(excerpt from Illustrissimi by Pope John Paul I)
I can’t stop myself laughing the first time I read this book way back when I was a little younger . Recently, I came across it again in the most appropriate time. The late Pope have the wit and wisdom combined in a humor so much easy to understand by people like me. I chose this letter he addressed to Pinocchio (and the modern Pinocchios , children, young people …maybe most of us adults too) because most of my personal clients could relate to him, I as well and those I worked with…perhaps most people I know or even all.
Illustrissimi or “To the Illustrious Ones“, is a collection of letters written by Pope John Paul I when he was Patriarch of Venice. The letters were originally published in the Italian Christian paper ‘Messaggero di S. Antonio’ between 1972 and 1975, and published in book form in 1976. The book was first published in English in 1978 when Cardinal Luciani (as he was then known) was elected Pope. As the English translation only reached the public after his death (after reigning as Pope for just 33 days), it stands as one of the few writings in public circulation that indicate what sort of person John Paul I was and what sort of Pope he might have been had he lived longer.(wikipedia.org)
When you fall in love…
I was seven years old when I read your Adventures for the first time. I couldn’t tell you how much I liked them nor how many times I have read them again since then. The truth is that in you, boy, I recognized myself; in your atmosphere, my atmosphere.
How many times you ran through the forest, through the fields, by the beach, by the streets! The Vixen and the Cat, the dog Medoro, the children of the battle of the books were running with you. They seemed my races, my fellows, the streets and the fields of my village.
You ran to see the covered carts that arrived at the square; so do I. You complained, you twisted your mouth, you put your head under the sheets before drinking the bitter medicine; so do I. The slice of bread with butter on both sides, the cinnamon pie, the lemon candy and, in sometimes, even an egg, a pear, or even its skins, represented an exquisite dish for you, glutton and hungry as you were; the same happened to me.
I also, when going and coming back from school, I saw myself involved in “battles”: with snow balls in winter; with punches and kicks in all the seasons of the year; sometimes I “incased”; or gave, always trying to balance “credits” with “debits” and not to snivel at home, where, if I had complained, perhaps they would have given me “the rest”.
And now you have come back. You speak from the pages of the book no longer, but from the TV screen. But you continue being the same boy of other times.
I, however, have grown old. I already am, if it is possible to speak like that, to the opposite side of the barricade. I can’ t recognize myself in you any more, but in your advisers: the teacher Gepeto, Beppe Grillo, the Blackbird, the Parrot, the Glow-worm, the Crab, the Marmot.
They tried – God!, without success, except in the case of the Tuna – to give you advices for your child life.
I try to give them for your child and adult life. Be careful! Don’ t have the idea of throwing the hammer on me, you either, because I am not willing to end like the poor Beppe Grillo!
Have you realized I have not mentioned the Fairy between your “advisers”? I don’ t like her system. When you are persecuted by the killers, you knock desperate at her door; she put her head out of the window with her white face, like a wax figure, she refuses to open the door and she lets you be hung from a tree.
You are got rid of the holm by her, of course, but afterwards, she made you the practical joke of putting, in your room of patient, those four rabbits, black like the shoe polish, with a small coffin on their backs.
Still more. Escaped by miracle from the frying pan of the green Fisherman, you come back home stiff with cold in the middle of the night and when it is raining cats and dogs on your back. The Fairy makes you find the door closed and, after many desperate calls, she sends you the Snail, that takes nine hours in going down from the fourth floor and taking you – half starved as you are – a bread of plaster, a cardboard chicken and four alabaster peaches painted in a natural way.
No! Children must not be treated like that when they make mistakes, mainly if they are reaching, or they have already reached, the age called precious or, also, difficult, starting from thirteen up to sixteen years old, and since now it will be yours, Pinocchio.
You will see by yourself: difficult age, as much for you as for your educators. You are not a child any more, and you will reject the company, the readings, the games of the little ones; but you are not a man either, and you will feel misunderstood and almost rejected by adults.
And while you are going through the strange experience of a fast physical growth, you will have the feeling of finding out that you suddenly have kilometric legs, Briareo’ s arms and a strangely changed, unusual, unrecognizable voice.
You will feel a strong need of strengthening your I : on one hand, you will be in trouble with the family and the school atmosphere; by another one, you will enter the solidarity of “the gangs” at full speed. On one hand, you demand independence from the family; on the other hand, you are hungry and thirsty of being accepted by your fellows and depending on them.
How much fear of being different from the others! Where the gang goes, you want to go there, too. Jokes, language and pastimes of the others, you make them yours. You dress as they dress: a month, all in sweaters and jeans; the next one, all in leather jackets, coloured trousers, white cords on black boots. In some things, non-conformists; in another ones, without realizing, conformists one hundred percent.
And changeable mood! Today, quiet and docile, as when you were ten years old; tomorrow, wild as an ulcerous of seventy years old. Today, you want to become an aviator; tomorrow, you are determined to be a theater actor. Today, audacious and unworried; tomorrow, shy and almost anxious. How much patience, how much indulgence, how much love and understanding the teacher Gepeto shall have to have with you!
There is more: you will become introspective, that is to say, you will begin to watch within yourself and you will find out new things. Melancholy will come out from you, the need of dreaming with open eyes, the feeling and even the sentimentality. And even it will be able to happen that, in seventh or eighth EGB, you “fall in love”, like the young David Copperfield, who said: “I adore miss Shepherd. She is a girl in a short little jacket, round face and curly hair. When I am in the church, I cannot read the missal because I must look at miss Shepherd. I consider miss Shepherd between the members of the royal family…, sometimes, in my room, I feel impelled to exclaim: ‘Oh, miss Shepherd!’… I would like to know why I have secretly given twelve nuts to miss Shepherd. They are not a symbol of love… and, however, I feel that it is a gift that fits well on her. I also give insipid cookies and innumerable oranges to miss Shepherd… Miss Shepherd is the only vision that invades my soul”.
“How is it possible that, in the length of few weeks, I break off with her? It is said over there she prefers Mr. Jones… One day, miss Shepherd pulls a face when she passes by my side and she laughs with her friend. Everything is over. A whole life devotion has disappeared. Miss Shepherd leaves the Sunday morning religious service and the royal family doesn’t recognize her any more”.
It happened to Copperfield. It happens to all. It will also happen to you, Pinocchio!
But, how will your “advisers” help you?
During “the growth phenomenon”, your new Beppe Grillo should be the old Vittorino of Feltre, a pedagogue who loved very much children like you and who gave a great importance to outdoors exercises for the education.
Horseback riding, jump, swimming, fencing, hunting, fishing, archery, singing. He tried, by these means, to create a quiet atmosphere in his “Joyful House” and to give a useful option to the physical exuberance of his young students. Very willingly, he would have made yours what Parini would say later:
“What will not a corageous soul be able to do
if it lives in a strong body?”
Besides, your friend Tuna, who took you safe and sound to the shore when you left the shark belly, will be able to help you, with its calm and persuasive strength, in the next crisis of self-strengthening of which I have spoken to you.
Your dream, young people of today, it is not only the car (n. d. t.: In Italian, car = auto, and also the Italian word “auto” means “self” so the following terms are a play on words). You dream a full garage of moral autos: auto-election, auto-decision, auto– government, autonomy. A very short time ago, some boys from Bolzano started an auto-school directed by themselves.
“Regarding how to arrive to the auto-decision – the wise Tuna would say – is very good. But little by little, step by step. It is not possible to go suddenly from the whole obedience as a boy to the whole autonomy as an adult”. Not even it is possible to use today the hard method of a time for everything. As long as you are growing up in age, Pinocchio, it will grow inside you the wish of autonomy. Then, well, make that also grows – with the external help of good educators – the right conscience of your rights and duties; make that grows the sense of responsibility, to use properly a so wished autonomy.
Listen how the brothers Visconti – Venosta were educated for more than a century. One of them, Giovanni, was a writer; the other one, Emilio, a politician of our Risorgimento : “One of the methods of my father’ s education consisted of spending as much time as possible with his children, demanding us an unlimited confidence, giving us back much as far as he is concerned, and considering us like a little elder persons. So, he instills on us the sense of responsibility and duty. He treated us like little men, thing that pleased us enough. For that reason, we also made an effort to rise”.
In your trip towards autonomy, perhaps you will crash, dear Pinocchio, like almost all the young people between seventeen and twenty years old, with a difficult obstacle: the problem of faith.
Yes, you will breathe anti religious objections as the air is breathed, at school, in the factory, in the cinema, etc. If your faith is a lot of good wheat, a whole army of mice will come to take it by assault. If it is a suit, one hundred hands will try to tear it. If it is a house, the pick will want to demolish it stone by stone. You will have to defend yourself: nowadays, from the faith it is only kept what it is defended.
And remember two things:
First: all certainty deserves esteem, although it does not share the evidence of mathematics. The existence of Napoleon, Caesar or Carlomagnus does not enjoy the certainty as 2 + 2 = 4, but for that reason it does not stop being true with a human, historical certainty. In the same way, it is also true Christ existed, the apostles saw Him dead and then resuscitated.
Second: man needs the sense of mystery. From anything we know everything, Pascal said. I know many things about myself, but not all. I do not know exactly what is my life, my intelligence, the degree of my health, etc. Then, how can I try to understand and know all about God?
The more frequent objections you will hear will go straight against the Church. Perhaps an anecdote told by Pitigrilli will be able to help you. In London, at Hyde Park, a preacher is speaking outdoors. Sometimes, he is interrupted by a ruffled and dirty individual. “The Church has been existing for already two thousand years – says suddenly the individual – and the world is plenty of thieves, adulterers, killers”. “You are right – the preacher replies -. But also since two million centuries ago water exists in the world and look how is your the neck like”.
In other words: there have been bad Popes, bad Priests, bad Catholics. But what does it mean that? That the Gospel has been applied? No, all the opposite. In those cases, the Gospel has not been applied.
My Pinocchio, there are two famous sentences on the young people. I recommend you the first one, by Lacordaire: “Have an opinion and assert it”. The second one, by Clemenceau, and I do not recommend it at all: “He has no ideas, but he defends them passionately”.
Can I come back to David Copperfield? The memory of miss Shepherd has been moving away from him some time ago, and David, now seventeen years old, falls in love again. This time, he adores miss Larkins. He feels happy as long as he can bow her every day. It only finds lightening if he puts on his best suits and cleans his shoes constantly. He dreams: “God, if tomorrow Larkins father came and he told me: ‘My daughter has told me everything. Take twenty thousand pounds. Be happy’ “. He dreams his aunt, who is touched and blesses his marriage. But, while he is dreaming, the girl marries a hop cultivator.
David spends two weeks demoralized: he takes out the ring, puts on the worst suits, stops using brilliantine, he does not clean his shoes any more.
Later, a love at first sight from arrives Dora: “She was a superhuman being for me. She was a fairy, a sylph… I don’ t know what she was… all that nobody has ever seen… I was devoured by an abyss of love in a flash…, hurried, headfirst, before having told her a single word before”.
They are transparent appointments: through them, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the problems of love and engagement, for which you will also have to get ready, dear Pinocchio.
On this point, some people defend a very permissive moral, today. But, still admitting that in the past it has been a little too much strict in this subject, the young people do not have to accept that permissiveness. Their love must be with capital A, beautiful like a flower, precious like a jewel, and not vulgar like a glass bottom.
It is convenient that they accept to assume some sacrifice and keep away from people, places and amusements that can be an occasion of harm for them. “You don’ t trust on me”, you say, “Yes, we do, but it is not distrust to remember that all we are exposed to temptations. And, however, it is love to take off the way, at least, the unnecessary temptations”.
Look at the drivers: they find policemen, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, one way, no parking, all things that, at first sight, seem annoyances and limits against drivers, when, in fact, they are there in their favour, because they help them to drive more safety.
And if one day you have a girlfriend – Shepherd or Larkins or Dora -, respect her. Defend her from yourself. Do you want she keeps intact for you? Very well, but keep yourself in the same way for her and do not pay attention to certain friends who tell their “feats”, boasting and thinking they are “machos” due to their adventures with women. The true “macho”, the strong man, is who knows how to win over himself and he takes his position in the young people’ s lines, who are the souls aristocracy. While one is a boyfriend, love must try not as much the sensual pleasure but the spiritual and sensible joy; it has to be shown in an affectionate way, of course, but proper and decent.
Similar advices have to be taught to the other part, too, so long as the “sermons” can be beared.
“Dear Dora (or miss Larkins or Shepherd) – her mother tells her -, let me make you remember a biological law. The girl, in general, has more self-control than the boy in the sexual aspect. If man is physically stronger, woman is spiritually stronger. It could almost be said God decided to make depend the goodness of men from woman’ s. Tomorrow, your husband and your children’ s souls will depend a little on you. Today, your friends’ and your boyfriend’ s. So, you must have common sense for two and know how to say no in certain things, when everything would even seem to invite to say yes. The boyfriend himself, if he is good, will thank you in his better moments and he will say to himself: ‘My Dora is right. She has a conscience and it obeys her. Tomorrow, she will be faithful to me’. The too much easy girlfriend, however, does not offer the same guarantees and runs the risk of seeding from now on, with her too much careless condescension, dangerous seeds, from which jealousy and suspicions on the husband’ s part will sprout in a future”.
I don’ t go on, Pinocchio, but don’ t come out now that talking about Dora was beside the point. When you were a child, you had the Fairy, first like a sister and then like a mother. Now, you are a teen and a young; the only Fairy who can accompany you is a girlfriend or a wife. Unless you want to become a Priest!
But I do not see any vocation on you!
* PINOCCHIO, inmortal personage from the homonymous story by the Florentine writer Collodi, pseudonym of Carlo Lorenzini (1826 -1890). Once grown up, the “Pinocchios” of today (the children) will have to deal with the problem of love. On this point, some people defend a large permissiveness, but the young people must not accept it: their love must be beautiful like a flower.