lunedì 21 dicembre 2009


Salvatore Mongiardo

Journey to Jerusalem

The end of violence

English Translation from Italian by Elisa A.M. Covello

Original Italian title:
Viaggio a Gerusalemme
La fine della violenza

Bibliographic notes and quotations present in the Italian version
are not listed in the present translation.

All rights of translation in any language remain with the author

Letter to his daughter

Milan, February 8, 2000.

Dear Gabriella,

I would like to take this moment to tell you all about my journey to Jerusalem. I know that we talk a lot by phone, but I need to explain to you clearly how one week in Palestine is risking to change my whole life so deeply. It won’t take long; at least I hope it won’t. Therefore, make yourself comfortable in your little house in Ohio, where I left you when I returned to Italy after New Years 2000. During the holidays, I talked to you about my journey, and I even showed you the pictures of the Holy Land. But I didn’t really emphasize what I am going to tell you now: it isn’t something that happens every day, and writing about it helps me clarify what really did happen. So let’s start from the beginning.

Chapter 1

It was the end of July 1999, and the heat in the center of Milan was unbearable. I spent Saturday night rolling around the sheets, but I just couldn’t find any peace. Then there were the ambulance sirens that continuously arrived at the emergency entrance of the hospital in front of the house. The next morning I escaped to the greenness of San Felice, where the air is a lot fresher and not full of bad odors. I went to visit some friends, and then in the evening Ernesto took me to mass. At church they made an announcement about a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that was being organized by the Diocese of Milan. The following Monday, without hesitating, I booked my trip, and on November 18th I boarded the plane from Malpensa Airport to Tel Aviv.

Of course, before leaving I bought a modern translation of the Bible from Paolini Fathers Editors. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of reading a few passages from “the Book of Books” in the exact place that the historical facts had actually occurred. Our group was made up of 43 people; Don Osvaldo was our group leader, he was an “old school” priest, and had already been in the Holy Land 97 times. He was an intelligent man; you could see it by how he held all of us together and how competently he explained the places and the biblical events.
The pilgrimage was made up of a few hundred people, and the man in charge was the Cardinal of Milan, Martini; do you remember when you brought him the basket full of Calabrian products? It happened in the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, on December 6th 1997; you were wearing the Calabrian costume made of gold that Giusy lent you. I took hold of the other side of the basket and together we took it up to the altar that was shining brightly with golden lights. The Cardinal embraced us and gave us a medallion as a souvenir.

When we got off the plane in Tel Aviv, airport security was tight and we were under very strict controls. That afternoon we arrived by bus to Tiberias. From the balcony of my hotel room I looked out at the lake Tiberias, also called Lake Genezaret or Sea of Galilee. At sunset it started to lose its light blue color and took the luminosity of opal. I sat down and breathed the Middle Eastern air in deeply, it was dry and odorless. I opened the Bible at the beginning. God created the heavens and the earth, water, fish, birds, reptiles and wild beasts.
On the sixth day of creation, verse 29 of the first chapter of Genesis, God turned to man and said:

“See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.”

I really hadn’t paid much attention to that first passage. I read it over again carefully. The commandment was very clear and very precise; man and animal must feed themselves exclusively vegetables. A large river gushed through the Garden of Eden and then split into four directions and flowed off to far away lands. The vegetation was luxuriant, everything grew spontaneously and our ancestors only needed to collect what the earth was able to offer. Afterwards, during the course of thousands of years, Eden and the whole Middle East had parched.
Still standing on the balcony I looked at the Galilee, it was dry and thirsty with little vegetation, and it seemed dusty and starved. Even though it was November, the blaze of the sun pierced the blue sky.

That evening we were served fish from the lake; its mouth was still wide open, caught in the spasm of death. While the entire group ate in happiness, I thought that man had to feed himself to survive; he had to use his human wit, his shrewdness, and his power to kill and to eat. My trip was starting out in a way that I didn’t like. I couldn’t just keep to myself and be calm like the others; I always had to know everything. This time though it wasn’t my fault, so you can’t blame me, I didn’t do anything wrong. I wanted to visit the Holy Land, and I started to read the Bible: what was so insane about that? In the meantime, I continued to think about that commandment; it wasn’t even observed, it had been removed from our consciousness. I was surprised because it was the very first commandment; I will call it a Proto-Commandment. How strange, all of us know Moses’ Ten Commandments, and those were written later on, a lot later, but all of us have forgotten that we should not be feeding ourselves from live creatures. If one day that passage was eliminated from the Bible, chances were no one would even notice it missing.

Chapter 2

The next day we went to visit Tabor, the mountain of Transfiguration, where the light was unbearably dazzling. Then we walked to the Hill of Bliss, Capharnaum, and Tabgha with its seven springs, the Shrine of Primacy and the Shrine of Multiplication of bread and fish. The following day the bus took us to Nazareth, where we could admire the extraordinary Shrine of the Annunciation built above the house of the Virgin Mary. Don Osvaldo carefully explained what life was like back then, and that at the moment of the Annunciation the Virgin Mary was a young girl of about 14. When her relatives realized that she was pregnant, they sent her to her cousin Elizabeth so they could hide the scandal. As the priest continued to talk, a song that we used to sing in the Seminary in Squillace came to my mind:

Like a turtledove singing in the skies
Through steep mountain paths
You flew to far off lands
Pushed by wings of love.

We sang this song in March, the month that is dedicated to the Annunciation, when spring colored the countryside of Squillace with new flowers, and tender air warmed up the icy dormitory. This memory was overpowered by yet another, the image of a young girl of 19, my aunt Peppina, my father’s sister who had been sent away from Sant’ Andrea to her relatives in Placànica, after her mother squeezed her breasts to see if she was pregnant and milk came out. For me the two girls, the Middle Eastern and the Calabrian one, who had to travel away from home to far off lands, were the same person.

I pictured her dressed in dark colors, a wrinkle across her young forehead, her step quick, so she would arrive before dark to a house that was safer and more comfortable than her father’s. The comparison between the Madonna and aunt Peppina, whom I had never met, and had been dead for a long time, seemed too irreverent for me and I tried to wipe the image out of my mind. Of course it was useless, I was convinced that the mystery of life, the mystery of sexuality and the mystery of God were so deeply entwined that they could not be separated: this was the link concealed in the annunciation of the Virgin Mary. I was desperate to look deeper into these mysteries, but I couldn’t because there was a sheet, a mystical sheet that hung in front of me blocking me from seeing further. My intuition told me, that beyond that sheet, there was a light and warmth so strong that they could have generated all the cosmos. This was the second time that this mystical sheet was hung out in front of me. It happened once before, a long time ago… on a particular day when I was desperate and torn apart, I felt like an oak tree being struck by lightening. At that time I thought my tears were blocking my vision, but there in Nazareth I realized that it was that same mystical sheet that was hiding something enormous from me.

In the morning my alarm clock was always set for 6 a. m., in the evening when we returned to the hotel I was dead tired from running from one place to another. Reading the Bible wasn’t going on as continuously as I had wanted it to, and it seemed that at night before turning off the light was the only time I had to read a short passage. In the fourth chapter of Genesis I read the story of Cain and Abel and the anxiety I felt when I read the first chapter weighed my mind down in bewilderment:

Abel became a shepherd, but Cain was a farmer. After some time, Cain brought some of his harvest and gave it as an offering to the LORD. Then Abel brought the first lamb born to one of his sheep, killed it and gave the best parts of it as an offering. The LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering, but he rejected Cain and his offering. Cain became furious and he scowled in anger. Then Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out in the fields” When they were out in the fields, Cain turned on his brother and killed him.

Therefore, the first violator of the Proto-Commandment wasn’t Cain who cultivated the fields and offered God the fruit of the earth; it was Abel who was a shepherd and killed for eating. But God welcomed the offers of Abel and refused those offered by Cain, God himself that had ordered us not to touch the animals and to feed ourselves exclusively on vegetables. God had changed from beloved creator, to an accomplice to Abel, the killer of animals. At the time of Noah he became so wicked to the point that in chapter 9 of Genesis he said:

Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth. All animals, birds, and fish will live in fear of you. They are placed under your power. Now you can eat them, as well as green plants; I give them all to you for your food.

After the downpour Noah, his family and the animals got off the ark. Noah took every type of pure animal and offered them in holocaust to God’s altar and God smelled the sweet fragrance…. Being protected and fed on the ark had deceived the poor animals while outside they awaited the knife, the altar and fire. The trick was too big and certainly I was not able to solve it. It was certain that reading the Bible was a sure way of ruining my visit to the Holy Land. Therefore I closed it and put it at the bottom of my suitcase.

We left Galilee, crossing Lake Tiberias in a boat. On the riverbank on the other side of the lake we waited for a bus that traveled to the valley of Jordan that was full of cultivation. A green line accompanied us along the river, impoverished from the continual withdrawal to quench the thirst of men and country. The mountains that rose at the end of the valley towards Jordan were between an antique rose and lime color. There wasn’t the light blue color like the typical far off mountains of an Italian landscape, but they weren’t any less beautiful.

In the afternoon we arrived in Bethlehem where we visited the Basilica of the Nativity, kept up by Greek Orthodox, which in the Holy Land administer many of the most important places of worship in Christianity. Like all the churches kept up by them, it was full of beautiful paintings and archaic lights. While waiting in the tiring line to kiss the actual spot where Jesus was born, I noticed that the air was filled with peace; it was air more like a home than that of a church. The basilica had been built above a cave-house where Maria found herself giving birth. Don Osvaldo was very clear about this point and he carefully explained how a house was built during those times. They were actually caves, which had been dug out of the rocks; tiny branches of pergola protected the entrance. On the right side of the entrance there was an area of a few square meters where the whole family slept. Then you went down the stairs and you were right inside the cave: that was where they stored their food and animals and there was also a wood stove for bread. The Madonna had to make herself comfortable further down among the animals, because the space in the mini-dormitory was too tight for her to give birth. The light of life illuminated that Holy Night and angels woke up the shepherds and they went freely to visit the newly born Son of God.
But Gabriella…what did those shepherds bring as gifts? The only thing they had, the lamb. I don’t want to ruin the joy of Christmas, but I can’t think of anything else but the fact that the lamb, brought to Baby Jesus as a gift, ended up in the same way as all the other lamb, with its throat slit open and then devoured. To that add the blood that Erode shed for the fear of losing power. Was a new king really born? The Magician had imprudently spoken and he didn’t waste any time to order the slaughtering of innocent people, convinced to also kill Maria’s newborn son. The blood of the newborn lamb and that of innocent children came out warm from the throat of the victims and flowed to soak the never satisfied earth of Palestine.

The next day Don Osvaldo wanted to celebrate mass in the desert of Jude, that surrounded the entire region around Jerusalem and Bethlehem: the distance between them was about ten kilometers. We stopped on a slope that dominated the dry and yellowish landscape. Don Osvaldo chose a large rock as his altar and silently and majestically celebrated mass for the group. He became a priest just to say mass, the most beautiful thing in the world, he said when telling his story. At the end of the celebration a few children from a nearby campsite came over to us and asked us for candy; after we gave them the candy, they turned around and walked back to the campsite.

Not far off, I could see a flock of sheep grazing, but I couldn’t tell what they were eating in that stony area. I wanted to be sure; so I bowed my head down to get a better look at the terrain. In that stony area, among all the rocks and pebbles, there were still a few blades of grass that were able to grow. The sheep were feeding themselves from the land, and the shepherds fed themselves lamb. On the front of the tents a sheepskin hung to dry. Immediately I thought about Abel, he had been the first one to kill the lamb. I remembered all the beautiful poems that had been written about the peaceful and serene life of a shepherd, it was all a false story. The life of a shepherd must have been desperate, a life that forced a shepherd to butcher an animal that had always been a faithful and yielding companion. I thought about all the stories that I had heard in Sardinia, during the ten yeas I spent working in Porto Cervo. When Sardinian boys abandoned school and were sent off alone to work with the sheep in the pastures as shepherds, many of them couldn’t handle it and hung themselves. Every year there was a massacre, and if later on someone became a kidnapper, he eventually was able to cut the edge of the ear of the victim with the same knife that had willingly butchered and skinned lambs.

Chapter 3

When I was a child I collected prayer cards. The Good Shepherd was my favorite. Jesus was carrying a candid lamb around his neck and was holding a large curved stick up high. Now I couldn’t swallow the story of sheep and lamb: I couldn’t understand how Jesus could define “good” a shepherd who tenderly watches a lamb grow next to his mother, and then one day, just seizes it, slaughters it, skins it and then eats it. This and nothing else is the life of a shepherd. In Sardinia it was explained to me that the sheep was the animal that was more useful and had more to offer: the lamb, its milk, the wool and finally the meat. I remember big pots where the sheep was boiled with potatoes, a rustic plate that was appreciated even by tourists.
That night I took the Bible out of the bottom of my suitcase and tried to find a solution to the puzzle. The story of the Good Shepherd is written in the gospel of John (10,11) where Jesus says:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life to the sheep (….) I am the good shepherd and I know my sheep and my sheep know me (….) I give my life for the sheep.”

I had always pictured the Good Shepherd as a hermit who spent his days surrounded by nature in the company of his sheep, and as Jesus said he didn’t sell them and he didn’t kill them. But Jesus affirmed that he would give his own life for the sheep; why would he have to give his own life if no one had the right to even kill an animal? If someone gives his own life, it means he is offering himself as a victim, so then doesn’t he become an accomplice to the executioner? And still Jesus is invoked by everyone as the “Lamb of God” while he defines himself the “Good Shepherd.” How can the shepherd also be the lamb? The more I rack my brain to understand, the more the story became tangled, so much so, that it gave me a headache. So it was clear, my trip to the Holy Land was not destined to cheer me up, as I hoped when I booked my ticket, it was creating a new and deeper anxiety for me.

I decided at all costs to pretend that nothing was wrong and to finish my pilgrimage by participating in all the meetings and work with the group. I also helped Don Osvaldo, because sometimes he struggled along tired. I didn’t mind helping him out at all; I liked being the guide, just like I did many years before when I brought American tourist groups around Europe. Don Osvaldo insisted on being a guide in spite of his age, in order to raise money to support a mission in a lost corner of the Amazon. He decided to take this job, after a trip to the Amazon, where he witnessed an unforgettable episode: somewhere in the Amazon, in a small hut, a mother told her eight year old son, to stop his new born brother from crying. The young child obeyed his mother, and as if it were the most natural thing to do, and as he had already witnessed it himself, he filled the newborn child’s mouth with earth and blocked his mouth with his own foot until he suffocated. As soon as Don Osvaldo entered the hut he tried unsuccessfully to save the child. The blue face of the child, with his eyes wide open seemed to be looking for a world that was less cruel.

In Bethlehem the Cardinal was promoter of a meeting among bishops, patriarch and other representatives of the Christian churches. The meeting lasted for hours; they kept us in the courtyard of a Franciscan convent, swept by a gelid wind. About ten prelates sat on a bench, well protected from a punching cold by their black mantles, and violet and blue head covers. They preached to us and continually asked us to pray because they were trying to unify Christians, and stop the scandal of division. My bones hurt in that icebox and I understood how Baby Jesus felt, being born in the freezing cold not far from that place. I thought that I had something to help convince them, it could be found in the little house by the sea in Alaca, leaning behind the door. Who knows how many times it jumped to the sound of the waves of the Ionian Sea crashing on the beach! Once upon a time it was a branch attached to its tree, and it was used to the rustle of the wind in the forest, the chirping of birds and the tickle of small animals that ran on it. One day Colin gave it to me as a gift; it was however a stick made of the hardest wood used to make the handle of the hoe that farmers sunk into the earth, hit after hit. That stick would have been able to accomplish the miracle of uniting Christians.

Chapter 4

Now I should tell you about Jerusalem but I don’t understand why the trip we took to the island of Maui in Hawaii in 1992, comes to my mind instead, when we did the world tour with Franco and Ailuan. In Maui we climbed up to the top of the volcano Haleakala. We were standing completely amazed at 9000 feet up and looked at the unlimited blue of the Pacific Ocean, the small hills that seemed of iron and bronze, disseminated in the antique bed of lava, and the tropical greenness of vegetation. There like never before I understood the Eternal and its incessant and longing manifestation. I thought about when the volcano was 30,000 feet high, just like it was described in the illustrations; then slowly over time, erosion started to sink it, and one day it will be reduced to a tiny island in the sea. Mountains lower themselves because of their love for the sea, and fire puts itself out, because of its love for water: this thought brought a feeling of so much peace, that it almost hurt my heart.

When Jerusalem appeared with the gold dome of Omar’s Mosque and the extent of tombs on the hillside, I was left breathless, because there is no place in the world that is like Jerusalem. To me it seemed that the beautiful and inexpressible view from the Haleakala was showing itself now in Zion. I didn’t miss one single detail of the towers, of the mosques, of the churches. I walked around with my eyes wide open so that I could capture as many images as possible, the Olive Orchard, with its millenary trees. The churches that had been constructed by the Crusaders, and had survived the destruction by the Arabs, the minarets, that sometimes almost touched the bell towers, the ruins of the Temple, the road that Jesus travelled on carrying the cross, the Last Supper, the Saint Sepulcher, the Golgotha, the marks from the shots of machine guns from the Israelis when they conquered the city in 1967, the fully armed and attentive soldiers… Zion was like the ornate bride ready for her wedding, but her nuptial dress was red with blood. Sovereign is her beauty, but there is no trace of the great peace you can breathe in from the top of the Haleakala. Everything in Zion oozed violence. Will there ever be peace inside her walls? Never, ever I thought sadly. The most beautiful city on the face of the earth was the house of ruin and death. I felt my anxiety taking control, my chest tightened and my forehead was covered with sweat. At that point I paused from my thoughts to pay myself a compliment, after all I deserved it. My ability to make myself feel bad worked even in the Holy Land. Boy was I good, I was very good.

Chapter 5

Omar’s Mosque, which is officially called the Mosque of the Rock, rises on the ruins of the Temple and has stained glass windows with a mixture of colors and unusual beauty: indigo violet, light blue, green and yellow. The pavement is covered with precious carpets, that you must walk on with bare feet and leave your shoes outside. In the center, right under the gold dome that you see on postcards from Jerusalem, there is the rocky top of Mount Moriah on which Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac: (this name means smile). On that particular occasion Isaac had nothing to smile about, if we believe what is written in Genesis chapter 2. God, who had forbidden both man and animal to eat one another, ordered Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and offer him in holocaust. Abraham had no doubts about what he had to do. So with his son, his donkey and two servants, he walked for three days towards the mountain. He left the servants and the donkey and loaded the wood on Isaac’s shoulders, he took the knife and fire and they went towards the top of the mountain. Isaac asked his father where they would get the lamb to offer, and Abraham responded: God will take care of it. Abraham built the altar, then tied Isaac arms, laid him down on the wood and raised his knife to slit his son’s throat. But God’s angel stopped Abraham, who then saw a ram with its horns in the bush, and he slit its throat, instead of Isaac’s, and burnt it on the altar.

I completely understand the sensation a child feels when he is going to be killed by his parent. It’s a feeling of incredulity and the terror is so strong, that all the body is crossed like a powerful shock of electricity while waiting for that mortal blow. It is the same way I felt when I was six years old, and my mother raised the meat axe to cut my head in presence of my father who did nothing to help me. My mother said that if he touched me one more time…

Don Osvaldo involuntarily turned on a light inside of me, when he said that for the Muslims Isaac wasn’t the real victim that was going to be sacrificed. Ishmael was the real victim, the son of Abraham and Agar, the Egyptian slave driven away to the desert with her son. The Arabs and the Hebrews were contending the questionable privilege of being descendants of the chosen victim. To be a victim in their pastoral culture was considered a privilege, a sign of divine fondness: this is the strongest nucleus of human barbarity and the top of abomination.

But I was missing a logical passage, I needed to know what the motive was that pushed a man to offer sacrifices to God. I understood the difficulty of life in the arid land of the Middle East and even the necessity of feeding themselves lamb. But the sacrifices made to God, especially in holocaust, that consisted of the complete burning of the victim without eating any part of it, this is what I couldn’t understand, where did it come from? It wasn’t only the Hebrews that offered sacrifices to God. The entire antique population did it, from one continent to another, even though the Hebrew practiced sacrifice with a fierce and a particular passion that is well documented in the Bible. While I was tying my shoes outside the Mosque, I thought about primitive man that had sublimed the sense of guilt he felt when killing a lamb, and any other animal, by reasoning in this way: I don’t kill to feed myself, but to make something welcome to God, and in exchange he fills me with favors and saves me. The beastly act of killing became sacred and therefore necessary for salvation, no one so far has been able to root it up from human history.

The great rock inside the mosque hadn’t only the sad privilege to see the attempted sacrifice of Isaac-Ishmael. Later on it was bored like a well and opened on the side to service as abattoir and allow the wave of blood to flow when Solomon consecrated the Temple, as it is written in the Book of Kings (8, 62):

“Then King Solomon and all the people there offered sacrifices to the LORD. He sacrificed 22,000 head of cattle and 120,000 sheep as fellowship-offerings. And so the King and all the people dedicated the Temple. That same day he also consecrated the central part of the courtyard, the area in front of the Temple and then he offered there the sacrifices burnt whole, the oblation and the fat of animals for the fellowship-offerings (…) There at the Temple, Solomon and all the people of Israel celebrated for seven days (…) the LORD appeared to him again…The LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer. I consecrate this Temple which you have built as the place where I shall be worshipped forever. I will watch over it and protect it for all time.”

The king and his people ate the meat of the victims, with the exception of the holocausts totally burned. Completely full of meat, Solomon devoted himself to other occupations and loved, besides the Pharaoh’s daughter, many foreign women: Moabite, Ammonite, Idumee, Sidonie and Hittite… He had seven hundred princesses for wives and three hundred concubines, meat and sex as often as he wanted.

Meanwhile I walked along the ruins of the Temple as if it were a dream, and I heard the mooing of 22,000 ox, the bleating of the 120,000 sheep and the cry of millions of victims that for almost a thousand years had their throats slit in the biggest slaughterhouse in history. The dazzling sky of Jerusalem seemed to me to be made of cruel lapis lazuli and the opening of that well stood in front of me, like the most malicious black hole in the entire universe.

Chapter 6

Let’s go back to the young girl named Maria who walked quickly and fearfully towards her cousin Elizabeth’s house, an older woman already sterile. Miraculously she was also pregnant and carried a son in the womb. The second verse of the song we sang in Squillace said:

To your virginal greeting
The mother already sterile exults
The hidden prophetic offspring
Reveals the joy of the heart.

Elizabeth felt her baby move inside the womb and collected Maria with open arms. Two pregnancies marked by the prodigy, two children announced by the angel of God. The sky and the earth moved for these two children to be born; God intervenes directly: which mortal could be luckier? Nevertheless the destiny of these two children was signed: they would be killed at a very young age. Mary gave birth to Jesus and Elizabeth to John, who as an adult would go to the desert, dressed in camel skin and baptize crowds on the bank of the Jordan River. Jesus goes to him to be baptized when he is about 30 years old, and John exclaims (John 1,29):

“Here is the lamb of God that takes away the sins from the world!”

Who knows how many times you have seen this episode in museums or reproduced in books, St. John as a child playing with Baby Jesus? St. John sits beside a baby sheep, holding a cross in one hand, and around it there is a sign where these words are written in Latin: “Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi” “Here is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world”. This proves without a shadow of a doubt that the death of Jesus was already written long before the judgment passed by Pilate. Take a moment and reflect: if a father like Abraham was ready to kill his son, the angel could stop him and the lamb becomes victim. But if the Son of God becomes the Lamb of God, then truthfully for him there isn’t an escape. The father doesn’t intervene; the family already knows what his end will be and drives him to the sacrifice, so that innocent blood is shed to wash away the sins of the world.
But what is the sin?
It’s a problem of definition, which is always the most dangerous thing that exists. Do you remember what my teacher Don Ciccio Laugelli said in my first book, with regards to the definition? He declared:

“The definition has in itself the cruel release of an iron device. It is a trap that imprisons who ever gets close to it. If you give a definition you kill a man! If you define someone a Christian, then the Pagans will kill him. If you define someone a murderer or heretical, you send him to the pitchfork or to the stake. If you define someone enemy, revolutionary, Hebrew, then its destiny his decided. Behind every killer there is a definition…”

I am sure I am not making a mistake by defining sin as violence in its many forms. Violence isn’t the fruit of sin, it is the sin itself. I came to this conclusion by reading a lot about world religions in the last few years and I realized that in every religion sin is identified with violence. Now I want to ask you this question: how can sacrifice, that brings the maximum violence of killing, cancel another type of violence? How can violence cancel sin, if violence itself is a sin? This equivocal definition has allowed John the Baptist, without being aware of it, to sentence Jesus to death.
There was one person that understood the trick. It was one of the greatest painters in the world, Caravaggio. And to Caravaggio, the city that gave the name to the painter, many times we went to see the sanctuary of the Madonna of the Sacred Spring…I want to bring your attention to two of his paintings.
The first one is in the Uffizi Museum in Florence. Abraham with his left hand firmly holds his son’s head down on the pile of wood. Isaac is screaming in a grimace of horror and desperation. The angel’s hand is holding back Abraham’s right hand, that is ready to slit his son’s throat with a knife. The ram is beside them, and looks on sulking, his eyes inspecting what is going on around him and waiting sadly: he knows that it will be his turn soon.

The second painting by Caravaggio, you can find in Rome in the Capitoline Museums and it represents the Baptist in a manner that is truly out of the ordinary. Saint John is completely nude, sitting on the rough camel skin, and shines in the splendor of the young limb. His face is illuminated by a full and happy smile and he makes this incredible gesture: with his right hand he is holding a ram that has powerful horns, but it is calmer than a lamb and is almost ready to lick the face of the Baptist. The eyes of the young Baptist and those of the ram express only friendship and the happiness to be on the earth, to be alive. Caravaggio, himself violent and a killer, at least in the picture had re-established the Proto-Commandment of God. A long time before Caravaggio there was another person that had understood and was horrified by the sacrifice, by the violence, by the sin. As a matter of fact it says “Mundus hic est in maligno positus.” Correctly translated it means: “This world is well-founded on violence”. And the only thing he wanted was to make the mechanisms of violence jump off their hinges. With desperate courage he threw himself against those mechanisms with a good result that remained grinded. I’m sure that you have understood that I am talking about Jesus.

Chapter 7

In the temple of Jerusalem the rising and setting of the sun was greeted with the implacable rhythm of the morning and evening sacrifice. The priest’s knife slit the throat of two young lambs, without a stain: then they were skinned to conserve the skin and completely burnt as a holocaust on the altar, in sweet fragrance to God.
Under that sacrificial regime, life wasn’t at all beautiful. Jesus, more than every other, suffered because of that inextricable tangle of violence, blood, religion, injustice, oppression and foreign dominance. Nevertheless, it was the only life possible and no one was able to modify it. He searched in every way to undermine that order; he gave sight to the blind, food to the hungry, life to the dead. But he realized it was impossible to change the society that was well founded on the blood of the victims that hadn’t done anything bad. At least that…that the ruthless God, who demanded victims, didn’t become a good father ready to meet the necessity of his children! At least that…they didn’t stop with the shady and criminal act of the bloody sacrifice! At least that…humanity didn’t feed itself with love of life with the same yearning that they ate food! This was what Jesus preached in the synagogue of Capharnaum, that we visited one sunny afternoon. The ruins of the synagogue were imposing, but subsequent the time of Jesus that made his speech in the most antique and modest synagogue. In the gospel of John (6, 53-6) his passionate attempt to make himself understood is reported:

“I am the bread that came down from the sky (…) I am the bread of life.”

Then, he realized that it was impossible to change their minds. He himself multiplied the fish that were fished from the lake and in the parable of lavish son, to express the joy of the father for the returning of his son, he talked about the killing of the fat veal for the banquet. So he decided a supreme challenge to violence was needed: “It costs what it costs”! And he purposely used terms that scandalized the present:

“In truth, I am telling you in truth: If you don’t eat the meat from the son of God and drink his blood, you don’t have life in you (…) My meat is the real food, and my blood is the real drink”

Eat his meat; really drink his blood, the most abominable thing in the world for a Hebrew! Nobody had ever eaten human meat, or drank blood, not even an animal’s blood: the prohibition was very strict and there were no exceptions. It was evident that Jesus spoke in a symbolic sense, but his audience was scandalized all the same. So, to make them understand his message of love to his fellow men, he tried to explain the meaning:

“The spirit is that which gives life, the meat is not useful for anything. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

Chapter 8

The priests, the true possessors of power, they smelt the danger. The son of the carpenter in Nazareth undermined the roots of the institutions and the religion of the fathers. He went around saying that you didn’t really need to worship God in temples, but in spirit and in truth. He addressed himself not only to the sons of Israel, but also to everyone. He had no respect for Saturday: Saturday was made for man; man was not made for Saturday! He frequented prostitutes and public sinners; and proclaimed – unheard of things- that God was his father. He had to be stopped once and for all! He ran away a few times, and was able to escape from being captured. But on Easter he would arrive in Jerusalem, not lacking courage or irresponsibility. King Erode and the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate would come to Jerusalem as well. They would have him seized and sentenced to death; no one would be able to take him away. As a matter of fact, he arrived in Jerusalem with his disciples and they observed the traditional Hebrew ceremony for celebrating Easter. A lamb’s throat was cut, and using its blood they soaked posts and the arch of the door.

The refectory where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper rises in the center of the city, and was erected on what has been commonly called, even if it isn’t, the tomb of King David, an archaic and powerful monument, that could be visited on the lower floor. For Don Osvaldo, the place where the Last Supper had been celebrated had the greatest importance of the entire pilgrimage, because it was the place where three of the most important events in Christianity had taken place: Jesus had set up the Eucharist, he appeared to Maria and his disciples after the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost in the form of tongues of fire.
In the room of the Last Supper that is frequently visited by pilgrims, we gathered in a corner to listen to Don Osvaldo’s explanations. At a certain point, he started with very harsh words blaming Berengarius from Tours, a Frenchman during 1000’s, who had denied the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine. Don Osvaldo referred to the Catholic Doctrine of the “The changing of state of a substance”, according to which every time that a priest pronounced the word of consecration, the bread and the wine kept their exterior form, but its substance changed, and became exactly the body and blood of Christ. Don Osvaldo was indignant and he took it out on Jesus himself for letting Berengarius speak such heresy.

While Don Osvaldo was speaking, my mind wondered to what had really happened within those walls. Unrelated to the group, I saw Jesus with the tight and strong face of someone that had made a very scary decision. He broke all delays and decided to give himself up to his enemies, even if he knew he was going to be killed. It was inevitable, from the moment that he had issued the challenge to the power, which is the fulcrum of violence. The goodbye to his earthly life came about in one of the worst ways, the betrayal by one of his disciples that had sat at the table with him and the others, Jude. The roasted lamb is brought in without a broken bone, according to Hebrew tradition, so both lambs were facing each other: the lamb that had already been killed, and the Lamb of God, Jesus that would be killed. Jesus didn’t give his disciples the meat of the lamb as his own meat. Jesus rejects Abel’s bloody sacrifice and re-establishes the peaceful offer of Cain: bread and wine, fruits of the earth that are given as a pledge of his love, the real nourishment to put an end to the empire of evil. The meat of the victim becomes bread, and the blood wine. All the violence in the world starting from Abel and beyond is cancelled with a return to the purity of the Proto-Commandment! Only the Son of God could work this wonder, the same Son of God who asks for nourishment not from meat but from:

“Our daily bread”

Then he sings the hymn of thanks, he gets up from the table and walks into the night towards the Olive Orchard. The light of the full moon draws shadows against the rocks and the silver olives of Gethsemane. Everyone is sleeping while Jesus begs God to take away the bitter goblet of passion, but it is useless: the enemies are already coming closer with torches and weapons. The traitor has already imprinted the kiss on his cheek and Jesus, who hates sacrifice, delivers himself to the executioners, adding wood to the fire of violence. Of course he did it for love, but he committed an error by becoming a victim himself. An error in the noble sense of the word. Error comes from the Latin word errare, to go and search for something. The error of Jesus is that he forced the limits of the human condition, going beyond the unknown territory to look for the defeat of violence.

But in Israel the “pastoral-sacrificial” culture dominates, and Jesus’ death was seen as a sacrifice to God, exactly what Jesus wanted to abolish. The Great Lie was born, and then throughout the centuries millions of people were killed in the name of Christ.
Even today that culture undisputedly prevails. Don Osvaldo said on one occasion that God doesn’t destroy the world for his crimes, because on earth, in every instant, there is a priest who offers the Father the blood of his Son to soothe his wrath. The good priest did not realize, it was evident, the horrible cursing he was speaking, dishonoring God like a heartless father, or a monster thirsty for the blood of the son. Father, please, forgive Don Osvaldo, because he didn’t know what he was saying.

Chapter 9

Once when I was in New York, I watched a passing in Broadway. There was a lot of people there, but not as many in comparison to the people who walked in the streets of Jerusalem and around the Holy Sepulcher. We went to the Lateral Square, through maze of corridors and chapels, governed, by way of antique privilege, by Coptic priests. The Holy Sepulcher is one of the few churches that was built by the crusaders and escaped the destruction by Muslims. Monks, knights, soldiers, merchants, pilgrims, kings and military moved from Europe to this place. I tried to get close to the chapel that was guarding Jesus’ tomb. After waiting and pushing endlessly, I found myself in the first row, almost at the entrance, and soon I would be able to kiss the marble that the great victim had laid on. On the first attempt, I was pushed away quickly because it was a religious moment, and the Greek Orthodox began to perform their celebration. When the long chanting finally stopped, we started to make up some of the ground we lost, centimeter after centimeter, just like the crusaders had done when they conquered the Holy Sepulcher.

At the last second, we were pushed away again, because it was time to celebrate the ceremony for the Franciscans. Finally, the second celebration finished and I tried once again to move slowly towards the tomb, but for the third time I was unlucky, and they allowed a group of Americans to proceed ahead of us; the sound of dollars was able to convince the priests and the attendants. At this point I was desperate and began to think that I would never be able to see or touch the Holy Sepulcher, so in a loud voice I began railing against all the priests who would never stop selling Christ. The people that were standing around me started to join me in my protest, and they too started yelling and shouting, to the point that Israeli soldiers had to intervene and sedate the crowd. Finally they let me in the chapel where the marble that Jesus had laid on dead was kept, consumed in the course of centuries by kisses and hands of endless pilgrims. I let the rosary flow on the naked marble; I wanted to bring it to my mother. She was always surrounded by sacred images, medallions and crucifixes, which she kissed with great devotion. The rosary that had actually touched the marble where Jesus once laid on would be the most beautiful and precious gift in the world for her.

The Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher is a complex and powerful construction: the chapel itself, is in the superior part of the Golgotha where Jesus was crucified and nailed to his cross. I also had to wait patiently there, because they were performing the Franciscan celebration; they marched past us, with lit candles, singing the “Stabat Mater” of Jacopone from Todi. It may have been because I was tired, or maybe just irritated because of the long wait, but something just hit me in an unfavorable way; not the singing itself, that was done tastefully according to Gregorian chant music; not the celebration, that was suggestive and the smell of the incense reminded me of the days I spent in the seminary, nor the Latin hymn that I knew by heart. It was that I found unsupportable Jacopone turning to the Madonna and praying to her, to make him worthy of following, listening and participating in the passion and death of Jesus. The “Stabat Mater” of Pergolesi magically resounded in my mind and the contrast between his music and the words of the medieval hymn by Jacopone hit me clearly. In Pergolesi’ music there is a piercing pain, a bloodcurdling cry of a mother, who had to assist powerlessly in the killing of her own son. In Jacopone’s words there is lust to participate in the crying, in the torture that Maria felt, when she had to watch as her son was killed for our salvation. To me it seemed to be a shattering behavior towards the mother of Christ, unforgivable and cunning. Seven centuries away I paid a compliment to Pope Boniface VIII who excommunicated and imprisoned the Friar of Todi, even if it was for different reasons.

In his hymn Jacopone carried out a theory that some theologists, one of which was Saint Antonino, bishop of Florence in the 1400’s, had clearly and fiercely expressed. The holy bishop asked what would have happened if Christ’s crucifixion had stopped and the crucifixors hadn’t completed it. Saint Antonino responded like a man with a black heart, blacker than the pitch: Maria, watching as the executioners didn’t go forward, therefore there wouldn’t have been the salvation of the human kind, herself would have taken the hammer and nails and, without crying or grief, but with joy, would have crucified Jesus, the sacred fruit of her womb. At the end everyone wanted Christ’s blood. They cried for his wounds, for the nails, for the thorns, the cross and the pain, but the truth was that they would not pay a penny for Jesus’ death; the real thing they wanted was their own salvation.

While I was kneeling at the top of Golgotha, I was able to put my hand in the hole where the cross had been planted. As soon as I put my hand in I felt that my hand, my arm and then my whole being was sucked in by the monstrous force of this black hole and I was unconscious for a few minutes. The pilgrims who were around me took me away from the place I had been kneeling at, and brought me to an unacceptable reality.
I was still in the chapel where the crucifixion had taken place, when a reflection of the immense Heraclitus, formulated five centuries before Christ and regarding the sacrifice of blood, came to my mind:
“In vain they purify with blood the impurity of blood
Like the one who falls in the mud, wants to clean
himself with mud.”

I finally realized how things really happened. In Jerusalem something happened, something very dirty, and unmentionable: the shrewd ones, the politicians, the priests, all of them, they killed my Lord. They killed the only one, that as a young boy, I prayed to, they killed the only one who wanted to help the fellowmen. Damn good for nothing!

Chapter 10

After, we went to visit the Weeping Wall, where most of the Orthodox Jews crowded the leveled off area in front of the mighty wall, with their head covered by a shall of prayer. They recited passages from the Bible out loud or sang, moving their bodies and their heads back and forth. There is the tradition of inserting little rolled up pieces of paper with a prayer or a wish written on them between the crack of the large rocks. I wanted to do the same, but I stopped myself because I was distrustful of that ruin. Nabucodonosor had destroyed the first temple in 586 BC, the one built by Solomon. The Weeping Wall is a piece of the basement of Erodes temple, who spent large sums of money and monstrous efforts to enlarge and embellish the second temple, the one that was reconstructed by the Hebrews who had returned from slavery in Babylon. The temple of Erode was so magnificent and big that you were able to see it from the sea 50 km away. The Romans destroyed it in 70 AC when Titus was the Emperor, “Delight of the Whole World”, as he was called for his loveable character, which however wasn’t applicable to Jerusalem. The Romans left that wall there, like solemn warning to the Hebrews, so that never again they would dare rebel; thousands were taken into slavery to Rome, where they worked on the construction of the Coliseum.

Besides the wall there wasn’t much to see; I sat down in the shade waiting for the group, I didn’t feel very bad that the temple had been destroyed: Bravo Nabucodonosor! And Bravo Titus! The idea upset me that every morning and every evening, a knife was taken to the throat of a lamb, cut open to delight God, with the scent of burnt meat. But why, I asked myself, why the fate of the lamb was so heavy in my heart? Nor I or anyone in my family had anything to do with sheep and goat. Only that once…many years ago…
All of a sudden the Weeping Wall transformed itself into a big screen, on which the image of Don Salvatore Bressi materialized. The old Andreolese priest with his glasses, wearing his black tunic, shook his index finger on his right hand at me saying:
“Cavete ab ira agni!” That means, “Beware of the wrath of the lamb”

Don Salvatore had been dead for many years, and the scene I saw again on the Weeping Wall had taken place at the end of the summer in 1959 in Sant’Andrea. In the sacristy of the matrix Church I was taking leave of the priests, because I had to return to the seminary for my last year of high school in Catanzaro. In the seminaries I lived, night after night and day after day, like a red-hot iron, hit and forged by a powerful and anguishing mallet. At the moment of saying goodbye to Don Salvatore, who was always light hearted and in good spirits, he wanted to accompany me outside the sacristy. He leaned against the altar of San Francesco of Paola, who from inside his niche seemed to be perking up his ears to listen. Don Salvatore became serious and said:
“Cavete ab ira agni!”
I was very stunned by his change of spirit and I asked:
“What does “the wrath of the lamb” mean?, such a sweet animal?”
Don Salvatore opened his arms and said:
“It’s a mystery, a great mystery!”
I was intimidated by the solemn tone in the priest’s voice so I insisted:
“Why are you telling me this?”
Without hesitating he responded:
“Because it is your task to discover it”
“My task?” I repeated a little bewildered.
“Yes, it is your duty, don’t forget it!” he replied.
Forty years had passed since that day. What were the forty years the Hebrews spent in the desert compared to my life? My eternal searches, my monstrous solitude, my perpetual unhappiness, were they destined to lead me to Jerusalem to discover the mystery of the “wrath of the lamb”? A panic of fear ran up my spine and I got goose bumps, notwithstanding the strong sun. If things were to be like this... then I was completely ruined. Who knew what other huge tasks were waiting for me, now that I was getting on in my years, and my strength was decreasing?

Chapter 11

So far there were two black holes, first that malignant one of the Mosque of Omar, and then that of the Skull. I didn’t know that the third and most terrifying was to come. Jerusalem is called the Holy City, but it would be more correct to call it the city of Black Holes and terror. Our last day in the Holy Land was dedicated to visiting the Holocaust Memorial, in Hebrew Yad Vashem.
At the top of the hill we waited for the Cardinal; he arrived perfectly on time and stayed among us to please those who wanted a souvenir photo. Before the beginning of the visit, the Cardinal told us that we should be aware about how much suffering the Hebrew population had gone through.
For me this wasn’t a new issue. The first inhuman impact I had was in 1966, when I was living in Munich and decided to visit the lager of Dachau. From hearing it been spoken about and then touching it with my own hands, was such a shock for me that I couldn’t sleep the whole night. So, if today I am writing, it is because of the refusal of the ferocity consumed in the German lager. From that moment on, that thought remained deeply in my mind, like a problem that had to absolutely be resolved by dedicating my life’s greatest energy.
As you see, the tale that begins with a visit to the Holy Land had already been brooding for years. Think about this, I have never been able to visit another lager again for fear of going crazy; instead, I spent hours in the library of the university documenting the Nazi horrors. I had always hoped that I would be able to find the end of the tangled skein of the violence, even though I was aware that it was a crazy adventure and nobody so far was able to do.

To tell you everything Gabriella, this is a challenge that has lived inside of me since I was a child. When I was 10 years old, I went to see the paintings in the Church of Sant’Andrea, where the color red of blood dominated in the paintings. Saint Sebastian hit with arrows, Arabs beheaded some Friars who covered the earth with blood, Saint Peter losing blood from his hands and feet, Saint Tarcisius hit in the head with stones, Christians martyrs torn to pieces by lions, and Jesus reduced to a mass of wounds on the cross. Visiting that church made me fearful, but its bell seemed to say:
“Ding dong, ding dong, come and see the hidden mystery and try to discover it, if you can!”
I understood that the killings raged the world, and I perceived that the whole mystery of violence was written in that church, but I was unable to decode it. I returned home, and as my mother watched me thoughtfully, shook her head:
“Instead of thinking so much, why don’t you go and play like the other children? What are you always thinking about? Certainly you are unlike the other children!”

Chapter 12

The memorial of the Holocaust is an unrefined and massive monument built with great boulders. Inside it is like an enormous room with the roof in the shape of a fireplace, and a hole in the center to remember the crematorium ovens where the Hebrew were burnt. A flame burns perennial and the smoke raises towards the chimney, the third and most horrible black hole of Jerusalem. The Cardinal fed the flame and pronounced words of occasion, and Israeli representatives kept brief speeches. Then in the darkness a man sang a blood-curling song to remember the souls of the martyrs that were killed by the Nazis. While listening to it, my body began to harden like a brick: the hurtful notes struck each and every one of my bones.

After the ceremony we went through the “Gallery of the Children”, an underground passage with the roof and walls made of glass, where little lights like fireflies flickered on and off, while a voice recited one by one the names of the 1.500.000 Hebrew children perished in the Holocaust. In Greek this word means “completely burnt, reduced to ashes”. Abraham had offered in Holocaust the ram on Mount Moriah and that fire was blazing until it devoured millions of his sons.

At the end of that journey, all I wanted was to die, so that I didn’t have to think anymore about such ugly, horrible things. The afternoon air gave me some comfort and the bus took us towards the last appointment, to see a Kibbutz, one of the Israeli agricultural cooperatives, inspired by community of well being and life. It was interesting to see how the pioneers of Israel, who
had escaped the horrors of Europe, were organized. Everything was sober, but efficient and clean. Upon leaving the Kibbutz I was afraid that I was having a hallucination: I saw guard towers, behind a barbed wire fence, wooden barracks like in the German lager! With amazement, I realized that in those barracks there were animals that were bred, and that left the little lager only to end up under the butcher’s knife. We were back to the beginning: Abel had started killing again.

The next morning we had to wake up very early to meet at Tel Aviv airport, 3 hours prior to departure. The controls were even more meticulous than they were when we entered. Furthermore the tension from the conflict with the Palestinians was high and palpable. When we were on the plane, I thought that the trip had been like the detonator to all of my contradictions, my aspirations that had never been realized. I say mine, but maybe it would be better to say all of ours. In the end, there was always the desire to live better, or simply to live, nothing else but to live.

In the morning we could see the Italian coast at the height of Gargano and the plane veered to the right and headed towards Milan. At this point veering towards Milan seemed unnatural tome, as if the plane had taken the wrong route. In my opinion the plane should have veered towards the south, towards Calabria. An indistinct feeling, but a strong one, told me that down there I would find the solution to the problems of violence.

We landed at Malpensa Airport, I said goodbye to the people in my group and I kissed Don Osvaldo’s tired hand, the hand that brought help to the desperate living in the Amazon.

Chapter 13

November 1999 is coming to an end with days that in Milan are dark, short and dull. It is the moment of the great autumn depression, which many people, including myself, react to by asking for help from the pharmacist. They join the line at the counter asking in a low voice for tranquilizers. The pharmacist listens benevolently, bags the drugs and cashes in, cashes in, cashes in... His skin bursts with joy, deep happiness for the handling of the cash that he delicately puts aside, with the love of a mother that lays down a newborn child in the cradle.

One evening I went to bed rather early and I started to read the letter from the Cardinal for the Jubilee 2000 titled: “Which Beauty will save the world?” I skimmed over the page carefully to understand the message and, at the end I fell asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night, my heart jumped and I felt like a stranger in the hard reality and fogginess of the city. Tortuous worries pervaded me like an underground river.
“What’s happening to me?” I asked myself dismayed.
I realized that once again I felt out of place, ectopic as you can say with the Greek term ek-topos. To cheat time, I took the letter from the Cardinal that I hadn’t finished reading, and I envied him, because he was sleeping peacefully in the Episcopal residence. If I had continued my ecclesiastical career, at this time I could have been in his place. I also envied him for the wonderful house in which he would retire to on lake Tiberias, the house that I had seen in a triumph of flowers. I didn’t envy him for the tomb he bought in Jerusalem where he wanted to be buried when his time came: I wished him 100 more years. I have absolutely no desire for a tomb, let alone one in Jerusalem, the world’s capital of violence. Now I was wide-awake and I tried to understand the gist of the Cardinal’s letter that read:

The Son’s reveals his unity with the Father, abandoning himself to his Father will until death (….) the Father’s reveals himself as love in the supreme gesture of the sacrifice of Jesus (….) the beauty is love crucified…

On that difficult Milanese night, a sudden lightening floods my room and another light flashes through my mind: the Temple in Jerusalem wasn’t destroyed, the effort of Nabucondosor and Titus were in vain. The Temple is intact and functioning in the head of priests that continue to raise the knife, day after day, against the Lamb of God. Its foundations aren’t granite any more, but feelings of guilt that nothing is able to scratch. The knocked down columns have been substituted by buttress of theology and the surrounding walls enlarged to tighten the whole world in a hold of death. The Cardinal insists that the cross is beautiful. I say that it is horrible: beautiful is taking Jesus off the cross learning from Jesus’ vicissitude and breaking all the crosses in the world.
Gabriella, if someone were to ask me for your blood for the most noble of causes and wanted to kill you, do you actually think that I could stand there and watch and give my consent like God of the Cardinal? I would hit that dreadful…many times with the Calabrian stick that Colin gave me.

Chapter 14

My dear Gabriella, Grandma Carmela has gotten very old, but I remember when she was about 30 and I was 9, she would order me:
“Go to Celestina and ask for yeast”
I went unhappily because I knew that the following day I would have to help her make bread, the biggest anxiety my mother gave me, second only to the threat of killing me with the cleaver. I went to Celestina, still the same as she was back then, available and generous. She gave me the bowl of earthenware where a piece of fermented dough had risen and had crust. It wouldn’t have surprised me if the yeast had been exchanged for generations from family to family, every time they made bread, dating back to the time of Greek population.

My mother poured it in a large container made of terracotta with flour and water, melted the yeast and let the mixture ferment until the morning after. Grandma Carmela put the necessary flour in the bread bin for 8 large loaves of bread, water, a small heap of salt in the middle and the contents of the terracotta container that had fermented overnight. She wore a white apron and put a little one on me too. She closed her hands into fists and started to knead the dough, as I did with smaller fists. At first the dough was soggy and floury, but slowly, it became compacted and more tiring to work with. My wrists hurt and the task seemed endless, she asked me to push my fists harder because the dough would be even and the bread would become tastier: she was and still is a perfectionist. Then when Grandma Carmela called her mother, my grandmother Caterina, to come and help divide the dough, I knew that my efforts were finished. Mother and daughter put the bread loaves to rise on the wooden tables and covered them with clean canvass. For Grandma Carmela the more difficult job began right then: lighting the oven and allowing the temperature to rise to the right point that you knew by the whitening of the bricks, taking off the ashes, cleaning the oven with a damp cloth and putting the loaves in, and finally waiting for the bread to cook and take it out of the oven. When everything was done it was already midday. There was nothing on earth like fresh bread out of that oven. With her face lit up from the heat, Grandma Carmela took it out of the oven and let it cool.

The night after I dreamt that the dough rose to the point that it overflowed out of the bread bin, and out of the window and filled the whole street, getting bigger and bigger and bigger, until the mass covered houses and trees and slowly flowed towards the sea taking me with it. I tried to remain on the surface of the dough, but it gave way under my weight, I was screaming for help until Grandma Carmela came to wake me up.

But there is another bread that ties me deeply to my mother, and it regards the day of my birth. I was born in the middle of ringing of bells, rejoicing songs, yellow flowers of broom spread across the street for the procession of Corpus Christi: I arrived during the midday light when the procession passed in front of our house. A piece of candid bread in the shape of a wafer was in the center of the monstrance sparkling with gold and gems. My mother made a promise, that if a bomb didn’t kill me during the war, my life would be dedicated to serving God as his priest. So she sent me to the seminaries in Squillace and Catanzaro to become a priest. You know how things turned out with my studies and finally with my expulsion.

Chapter 15

This morning I really want to write, but there is a man in front of me talking about harbors in Genoa, lots of land in Como and buildings in Milan…it is my job and I like it less and less. At the end of our meeting the person leaves me alone and I can sit in front of my computer and write about what Don Salvatore Bressi (the Andreolese priest who in Jerusalem reminded me about the wrath of the lamb) said to me, even more sang to me yesterday evening. When I was almost dozing off to sleep, the voice of the old priest sang in Gregorian:
“Et in peccato concepit me mater mea.”
You studied Latin, so I hope you haven’t forgotten it, because of English. Therefore you know that those words mean: “And my mother conceived me in sin”. Don Salvatore was dressed in black for a suffrage mass: I had served many of his long masses preceded by the singing of the Office of the Deceased. What did Don Salvatore want to say to me, he who for the second time came back to make me worry? I waited and waited, until finally I saw myself as a baby on the beach in Sant’Andrea. Only at that point did Don Salvatore make a nod of approval with his head and said:
“It is not only the lamb that dies innocently, but also the pigs, the goat, the calf, the fish, the birds…and man. You, me and Jesus have a very important name: Salvatore, the savior, if we don’t save the world from violence we must change our name!”

It was 1946, I was 5 years old. My family and many other families from our town spent the summer at the seaside in huts. All of us children passed the morning playing on the battle laps of the waves. Fishermen oared a boat close to the shore and asked if anyone wanted to buy fresh fish. My mother said yes; she came out of the water with a large shirt that the water splashed against, and went in the hut to get a bottle of olive oil. She gave it to one of the fishermen who poured it in the sea: this flattened out and became transparent, as if covered by a thin sheet of amber. The fisherman took the harpoon and, looking through the stain of oil, transfixed the fish that he pulled out of the water. The sight of the fish that moved around dripping blood traumatized me. I was angry with my mother, because she paid the fisherman and took the fish in the hut to cook. My happiness ended and the luminosity of the horizon suddenly seemed dark to me.

The obstinacy of my mother against the fish continued. She wanted the best of everything for us: milk, fish, eggs, vegetables and meat had to be fresh and high quality. So, every time we saw the fisherman’s boat come closer from the terrace at home, I knew that Tobia, the fish seller, would come into town with his rolled up pants carrying a sack of fish. He would stop in front of the house; my mother would choose the best fish, still gasping and put them in a bucket full of water so we could play with them. The fish made some weak dart until my mother arrived equipped with scissors. She cut the flipper, scratched the scales, opened the stomach, and took out the guts throwing them to the cat that caught them in mid air.

Chapter 16

The following year I started Elementary school, but I didn’t play with my classmates, because I grew delicate and pale. My mother obligated me to drink a raw egg every morning to help regain my strength, so she bought some hens and one of them was small, white and lame. With great surprise, the lame one, as she was nicknamed, laid her egg everyday with such naturalness that even omitted to cackle. The lame one provided me with one egg everyday until, exhausted from her generosity, started missing days and then she stopped completely. One afternoon my mother took her by the wings and brought her into the kitchen. I protested, but my mother didn’t care about me, she took the scissors and pushed the sharper blade in one ear making it turn, this way all the blood would come out slowly and the meat would be more delicate. With my heart in my throat I ran to hide, and my mother threw out her amused comment:
“Crying for a hen!”
When I was 11 years old, my brother Bruno, the last child of six was born. In my town we used to give live doves as a present to help the woman who had given birth, regain her strength after the birth. My mother ordered me:
“Go into the kitchen, and fill a glass with water…”
I took the little dove, put his head in the glass of water for a moment, and then pulled it out, with his head dangling, its eyelids closed. I plucked it and cleaned it, and I put it in the pot and made broth. I took it to my mother; she drank it, and praised the broth that I had prepared.

Not far from our house we owned a small piece of land in the country. In order to arrive there, we had to go down a narrow and steep path that ran along a valley. At the end of the entrance there was an abandoned pigsty, which my mother decided to use. She bought a piglet and gave me the job of bringing it a pail of food everyday, made up of leftovers mixed with water and bran. As I got closer to the piglet, I saw the humanity in his eyes as he watched me impatiently until I poured all the food in the trough. The piglet grew until Carnival time, when he would be killed. One morning I was sent with a basket full of chestnuts, a tidbit for the piglet that I should shake along the path until we reached the basement of Francesco’s, Celestina’s father. Horrible grunting came from the other pigs that were suffering the knife. The pig understood what was waiting for him, so he started to grunt very strongly: with a rope the men tied his snout and paws and laid him down on a step; my mother came closer to the pig’s head and everyone yelled: “Good health to us!”
Francesco pushed the long knife into its neck; he cut the jugular and the blood squirted out. The pig opened its eyes so wide staring at me for help, that the whole white part of its eyes could be seen. After endless minutes he reduced the grunting: his eyes rolled slower and remained fixed on me when the final drop of blood flowed out.

In the spring farmers would bring little sparrows that they had taken from the nests. They gave them to us children, and we put them on the grill for a few minutes and then we ate them. We also had a collection of pigeons on the roofs of the three churches: the Matrix, Sant’Andrea and Father Liguorini’s. The pigeons made their nests between the attic and the eaves. The most daring of us climbed up the church bell with a sack, to put the birds they had taken from the nest in. Desperate cries came from the sack, which no one cared about, and the kind birds ended up in the kitchen. It was a tradition to make a large lunch after the sacking of the nests.

Then there was the butcher, who came to my father’s workshop to make him sharpen knives, cleavers and bodkin. After a few hours he returned from the countryside dragging a calf tied to rope and took the road towards the slaughterhouse. The people observed the animal to understand if it was wise to buy meat the next day. Someone commented mockingly:
“You have finished eating fresh grass, now you pay!”
It was my turn to go to the butcher’s and buy the calf, young goat or pig, never lamb or sheep, because in my mother’s opinion they stunk. The municipal guard took out a box with ink and a stamp that he used to imprint on the animal’s legs, thighs, and belly that were hung by hooks. The butcher cut the meat, took out the bones and wrapped it. Everyone joked and laughed and left with their bundle of meat. Only the dog, which was trying to lick the blood from the animals, ran away in a sorry state, hit by the bull’s thighbone, thrown to him by the butcher.

Chapter 17

Once in a while, my father would take me to a little country house, where some of his friends cooked plates of the game they had hunted. My father repaired their double-barreled shot guns, and his friends prepared the feast rigorously between men, eating and drinking abundantly. One day he took me to Saverio’s, who had killed a fox and had cooked it after he had marinated. The fox’s meat had a sweetish flavor, I didn’t like it, but I had to eat it so I wouldn’t offend anyone. While I was eating, I watched the fox’s skin with its long tail hung from the ceiling; a gust of wind made it turn as if its spirit wanted to get inside its skin and go back to the den among its puppies. The countryside in the evening became dark: the fox’s skin danced and the thought of the den, that the fox would never go back to, put me in an acute sorry state.

On another occasion, my father took me to a friend’s house that had cooked some dormice. He had attracted them at night with a beam from a lighted torch, and shot them with a cartridge full of little balls. The dormouse is a rodent smaller than a squirrel; it sleeps during the day, and at night feeds itself with acorns that it searches for on the oak trees. That time my stomach blocked, and the persistent enjoyment of my table companions didn’t help. I had to make myself happy with the “soppressata”, the most famous among the Calabrian salami, made of small pieces of pig worked with salt and chilly peppers. The dough was stuffed in the intestine, carefully washed and kept in water and lemon: the narrow one for the sausage and the wider one for the soppressata. At the end, everything was hung to dry and mature.

In Sant’Andrea, in the last century there was a pharmacist, Enrico. He set his sights on a very beautiful young bride, and didn’t limit himself to his eyes, he laid his hands on her too, and he became her secret lover. The thousands of subterfuges for hidden meetings didn’t help, someone found out and told her husband and his family who meditated revenge. It was around the time of Carnival, when the kneading trough for the bread, the cradle of God of the Proto-Commandment, was desecrated by the God of Abel with the dough made from pig’s meat to make salami. Enrico went to meet his love and while he was leaving her house, her husband and his relatives were waiting for him. He tried to run away, but they grabbed him by the jacket and they dragged him to a hidden place for the torture. He was treated like a pig, because that was how he had behaved: they skinned him, cut him into pieces, put him into a trough and abandoned him behind the hedge where Father Liguorini’s convent now stands. Grandma Marianna, my father’s mother, told me that the procession of Good Friday stopped there by a miracle. Our Lady of Sorrows, with her chest pierced by seven swords, was following Jesus dead and waited near the hedge until poor Enrico was found.

Chapter 18

My dear Gabriella, when your mother was ill, in the spring of 1978, she wanted to leave Rome and to take you to her parents’ house in England. You were only three years old and wanted to play with me: you would lie down on the sofa and you would hide under one of the pages of the newspaper. Your mother was able to smile as she watched you; her eyes were filled with a light that I will never forget. In Christine’s eyes there were love and peace: they spoke about a world where pain and anguish of existence were surpassed and far away like a bad memory.
Then, when she died, I had to leave you in England because I had to go back to work in the Emerald Coast. The thought that I had to face society, life, the Aga Khan and all the clients made me feel bad, but I didn’t have a choice. Before I started work again, I needed to do something intimate and private for myself, to give me a little comfort. Getting off the plane in Milan, I saw posters that were advertising the showing of the Holy Shroud. Impulsively I found myself at the station; I took the first train to Turin and joined the line outside the Cathedral where the Shroud was being displayed. I prayed with my entire soul for your mother and you in front of that sheet, that they say, received the imprint of Jesus’ body, crushed by violence antique but present, fossils and alive, human and diabolical. A pain that was beyond the limits of humans devastated the face of Jesus: a pain that was lunar and cosmic.
The Shroud made me sympathize with Jesus and because of that it obstructed me from looking beyond Jesus himself into the mechanisms of violence. The linen sheet turned itself into a mystical sheet and hid the first great mystery of humanity, violence. In the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the same sheet hung in front of my eyes, to hide the second great mystery, sex. To understand these two mysteries it is necessary to tear that mystical sheet to shreds, to desecrate what is sacred: a difficult and painful choice.

Chapter 19

The other day I asked myself: does a father have the right to pour out to his own daughter his anxieties? It is a question that I struggle with a lot, and my instinct tells me to stop writing this letter. In fact, for many days I didn’t write any further. But today I started writing again because I understand that the most precious gift I can give to you is to explain my anxieties. As a matter of fact, there isn’t a law, an institution, a religion, a society or a family that can stop anxiety: this flows from our hearts to warn us that something isn’t going the way it should. The night before his death, Jesus felt mortal anxiety to the point that he sweat blood: it was a signal that he had put himself in the wrong situation. Anxiety is a divine stimulus to change the situation that has created it. But how do we react to the anxiety? We keep it, cultivate it and let it grow until it becomes like second nature. It makes me think that life is the most beautiful lost occasion, because we don’t listen to our anxiety. This was well understood and even better expressed by Pythagoras in the “Golden Verses”:

“Man himself is the cause of his good and his evil ”

Now that this weight has been lifted from my heart I can write to you without fear and I can go back for a moment to the Shroud. Looking beyond the image imprinted on the linen, the message of Jesus appears clear to me: violence doesn’t need to be given, like his crucifiers did, not even accepted, like he did. It only needs to be understood in its deep causes and to be prevented.

Chapter 20

Yesterday I found myself near the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, and I remembered when you were young, I brought you there to see the fair. Walking through all the stands we finally arrived at the tower where The Historical Museum of Torture is located. I wanted to visit it with you, but the guard begged me not to bring you in because of your tender age. Yesterday I went into the museum that collects authentic instruments created to torture and slaughter human beings. There is only embarrassment of the choice: tools to skin alive, make the head explode, cut off women’s breasts, make them drink melted lead, break bones, saw bodies and the notorious virgin of Nuremberg. This is a sarcophagus of wood in the shape of a human body that opens up in two like a trunk. The two parts are equipped with large sharp nails that enter in the flesh of the victim making them bleed and killing them slowly as the virgin was closed. And there are also two daggers that were driven in the eyes and a small basin at the bottom to collect the blood…
I don’t want to dwell on the description of those atrocities: for the most part these instruments were adopted by the Holy Inquisition against men and women. The Holy Inquisition is a historical term: it was officially used in the Popes documents; today it seems more correct to call it the Diabolic Inquisition, as I will call it from now on. I have read a lot about this issue and I have asked myself: how could this have happened in a Christian world, such a barbaric situation that lasted seven centuries? In all the cities of Europe people were burnt alive after atrocious torment. There was only one city where the Inquisition could not kill, because the population rebelled, badly armed, but determined: Naples.
From my readings I learned that the Inquisition didn’t happen just by chance, many Popes had signed a bill that created or extended its power. Often Popes personally presided over the courts and approved the death penalty: famous Popes, cultured and great patrons. I’ll save you from the names and other important facts like the Inquisitional organization, parallel to the official one of the Church. The Bishops were always in charge of the Diocese, but the court of the Inquisition depended directly from Rome and could condemn also against the opinion of the Bishop. This scheme was later utilized by the German SS, that decided who would be assassinated not caring about the Military generals.

The true root of the Inquisition is nevertheless in the religion according to which, God the Father for inscrutable design, demands the death of his Son for our salvation without listening to his desperate prayer. Religion is a highly perverse strength, the only thing that can ruin the great love between parents and children. It was religion that made Abraham raise his hands armed with a dagger against Isaac, whom Abraham loved a lot. It was always religion that made my mother raise her hand with a cleaver against me, and still my mother loves me a lot.
Saint Paul then, the true founder of Christianity, re-enforced the cruelty of religion with the sacrificial culture learned in the Gamaliele Rabbi School in Jerusalem, which he attended for more than 15 years. Simply expressed, he also came out of the seminary and not even the conversion on Damascus’ road was able to scratch the deep nucleus of his training. So, between Jesus, who was looking for a love relationship with the father and Saint Paul, who was looking for a victim for the father, the last one prevailed and has transformed God into an assassin.

Chapter 21

I remember my days passed in the seminary of Catanzaro when the teachers spoke about the Inquisition; they always minimized the number of victims, saying that it was less than 10,000. Even recently it happened to me to read this number, which is the biggest historical lie. The number of victims was enormous and no one knows or will ever know, because the archives of the Inquisition were purposely destroyed. Some historians talk about millions of victims, the largest number I read was 10 million. The Nazi’s weren’t as clever and, God forgive me, as bad as the priests: they burnt the victims in the cremation ovens, after they had suffocated them with gas. Instead the priests burnt them alive, with the exception of those who had repented: in this case the unlucky were hung before being burnt, like Savonarola.
The Inquisition, that in Germany made victims for centuries, is the Mother of Nazism, and Pius XII didn’t report the Nazi criminals for the simple reason that he was intimately a priest, and the priest is nothing else than the executioner who brings the victim to the altar: priesthood, sacrifice and victims is the trinomial that has brought the world to desolation. The Bible uses the words sacrifice, blood, priest and victim hundreds and hundreds of times. The same Hebrews contributed to the Holocaust without wanting to, conditioned by the Bible which teaches that to be a victim is a sign of divine fondness: the Bible was their vademecum to death. The Prophet Isaiah (53,7) had already foreseen their missing reaction against the Nazis:

“Badly treated, he humiliated himself and didn’t open his mouth, like a lamb brought to the abattoir”

Now I would like to tell you a Calabrian story, that isn’t very well known. Do you remember the end of that summer when we left Calabria by car to return to Milan? From the Ionian Coast we passed to the Tyrrhenian and we saw Guardia Piemontese, a little city with thermal waters. That city is called Piemontese because down there Valdese refugees lived, they escaped from Piedmont in the north of Italy, where the Inquisition massacred them. In Calabria they were loved and respected because they were hardworking and loveable, as reported by the contemporaries. In 1561 prefect of the Inquisition was Cardinal Ghislieri who became Pope taking on the name of Pius V, the same Pope who gathered the Christian fleet and won the battle of Lepanto against the Turkish in 1571, then obviously declared saint. Ghislieri ordered the massacre of the Valdese in Calabria. Listen to what the contemporary wrote:

“It must be said: today quite early they began the horrible justice of these Lutherans that just thinking about it, is scary. In this way they do this like the death of the castrated, they were all shut in one house, and then the executioner took them, one by one, and blindfolded them, and then led them to a very spacious place not far from the house, he made them kneel down and then he cut their throats and left them there to die. Then, he took the same bloody bandage and knife and returned to get the others and did the same to them. The order was carried out in this way until they reached the eighty-eighth person. How compassionate this show was, I will leave it with you to think about and consider. The old went to die happily and the young went more afraid. The order had been given that everyone was to be cut up and dismembered and put along the road up to the border of Calabria, if the Pope and the Viceroy don’t command the Marquis to stop it. Nevertheless he hung the others. An order came today to take 100 of the oldest women, torment them and then execute them in order to reach the number of 2.000. There are seven that don’t want to see the Crucifix, and they don’t want to confess either, those ones will be burnt alive.
Mont’ Alto, 11 June 1561”

That day the Diabolic Inquisition made a good harvest: two thousand people were burnt on the stake and hundreds were killed while they were trying to escape to the countryside.

Chapter 22

Today is February 17th and it is the 4th centennial of the death of Giordano Bruno, who was burnt alive in Campo dei Fiori in Rome. I have a problem with Venice, because it was the Venetian Government that handed him over to the Pope knowing very well what the end would be. One day I found myself in Piazza San Marco when the sirens sounded warning of the arrival of high water. I think it is the curse of Giordano Bruno, killed by fire because of the Venetians and now Venice is dying from the high waters. The greatest Italian Geniuses of the 600’s Bruno, Campanella, and Galilei, all three were victims of the Inquisition.

Now the Pope is asking for forgiveness for the Inquisition, the Crusades and the Holocaust, but he is forgetting the homosexuals who were also killed in large numbers. Maybe they have already had enough with the seeds of fennel thrown all over their stakes as a way of purifying the air. It’s a noble gesture from the trembling pontiff, whom personally I like. But this question of forgiveness complicates things further. As a matter of fact I ask myself: if Jesus should return to earth, whom should he ask for forgiveness? No one: it is the others that should ask him for forgiveness. Why does the church ask then for forgiveness? There must be a deep contrast between what Jesus did and what the church did, and this brings me directly to Giordano Bruno, whom I just discovered that he also condemned Abel, the slaughterer of animals, and praised Cain instead for his gentle offers. I had reached the same conclusion alone, and I am not going to hide the fact that I am very flattered to be in his company from you. So, in fact there are two Gods; the good God, the one of the Proto Commandment, the God of Cain, of Jesus, of Giordano Bruno and also mine. The bad God belonged to the shepherds, to Abel, to Noah, to the Temple, to Saint Paul, to the Inquisition, to the Nazis and to the Communists. Yes the Communists, even if in Russia Catholicism and the Inquisition never arrived. How did then the massacre of soviet Gulag arise? Truthfully, Russia has a Christian cultural base that justified the violence as a necessity for our salvation, in other words the theory of sacrifice. This Christian base leans against a barbarity that is even more antique, as if it was reported in the fifth century BC from a Greek who went to live in Turi, the colony founded near Sybaris which was later destroyed by Croton. Do you know who this famous person is?

Chapter 23

I am talking about Herodotus, who in the fourth book of his Stories writes about the costumes of the Scythian, the population that are the ancestors of the Slavs; the name comes from the Latin Sclavus, slave to be more precise. The Scythian lived where Ukraine and Serbia are now. The Serbs took on the Latin name Servus, also equivalent to slave. But Rome didn’t have enough strength to civilize all that barbarity: the last massacre we saw live on television during the recent war in Kosovo. Well, the Scythian didn’t have sheep and lamb, but bulls and horses, obviously larger animals that were sacrificed and eaten. Do you remember in Sardinia when you saw the sign with the horse’s head in front of the butcher shop that sold equine meat? You were just a child and your indignation as a little English girl made everyone burst out in laughter:
“What? Eat horses!!!”
Killing and splitting up a horse is much more dramatic because of its strength and dimension and the greater cruelty used went into the Scythian culture. I am going to choose some passages to show you just how antique the ferocity of communism is:

“The Scythians use all beasts of the flock for sacrifice, but chiefly horses. Such is their way of sacrificing to all other gods and such are the beasts offered; but their sacrifices to Ares are on this wise (…) On this sacred pile there is set for each people an ancient scimitar of iron, which is their image of Ares; to this scimitar they bring yearly sacrifice of sheep and goats and horses, offering to these symbols even more than they do to the other gods. Of all their enemies that they take alive, they sacrifice one man in every hundred, not according to their fashion of sacrificing sheep and goats, but differently. They pour wine on the men’s head and cut their throats over a vessel; then they carry the blood up on to the pile of sticks and pour it on the scimitar. So they carry the blood aloft, but below by the sacred pile they cut off all the slain men’s right arms and hands and throw these into the air, and presently depart when they have sacrificed the rest of the victims; the arm lies where it has fallen, and the body apart from it. (…) As to war, these are their customs. A Scythian drinks the blood of the first man whom he has overthrown. He carries to his king the heads of all whom he has slain in the battle; for he receives a share of the booty taken if he brings a head, but not otherwise. He scalps the head by making a cut round it by the ears, then grasping the scalp and shaking the head off. Then he scrapes out the flesh with the rib of an ox, and kneads the skin with his hands, and having made it supple he keeps it for a napkin, fastening it to the bridle of the horse which he himself rides, and taking pride in it; for he is judged the best man who has the most scalps for napkins. Many Scythians even make garments for wear out of these scalps, sewing them together like coats of skin. Many too take off the skin, nails and all, from their dead enemies’ right hands, and make thereof coverings for their quivers; (…) There are many too that flay the skin from the whole body and carry it about on horseback stretched on a wooden frame. The heads themselves, not of all but of their bitterest foes, they treat in this way. Each saws off all the part beneath the eyebrows, and cleanses the rest (…) and so uses it for a drinking cup. Such cups a man makes also of the head of his own kinsman with whom he has been at feud (…) There, whenever their king has died…taking the trustiest of the rest of the king’s servants…they strangle fifty of these squires and fifty of their best horses and empty and cleanse the bellies of all, fill them with chaff, and sew them up again…driving thick stakes lengthways through the horses’ bodies to their necks…Then they take each one of the fifty strangled young men and mount him on the horse; their way of doing it is to drive an upright stake through each body passing up by the spine to the neck, and enough of the stake projects below to be fixed in a hole made in the other stake, which passes through the horse.”

Only one last remark about Stalin, who in the seminary of Tblisi in Georgia, where he studied theology, absorbed the logic of sacrifice. I am convinced that his sadism derived from the image of God, inscrutable and implacable, that at his will saves and condemns, awards and punishes without any criterion, master of life and death. Stalin was the most important witness of the meeting between Middle Eastern, Christian and Slavic barbarity.

This reflection brings me back to my years I spent in the seminary, far in the past but always alive. One spring overflowing with flowers and singing birds, the re-awakening of nature that Calabria received with lucid skies and clearer seas. We were in Catanzaro, in the philosophy classroom at the high school, while the philosophy teacher answered our questions full of youthful anxiety. He explained the problem of free will and we insisted:
“But, if God knows that a man with his act commits a sin and is damned, why doesn’t he intervene and help him instead of letting him go to hell, God being the omnipotent and merciful?”
The teacher answered by giving us an explanation conforming to the Catholic Doctrine, an explanation full of anguish and sadism. He compared God, who doesn’t intervene because of the respect for human freedom, to an Army General standing at the top of the hill observing the unwinding of a battle in the valley below. The general could have given his troops the orders to win the battle, but he never did and stood calmly smoking his pipe, waiting for the battle to finish. Among the desks we heard the murmuring of our most quick-witted classmate who mumbled:
“It would be better if he stopped smoking that pipe!”

Chapter 24

Winter is almost over. It’s March and the whole world is watching the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land. I am also following the newspaper and television carefully, looking at the places that I’ve just visited and where this letter was born. I was amazed, when I heard the address of the greeting from the young Queen Rania of Jordan to the Pope. The Queen reminded us that the Pope’s visit coincided with the Celebration of the Sacrifice, the great Muslim celebration of God’s orders to Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Naturally millions of ram, on this occasion, have their throats slit also from numerous Islam immigrants in Europe and in Milan itself. Brigitte Bardot, unheard prophet, hurled against this massacre of poor beasts. The hundreds of thousand of dead in Algeria unfortunately proved she was right:
“Slit the throats of the ram and they will end up killing men.”

After a sincere and good faith speech, from the Queen, I know that nothing will change. I understood it when the Pope went to Mount Nebo, where God showed Moses the Promised Land, but he didn’t let Moses go in. For me the reason of divine prohibition is clear. Moses used the ethnic cleaning against the local population, as it is written in the Bible in Numbers (31,13):

“Moses, Eleazar, and all the other leaders of the community went out of the camp to meet the army. Moses was angry with the officers, the commanders of battalions and companies, who had returned from the war, He asked them, “Why have you kept all these women alive? Remember that it was the women who followed Balaam’s instructions and at Peor led the people to be unfaithful to the Lord… So kill every boy and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse, but keep alive for yourselves all the girls and all the women that are virgins.”

And he didn’t limit himself to the people of Madian, but he extended the same implacable treatment to the Kingdom of Sicon and to the Kingdom of Og with its sixty cities. Not even the Pope will enter the Promise Land, the land without violence, and I feel very sorry for him. I was certain of this when in Jerusalem the Great Mufti abandoned the Pope angrily and the Head Rabbi during a meeting that should have attempted to start a dialogue between the three Abramitic religions: Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim. They seem to be three, but in reality they are the same religion, substantially cunning and inhuman, born in arid land and founded on the death of the lamb:

the innocent dies and the guilty is saved.

How can Jerusalem, sacred to this triple ferocity, beget peace?

Dear Gabriella, I don’t like the direction this letter has taken on. I only wanted to tell you about my trip to Palestine, and instead I have taken you into the hell of human violence. It is the same hell, true and real, in which even Jesus fell, just like the Profession of Faith says:
He was crucified, died and was buried. Descended into hell…
Not even the United States of America, where you want to live, makes me feel calm; murders everyday, weapons are sold like toys, there isn’t even a film without a murder. I am going to stop writing to you and wait for you to arrive for the summer. I am going to take you to the sea in Calabria and then we’ll see.

Chapter 25

Finally at the end of July you arrived in Milan and we packed up the car for our trip to Puglia. I wanted to bring you to see Father Pio, to whom I trusted, more than once when I was feeling anxious because you were so far away. At San Giovanni Rotondo the first thing that struck me was the view of the gulf of Manfredonia, suffused of blue light. A disturbing light, heavenly and at the same time so sensual, that it could have created big problems to Father Pio. Becoming a catholic saint means, above all, sex repression with inhuman strength and, in a place like that he must have tripled the efforts. His superiors played a bad trick on him sending him there.
We did not like the enormous number of pilgrims, the cheeky trade of masses and prayers, big and little statues. The Guardian Father, who blabbed from the altar against women who didn’t cover their shoulders, made me smile because I was thinking about the power of sex: there is no tunic or shawl in the world that could resist it. It is the same force that I had caught a glimpse of in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and it comes directly from an Unknown called God.
Our kind hotelkeeper assured us that the miracles performed by Father Pio were real, and the most evident was the economic miracle. The entire area is in great expansion, and there are large sums of money floating around. I asked our hotelkeeper if the famous comic actor Totò had ever been to see Father Pio, the answer was yes! Totò had come more than once, but he stopped in Foggia because he didn’t have enough courage to present himself in front of the great monk. I asked him that question because I was convinced that Totò and Father Pio were practically the same person: they both came from the same region and they expressed the Humanity of the South of Italy as best they could. Father Pio was performing miracles to help everyone, and Totò was performing miracles to make everyone laugh thus transforming into comedy, that is force of life, the miserable conditions of life: never any vulgarity, never a scene of violence. Totò didn’t have the courage to meet Father Pio because he was convinced that great monk would be able to read his secret sentimental adventures. But he himself confessed his pain of love to the whole world when he wrote and composed the song Malafemmina, an immortal masterpiece of Neapolitan music.

Before we left you took some pictures of the sheep that were walking along the path to return to the fold. I remembered at that point that, when Father Pio was 6 years old, he was a little shepherd, but as an adult he only ate bread and vegetables and drank a little wine. The child shepherd, involuntarily accomplice to the killing of the lamb, had gone through the violence of the world taking on himself the stigmata, the wounds of the Lamb of God. And he arrived to the innocence of the sixth day of creation, the Proto Commandment. This was his greatest miracle.

We left San Giovanni Rotondo to visit the throbbing cavern of San Michele at Mount Sant’Angelo: the Gargano, that I visited for the first time, never ceased to amaze me with its landscapes. Under the burning sun we drove towards Alberobello, then Taranto, Metaponto and finally we reached Calabria. Seeing my homeland always brought me joy, but at the same time disappointment, adversity and delusion. The very poor roads, the unfinished houses, the waste paper thrown everywhere, were all there to ruin my homecoming. Moreover, I knew about the criminality, the abuse of power, the wanted and the unwanted inefficiency, the brawls… all the reasons why I left Calabria when I was young, were still there and had increased. What was once the most important region, the Magna Grecia, had been reduced to the most backwards region in Europe: from maximum splendor to maximum decline. Why? I continually asked myself. My people, still wearing the Greek imprint on their faces, had precipitated from the top of Olympus to the misery of the present day situation. Why did I continue to return to my homeland and, more so, why did I take you too?

These thoughts ran through my mind until we passed the cliff of Copanello and the wooded mountains in the background appeared: we had arrived. That same night in the piazza of Soverato, friends ran to meet you:
“Gabriella has arrived!”
All that unanimous welcoming made you tremble with joy. That night, as you were sleeping, I came to spy on you through the glass doors of your bedroom to savor the feeling of happiness that you were finally at home, and at that point the whole world seemed to be ok.

Chapter 26

The next morning, while you were still sleeping, I left the house before sunrise, and drove a few kilometers to our little house at the sea, between the Alaca River and the beach. It had been a long time that I wanted to sea a sunrise on the Ionian coast. I sat on the water’s edge and watched the horizon, which lit up with the luminescence of a pearl. The imperceptible dawn lit little clouds, which reflected on the rippled surface, as if from a garden in the sky rose petals fell over the water. Homer may have been blind, but he was right in defining dawn as rododattilo, which means with the finger of a rose. The light became more incandescent and, the disc of the sun appeared above the water. I left the beach and walked to the house from which you can see the profile of the throat of Alaca and the mountains. I looked in the direction of the pinewoods of Sant’Andrea and my heart tightened. I hadn’t had the courage to go back there since last year, when it was destroyed by arson. I had seen the pinewood being planted on the slopes of the mountain, after the flood of 1951. The workers put the plants, which in 50 years became large trees. The woods, where the sea air mixed with the essence of pine, had cured me in my youth, when I had my terrible headaches. I stayed there entire days lying under the trees, trying not to think about anything. This happened in 1960 when the priests had expelled me out of the seminary.

It was still early morning, the sun gave me strength with its relentless rising, I took the car and it directed me to the woods. The pines were still standing, even if they were dead, and through the skeleton-like branches a livid light filtered through: no buzzing insects, not even a blade of grass. I sat down on a rock blackened by the fire, I closed my eyes and tried to relive the first syssition of modern history that took place right there in 1995. So I wanted to carry out a gesture of faith towards my homeland, and I racked my brains out until I had the idea to reopen the syssition, founded by King Italus, the banquet where everyone participated, in a sign of friendship, bringing food that was shared. Syssition means to eat together, it comes from the Greek word syn-sitein. The historical sources say that Italus founded it about 2000 years before Christ. He became king of the land between the gulf of Squillace and the gulf of Lamezia, which was named Italy after him, and he converted the inhabitants from sheep farming to agriculture.

Only now, after my visit to the Holy Land, I realized the importance of that far away event. It was the same period that Abraham, the wandering shepherd from the arid Middle East, raised his knife to kill his son Isaac, in that strip of Calabria, rich of water, forests and fertile land, a population abandoned the breeding of animals and dedicated itself to cultivating the earth. At the syssition in 1995, you were among the 300 people, many of whom were from out of town. How much happiness there was with the drums and bagpipes! The people danced and Pampinedda drank so much wine that he fell heavily on the ground while Colin was singing antique melodies! With the syssition I wanted to close the old civilization, the one that kills, and open the Syssition Civilization, the one without bloodshed. This is why I return and keep returning to Calabria: my homeland gives me an enormous charge and its own history tells me how to go forward.

Chapter 27

We spent the summer on the seaside during the day, walking at night along the promenade of Soverato and visiting relatives. One afternoon I took you to visit Grandma Carmela. At Easter she was at the point of dying, thank God she recovered, but she lost the use of her legs. When she was released from the hospital we were required to take her to the retirement home at the foothill of Tralò. The name comes from the Greek word thràulos, meaning friable, which flakes off. The abyss of Fabellino, at the back of the hill, fully justifies that name. I am sure you know that, no matter where I go, my heart is always in Tralò. Is it the beauty of the place? The sound of Alaca River between the granite rocks, the Ionian Sea that stretches across the whole gulf, the mountain dismal woods, the hills full of olive trees and the marina with its orange groves… If I think about Tralò in the evening, when the wind is blowing through the trees, then I hear God speaking to me with the tender rustling of the leaves.

That afternoon Grandma Carmela sat up on the cushions of her bed to help her breathe better. She turned to you and asked:
“Gabriella, do you know the story about us when we were refugees in Tralò?”
She began to tell her tale that I already knew, but she wanted to tell you the story because you chose to live so far away from all of us; it was like she was trying to give you strength and courage. You listened courteously to her story, but the overlapping of facts and the difficult Andreolese dialect didn’t allow you to understand a lot of it, so I will translate what she wanted to say to you.

After the landing of the Americans in Sicily in the summer of 1943, the inhabitants of Sant’Andrea watched as the Germans gathered together men and weapons along the Callipari River in Badolato, to stop the advance of the Americans. The Andreolese realized that they too could become involved in the battle because they were so close to it all, and so they scattered along the countryside. Our grandparents had a little house in Tralò at the top of the hill, where they stored wine. All of our family, including aunts, uncles and cousins, about 30 of us, camped out in the vineyards. I was just a little older than two years old, but I remember that the stay for me was happy, except for the big black serpent that crawled to its den in the evening. But real terror was not from the innocuous serpent, it came rather from the roar of the American planes that dropped bombs on bridges, streets and the railway station. There was danger that we would be mistakenly targeted: so we decided to abandon Tralò and take refuge in the mountains under the chestnuts, where a stream of pure water flowed. Your grandfather Vincenzo made the charcoal-burners quickly build a large hut, the roof was made from beaten earth, thinking in advance of the autumn rains. In the beginning of August we moved towards Farina, as the place is named, and Anna my sister, who was two years older than me, carried two hens that were tied at the legs. My mother was in her ninth month of pregnancy and carried a large basket on her head with food and blankets: everyone carried something in their arms or on their shoulders. I trotted beside the Maltese goat, with long white hair, that generously supplied us with milk.

We all slept on the ground stuffed together and the hut was pervaded from the warmth of bodies. Meanwhile, the day arrived that my mom gave birth, and a beautiful brunette expressed her first cry in the forest: the wolves perked up their ears to a sound never heard before. My sister Caterina was born! They let us admire her, wrapped up in blankets, but we weren’t allowed to kiss her because she wasn’t baptized yet. That provided the two aunts that you met in America, Aunt Caterina who lives in Canton, Ohio, and Aunt Caterina who lives in Detroit, the one that we spent Christmas with last year. The trio of Caterinas, two young ones around thirty years old and the newborn in their arms, walked towards the almost deserted town to the Matrix church.

Bethlehem in Hebrew means House of Bread. What a strange coincidence, Farina, the forest where my sister was born, means Flour. You saw what both Caterinas did in America, didn’t you? Every morning they sat down in their kitchens, took out the flour and started to make dough for doughnuts and cookies, put in the yeast and explained to you the process. Then, that same afternoon, whoever came to visit was given bags of sweets, one for their son, one for their grandson, one for their grandson’s friend, one for the colored neighbor: nobody could leave their house empty handed. My aunts always complained about the pains in their bones, because of their age, but nonetheless they continued to knead, bake, and give away. Two women that hardly knew how to read and write, immigrants from Calabria, believing that they were moving towards civilization, instead what they did was bring culture, real culture to America like millions of other Italian immigrants who gave bread, pasta and pizza.

Chapter 28

One afternoon I was alone in Alaca, completely immersed in reading the Pythagorean life, the biography of Pythagoras written by Iamblicus, a Syrian from the third century AC. I was distracted for a moment looking at the sun that was setting behind the mountains. The reddish clouds made the sun look like a giant wounded in a battle that pours out blood before dying.
All of a sudden, I remembered when I was about 16 years old, attending the Regional Seminary in Catanzaro, I went on a school trip to Croton. At the end of the day I visited Head Column, as it is called, because of the only remaining column from the Hera Lacinia temple that rose next to the school of Pythagoras. I don’t think I have ever experienced emotions so strong in all my life, like on that day. Touching the column and the other ruins, seeing that green and sparkling sea filled me with such amazement, that even now it is difficult for me to explain. It seemed to me that I belonged to that place, and I returned there after a long time. The emotions that I felt on that day, I feel again now, if I think about the incredible event that developed in those places, where one day in the sixth century BC Pythagoras landed, coming from the island of Samo, his homeland.

Pythagoras was handsome, tall and had so much flowing hair that he was greeted as the longhaired from Samo. He had traveled far and wide, and scholars and priests initiated him to the mysteries of many countries: Phoenician, Egyptian, Chaldean, Hebrew, Greek and Cretan. He lived in Egypt for many years, where he learnt hieroglyphics, astronomy and geometry. The Cambise army, that had conquered Egypt, brought him to Babylonia, where the Magi educated him and Zarathustra was his teacher. He returned to Samo, but he didn’t have enough listeners. He then decided that his homeland should be the city where he had the largest number of students. In Croton he had 300 students who lived with him, and cultivated the philosophy. First of all, he coined the term philosophy by putting together filia (love) and sofia (wisdom). He also coined cosmos or indeed the same word being and the famous tetract. This indicates the first four numbers that equal ten, 1+2+3+4=10 and is the source which contains the springs of everlasting nature. His favorite saying, which indicated that everything is based on the relationship of harmony, was:

All things correspond to a number.

He married Teano, a very beautiful one among his students, who bore his children. The divine, as the contemporary called him convinced that was Apollo under human appearance, gave lessons to his students that he divided into acusmatics, which means listeners, and mathematicians. The acusmatics were outside the tent under which Pythagoras taught and all they could do was listen. After five years, if they were worthy of it, they became mathematicians and were allowed to enter the tent and ask him questions. Pythagoras aroused admiration in Delos, where he made offerings only on Apollo The Parents’ altar, the only one that was not stained with blood from sacrifices which Apollo refused, while accepting wheat, barley and buns. Pythagoras didn’t eat fish, that he called saints and one day:
“Traveling from Sybaris to Croton, he came upon some fishermen on the shore. They were still hauling in their net, full of fish, under water, but he told them how big a catch they were pulling, giving the exact number of fish. The men said they would do anything he wanted them to do, if he proved to be true. He told them to count the fish carefully and to let them go alive…

In the gospel of John (21, 3) we read instead:

“Simon Peter said to the others “I am going fishing”. “We will come with you,” they told him. So they went out in a boat, but all that night they did not catch a thing. As the sun was rising, Jesus stood at the waters edge, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then he asked them, “Young men, haven’t you caught anything?” “Not a thing,” they answered. He said to them, “Throw your net out on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some.” So they threw the net out and could not pull it back in, because they had caught so many fishes. When they stepped ashore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and some bread. Then Jesus said “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three in all; even though there were so many, the net did not tear. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat.”

Regarding fish Jesus and Pythagoras behave differently: it is a contradiction that I am still unable to understand. Pythagoras above all stayed away from butchers, hunters and

“Telling them never to eat any living creature, drink wine, sacrifice living things to the gods or hurt them in any way… That is how he lived himself, abstaining from animal food and worshipping bloodless altars, and in his eagerness that others should not destroy the creatures which share our nature, taming fierce animals and educating them by words and actions, never punishing and hurting them… In his concern to instill this fellow-feeling most deeply in people, he also established it towards the creatures which are kin to us, telling us to think of them as friend and kinfolk, and not to harm or kill or eat any… Now if he made other animals kin to humans, because they are made of the same elements as ourselves and share life with us, how much more did he induce fellow-feeling for those who share the same kind of soul and reasoning power...! He required abstinence from living creatures for many reasons, and especially because the practice makes for peace: people who were accustomed to be disgusted by the killing of animals, thinking it contrary to law and nature, found the killing of a human being even more contrary to divine law, and ceased to make war. And war finances and legislates for murders, for deaths build up its strength.

Pythagoras taught us that animals are our younger brothers, that we must respect and protect them. And on the contrary, every type of violence that is practiced by man against animals will inevitably go back against man himself. He tied up in an indissoluble way this principle to his very famous Theorem. In fact, to thank the Gods for the discovery of the Theorem, he offered them a bull…of bread. With that gesture Pythagoras affirmed that the scientific discovery didn’t create progress if it didn’t produce the exit from violence.
At the times of Pythagoras, in the Greek colonies in Italy people offered the Gods sacrifice of animals. The Pythagoreans, dressed in white, offered sweets made with flour and honey instead:

“They gave up for this reason to accomplish the fundamental act of political religion (the bloody sacrifice) of their society and therefore created a new religion which its principal characteristics were to be a religion of individual salvation”

Gabriella, I remember once at the market in Soverato you were fascinated by the mostaccioli. These biscuits are made with flour and honey, in the shape of horses, bulls, goats, sheep, roosters, fish, and pigs. The mostacciolari of Soriano Calabro still go from town to town today, with large wooden cases full of these biscuits; they are the last Pythagoreans that after 25 centuries continue to bring, with these biscuits, the message of the new civilization. The faith of Pythagoras in God was unshakeable:

“We must expect everything:
Nothing is beyond expectation.
All things are easy for God to fulfill
Nothing is impossible.”

He defined a friend like another self and friendship a harmonious equality. He recommended moderation in all things, he loathed ambition, glory and victory that he considered shameful of man because source of envy and discord: victory makes a man dirty. It is completely opposite to the competitive world of today. Another one of his precepts was:
“Don’t eat your heart out”
which means: don’t consume your soul with worry and pain.

His school had such an extraordinary influence on institutions, science and philosophy, that the contemporaries called the South of Italy Magna Grecia, which means Great Greece. The same Plato, the philosopher most studied in the world, came to Italy and attended Pythagoras’ school for seven years. The divine had already been dead for seven generations, but luckily for us Plato procured books in which the students of Pythagoras had written his oral teachings that so continue to live in the immortal Dialogues of Plato.

Chapter 29

One afternoon I went to visit my mother while you were at the sea. She told me that my visits gave her extraordinary comfort. That afternoon I noticed that the light in her eyes wasn’t the same. I asked her:
“Mamma, how are you?”
She responded vaguely, but something disturbed her. After a few minutes of silence, as if she had made a decision to speak, she began:
“In 1928, my sister Antonietta, the nun, was twelve years old and I was one year younger. She had beautiful long hair, and for this reason she was chosen to recite the part of the Consoling Angel in the sacred representation of Jesus’ capture, passion and death. The representation took place in Sant’Andrea with local actors, it lasted a whole day and thousands of people attended it. Aunt Antonietta, with her hair loose and in a white tunic, ran from the extremity of Castle Square to the place where Jesus sweated blood; then she kneeled down beside Jesus and said:

Divine Verb Incarnate,
Your cries have all been heard by the Eternal Father
Why then, Lord, are you so sad?
He wants you to drink the chalice with a happy face!

She held out the chalice of passion, that Jesus wanted to avoid, and made him drink. As soon as Jesus drank, she continued:

The Eternal Father wants the Divine Son to suffer death
For opening to man the doors of heaven.
Here is the cross: You must die on this!
You know the way for man to be redeemed is only this!
You, for compassion of man have accepted it
Now be brave, go on it!

She gave Jesus a small wooden cross, that she held in her other hand and left him alone to face his cruel destiny.”

After seventy five years my mother had not forgotten a single word, her hands tightened while she repeated the condemnation to death, given out by God the Father: this was a story that always terrorized her. The emotions of memories tired her out, and the conversation was weakening. I sat down in the fresh air on the balcony to let her rest and I watched the sea, there was a breeze blowing that cleansed the horizon showing the outline of the coast as far as Croton.
A mad thought came to my mind; mad but so clear that it won’t leave me alone anymore. My mother’s terror and the decay of the South of Italy had the same origin. Everything started in Calabria when Saint Paul landed in Reggio around 60AC! The inhabitants of Reggio paraded with a procession around the temple of Diana, and Saint Paul was granted time to speak that lasted as long as the burning of a candle to it’s stub that was put on the trunk of a column.
He made the announcement of salvation, as it is written in the Epistles (Philippians 2, 8-9; Ephesians 1, 3,7 & 5,2):

“Christ was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death, his death on the cross. For this reason God raised him to the highest place above all and gave him the name that is greater than any other name… Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...! For by the sacrificial death we are set free, that is our sins are forgiven… Christ loved us and gave his life for us as a sweet-smelling offering and sacrifice that pleases God.”

When the stub was consumed the column sent rays of light allowing the Apostle to continue his speech. So Calabria guarded the two most important columns in history, witness of the clash between two civilizations. The one of Croton and the one conserved in the Cathedral in Reggio. Unfortunately, the south of Italy was conquered by the religion of the ruthless Middle Eastern shepherds and from then on it knew an unstoppable decline, even until today. No politicians, no government could ever resolve the problems of the South, which are problems of religion against which not even Christ won. The South has paid a high price for the betrayal of the task that the God of Italy entrusted it with: to give humanity to the world.

Chapter 30

In one of my visits to my mother she complained of a rash that sweat had left under her breasts. She asked me to rub the ointment on to help soothe the burning sensation and she remembered that as a newborn I was greedy for her milk. I was long and thin, insatiable and gulped down all of her breast like no other baby. With the gauze I touched it where it was red, she made a sigh of pain and her eyes filled with fear. It was an exaggerated reaction, but I knew that expression of frightened animal well, it was the same as the one many years before, when the doctors had to prepare her for electric shock in the psychiatric clinic of Villa Nuccia in Catanzaro. The Liguorini Fathers of Saint Alphonse, with their shameful morals about sex, almost made her crazy… I also had problems in the same period, when she was 40 and I was 18. I had bad sexual problems; the priests in the seminary had created them, but they weren’t capable of resolving them, so they sent me to the Psychiatrist doctor Nardone. I don’t want to repeat the story that I have already written about in my first book. Many of my readers wondered where I found the courage to write about those things. I still remember how many times I ripped out the pages that I had written to rewrite and then ripped them out again.

My mother’s fearful face made me reflect that Christianity had brought us not only blood and violence, but also perverse sexual morals, from voyeur of sheep. The harem in the Arab world, where the women live at the disposal of man, derives from the enclosure, which shuts up the sheep for the ram. I started thinking about ancient times, when in Croton Pythagoras taught about sex things that were simple, starry, with some irony: practice the pleasures of love in winter and not in summer; in autumn and spring they are lighter, but debilitating health. To the students who asked for permission to couple up with a woman, he asked if they were fed up of feeling good. Someone asked his wife Teano, how many days it took for a woman to become pure from intercourse with a man, and she answered:

“From intercourse with her own man, immediately. From intercourse with another man…never”

But Teano also reminded the woman who was with her own man, to remove the modesty with the garments, but to take it in, when redressing.

If I think about the victims of Catholic sexual education in the past 2.000 years I feel discouraged. They are many, many more people than the victims that suffered the sword or the burning on the stake. Luckily, Gabriella, you don’t know the gloomy side of the cloisters, or of the convents, the crazy people, the suicides, and the feelings of guilt that ruined Christianity with resentment and discord, which ended up in the conjugal bed. In Africa, where people die like flies from Aids, this Pope had the courage to prohibit condoms. In the future another Pope will ask for forgiveness for this immense error by the Church, but in the meantime man is dying… Religion wasn’t able to and will never be able to dominate violence and sex because this is a decision that only concerns man and his freedom.

Do you remember what Pico wrote in The dignity of Man? We read a paragraph together when you were attending high school, I doubt that you remember, that day you were anguished by math and Latin homework, so I want to repeat that page which is among the highest of humanity. Pico imagined God while he was creating man and:

He set him in the middle of the world and thus spoke to him:

“We have given you, Oh Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor any endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgment and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws, which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.

Chapter 31

During the Calabrian vacation my double life continued; my body was in the present, but my mind was in other worlds that I continued to explore since childhood, as my mother understood. I wasn’t like other children, I wasn’t interested in toys and games, and I followed the voices that invited me to unknown lands. From there was born my incapability to live in the present. I am detached from reality, which always seemed to make me unacceptable. Sometimes you ask me if I am sad, because you see me thoughtful. Mine isn’t sadness, but the constant strength to create, at least inside myself, a space that lets me live. In the real world who lets you live?

One morning at the sea I sat to look at the rock of Copanello and I remembered when I was young, at night we went to watch the octopus come out of the ravine, crawling to jump into the sea. The Vivariense of Cassiodoro, who was native of Squillace, and who was the minister of the Barbarian King Teodoricus in Ravenna, was built on that rock. He did everything possible for favoring a civil co-habitation among the Goths, Rome and Constantinople. At seventy years old he retired on those cliffs and founded the Vivariense, in which the monks dedicated themselves to the studies and the copying of antique books. The Vivariense, Latin word for nursery, had a glorious but short life. The Longobards destroyed it and its codes were dispersed all over Europe.
Looking from the beach at the high plains of Sila, I thought about a trip we had taken together to visit the ruins of the Abbey of Gioacchino in San Giovanni in Fiore. You were much too young to understand the importance of him. At medieval times he opened the hearts of everyone with hope. He wrote incredible and daring things, he was the founder of the Florense order and a great commentator of the Bible. With an acute mind he concluded that the gospel itself had value limited in time because it was written according to the culture dominating at that time: Gioacchino called it Temporal Gospel. The Eternal Gospel that he professed, consisted in the deep understanding of Jesus’ message and went beyond the written word.
Gioacchino saw the unwinding of the history of the world in three stages, and held that only in the Third Stage humanity would have the necessary knowledge to allow good to win over evil already on the earth. I want to recall his famous statement, which is among the most important writings from a man’s hand, I should rather say from a divine hand. The Third Age is that of the Holy Spirit, that concluded the First Age of the Father and the Second of the Son:

Therefore, there are three ages of the world that the symbols of the sacred texts indicate.
The first is the one we live in, under law; the second under grace and the third one, coming soon, the one we will live in, under more abundant grace.
The first turns under the domination of science, the second passes under wisdom, and the third takes advantage of the fullness of the intellect.
The first passed through slavery, the second is characterized by filial servitude, the third turns under the freedom.
The first is marked by the scourge, the second by the action, the third by the contemplation.
The first by fear, the second by faith, and the third by charity.
The first is that of slaves, the second of sons, and the third of friends.
The first of the old, the second of the young, the third of the children.
The first was illuminated by the light of the stars, the second by dawn, in the third a full day will shine.
The first corresponds to winter, the second to the beginning of spring, the third to summer.
The first produced thorns, the second roses, in the third lilies will flower.
The first gave grass, the second straws, the third will give wheat.
The first gave water, the second wine, and the third oil.

Wheat, wine and oil: from King Italus to Gioacchino more than 3.000 years had passed, but the roots of Italy’s civilization were still alive and they returned to flower under the pine trees in Sila.

Chapter 32

My thoughts make me think about a Calabrian, who was later proclaimed saint: Saint Francis of Paola, who had performed an immense number of miracles, even resurrected the dead. These miracles are sworn by eyewitnesses with the name and last name in front of a Notary or other public authority.

Saint Francis was a man with a happy, lighthearted disposition even though he lived with hard repentance. He never ate meat or fish, and he lived until he was ninety-three years old. He had a lamb as companion, named Martinello. Some people killed it, ate it, and burnt its bones in the furnace. Saint Francis went to the furnace, called it by name and it came out of the furnace alive. In Naples he performed a miracle with the fried fish that the King Ferrante had sent him to eat with his monks; the Saint brought the fish back to life, and then sent them back to the cruel King asking him to give freedom to the prisoners in the same way that he gave back life to the fish.
With his bare hands he moved poisonous snakes to safety, looking after sick animals as if they were people. It was famous the first miracle of fresh water fish threaded by the throat with threads of grass that someone gave him as present. Saint Francis said:
“Look at the way in which they have put these poor people in prison” and he unthreaded them one by one and put in a basin of water, and all of a sudden they started to play and they came back to life.

Another great Calabrian was Tommaso Campanella, that spent 33 horrible years imprisoned and tried everything he could, including claiming insanity, to escape death: 33 years trying not to die, while Jesus spent 33 years trying to die. He was a martyr of free thought and I owe him a lot because today I can write freely.
Campanella organized a revolution that should have freed Calabria from Spanish domination. The conspiracy was discovered and he was imprisoned and sentenced for life by the Inquisition sine spe remissionis, without hope of being forgiven, as the Pope personally insisted. At the end of it all, he was rehabilitated, but he sought refuge in France, accepted with honor by King Louis XIII. During his long imprisonment he composed poetry of sovereign beauty and the City of Sun, inspired by the land of Stilo with multifarious horizons. He wrote that in the City of Sun stands a temple and in the center of it there is an altar where the priests didn’t offer any animals; they offered only prayers as a sacrifice:

“Say a prayer to God who received that noble and voluntary human sacrifice and not the involuntary one made with beasts”

Campanella was known as utopic, a word that derives from the Greek word u-topos, which indicates a dream that cannot be realized in any place. Rather we need to define him pantopic from the Greek pan-topos, because Campanella did everything possible for realizing the dream in any place. Pantopia, not utopia was the universal change, the renewing of centuries that should have started in Calabria. I strongly believe in this and I even wrote it in the song of Syssition that we sang in the pine-wood:

“It’s not a dream nor illusion
But a solemn prophecy
Of Tommaso Campanella
From Calabria a new world will be born.”

Even the forces of nature have recently woken up on our beaches. From Riace Bay two bronze statues have emerged bringing a message that I understood by observing them in the museum in Reggio. Their beauty comes from the fact that they have lost the instruments of violence in the sea: lance, shield, and helmet. In Croton, on the other side of the gulf, a few years ago under a mass of stones the crown that belonged to the goddess Hera, was found. Because of its beauty, equal to the bronze statues, that crown will be placed on the head of the new humanity.
Great things happen on the Gulf of Squillace, that I like to call the Gulf of Glory, because along its banks, for thousands of years, the light of the greatest culture shines. This is what Elisabeth Jenkins, the American author of Return of the Inca wanted to say when we spoke about the powerful mental energy concentrated in Calabria like in no other place in the world. She insisted that I write these things and said that her guide star told her they were very important for mankind.

Chapter 33

The feast of the Assumption, August 15th, was coming quickly, and I was becoming nervous about you leaving for America. I wanted to stop you and keep you with me, but how could I? You were so happy about your American adventure that I didn’t feel like ruining the joy of your life. Don Peppino understood my sorrow, and as we walked onto the beach, he said:
“You are a great father; you are giving your daughter her freedom.”
Beautiful words, and unfortunately true. As my goodbye gift to you, I thought about taking you to my favorite place in Calabria, the Greek-Orthodox Monastery of Saint Giovanni Theristis, along the Ionian coast. We arrived at Monasterace and went up the road that goes to Stilo, perched at the foot of Mount Consolino. You were amazed by the lost place that sat on the ridge of two rivers, Assi and Stilaro, which during the dryness of the summer months seemed to carry only their white pebbles to the sea. At the end of the country road we reached the little Monastery and the ruins of the Basilica of Saint Giovanni with its roof caving in. The construction in Arab-Norman style had been forgotten for years, covered by blackberry bushes and wild figs, frequented by lizards that on the granite warmed up their greenish backs. A few years ago the Pope gave the ruin back to the Patriarchy of Constantinople, as a gesture of goodwill to resolve the dispute that for thousand years has separated the Greek Church from Rome.
Among the ruins of the church I saw the tall bearded figure of the Greek Monk Kosmàs. He made a gesture and came towards me, making a deep bow to welcome me and asked:
“Well, what are you doing to help Calabria?”
I knew the issue that Kosmàs had already raised with me. He couldn’t accept that not one of the Calabrian emigrants would return to such a beautiful place to help rebuild the country. Then he invited us to visit the Basilica, as our guide.
“The valley of Stilaro was full of hermitages and convents since the Arabs invaded Sicily and dispelled the Greek monks who took refuge in Calabria. The church is dedicated to Saint Giovanni Theristis, that means the reaper, as you can see in the fresco of the apse with the stickle in his fist. Giovanni was the son of a Christian woman from Stilo, who was kidnapped during an Arabian invasion and directed to Palermo as slave. To the son that was born, she gave advice to go back to Stilo and to become Christian, and so did Giovanni who became a monk to dedicate his life to work and prayer. The Greek monks were close to the world of the country and they divided the efforts among the humble. San Giovanni was called the reaper because he performed a miracle to help the farmers threatened by a summer storm. The holy monk prayed, the wheat was collected in sheaves by miracle and the harvest was saved.

Always the grain, the bread, I didn’t have any more doubts: the God of Italy had woken up from his divine lethargy and was reclaiming his land. The facts were right under my eyes. He had called me at the moment of my birth by passing in front of my house in the shape of bread. Then he rescued me at a young age from the priests who continued to offer the God of Jerusalem Jesus’ blood. Now the monks of Mount Athos in Greece were sent to reopen the abandoned Sanctuary to him, the God of Bread, the dearest.
Kosmàs took me aside and we sat in the shade under a tree on the side of the monastery and said:
“The loss of the southern culture is a luxury that the world can’t afford. The Nordic cultures haven’t helped man. What could possibly come from Germany, where in Koenigsberg the inhabitants watched like clockwork Kant, the philosopher, because he always left home at the same time? Can we put Kant in the same category as Pythagoras, who started each day with a swim in the ocean and a dance that he conducted ringing the lyre and singing paean, songs written by him? What have the Germans given to Calabria? Saint Bruno, who latinized the South with the Normans who brought feudalism, counts and barons! The Normans came dressed in their steel armor, here where Pythagoras out of respect for the sheep didn’t even wear wool, he wore linen. The Normans killed Greek monks and tried to burn Saint Luca the Grammarian, alive. With the Latin cult they imposed the dominance of the Pope who considers himself the Vicar of Christ and the head of all the churches, while truthfully he is the successor of the Roman Emperor. For us, Greek Orthodox, whichever bishop with its faithful, its perfect church of Christ, a king without kingdom. Let’s not talk about Spain; it introduced the Inquisition to this region and a very predaceous taxation that imposed tax on the donkey, both on the man who had a donkey, and then on man who didn’t have one. The treasure of human culture is here, in Calabria. Culture has no value if it doesn’t have a heart, love for life and for others… come back here; find a small house in the country where there is water and shade. Water and trees are very important…”

Kosmàs dried the sweat that wet his forehead and tied his long hair together on the nape of his neck. The heavy black tunic was not adaptable to the Calabrian summer. Maybe Kosmàs was a dioratic father, one of the monks who has the gift of clairvoyance? Certainly I felt penetrated by his stare in the most hidden corners of my very being, in my most secret aspirations. I told him about this letter that I am writing to you, and the worries that the issues that I touch upon give me. His eyes shined with interest and he said:
“Are we going to have another writing soon? Glory be to God! Glory be to God! You are anxious, do you think at night too? So, everything is going ok!”
It was already evening and a bird was flying low through the branches, preparing himself for his nightly catch. The monk bowed again and we parted ways.
At home that evening I reflected on how much Kosmàs had said, regarding Northern European culture and I understood that the barbarity of the Middle Eastern shepherds had created more damage than I could have imagined. In fact, the culture of cutting a lamb’s throat, combined with the barbarity of the Slavs, had created the gulags; the Germans, had generated the concentration camps; the Normans, the crusades and the guillotine; the Spaniards, the Inquisition and the slaughtering of Indios… At the end, only the South of Italy was left out of this blood orgy that was so unrelated to its nature. Although it is true that the South suffers from aggressive criminality, death camps and cremation ovens never existed in our land. The God of Italy wants people to stay alive, and the only thing cooked in our ovens is bread.

Chapter 34

Then you left: another airport, the house empty, my nerves dancing on my skin. To keep myself busy and to distract my thoughts in the evenings there was nothing better than starting a difficult book. The effort it took me to concentrate on what I was reading helped me to forget. So I dedicated myself to reading about the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas, whose poetry like Lauda Sion, Pange Lingua, Ave Verum, I love very much. Those poems are really liturgy hymns, Latin compositions among the most beautiful of Christianity. I chose a book about Saint Thomas because I wanted to understand how, dry scholastic philosophies and theologies, and also those poems could be written with the same pen. They seemed to be written by two different people, a mystical poet and a theologian having a fit of definition. There wasn’t a single thing that Saint Thomas had not defined; God and his essence, the Trinity, Christ with his human and divine natures, eternity, time, the soul, the senses, the substance, the accidents…a cultivated definer, but definition is always a dangerous thing…
Following the reading of his life I realized that Saint Thomas was a vegetarian and every morning, at the end of mass, he dictated about different issues to four friar clerks who were always ready for his orders. Writing in those times was very slow. One day Saint Thomas sent the friars to their cells and from that day on he didn’t want to dictate to them anymore. This situation caused a stir and everyone hurried to ask him what he had happened, if he was feeling ok or something else: for the love of God, say something! Saint Thomas confessed that during mass things were revealed to him in comparison to which, what had written was like straw: paleae sunt. What he meant was that his writings were of no value and should be burnt like straw.
Saint Thomas understood the danger of his work, but his brothers didn’t believe him and, instead of burning the books, they burnt the heretic on the basis of the definitions found in his books.

One afternoon I was in Sant’Andrea at the Liguorini Father's Library returning the book about Saint Thomas. The door was open, because by now only a couple of priests had remained to welcome guests. I dropped off the book and I went to the refectory to admire the painting on the wall. In this painting Jesus is sitting under a arbour between the two Emmaus’ disciples, who after his resurrection prayed (Luke 24, 13-39):

“Stay with us because evening is coming and by now the sun is setting.”

Jesus accepted the invitation; at the table he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them to eat. Poor Jesus, he had just been resurrected and he had already started the walk again on the stony roads of Palestine to renew the miracle of the Last Supper: transforming meat into bread, thus offering man a way out of violence. Not the way into violence, which happens if the bread becomes meat. For 2000 years no one had understood the greatest miracle of all in history! But finally the sacrifice, called divine but really evil, shows a crack, and not too far off in the future, humanity will understand. Therefore this refectory is so sweet to my heart.

I started to say goodbye to my friends and acquaintances. It was the beginning of September and I had to get back to Milan. Every goodbye was said with hugs and kisses, even among men. Whoever doesn’t understand the maternal delicacy, the softness of the Calabrian who doesn’t deserve the reputation of a fierce person, doesn’t understand the sweetness of life.
I also went to take flowers to my father’s grave; before leaving the cemetery, I found myself face to face with a photo of Don Salvatore Bressi, posted at man’s height on his burial recess. My blood started racing through my veins; I wanted to run away, because recently Don Salvatore had been visiting me, bringing me alarming messages with him. I was however able to calm myself down, and I stared at his picture of when he was young, the dimple on his chin, his confident and little ironic stare. I prayed to him to stop tormenting me with his unexpected apparitions, for how much he had loved me, and for all the masses I had served for him. If he really wanted to help me, he should rest in peace and leave me in peace. I ran my hand across his photo in a final farewell and it was then that I remembered! The book, the book that he had given me as a gift when I returned from Germany in 1966! That time Don Salvatore wanted to see me because he wanted to ask me if the Nazi Lagers (concentration camps) really existed, if I had visited them, if the Germans really had done all those horrible things to the Hebrews… While he was dismissing me, he gave me the New Testament written in Greek and Latin, reminding me that violence doesn’t look anyone in the face, and doesn’t save anyone, not even the Son of God… From the photo, Don Salvatore’s voice spoke to me clearly:
“Look for that book, find it and read it!”

Chapter 35

I hurried towards Soverato and started looking for the book that I was afraid I had lost during one of my moves. Impatiently I tore down entire rows of books from the shelves, and finally the volume appeared from behind the dictionaries: the cover was brown, the Indian paper was thin, and the text was written in Greek on the left side and Latin on the right. On the inside cover there was a poem that Don Salvatore had dedicated to me before he gave me the book:
Everything has been given to us,
Nothing will be taken away.
When time, the father of life,
Will raise the veil of flesh
We will look at the earthly events
With happy eyes and joyful hearts.
Was Don Salvatore asking me to read the New Testament? In Latin I was still able to, but what could the most read and studied book in the world possibly reveal to me? I was perplexed, I put the book on the night table to look at it before going to sleep, and then I left the house and I went for a walk on the promenade. I returned home and got into bed, it was the best time for me, because I could dedicate myself to reading in absolute calmness. I opened the book, not really convinced and I leafed through the pages of the four gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and finally the Apocalypse. A discussion about this argument came to my mind: it was during my seminary days in Catanzaro with my teacher of Greek and Latin, Monsignor Caliò, who concluded like this:
“I am good in Greek and Latin, but with the Apocalypse I surrender just like everyone else. The mystery is impenetrable. I console myself with the thought that one day I will be able to ask Saint John in heaven: Saint John, couldn’t you have just clearly written what you wanted to say, instead of making me suffer my whole life?”
I was starting to close the book, when I noticed on the bottom of the first page of the Apocalypse written in pencil:

“Wrath of the lamb, see 6,16.”

I jumped to my feet so fast that the book fell out of my hands, the lamp fell off the night table and because of the harsh movement I pulled a muscle in my back. It was better off to get up and calmly read the few pages of the Apocalypse that I had never entirely read before. It was late that night when I finally stopped reading, and what I had understood was simply disarming, even more, alarming…
A doubt came to my mind, maybe I had made a blunder, maybe my knowledge of Latin was a little rusty and I had misunderstood? Prudently I took the Italian Bible that I had taken with me to Jerusalem, and I started calmly to reread the Apocalypse from the beginning. The seven churches, the celestial court, the one hundred and forty-four thousand marked, the knights, the trumpets, the woman and the dragon, the beast that rose from the sea, and the one that rose from the earth, the war in the sky and on the earth, the seven cups, the great prostitute, the ruin of Babylon, Gog and Magog, Armageddon. All of this was written with the goal of hiding the message. But I couldn’t be lead astray, I only followed the lamb, and he disclosed the mystery. Now, Gabriella, you have to follow me carefully.

There is a closed book that no one is able to open and read. Only the lamb, if sacrificed, can tear off the seven seals and to every seal a form of violence breaks out on the earth. The killing of the lamb can upset the fundamental rules of creation: the stars precipitate against the earth and all humanity implores the mountains:
“Fall upon us and hide ourselves from the presence of he who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the lamb, because the day of their wrath has arrived and, who can resist it?”(6, 16)

Salvation is possible when humanity leaves the killing by turning over the pastoral culture, to the point that man becomes the lamb and the lamb becomes the shepherd:
“The salvation belongs to our LORD that sits on the throne and to the Lamb… because the Lamb is in the middle of the throne, grazing and driving to the flow of live water; and the Lord will wipe every tear from their eyes” (7,10and 17)

At the end, the great change will occur when celestial Jerusalem is substituted with earthy Jerusalem, the Temple disappears and the lamb is adored alive on the throne of God. As simple as a children’s fairy tale (21, 9, and 22, 24, 26, 27):
“Come now! I want to show you the fiancée, the bride of the lamb, the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down from the sky…But you can’t see the Temple in her: the LORD our father, the omnipotent, together with the lamb, is its own temple. The city doesn’t need light from the sun or the moon: the glory of the LORD as a matter of fact, illuminates it and the lamb is the lighting.
And the people walk towards its light
And the kings of the earth her bring their glory.
Her doors don’t close….
Enter only those that are written
In the book of the life of the Lamb…”

Chapter 36

Moving was then the final invocation of the Apocalypse towards Jesus: “come, come, come.” But hadn’t Jesus already come to the earth? Why did the first Christians, like today’s Christians, invoke another one of his arrivals? A strange destiny the Bible has, nobody believes it! In the beginning God gave the Proto Commandment and nobody took care of it. Jesus spoke about the Good Shepard, that didn’t sell or kill his sheep, and nobody listened to him. The Apocalypse reinforces the commandments of God and Jesus, and everyone says that it is a mysterious book. But the law of God is clear, simple, without ambiguity. It’s like the law of gravity: if someone jumps from the window, or is pushed out against his own will, the result is exactly the same. If a population kills, even if it is morally justified by the needs of nourishment, in any case it commits a transgression of the divine law. That population then creates a religion that is instrument of punishment and not of salvation: that religion is founded on blood and will return to man the death that he has given to the animal. The Apocalypse is nothing more than the Principle of Pythagoras expressed by a pastoral culture, backward when compared to the splendor and the mathematical rigor of Croton’s philosopher.
My eyes were tired from reading so much and dawn was rising on the Gulf of Glory. I got up to put the book back on the shelf when I noticed a thin piece of paper placed at the end of the book. I picked up the yellow paper on which Don Salvatore had written many years ago:

Fish in Greek is ICHTUS, which is an acronym for:



Don Salvatore had given me the last gift. Finally I understood that Pythagoras, who saved the fish and Jesus, depicted by the first Christians as a fish, expressed the same need to stop violence. The Apostles couldn’t do without fish, like the shepherds couldn’t do without killing lamb. To rebel against violence Jesus made himself the victim, but it is always him, lamb, fish, Son of Man, Son of God. He said:
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Two thousand years of history show that this commandment doesn’t work if the neighbor isn’t pythagoric: man together with animal. It seems to be a distinction of little importance, but instead it is full of tragic consequences: no one has ever been killed in the name of Pythagoras, but in the name of Christ millions of people were assassinated.

Chapter 37

It was September 1st and I was thinking about my trip back to Milan. I went to see my mother and I dedicated the entire afternoon to her. I still hadn’t told her that I was leaving, but it was the first thing she said looking at me with her inquiring eyes:
“You came to say goodbye, you are going back to Milan. But you are happier here with us”
“How do you know?” I answered.
“I understand you; you must be strong and have patience!”
I went out onto her little balcony and while I was standing there she said:
“They don’t make wheat anymore at Stravì!”
She was talking about the clay hill that was cultivated into wheat before the flee from the countryside. The memories brought me back to many years before, when the green stems of the wheat waved in the springtime wind uncovering poppies and bluebottles. Then she added:
“I couldn’t finish elementary school and in the fourth grade I had to quit, even though my biggest wish was to study. The fourth grade teacher made us memorize the Tale of the Wheat. It is the story of a grain of wheat, which fell asleep under the snow. In spring it sprouted and became a thin ear. Kissed by the sun and rocked by the wind, it grew and made many grains for the daily bread. Do you remember how beautiful the flour that I brought from the mill was? How beautiful the bread that we made together was? Now…”
She made a gesture of impotence with her hands, they had become small and tight, letting them fall tiredly on the sheet. The emotions of memories, and thoughts that maybe I wouldn’t see her again alive, brought a lump to my throat. I kissed her forehead, like a child and left her in her bed. I left her room, and leaned against the door for a moment to listen in case she called me back to give her medicine or a glass of water. Her world had become so small, but she couldn’t reach it anymore. Instead I heard her voice, it wasn’t clear like it used to be, it was tired but she sang:
“Ooooh! We with the golden ears
Will make the bread of love”
She sang that song to free me from the evil curse that, without her wanting to, had tied me to the God of Jerusalem when I was born. The Tale of the Wheat was the viaticum that she gave me; the song of the ears and of the bread consecrated me forever to the God of our Italy.
I left the retirement home and looked at the little houses that were along the street, which goes from the town towards the mountains. In those small houses once they conserved barrels of wine and had incredible drinking parties. The hills around the town were cultivated with vines and gave perfumed grapes unlike any others. These were antique vines that were able to resist storms and infestations and year after year they gave sweated grapes. Grandpa Bruno accompanied the women and us children to Tralò to collect the grapes and made sure that some of them, not yet ripe, would be saved to be collected for Christmas. Then we prepared the great tomato salad dish that was eaten with forks made of bamboo. The women carried the heavy baskets on their heads and I was among the adults squashing the grapes with my feet. The new wine ran red and we repeated the miracle of Christ’s blood that humbly accepted to became wine to give comfort to the men in the labor of living.

Chapter 38

The day after smoke columns came up from the mountains onto the shoulders of Sant’Andrea. They began at Alaca River and soon they came together with fire that was lit along the Saluro River, which delimits the south of the town. Who had the guts to provoke this fire after the one that had turned the pinewood into ashes? I stayed there during the night to watch the flames and I remembered the words of the immense Heraclitus, who warned:

“We need to put out the violence rather than the fire.”

On the afternoon of September 4th a strange phenomenon appeared in the sky. I was in Soverato and I saw two formations of white clouds, similar to enormous upside down croissants with equal dimensions, almost 2000 meters tall, about a kilometer between them: one of them stood still above the square, the other above the sea. I kept looking at them to see if their shapes changed, but they stayed the same in the same place. In the evening they turned from a rosy color to gray, then to ashen and then they disappeared during the night. What were those two clouds trying to announce? I delayed my trip hour by hour, as if another event was about to take place in that summer that had already been so full, and in fact two days later it started to rain. And it rained like I had never seen before anywhere in the world. It was as if the sea was rising to precipitate on the earth. On the third day of incessant rain, mountains and hills were falling to pieces, gigantic trees were carried to valley, enormous boulders were pushed away by the fury of the water along the river bed as well as wild boars and serpents. In the evening the nearby campsite was wiped out and more than ten people died. At the end of the storm I returned to Milan: my non-relaxing summer was over.

Chapter 39

The Milanese autumn arrives with a mist that always made me melancholic and depressed. But this autumn at the end of the millennium I don’t have time for sadness, I feel as if it were time for change. It is also time of mad cows, and the television shows us stalls full of cows, which reflect the hell of this world in their huge black eyes. The poor cows haven’t done anything wrong, but they will be killed, hundreds of thousands and in Europe alone a million, because they are sick. No one raised their voice to defend them, the politicians were shown eating meat to try and keep the people calm. By now eating meat repulses me. I stopped eating meat and fish, and I would never eat them again. I regret having ever eaten a live creature:

“Lamb of God, victim of violence, forgive me!
Fish of God, victim of violence, forgive me!
Mad cow of God, victim of violence, forgive me!”

Once, when I was in Berlin, I visited the slaughterhouse where Hitler hung his attempters by the throats with the hooks used for the animals. A far off but clear voice tells me that one day children will visit the slaughterhouses, like today we visit the lager of extermination. At that time the world will have finally understood the horror of the killing, that day will come, it will come. It isn’t a dream; or rather it is an Aristotelic dream. Aristotle was asked what hope was, and he responded:

“a dream of a man that is awake”.

The philosopher wanted to say that hope must be conceived and developed by people that apply intelligence and determination. A dream only dreamt is never realized. The desire of man to fly was impossible for thousands of years, and Icarus was the most famous victim. Then man tried in many ways to realize that dream and today we are able to put a man on the moon.

For this I am planning a study center for human violence. Respect for the life of humans and animals is of course the basis, but alone it isn’t enough. Violence is a very bad and ancient evil that has spread in every form of culture, religion, society, family, production, army, behavior and sexual conduct. The list is endless. Today we have the possibility to study everything, from the wings of the butterfly to the galaxy. And still a WORLD ANTIVIOLENCE CENTRE doesn’t exist, a worldwide university that is dedicated only to the study and coordination of studies on violence.
Without shame and prejudices, in that center we will look at violence in the face, and will discover its secret alliances by which it rages with human and economic costs that are insupportable. I am putting this message in a bottle and throwing it into the sea of life. On a beach somewhere, someone will find it.
Chapter 40

Dear Gabriella, it’s the last Sunday of November, the darkest and shortest period of the year. I am free this morning, and I enter the cathedral, where a ceremony is taking place. The piercing beauty of Ave Verum, the words of Saint Thomas and the music by Mozart, pervades the aisle. I am greatly moved when the songs arrives at Jesus’ chest “punched by the lance and water and blood flowed out”:

“Cuius latus perforatum fluxit aquam et sanguinem”.

I thought that the best of human intelligence, art, poems, music, painting, sculptures, architecture, are all around the killings, the altar, the horrendous sacrificial stone. I left the cathedral and I went for a walk along the canal that goes through the countryside of Lombardy. So many times I walked through its silent embankment, with you and our friends, that I became affectionate to this lowland of villages and farmhouses.
I am alone and I think about this strange letter that I have written to you, which comes from the deepest part of my heart. Of course I am writing to you, but I am writing it for all humanity. As I am slowly walking, a light fog starts to rise, and like a contrast to the light of Calabria, I remember a day in September 1997, when we took a train from Soverato to Reggio. It was your first time; I knew the coast well, from the days that I studied at the University of Messina. Maria, an old neighbor from Sant’Andrea, had read my first book Return to Calabria and she had organized an evening for me in the Hall of the Conservatory of Reggio. During the debate, someone asked me why I brought up for discussion again the blood of Christ and why I was so convinced that Calabria would give birth to the new Civilization of the world. That night you were like the angel painted on a Renaissance Annunciation, beautiful and timid.

I now understand the historical importance of that debate during which I confirmed my own thought. The world had known a new barbarian age since when Saint Paul, there in Reggio, proclaimed the salvation beside the famous column. The idea of the father who demands blood from his own son is the edge of violence. The Christians suffered a trauma from this very atrocious idea, and were fatally bound to be violent.
The fog has thinned out, and I can see in the distance the peaks of the mountains lightly covered with snow. As the water in the canal flows placid, I have a clear understanding of my life that up to now appeared to me tortuous and incomprehensible. Today I realize that I had always spent most of my energy trying to understand the mystery of violence, and finally I foresee the second coming of Jesus, which the whole world is waiting for. Here it is, Jesus’ return won’t be in the form of a body, but in the splendor of the Italic, pythagoric, southern culture. He will come to give back the honor to the Father, to dry the blood from the altars, to take away the knife from the killers and invite all of the victims to rebel and live in harmony with creation.

From the times of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, the Hebrews came to Calabria, at Santa Maria del Cedro, to collect the citron used at the Feast of the Huts, together with the branches of myrtle, willow and palm. For the Hebrews the citron symbolizes the heart, and they believe that the Calabrian tree is of ancient and pure race never contaminated by grafting. This well represents our antique civilization, better and more humane, the only one able to make the world progress.
I think about the thousands of Hebrews that were killed, and it makes me feel a great piety. Who knows how many mothers, children and elderly at that precise moment of death prayed that such a horrible event would never ever take place again. I also think about the Israeli boys and girls in army uniforms, that I had seen during my visit. Beautiful tanned faces opened to life, but in the middle of an unbearable situation. To the Hebrews I want to say: the Messiah that you have been waiting thousands of years for, is the Spirit that breathes in the Land of the Citron! Forget the Temple!
And you, Gabriella, come home. We’ll go to Calabria and we will build a little house in the country where you can keep the animals that you love so much. We’ll also have an oven. I know how to make bread and Celestina will give us the yeast. We will mix it together with flour, and will make the dough into the shapes of lambs, bulls, pigs, and fish. When it has risen, we can put it in the oven and then give it away as a gift. It will be a day of peace, our day. We will not be alone: many friends of ours will eat that bread.
I am finished, and it seems like a dream. From the hell of human violence I have taken you by the hand to the door of the new Syssition Civilization.

A big hug, Your Father
Milan, September 10, 2001

Dear Gabriella,
It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on September 11 when the secretary came into my office with a copy of this letter that I had finished writing the day before. She gave me the letter, looked at me lost and said:
“Come and watch the TV; the Twin Towers in New York have just been attacked.”
I followed her out and I watched too. My heart tightened as I thought about you being in America. But I wasn’t surprised about the attack. For about 20 years I knew that those towers would be bombed. My friend Fred Gangemi, uncle Fred, the one who gave you the big stuffed bear, had told me that.
I met Fred while I was working on the Emerald Coast; he came there on vacation. Fred died 10 years ago; he was born in America of Calabrian immigrants and he was a surgeon. We immediately became friends and at the end of the 70’s, I went to visit him in the USA. He loved company and he brought me to the Hotel Plaza in New York to have a drink and chat. One evening, as we were leaving the Hotel Plaza, instead of going home to New Jersey, he decided to take me to the Twin Towers and he invited me up with him. I didn’t feel like going up, I had already seen them, but he insisted so I asked him:
“Why are you being so persistent? I would prefer to go home, they are waiting for us for dinner”
All of a sudden Fred became sad and he said:
“One day they are going to knock down these towers…”
I thought he had drunk too much whiskey at the Hotel Plaza, so I questioned him:
“Who is going to attack them and why?”
He shook his head repeatedly and then he said:
“Yes, they will be destroyed, and it will be a great desolation.”


That September 11th I got on the phone searching for relatives and friends who live in the New York area, and I found out about Adriana Scibetta. She worked in the bank on the 101st floor of the first tower that was hit, and that day she should have been on holiday. But on September 10th she called her company and asked if she could postpone her holiday, from September 11th to the first days of November. They agreed…
Nothing remained of Adriana, destroyed from the blast that everyone has seen. She was 31 years old and was taken away from her husband and two small children. I think about her inconsolable mother, Caterina. I remember when she emigrated to America; she was a beautiful girl from Sant’Andrea. Your grandmother Carmela is her godmother.


In front of this enormous event that has happened, writing this makes me feel like I am an incurable dreamer. I let it all go until January 24, 2002, when I saw the Pope on television from Assisi. He was praying for peace for everyone, in the presence of some world wide religious representatives. I admired the great scene, the solemn gestures, the flashy clothes from the East and West. I even listened to the appeals for world peace. The Pope cried out in the name of Jesus, who had soaked the cross with his own blood, the Redeemer…
At that point a mechanism went off inside me. I saw Fred’s sad expression, and I understood that this very letter is the essential instrument that is needed to explain the attack on New York. For mysterious reasons Fred had prepared me and he made me aware of this tragic event.
As a matter of fact, the wrath of the lamb is exploding because nothing has changed since Abraham, the shepherd, raised his knife against his son Isaac-Ishmael: that gesture well represents the Middle East culture, full of blood, death, and uncontrollable desire to kill.
Like a child who sees the sea for the first time, he never forgets it, and he always dreams to return, the shepherd’s son that assists to the killing of the lamb, ends up desiring slitting throats and killing.
Blood is the origin of the three Abramitic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Apparently they are three separate religions, but instead they are the same religion cunning and inhuman, which expects that

killing the innocent saves the guilty.


In the case of Islamic terrorists there was a strange detail which now I fully understand: the terrorists face death with a lot of pairs of… underwear. As a matter of fact, they believe that as soon as they die, they find themselves facing Allah, and so they cover their genitals, as much as possible, because they feel ashamed!
And I am tying this episode with that of Adam and Eve, that was painted by Masaccio in the church of Carmine in Florence. An angel with a sword in flames chases them away from the earthly paradise nude and, because they are ashamed, they cover the genitals with their hands. Masaccio used a very strong brushstroke to represent on their faces the sexual anguish that would have passed through the centuries devastating people, families and society.
In fact from the Middle East, together with the religion of cutting the lamb’s throat, we have received the dangerous sexual anguish. The Islamic martyrs believe that in their heavenly gardens, every night they will be awarded with ten young virgins.


Since that cross has appeared on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea, there has been a slaughterhouse and an unstoppable decline. At the time of the Greek population, it wasn’t like this at all: they were able to see man. The Assyrian covered man with cloaks; the Hebrews didn’t even represent man; the Egyptians adorned man with dresses and headgear; the Arabians today still cover women with veils.
Only the Greeks saw man, as he really was, nude: and it was beautiful. The Greek statues express harmony and beauty; they never show anxiety or shame. The Greeks could see human beings nude because serenity lived in their souls, in the equilibrium of their culture and in the luminosity of their thoughts.
When the Romans forced the Hebrew Saint John to leave the tragic Palestine, they sent him to Greece where he had the vision of the Apocalypse on the island of Patmos. For this reason he is called the clairvoyant of Patmos, because only in Greece he could understand the greatest of all mysteries like the Lamb of God, the end of the Temple and of the earthly Jerusalem.


As champions of non-violence, Jesus and Gandhi are often cited. What is non-violence? It is a way of refusing violence, but it is also a way of accepting it: Jesus and Gandhi became victims of violence. Non-violence accepts the role of victim and martyr at the very end. It has a passive and dark side, a desire of death that unites the executioner and the victim. But not one victim has ever brought or will ever bring real help or salvation or progress to humanity.
Instead, antiviolence that I go around suggesting totally refuses these two roles since violence given and violence received is still violence. Changing the order of the factors doesn’t change the result.
Antiviolence is an active attitude for understanding and uprooting the oldest and most diffused evil in the world. Antiviolence means also refusing violence instead of giving or accepting it from wherever it comes from. Whoever accepts violence, accepts sin.


While I was watching the religious rites on television on January 24, a mysterious voice spoke to me suggesting that in reality in Assisi all those priests were celebrating the funeral of religions. It is not just by chance that they were celebrating in the place where Saint Francis lived, who was driven by love for all creatures: birds, fish, wolves, and humans that the religions had massacred.
Religions die because they have exhausted their historical task: the discovery of violence and sex that, however, they can’t resolve. As a matter of fact religions continue to teach us that we must accept violence and repress sex. When exactly will man live?
Religions are not able to channel the tremendous mix of violence and repressed sex, which then explodes in people like Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Milosevic and Bin Laden to name only those who have affected our lives. Unfortunately, many people follow these historical executioners because the number of people that are unhappy and prefer death to life is huge.


I have recently seen some images taken from the large telescopes that show a mass of stars of unheard of beauty at the borders of space and time. To the external cosmos, the universe, corresponds what I like to call the internal cosmos, that is the human soul, which is even more vast and mysterious: maybe no one will ever be able to find its true limits. As man has started a systematic exploration of space, he should also start a serious investigation into the mysteries of his own soul. From there, rather than from astronomy, the most astonishing discoveries will come.


To carry out this change, I decided to be the founder of a religion/non-religion based on trust rather than on faith, no dogma, no discrimination of sex, race, or language, no church, no priests and no conversion. I was born Catholic and raised in Catholicism; I lived through unacceptable mistakes, which are present in every religion. I am not refusing my origins, on the contrary, starting right from my origins I evolve and go towards a more serene horizon, the HUMAN RELIGION. As a matter of fact it is unthinkable that every Christian converts to Islam, Hebrews to Buddhism and Hindus to something else. But everyone can refuse what he found contradictory, inadequate or sad in his own religion. The free spirit doesn’t convert, but converges towards a better life, towards happiness that is within reach on this earth. This is mainly HUMAN RELIGION, which is essentially inspired by three principles.


Principle Number One: Harmony

Harmony is the balance of man with nature. Disharmony is every type of violence, like the uncontrollable proliferation of births, abuse of the earth, the production and use of weapons, abnormal concentration of wealth. Harmony is protecting the animals, never killing them. If you don’t kill an animal and you don’t eat animals, how could you possibly kill a man spilling his blood? The time has come to take down Jesus from the cross, to heal his wounds, make a table out of the wood of his cross and invite Jesus to eat with us.


Principle Number two: Peace

The external cosmos have immense spaces, that are however emotionless. Uniquely in the heart of man, we verify these miraculous ripples, the emotions that are the flowers of the universe: happiness, pain, anxiety, fear, anguish, hope, desperation, bliss. Without emotions, man is just like a rock.
Great distributor of emotions is especially sexuality that up till now has been demonized or practiced only to procreate or experienced in an inconvenient way. Reconciliation of the human being means discovering the powerful sexual emotions that should flow freely, not blocked by taboo or fear.


Third Principle: Light

Light means to favor a more spiritual humanity able to progress towards new spaces of consciousness and knowledge for encompassing all the existing. Then, it isn’t God, whoever he is, who tells man what he should do, and it isn’t man, whoever he is, that should ask God for what he doesn’t have. God will take more and more human flesh, and man will become more and more of divine nature. The same fate, the same destiny is in common to God and man: knowing each other and merging with each other.


During the first days of January, I went to Calabria to visit Grandma Carmela. She was weaker and more tired; she didn’t speak to me as much as she did in the summer. One afternoon, she was thinking about the tortured life she had lived and she said:
“It was the priests who ruined me”
When I went to say goodbye to her, before I left she recited panting:
“If you want to see God,
Look at every object,
Check in your chest,
You will find him there.”


The ancient Greek settler brought from Greece to Calabria vine, figs, olive trees and the most precious of all, the plant of humanity. In the shade of that plant, the monks Leontius Pilatus and Barlaam were formed and from Calabria they went to Florence in 1300. There they taught the Greek language, forgotten in the rest of Europe. Boccaccio and Petrarca were among their students and so it started the Humanism that triumphed later in the Renaissance. This plant is still alive among us; in the third millennium it will spread and humanize this inhuman world. My hope is not vein, but a future to which I will dedicate the years to come. I thought I was the only one to believe in this. But thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are at least two of us, me and the immense Heraclitus who from ancient Greece exhorts:
What is beyond hope
Is hard to understand
And there is no way leading to it.
If you don’t hope
What is beyond hope
You will never find it.

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