Father Primo Mazzolari died on April 12 1959. A few weeks earlier John XXIII received him in the Vatican with an embrace, defining him the “trumpet of the Holy Spirit in the plain of the River Po.” The Pope’s gesture was seen as a liberation -albeit at the eleventh hour. In fact, from 1935 to 1959, the parish priest from Bozzolo was subjected to a set of actions taken by Church authorities that questioned the appropriateness of his ecclesial and social reflection. Don Primo had to put up with many bitter pills before receiving the benevolent welcome of Pope Roncalli. Thirty years ago, his dear friend Father Nazareno Fabbretti, wrote: “Don Mazzolari, like Don Milani, bore testimony to the fact that the ‘greatest love’ consists not in ‘suffering for the Church but on behalf of the Church” (Il Secolo XIX, May 19 1989).
In valuing the Gospel witness of Don Primo we cannot fail to recall his reflection on mercy. His famous homily “Our brother Jude” is dated April 3rd 1958. It represents the point of a arrival of his lifelong meditations. In all his preaching we see that the parable of the prodigal son was one of the most deeply-felt themes. This is no surprise, as Don Mazzolari was “the parish priest of the last” and the author of the book “La più bella avventura (The most beautiful adventure)” (1934).
The last and the distant ones were at the centre of his apostolate: “Those who are absent are pinned down in our hearts.”
Whence derives his restlessness, that poured forth from the pages of his books, from the passionate proclamation of the Gospel and the courage of dialogue with everyone. Where there is man, the apostle is never absent. Apostolate is carried out by our heart, by our open spirit. Sixty years after his death, Don Mazzolari continues challenging the believers with his writings and his prophetical choices. “His word, faithful and free, creative and courageous, had been given to him, as a priest, at the altar, and at the altar it had been taken away “- remembered Father Fabbretti, referring to the brain haemorrhage that struck him during his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday 1959. Still today the pure water that flows from his writings needs to become a stream, a torrent and a river even in today’s Church, overwhelming the temptations to build dams that fail to spread the freshness of the downstream flow from upstream. An incessantly beneficial, fruit-bearing, purifying legacy.
What remains of his prophecy? Certainly what remains is his courage, which stems from the love for Christ and for his Word.
“The destinies of the world mature in the periphery” he wrote. Bozzolo is certainly not the capital of Italy, yet from a simple and peripheral place it has been able to give birth to a message that was ahead of its time, and that with the Council spread across the entire Church. He has been provocatively defined the “pastor of Italy”. Not because he aspired to command, quite the opposite! He firmly believed that the Spirit of God doesn’t only envelop the pinnacles of the levers of power. In fact it contentedly blows in the valley, it sweeps farmhouses and hermitages and settles down in marginalized existences.
He imagined a Church with a twofold service: on the one side those in positions of guidance tasked with indicating the route. On the other, those at the grassroots could offer a crucial contribution by identifying stumbling blocks and acting as the antennae of transformations under way.
The navigation image was most congenial to him: “Indeed, those who stand on the dock of the ship have a greater view, they see everything. The shipping route is found in its wandering gaze. But even the seaman in the cargo hold, the cabin boy, the middleman, the last … those with no right to be on deck, can detect the cracks” –Tra l’argine e il bosco, 69 (The Embankment and the Forest). In the present era of web surfing, that reflection preserves its prophetical connotation. The Kingdom is hardly ever built by the most conspicuous personalities or by those with the highest number of followers, but by the humble, unnoticeable servants. Those who give voice to the last, unreached by selfies and tabloids. The influencers like Mazzolari …