Biographical time-line - full text

 

 

      

 

B I O G R A P H I C A L    F A C T S H E E T

 

O F   A   S E R V A N T   O F   G O D

 

 

 

G I O R G I O  L A  P I R A

 

9 JANUARY 1904 – 5 NOVEMBER 1977

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FONDAZIONE GIORGIO LA PIRA

FLORENCE

 

 

 

 

“There is no doubt that the Lord instilled the desire for priestly grace into my soul. Only, He wants me to continue donning my lay apparel so that my work be more fecund in the secular world that is far from Him. But the aim of my life is clearly set forth which is to be a missionary of the Lord in the world, and I must carry out this apostolate in the conditions and the setting within which the Lord has set me.”

 April 1931                                               Giorgio La Pira

(from the letter to his aunt Settimia Occhipinti)

 

  

“One last thing: I am not a priest as you thought: Jesus did not wish this of me! I am only a young man to whom Jesus has given a great blessing, namely a boundless desire to love him and for him to be boundlessly loved,”

  Easter 1933                            Giorgio La Pira

(from the letter to the Mother Prioress of the convent of S. Maria Maddalena de’Pazzi)

 

 

 

 

 

1904 He was born on 9 January in Pozzallo (province of Ragusa) to Gaetano La Pira and Angela Occhipinti, the first of six children. 

He was baptised on 7 February in “Madonna del Rosario”, the Mother Church of Pozzallo. His uncle, Luigi Occhipinti his mother’s brother, stood as Godfather.

    

1909-1913 He attended the “Giacinto Pandolfi” Primary School in Pozzallo up to fourth year.

He then moved to Messina to stay with his uncle Luigi Occhipinti where he completed his primary education and continued his studies.

    

1914-1917 He attended the “Antonello” Technical-Commercial College up to third year

    

1917 He attended the “A. M. Jaci” technical-commercial college and graduated in accounting and commerce.

At this time he met and associated with a group of adolescents that included Salvatore Quasimodo, future Nobel laureate for literature and Salvatore Pugliatti, future Dean of Messina University.

    

1921 He worked in his uncle Luigi Occhipinti’s company, in order also to contribute towards keeping himself at school.

    

1922 He studied for his Classic High School final exam in a single school year and obtained his diploma in Palermo. During that year he often visited the home of Federico Rampolla (his Italian teacher at the “Jaci”) who helped him prepare for the high-school final exam in Latin and Greek. This is where he met Federico’s brother, the priest Fr Mariano Rampolla. A strong bond of friendship grew between the two which was to be of great help to La Pira in terms of spirituality and culture and which continued in the years when both were in Rome.

 

With his high-school diploma, he enrolled in the faculty of law at Messina University with Prof. Emilio Betti who took the young La Pira under his wing. He continued law for three academic years until 1925 when Prof. Betti moved to Florence and invited La Pira to join him. In Florence, La Pira studied the fourth academic year of law.

    

1924 Easter was a time of special grace for La Pira as he himself wrote “I will never forget that Easter of 1924 when I received Christ through the Eucharist; I felt an innocence so full flowing through my veins that I could not stop myself from singing and feeling incommensurable happiness”.

    

1925 He became a Dominican Tertiary taking the name of Frà Raimondo in the first group of tertiaries founded by Fr. Enrico Di Vita in Messina.

    

1926 He passed his last final two exams (forensic medicine and administrative law) graduating summa cum laude on 10 July with the right to publish his thesis. This, entitled “Intestate and counter-testate hereditary succession in Roman law” published under the auspices of the University of Florence by Vallecchi, Florence 1930, was dedicated by La Pira “To Contardo Ferrini who by every path restored me to the House of the Lord”.

That same year, on a recommendation by Prof. Betti, Florence University appointed him lecturer in Roman law. In the 1926-27 academic year he led a course of fifteen lectures on Roman hereditary law.

    

1927 He competed for a scholarship to specialise in Roman law in both Italy and abroad. He won both scholarships and decided to study abroad. At the same time, Florence university confirmed his appointment as lecturer in Roman law which he had to decline after a short introduction of fifteen lessons because of his imminent departure for Austria and Germany for his scholarship.

At the Universities of Vienna and Munich he attended lessons by professors Wlassak, Woess and Wenger, gleaning a lot of new material for his own further studies.

He returned to Italy in November and the “Cesare Alfieri” Social Science department of Florence University appointed him lecturer inn Roman Law for the academic year 1928-29.

On 11 December he donned the habit of a Dominican Tertiary in the Basilica of St. Mark under the name of Frà Raimondo.

    

1928 In June, Florence university appointed him lecturer of the History of Greek-Roman law for the 1929-30 academic year. This took the shape of a monographic course on some aspects of the Papyrus Laws.

He became a member of the Institute for Kingship which he had contributed to establishing. The statute of the “The Secular Institute of Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ” describes it as “a community of laymen established and governed in accordance with the Constitution of the ‘Provvida Mater Ecclesia’ and the ‘Primo feliciter’ Motu Proprio for special consecration to God in the service of mankind” Pursuant to this membership, the adherent takes a vow of poverty, obedience and celibacy in chastity. The Institute is part of the great spiritual movement of Franciscan Tertiaries of which it share objectives and ideals.

St. Francis of Assisi – and his plan and message of “peace and all good” – is thus an essential and constant guiding light in La Pira’s life.

    

1930 On 31 March he qualified for university professorship in Roman law.

    

1933 Aged 29 he was appointed full professor of Roman law.

He was active in the Florence section of Catholic Action and carried out his apostolate mission in the “problem” areas around Empoli.

La Pira held Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence, in especially high regard, a consideration that was amply reciprocated. There were long periods when he visited the cardinal every evening to exchange views and opinions on current affairs as they unfolded in Florence and the rest of the world, and it was Cardinal Dalla Costa who inspired La Pira’s profound enjoyment of the Bible as the only book for interpreting the history of today.

Around this time he met Fr. Giulio Facibeni, a charismatic figure in the Florence church, priest of Rifredi and founder of the Opera Madonnina del Grappa. The pair struck up a firm bond of friendship that was to have positive repercussions on the city itself. They shared joy and pain, suffering and hope.

Florentines used to say that the city had three saints: Cardinal Dalla Costa (faith), La Pira (hope), and Fr. Don Facibeni (charity). And there is surely some significance in all three being beatified contemporarily.

    

1934 In this period he met Mons. Giovan Battista Montini and the two remained firm friends all their lives. Indeed it was Mons. Montini who pointed La Pira to Mons. Raffaele Bensi who became his spiritual mentor, confessor and friend.

Inspired by one of Don Bensi’s observations on the abject poverty of the city, La Pira founded the “Mass of San Procolo” to provide spiritual and material assistance to the poor. He convinced a great number of the city’s young people from different economic backgrounds to cooperate in the initiative. The magistrate Renzo Poggi was also an activist.

    

1935 On 3 June, he set up the Vincentian Conference entitled “San Bernardino da Siena” to provide assistance to writers, artists and craftsmen. The Conference was composed almost exclusively of writers and artists including Carlo Bo, Piero Bargellini, Nicola Lisi, Giovanni Papini and Pietro Parigi.   

1936 He entered the St. Mark’s Dominican Community and was assigned cell Number 6 “full of light and silent, but cold and unadorned” as Fr. Cipriano Ricotti later wrote.

During his stay in the monastery he furthered his studies on the works of St. Thomas Aquinas which contributed to the formation of his philosophy and Christian mentality.

    

1937 He set up a second Vincentian Conference, this time entitled “Beato Angelico”, prevalently composed of magistrates and lawyers who met at the Editrice Fiorentina bookshop owned by the brothers Vittorio and Valerio Zani.

    

1939 He officially became “Donato”, a Dominican in the monastery of St. Mark.

He was the founder and editor of “Principi [Principles]” an anti-fascist periodical that defended freedom and the worth of the human being. The following year, fascists forced the magazine to close down. La Pira became a wanted man and was forced into hiding..

    

1943 After 29 September, the day when Nazi-Fascists ransacked the Monastery of St.. Mark hunting for him and Fr. Coiro, he sought refuge with the Mazzei family in Fonterutoli in the province of Siena. The Fascist police traced him there, too, and La Pira was obliged to hide in Trefole, a nearby outlying district where the cold and damp gave him severe bronchitis. In the three months he stayed in Fonterutoli his friendship with Fioretta Mazzei developed and grew. This was a close, very profound relationship based on a communion of thought, intentions and spirituality.

On 17 November a warrant for La Pira’s arrest was served on the Monastery of St.. Mark. On hearing of this in Fonterutoli from Fr. Cipriano Ricotti, he declared “I have never hated or killed anyone. In You, oh Lord, speravi non confundar in aeternum”. He eventually left the area of Fonterutoli on 8 December in the company of his friend Pollicina, an engineer and manager of the Florence gas company, and after an adventuresome journey took refuge in Rome. Pollicina was killed during an air-raid which La Pira survived despite finding himself nearby.

On 30 September the Governorship of the Vatican City issued La Pira with nominative ID N° 4858 as a staff member of the “Osservatore Romano” newspaper. He changed homes frequently during his stay in Rome: he stayed with the Pollicinas, the Rampollas, with Ms. Panicci (where he wrote the life-story of Fr. Moresco), then in the S. Uffizio and lastly with Monsignor Montini.               

1944 In September he went back to Florence which had just been liberated, and to the Monastery of St. Mark but then frequent bouts of bronchitis forced him to abandon his cold cell in St. Mark’s and live in a room in the clinic owned by his friend Prof. Palumbo in Via Venezia. Here, he was lovingly cared for by the Sisters of the  Misericordia for more than twenty-five years.

He was appointed President of the Municipal Assistance Organisation where he was active in providing assistance to people reduced to poverty because of the war. He appointed Fr. Raffaele Bensi as his assistant and selected as his secretary Antinesca Rabissi who was to follow him faithfully until his death.

    

1946 He was elected deputy to the Constituent Assembly, and together with such figures as Moro, Dossetti, Basso, Calamandrei and Togliatti, he drafted the founding principles of the Constitution of the Republic establishing civil and religious rights, the right to employment and the value of the human person He made a determining contribution to Article 7 – on the relationship between Church and State – and on getting it approved.

    

1948 In the general election he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies and appointed Undersecretary of State for Labour under De Gasperi. He won respect by his support for workers in the serious trade-union negotiations in post-war Italy.

In this period he was developing an interest in politics as a part of life together with his friends Giuseppe Dossetti, Amintore Fanfani and Giuseppe Lazzati with whom he established the periodical “Cronache Sociali [Social Chronicles]” in which he published a series of important articles, the most renowned of which was “L’attesa della povera gente [the expectances of poor people]”.

Two years later, disagreement on the economy and reforms led him and other members of the Dossetti group to resign from the government. During his tenure at the Ministry of Labour he appointed his close friend from St. Procolo Dr. Enzo Sarti as his secretary who unfortunately died young.

    

1951 He requested Togliatti who was leaving for Moscow to urge Stalin towards a political solution to the Korean war.

 

Despite serious misgivings La Pira gave in to the pressure he was being subjected to from all quarters including the Church and stood as the leading candidate for the Christian Democrat party in the local elections of 10 and 11 June. He agreed on condition of his project being accepted for giving a concrete, all-encompassing response to the new political emergencies, a project very close to his heart, especially after his experience in government following the constituent assembly.

The four-party coalition he led won the election and on 5 July La Pira was elected as mayor of Florence taking the place of Mario Fabiani, who had headed a left-wing administration in the four previous years.

 

As President of the High Commission of Tuscany for the Conference of St. Vincent, he began a correspondence with all the cloistered female convents and, jointly with the Ministry of the Interior, began sending them financial aid to help them over the period of great distress caused by the war.

    

1952 In the height of the “cold war” he launched the Conferences for Christian Peace and Civilisation which in its five sessions was officially attended by many countries including the Holy See, as well as by many notable intellectuals, both Christian and non-Christian.

    

1953 “Cities not homes”: Faced with the severe housing crisis caused by evictions, war damage and the influx of flood victims from the low lying Polesine coastal area in Italy’s north east, La Pira built hundreds of “minimal houses” to deal with the most acute emergency and completed the construction of the large new neighbourhood of Isolotto which provided good-quality, stable housing to thousands of people.

 

He took part in the movement to save 2000 blue-collar jobs in Pignone and through the intervention of the President of the holding company ENI Enrico Mattei with whom he was friendly, he contributed to saving the company. The skill on the part of La Pira and Mattei opened up the international marketplace to “Nuovo Pignone”.

 

Every Saturday he went prison visiting and through the offices of his friend Giampaolo Meucci the magistrate he assisted them in their court cases.

    

1954 He requisitioned the Cure foundry which was being put into liquidation by its owners and transformed it into a cooperative partnership.

Shocked by the devastation wreaked by nuclear weapons he spoke at the headquarters of the International Red Cross in Geneva on the value of cities and asked “do states have the right to destroy cities?”

    

1955 Every Christmas and Easter of these years he sent letters to the children attending primary and middle schools, to the sick and to “grandparents” about the “vocation” of their city and to explain the achievements of the city government and its political orientation.

 

The echoes produced by his speech in Geneva led him to organise “The Convention of Mayors of the World’s Capital Cities”. For the first time, mayors of the western world met with their counterparts from the east; they talked and signed a pact of peace. The mayor of Moscow raised some eyebrows by attending High Mass celebrated by Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa in the Franciscan basilica of Santa Croce.

 

During this term in office, La Pira was active in organising twinning with certain important cities such as Rheims and Fez with the aim of creating a system of bridges as a means for constructing unity among peoples.

 

At this time, the city government also reconstructed the Grazie and Santa Trinita bridges and built the new Vespucci bridge. In addition, the Central Dairy, the new Municipal Theatre and the fruit and vegetable market in Novoli were completed and the city tramway, cleaning service and waterworks were modernised.

    

1956 Local elections took place on 27-28 May. The Christian Democrats headed by La Pira increased their share of the vote from 36.24 to 39.29%. The Communist Party polled 12.600 votes fewer than 1951. La Pira enjoyed a resounding personal success with 33.907 preferences against 19.192 of 1951.

Paradoxically, however, the new electoral law being rigidly proportional, made it harder to form a majority, which was not made any easier by the political situation at national level.

However, he was re-elected mayor of Florence on the third vote.

 

On 15 May La Pira went to Venice for a conference and was invited to dinner by the Patriarch Mons. Angelo Roncalli. The evening sped by in amicable conversation and realising it had grown late Cardinal Roncalli gave hospitality to La Pira in the patriarchate; in great secret, though, he had him sleep in the bed that had been of Pius X.

On the evening of 6 November 1983 during his stay in Florence, Mons. Loris Capovilla, secretary to John XXIII, revealed that the then Patriarch had made the following entry in his daily diary: “I spent yesterday evening with Prof. La Pira whom I esteem and venerate. His is a soul worthy of all respect”

    

1957 On 17 June La Pira realised he could no longer continue for lack of a majority to vote the city budget. He therefore resigned and with him the whole city council; the prefect appointed a commissionaire to administer the city the same day.

 

Despite this he carried out the prior engagement in Florence with King Mohammed V of Morocco namely to summon all the Mediterranean peoples to Palazzo Vecchio in Florence to foster –“spes contra spem” – pacification and unity among them.

To this end he went on a pilgrimage to Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and also travelled extensively to Paris, Rabat, Tunis and Beirut.

 

On 17 September, on the day of celebration of the Stigmata, he accompanied Prince Moulay Abdallah the son of King Mohammed V to the Sanctuary of La Verna to repay the visit that St. Francis had paid to the Sultan of Egypt and to commemorate St. Francis’s two attempts to meet the Sultan of Morocco.   

1958 La Pira stood as the Christian Democrat leading candidate in the general election and won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies.

He stood alongside the whole city in defending the Officine Galileo and he tabled a Bill for employment contracts to be recognised “erga omnes”.

In October, he held the first “Conversations for the Mediterranean”. For the first time Arabs and Israelis, French and Algerians, represented by men of culture and, albeit in a personal capacity, by personalities with institutional positions sat around the same table to talk about the issues that divided their peoples.

It could be said that the Evian Agreement (1962) that gave Algeria its independence had its prologue in Florence. The idea behind this initiative was to create an area of peace among all the nations bordering on the Mediterranean “Tiberius’ Great Lake” and to unite the peoples of the three-fold family of Abraham: Jews, Christians and Muslims.

    

1959 Invited to the USSR he went to Moscow with his friend, the journalist Vittorio Citterich, and spoke to members of the Supreme Soviet in defence of détente and disarmament.

He also met the most representative intellectuals and talked about the issue of the atheism of the State.

Before setting out for Moscow, he went to Fatima to pray the Madonna for protection and he wrote to cloistered female convents for them to accompany him with their prayers

    

1960 On 24 January on his way back from Cairo he made a stopover in Istanbul where he met the Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagora. The conversation focused on the unity of the Church as an inevitable phase towards the unity of peoples and of nations. Patriarch Athenagora gave La Pira a box of sweetmeats to give to Pope John XXIII.

    

1960-1964 He was again the leading candidate for the Christian Democrats in the local election held on 6-7 November 1950 for the city council in which he won a resounding personal success.

After lengthy inter-party negotiations, on first March 1961 La Pira was appointed mayor for the third time to lead one of the first centre-left city governments. For the second time he abandoned national politics to serve the city of Florence.

At this time a number of large-scale public works were brought to completion and the new town-planning programme was defined which saved Florence from building speculation. In only three years, 17 new schools were built as was the Affrico flyover and the covering of the brook of the same name, the major underground passageways under the station square, the repair of over 90 private roads, and then providing a roof for the homeless was continued..

In addition, La Pira produced a series of initiatives of great political, cultural and social worth. He proposed that a European University be built in Florence; he gave his support to the emergence of new African States and invited Léopold Sédar Senghor, poet and writer to Florence. As well as being one of the leaders of the African liberation movement, Senghor was also the President of the Republic of Senegal. La Pira went to the United Sates to give his support to laws granting civil rights to minority groups. He gave impetus to Florence twinning with Philadelphia and Kiev. He continued struggling for peace and unity among peoples and in these years he convened the second, third and fourth “Mediterranean Conversations”. He also invited the plenary session of the International Committee for Space Research to meet in Florence.

He gave honorary citizenship of Florence to U.N. Secretary General U Thant, Le Corbusier the great urban architect and Pablo Casals, one of the symbols of opposition to the Franco regime in Spain.

He convened the ninth session of the East-West Round Table on Disarmament in Florence.

He received Ajubei and the daughter of Khrushchev in Palazzo Vecchio accompanied by the USSR Ambassador to Italy Kozirev. Ajubei and his wife were later received by the Pope in Rome.

He organised preparatory conferences for the great event of the II Vatican Ecumenical Council calling on great theologians of the calibre of J. Danielou, H. Férét, Y. Congar and E. Balducci. Participation in these conferences was massive.

Local city council elections took place on 22-23 November 1964 and La Pira was again the main candidate for the Christian Democrat party. Again he won a resounding personal victory but the political climate had deteriorated through conflict between currents within the majority party itself and he was obliged to withdraw his candidacy for mayor.

    

1965 In March he left the office of mayor of Florence for the last time.

This did not stop him seeking a political solution to the war in Vietnam. In close cooperation with Amintore Fanfani, then Italy’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and with the Polish Ambassador to Italy Wilmann, he went to London where he met with Labour MPs to organise an “International Symposium for Peace in Vietnam”. The Symposium was held in April in the Forte di Belvedere, and was attended by parliamentarians and politicians from Britain, France, USSR and Italy, as well as by exponents of international bodies. It ended with an appeal signed by La Pira and Lord Fenner Brockway which was sent to the governments guarantors to the 1954 Geneva agreements on Vietnam and to those involved in the conflict.

The appeal was answered by Ho Chi Minh, President of the Republic of North Vietnam specifying the points indispensable for the restoration of peace.

After a period of painstaking preparation La Pira was given the substantial go-ahead by all the parties involved in the conflict and so, in October, he left for Hanoi together with Prof. Mario Primicerio, by way of Warsaw, Moscow and Beijing. On 11 November he met President Ho Chi Minh and Prime Minister Pham Van Dong.

He came back to Italy with a peace proposal which he handed officially to the President of the U.N. Assembly General of the time, Amintore Fanfani. The initiative was sabotaged by leaks to the American press and peace was only achieved eight years later, on the same conditions that were offered by the La Pira mission but at the cost of immense destruction and hundreds of thousands of lives.

    

1966 He took an active part in the problems caused by the flooding in Florence. He helped the city by drawing on his international relations and he was invited to fund-raising initiatives in Paris, New York, Montreal and Ottawa.

 

In the preface of the book “Thou shalt not kill” edited by Fabrizio Fabbrini, he reviewed and healed the deep disagreement that had developed around conscientious objection, in which Florence had been under the limelight nationwide. This had stemmed from a series of events including a private screening of Claude Autant-Lara’s film “Tu ne tueras point [Thou shalt not kill]” (1961), the sentence handed down to conscientious objector Giuseppe Gozzini (1962) and the trials of Fr. Ernesto Balducci (1963) and Fr. Lorenzo Milani (1965).

    

1967 He was elected President of the World Federation of United Cities (FMCU) with headquarters in Paris. The organisation, recognised by the U.N. coined the slogan “Unite the cities to unite the world”. La Pira viewed the Federation as an additional complementary face of the United Nations.

The “Six-day war” that broke out between Israel and bordering Arab States brought the issue of peace in the Middle East dramatically to centre stage highlighting the growing autonomy and importance on the international political stage of the Palestinian movements grouped together under the PLO.

Between Christmas 1967 and Epiphany 1968 he repeated his pilgrim’s odyssey of ten years earlier with the same objective – peace and dialogue. Together with Giorgio Giovannoni he travelled first to Israel and then to Egypt, holding lengthy talks with the Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, the President of Egypt Nasser and with the mayors of Hebron, Bethlehem as well as with Palestinian representatives of East Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank.

    

1968 He took part in the Tunis World Conference of the FMCU youth movement and made a speech on the protest movement affirming “Young people are like swallows – they fly towards the Spring”.

This was the year of youth protests. He followed the actions of the student movement very closely. He was one of the few professors of Florence University who was not heckled. He went to Paris frequently to speak to gatherings of young people in the Sorbonne together with the film director Roberto Rossellini.

As President of the FMCU he was invited by the mayor of Prague to follow the events of the “Prague Spring”. He held several meetings including a highly significant one with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Hayeck.

    

1969-1970 In these years, La Pira led the cities within the FMCU to be active in the process of East-West détente launched with Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik; in Helsinki, Stockholm, East Berlin, Budapest, Vienna and Potsdam. He tackled the issue of the de jure recognition of the German Democratic Republic and of European nuclear disarmament as a means towards détente, peace and unity within the continent of Europe encouraging cities and nations to work towards a pan-European conference.

 

He was frequently in Paris, again in Stockholm, Helsinki and Moscow, where he had frequent contacts with the Vietnamese delegation in an attempt to speed up the inauguration of the Paris Conference for Peace in Vietnam. In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Hebron, he publicly espoused the “triangular theory” (Israel, Palestine, Arab States) on which to base the real negotiations for peace in the Middle East.

An FMCU conference was held in Leningrad in which the system of bridges linking cities became more concrete. La Pira proposed a new system of town twinning, namely cooperative twinning between cities in the East, the West and the South.

 

In 1968 a serious crisis hit the Florence Church – the case of Isolotto and Fr. Mazzi. In the most serious moment of this crisis, on 3 September 1969, La Pira made a clear choice and sided with the city’s bishop Cardinal Florit. By publicly stating “Ubi Petrus et episcopus ibi Ecclesia [The Church is where Peter and the Bishop are]” La Pira redefined the Isolotto question – similarly to all his decisions gave priority to fidelity to and unity of the Church over personal feelings no matter how much suffering this may cause.

The worth of La Pira’s stance in the Isolotto case, which met with criticism from many of his friends, was given great importance in the declaration that Cardinal Florit issued on La Pira’s death: “…..It is no wonder that a man of this kind could also make the unpopular choice he made nine years ago when the Church in Florence and its bishop had to suffer great pain. He was close to me then as a brother and that was of great help to me in carrying out a painful and tiresome duty”.

    

1970 The Palumbo clinic in Via Venezia closed down and La Pira moved to the premises of the Opera per la Gioventù founded by Pino Arpioni who had worked with him in the city council and who had dedicated his life to giving a Christian upbringing to young people. Proximity to young people made the last years of La Pira’s life happier and more complete.

Next door to the Opera were the premises of “Cultura”, a centre of political and cultural activism managed by Gianni and Giorgio Giovannoni who had also published many of La Pira’s written works. Here, too, the presence of La Pira was constant and constructive.

    

1971 -1973 These years saw the perfection of the “conferences of convergence” which he had spent so much effort on in the previous six years. In July 1973 the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was held in Helsinki; in Paris there was the conference on the end of the war and peacekeeping in Vietnam; th U.N. held a conference in Geneva on a Middle East ceasefire after the fourth Arab-Israeli war (1973).

La Pira continued to work tirelessly towards these objectives travelling extensively to Moscow, Warsaw, Bonn, Berlin, Budapest, Sofia for Europe; to Cairo, Jerusalem, and Beirut for the Middle East; to New York and Quebec (Canada) for Vietnam.

He also went to Chile in an attempt to head off the coup d’état threatening the democratic socialist government of President Salvador Allende.

In Houston, Texas, he took part in a seminar organised by the de Menyll Foundation attended by world figures of culture and science including a number of Nobel laureates summoned to debate “Plans for the Future”.

In Zagorsk, USSR, La Pira met the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Pimen and the head of the department for Foreign Affairs Nikodim, to talk about unity among Christian Churches.

In December 1973 he went to Dakar where he concluded his FMCU presidency and was reconfirmed as President for a third term.

    

1974-1975 He was invited to Paris for the closing ceremony of the Vietnam peace negotiations.

While following the ups and downs of the “conferences on convergence” from Paris and Florence, he dedicated much effort to Italian politics, taking an active part in the campaign for the referendum on divorce and viewing with growing alarm the destabilizing effect caused by post-fascist terrorism and the first stirrings of the Red Brigades.

At the conclusion of the Helsinki Conference (August 1975) he was invited by UNESCO to a conference in October where he drafted the new map of orientation for the peoples of Europe (enshrined by the signatures of the heads of government in the final Act of Helsinki).

    

1976 He took a high profile in the battle against abortion tackling the issue not only from a religious but also a civil standpoint. On 19 March 1976, the Vatican daily “Osservatore Romano” gave front-page coverage to his article of great cultural and religious depth entitled “ Di fronte all’aborto [Faced with Abortion]”.

The political situation in Italy was serious. Protests, scandals and terrorism were undermining the country’s democratic institutions. The Christian Democrat national secretary Benigno Zaccagnini, again put La Pira under pressure to run as the party’s main candidate in Florence in the general elections. Despite health problems, La Pira accepted in order to continue in his struggle for disarmament, unity and peace and to affirm the primacy of human and Christian values in an increasingly violent and materialistic society.

He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies with a landslide of preference votes and also to the Senate for the constituency of Montevarchi. He opted for the Chamber of Deputies.

    

1977 On Saturday 5 November La Pira passed away in the Clinic of the English Sisters in via Cherubini in Florence “… in the Sabbath without vespers on which the sun never sets”.

Shortly beforehand he had received a handwritten letter from Pope Paul VI which for him was the last great source of joy – the final act by the Church that he had loved so much.

The first blessing of the body was given by Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, Archbishop of Florence in the room where La Pira had lain since a few minutes after his death.

That night, Holy Mass was celebrated in the same room by Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti in the presence of family and close friends.

The body of La Pira lay in state in the Badia Fiorentina for the Mass of San Procolo and then in St. Mark’s church from 6 November until the funeral the following day. A never-ending procession of members of the public, friends, and personalities of every political and religious creed came from all over Italy and abroad to pay their respects to La Pira whom everyone now called the “Sindaco Santo [Saint Mayor]”.

The funeral cortège wended its way through the most significant places of La Pira’s career escorted by a massive crowd: St. Mark’s church, the University where the Dean, Prof. Ferroni, commemorated his merits as a scholar and teacher before a throng of his colleagues. Then Piazza Santissima Annunziata where, in front of the Marian Basilica so close to La Pira’s heart Fr. Davide Maria Turoldo said a prayer and took leave of his great friend for the last time; San Michelino Visdomini, where thousands of times La Pira had climbed the famous “Don Bensi Staircase”, to visit his spiritual guide and confessor and where Don Bensi himself who more than anyone knew his soul, gave the body the last blessing; to the Badia Fiorentina, a tangible sign of his fidelity to the poorest where he received the blessing of Mons. Bonanni and his friends of San Procolo; piazza della Signoria, in front of Palazzo Vecchio, for many years, the focus of his thoughts and his political and administrative work, where before a crowd of thousands, the heads of the state institutions, the standards of many cites and family and friends, he was officially commemorated by the city and civil society with speeches by the mayor Elio Gabbuggiani, Senator Amintore Fanfani and Prof. Giuseppe Lazzati. The “Maggio Musicale Fiorentino” Orchestra accompanied the cortège towards the Cathedral.

In Piazza della Signoria, the seat of civil power the body was passed to the religious cortège composed of hundreds of priests who accompanied it to Santa Maria del Fiore, the religious centre of the city where Cardinal Giovanni Benelli celebrated funeral Mass and exalted the religious aspects of the life of Giorgio La Pira.

During the Angelus in Piazza San Pietro on Sunday 6 November he was commemorated by Pope Paul VI.

The body of Giorgio La Pira was laid to rest in the Florence cemetery of Rifredi next to Fr. Giulio Facibeni, a place for thought and prayer for many. His tomb is adorned by a lamp gifted by youths from Florence, Israel and Palestine that bears the inscription “Pace, shalom, salaam”.

    

1986 On 9 January, the 82nd anniversary of La Pira’s birth Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli, Archbishop of Florence opened the diocesan process for his beatification in the Dominican Basilica of St. Mark.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“La Pira’s little coffin was shouldered by the people of Florence as they had shouldered those of Fr. Giulio Facibeni and Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa. Without their realising it, the humble and the unlearned were the link for three personages: a priest, a cardinal and a mayor, all three wholly dispossessed of worldly goods and all three empowered to take the todo y nada of St. John of the Cross:To have everything possess nothing of nothing. To be everything be nothing of nothing …’.”

                                                                                              Mons. Loris F. Capovilla