Oct 212014
Don Gallo Provoking

‘Hit’ la marciapede and be provoked into speaking: from diamonds nothing was born, from shit flowers bloom.

A man whose name I know as Roberto has returned to Genoa and is expressing a new level of beauty in his life. This is what I am told over the weekend by my monastic friend ‘S’ who has been staying with us and told us a little fragment of Roberto’s story.

Roberto seems exactly the kind of man you need to meet in order to grow a style of conversation that rubs a bit more dirt into your shoes, and loosens your tongue of the terror of speaking in Italian in this new country where you are now living your life. I have not met or spoken with Roberto myself, but I have the strong impression that he speaks a less than perfect English… or Italian. More than a little broken – What could better! He has been the last few years in England, some of them more or less at Her Majesty’s Pleasure , and was otherwise unable to return to Italy for a variety of reasons if you follow my gist.

Italy, as no doubt you are already beginning to discover is a land of open insecurity and institutional terror, more than England I think at the present time, so Roberto still has to be careful about who knows his whereabouts. However, he is back now and working with the community of San Porto of Genoa and there you will find him. His is an inspiring story – as is the one about this marciapiede communita.

La Communita di San Benedetto al Porto was founded and lead by Don Gallo until his death last year aged 84. “My gospels are not four…” Don Gallo once said, “…we have been following for years the gospel according to a path that is in (an) obstinate and contrary direction. And we can confirm it, note it: from diamonds nothing was born, from shit flowers bloom” (La Storia siamo noi 2007).

Like Roberto, Andrea Gallo also came from Genoa. Born in 1928, his Christian education blossomed (under the Silesians) and he was ordained a priest in 1959. However, he developed an “obstinate and contrary direction” of teaching, provoked and based entirely on trust and freedom.

This new direction did not go down well with the authorities, and as a priest he was in constant trouble with them, both spiritual and secular. Working among the poor of Capraia in 1970 where there was a very high level of drug use, he gave a homily saying there are many other worse drugs in society than the ones that are found on the street, including the language a child is taught that makes him “unsuitable” as a grown man to speak or flourish with it.

Soon afterwards he was accused by the Curia of being a communist and removed from office. Returning soon after to Genoa he founded the Communita di San Benedetto al Porto, and continued for the rest of his life to care for the poor of the city and all people of the street. And to provoke : working for peace and for all marginalized peoples… being fined for openly smoking marijuana in the town hall of Genoa in 2006… participating in the Genova Pride movement in 2009… in 2013 saying what the Catholic Church really needed was an openly gay pope.

What is a better word in English than “unsuitable” (as above)? Is there a better translation for “from shit flowers bloom”? And can I provoke you to a marciapiede meeting, speaking and blossoming of language with Roberto (or someone like him), a man clearly in step with this “obstinate and contrary direction”, and living a life of beauty not so far from you in Genova?