy of freedom.”

Don Lorenzo Milani, “was sent here, to Barbiana, to this village in the woods of Mugello – with the church, the rectory and a few houses around it – because its canons, in their radical nature, displaced inertia. His faith demanding and rocky, her non-curial speech, her ways, sometimes impetuous, far from the usual ones, aroused apprehension in some ecclesiastical authorities. In times far from globalization and the internet, from here, from Barbiana – then without electricity and without paved roads – the message of Don Milani spread forcefully to reach every corner of Italy; and not just from Italy“, said the President of the Republic.

For Mattarella, “the merit is not the amplification of the advantage of those who are already favourites. Merit is to give new opportunities to those who don’t have any, because it’s right and not to make Italy lose precious talents if they find the opportunity to express themselves, as everyone must be guaranteed”.

“Barbiana’s school lasted all day. He tried to instill the desire to learn, the willingness to work together with others. He tried to establish the habit of observing the things of the world with a critical spirit. Without ever escaping the confrontation, without pretending to silence someone, much less a book or its presentation“, he later added.

In the words of don Milani “there was no fundamentalism, rather evangelical radicalism. He knew he had a witness in hand. A witness that had to pass from hand to which his boys would then ‘add’ something. A great Italian who, with his his lesson, he invited us to exercise active responsibility”, Mattarella said again, adding: “His ‘I care’ has become a universal motto. The motto of those who reject selfishness and indifference. That expression was accompanied by another, less known one. She said: ‘As long as there is effort, there is hope’. Without the effort of commitment, society does not improve. Commitment accompanied by trust that illuminates the path of those who really want to build. And Don Lorenzo has followed a real path of construction”.

Don Lorenzo Milani had a very strong sense of politics. If the Gospel was the fire that drove him to love, the Constitution was his lay gospel. ‘I learned that other people’s problems are the same as mine. Sorting out together is the policy. To get out of it alone is avarice’. Difficult to find more effective words “, underlines Mattarella.

“It is difficult – continued the Head of State – not to notice the close link between his teaching and the faith he professed: first of all, the respect and dignity of every person. Here Don Milani the priest, the educator, the exhorter to commitment intertwine. The commitment -educational, and of growth- always requires, in order to be authentic, coherence. Often sacrifice. Like many mountain curates who looked after the communities entrusted to them, Don Milani did not shy away. He was young. He asked his boys not to be overcome by the temptation of renunciation, of indifference”.