Here is the second of our exclusive translations by Luigi Cordani of the letters of Pope John Paul, first published in II Messagero di Sant' Antonio. Next week, we publish the letter to Marconi,1 the inventor of Radio.
Dear Dickens, I am a Bishop who has undertaken the strange task of writing a letter to some illustrious people every month for the "Messaggero di S. Antonio".
Short of time, I didn't really know who to choose and then I found an advertisement of your famous five "Christmas books" in a magazine.
I immediately told myself: I have read them ever since I was a boy, and I enjoyed them immensely because they contained a deep sense of love for the poor and of social regeneration, they were all warm with imagination and humanity. I thought at the time that I would write to you, and now here goes.
I remembered your love for the poor. You felt and expressed it magnificently, because you were brought up among the poor. When you were ten years old, with your father in prison for not paying debts, you aimed to help your mother and brothers by going to work in a paint factory. From morning until night your small hands packed boxes of shoe polish under the eyes of an unmerciful boss. At night you slept in an attic; on Sundays, to keep your father company, you passed the day with all your family, in the prison. There your young eyes were opened, as you turned your gaze on one wretched sight after another. For this reason all your novels are populated with poor people who live in alarming misery: women and children enrolled to work in factories or shops; even children under six years old made to work; there was no trade union to defend them; there was no protection against diseases or bad luck; they were paid starvation wages; the work stretched to fifteen hours a day, and, with devastating monotony it tied the most frail creatures to the roaring, powerful machines and to the unhealthy physical and moral environment.
Often it drove people hiding place in drink or to try to escape by means of prostitution. They are the oppressed: on these you showered your sympathy. Against them stand the oppressors, whom you brand, with your pen, dipped in the genius of anger and irony.
One of these figures is the moneylender Scrooge, a character in your novel "A Christmas Carol". Two gentlemen — turning up at his
a seek to
ask him: "It is Christmas, thousands of people lack many necessities, sir!" The reply of Scrooge is: "Aren't there any prisons? Are there no more hospices for beggars?" They replied: "There are, but they can do little to cheer up the spirits and bodies of these people during this Christmas season. We thought of collecting funds to give food, drink and firewood to the poor. For how much may we
put you down for?"
"For nothing," replied Scrooge.
"You wish to remain anonymous?"
"1 wish to be left in peace. I don't celebrate Christmas and I do not permit myself the luxury of letting some idlers celebrate it either. By paying the tax to the poor, I help the prisons, and the work-houses, whoever is in misery can go to those places."
To page 2, column 2, The men said: "Many cannot go there, and others would rather die," and Scrooge replied: "If they're going to die, they'd better be quick about it and so reduce the surplus population. Therefore, excuse me, these things do not concern me."
This is how you described Scrooge: interested only in his money and his business. But when he spoke about business to his "twinspirit", his dead moneylending colleague Marley sorrowfully lamented: "Business! My business should have been to have had humanity at heart. General well-being should have been my business: charity, mercy, and kindness; all these should have been my business. Why did I run through the crowds of my fellow men with my eyes turned on the ground without once lifting my eyes to that star which led the Magi to the hut? Weren't there perhaps any other houses to which its light could have guided me?"
Since you wrote these words over a hundred and thirty years have passed. You will be curious to know if and how a remedy has been found to the situations of misery and injustice which you denounced, I will tell you immediately. In your England, and in industrialised Europe, the workers have much improved their position. Their % only strength, was their numbers. They used it well. The old socialist speakers said: "The camel passed across the desert: its hooves trampled on the little grains of sand and it said
triumphantly, 'I'm squashing you, I'm squashing you!' The little grains let themselves be squashed, but the wind rose, the terrible 'simoon' arose. 'Come, little grains', it said, 'unite, join with me, we shall scourge that beast together and we shall bury him under a mountain of sand.' ". The workers, from being little grains, sparse and divided, have become united in the trade unions, and in various other forms of socialism, which have the undeniable merit of having been, almost everywhere, the principle reason for the elevation in status for the workers. These unions have, since your time, realized progress and conquests in the economy. in social security, and in culture. Today the various unions can make themselves heard even in the high up places of' the State, where their fortunes are really decided. All this has occurred, however, as a result of the greatest sacrifices in overcoming opposition and obstacles. The union of the workers, formed in the defence of their rights, was, in fact, declared illegal at first, then it was tolerated and finally recognized in law. The State, which at first was a military one, declared business contracts as solely private and prohibited collective contracts: the boss held the knife at one's throat: he controlled without any restraints the "free competition". "If two employers run after a worker, the salary of the worker increases. If' two workers pull at an employer's jacket, the salary of the worker will decrease". This is
the law which people believed, wrongly, would automatically bring the forces into equilibrium! Instead it brought the abuses of capitalism, which was, and in some cases still is, an "ill-omened system."
And now? In your time the social injustices were one-sided: it was the workers who pointed their fingers at the bosses. Today, everybody points the finger: the workers in the fields, who complain that they are worse off' than the workers of industry: in Italy, it is the South versus the North; in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America it is the countries of the "Third World" against the welloff countries. But even in these countries there is a lot of misery and insecurity. Many workers are unemployed or insecure of their places. nor are they always protected sufficiently against accidents; often they feel as though they are treated as instruments of production and not as protagonists. What's more the frantic course towards wellbeing, the mad and excessive consumption of necessities has used up essential wealth: fresh air and water, silence, inner peace, and rest. It was thought that the oil wells were like the well of S. Patrizio, without end; suddenly it is seen that we are nearly at the last drops. It was thought that, in times to come when the oil has run out we could rely on nuclear power but people tell us that in the production of this power, there was a risk of dangerous radioactive leaks which would harm man and his environment. Fear and anxiety are great. For
many the great beast of me desert to attack and bury is no longer only capitalism, but also the actual "system", to be overthrown by revolution. For others the turnround is already beginning. The poor "Third World" of today — they say — will soon be rich thanks to the oil wells which will benefit only themselves; the world of consumers, then obtaining its oil only through a dropper, will have to limit its industries, its consumption and go through a recession.
Through this web of problems, of anxiety and tensions, your principles — widened and adapted — dear Dickens, are still worthwhile, protective if a little sentimental, Love for the poor, and not just for a single poor man, but for all poor people, which rejected as an individual or as a nation, binds them together, as they feel themselves a class. To them, without hesitation, by the example of Christ the sincere and open preference of Christians should be given. "Solidarity": we are all in the same boat, full or people now brought closer in space and customs, but in a very rough sea. If we do not wish to encounter grave disorders, the rule is this: all for one and one for all: to insist on unity. to disregard division, "Fidelity in Christ", through the lips of Marley you demonstrated that the star of the Magi illuminated the houses of the poor. Today, the poor house is the whole world, which has much need of God!
Copyright 1978, Albino Luciani in the Pope's study and joined him in the recital of the Lord's Prayer.
So for an hour and a half before the service began the mighty of the world arrived, affording the less great but still privileged ones massed on the Sagrato of St Peter's e:icellent peering value.
Successor of' Peter
Then from the Basilica came the golden processional cross and behind it the 80 cardinals in their Mass vestments and tall white mitres, the successors of the Apostles come to celebrate the Mass with the successor of Peter.
The choir intoned the Veni Creator Spiritus, the signal to those outside that the Holy Father had reached the confessio and was at prayer at the Tomb of St Peter, where the Mass would normally have been celebrated to establish the link between Peter and his successor.
He walked the whole length of the Basilica, and suddenly there at the door was the slight figure in white and gold vestments with the jewelled Roman mitre holding in his hand the crozier of Pope Paul topped by the image of the crucified Christ.
One of the many moving moments of the ceremony came right at the beginning, when the cardinals advanced singly to pay homage and embrace their Father and Brother. No kissing of hand or foot was required — only an embrace of fraternity and peace.
The Holy Father found words for each of his cardinals, and to us seated on the Segrato the essential warmth, humanity and goodness, the sheer joy of the man, communicated itself wonderfully. The universality of the Church was reflected in the liturgy with the lessons being read in French and English and the Gospel in Latin and Greek.
His Holiness's address was short and simple, thanking those who had come to honour the Church and saying how he had been encouraged forward. The huge congregation recited together the Lord's Prayer in Latin, and 200 priests moved
among the faithful carrying with them the Body of Christ.
So the Mass ended, the culmination of a week in which, since the new Pope was elected, he has won all hearts. In audience after audience to the cardinals, to representatives of the 54 States with diplomatic relations with the Holy See, to the Press he has shown that his choice of John as the first part of his name is fully justified.
But what of Paul? The problems which caused so much suffering to that good man remain in the Church today, and the new Pontiff must now address his mind to them. After the glory comes the difficulty and the toil: The issues of world peace, of renewal within the Church, of the future of the clergy, of the role of' women of the reform of canon law.
We were reminded even as we prayed of the problems of the world outside, by policemen posted all over Rome, by the helicopters patrolling overhead, and The police motor-cycle escorts roaring through the city's narrow streets ensuring a safe passage for the distinguished visitors.
Still let those issues be discussed in due time. For the moment we can all.give thanks for an inauguration of rare spirituality and humanity and for a Pope who in such a short time has given new faith and hope to the Church.