“When politics loses its values, it loses its soul”
Bartolomeo Sorge (1929–2020) was an Italian Jesuit and catholic scholar active since the era of St. John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. He was interviewed by Joerg Nies, and young Jesuit currently based in Stockholm.
Nies: Dear Bartolomeo Sorge, you were born in 1929 on the Isle of Elba; you joined the Society of Jesus in 1946; you're a religious leader and priest. You studied at various universities and were the editor of the magazine La Civiltà Cattolica for more than ten years. [La Civiltà Cattolica (Italian for Catholic Civilization) is a periodical published by the Jesuits in Rome, Italy. It has been published continuously since 1850 and is among the oldest of Catholic Italian periodicals.] Later, you founded the Institute of Political Formation in Palermo. After that, you edited a magazine called Aggiornamenti Sociali [Magazine and think tank of the Italian Jesuits founded in 1950]. Today, you live in a Jesuit community in Gallarate (Italy), which is where we're now.
Sorge: Look, what I would like to say, as a general impression of a whole life in the trenches: We have witnessed a change in civilisation with very particular repercussions in Europe. In cultural anthropology you distinguish two types of crisis: there's economic crisis and there's structural crisis. Imagine a house. The foundation of the house, the floor, is the culture of a people. When there’s a homogeneous culture, structures are built, i.e. the walls of the house. And these are influenced by the values of the people. With the roof the structure of the house is complete and can last for a long time. I can make many changes inside the house, but those are economic crises. The structure of the house remains the same.
Right now in globalisation we need a new humanism.
Nies: Regarding morality, what should today's values be?
Sorge: I'd refer to the speech John Paul II made at the UN on the fiftieth anniversary of its founding in 1995. There were hundreds of different people in the audience in front of him and the pope said: “Let’s start with the common ethical grammar that is inscribed in the conscience of all humanity”. Black people, white people, the Chinese, Buddhists, atheists, Muslims, Catholics; all have an ethical grammar with certain fundamental values. Firstly, the dignity of the person. You won't find any human being who doesn't admit the dignity of the person. The idea of how to defend it is different, but not the principle. Another value: solidarity. The human person is essentially a being in relation. No one can exist alone. To be human is to be in relationships with one another. If we lose these relationships, we destroy the dignity of the person. Then there’s subsidiarity, which means that everyone is valued for what they can do. And the common good; that is to say, there are common goods which we either all reach together, or we all die. The ecological problem, that is, the problem of safeguarding creation, is an example of this. It’s a question of life or death, because the house belongs to everyone. Either we look after the house, or we all die, because it's the only house that we all have.
The ecological problem is a question of life or death.
I have seen that it's possible to renew politics even in times of structural crisis.
Nies: Was it this kind of education that you tried to establish in Palermo?
Sorge: Yes, very good. For me, going to Palermo was like the second step of my formation, a European formation as well, after doing 25 years of research and lectures. I had frequented palaces: the Vatican Palace, the Quirinal Palace - I met three presidents of the Republic; that was my environment! The next day I found myself in the streets in Palermo, where all those people were killed by the mafia. I asked myself, "What can we do to help Palermo to return to the rule of law?” Train, educate. We created a serious 2-year program, and it really had an impact, because it introduced a new conscience into civil society. If we want to change the world we have to start with the people, not the palaces. We started from the neighbourhoods, the simple citizens, the believers and the non-believers, the right and the left. The whole city was willing to fight against organised crime to restore rule of law to Palermo. This was the beginning of what was called the Palermo Spring. It was this union of everybody, this conscience, this ethical grammar that can unite all men of good will that then creates a new ruling and legal class. I saw that it's possible to renew politics even in times of structural crisis. By going to Palermo, I had a historical verification of theoretical research. I took this lesson with me here too. Having confidence in a future that depends on us, on training, on ideals, on learning to live together, respecting those who are different. Then Pope Francis came along, and he’s pushed us more on this: The Church going out into the world. It’s not us, the believers, in, and all the others out; we’re with the others! We live in a common house. This is the incarnation of the Christian in history today. The agenda of Pope Bergoglio's pontificate, unity in diversity, is exactly what the world needs.
Nies: So how can the Church help today in terms of the development of unity in Europe? What advice would you give to a new generation?
Sorge: The Church has to bring the cement to glue together the new bricks of the house, bricks which represent love, inviting everyone to help each other, as brothers; the time for it has come.
The Church has to bring the cement to glue together the new bricks of the house.
Nies: Father Sorge, thank you so much for this interview.