~by Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of L'Osservatore Romano, translation via Papa Ratzinger Forum
What was once unimaginable has happened: the visit of Benedict XVI to La Sapienza University for the inauguration of its academic year will not take place. The news shook Italy and has since then gone around the world, and there is a growing tide of reactions, sincere or exploitative - incredulous, saddened, indignant, emphatic, or in some cases, even more or less satisfied.
The wave will ebb, of course, but the serious fact remains that the Pope had to decide against a visit to the oldest university of Rome, the city of which is the Bishop, in the largest university of Italy, of which he is the Primate.
Why did we come to this? The answer is simple: because of the intolerance, radically anti-democratic, of a few - make that of a very few.
And now, as in the fable of the sorcerer's apprentice, even those, on many levels, who irresponsibly allowed that a preconceived and obtuse opposition to the papal visit should be amplified the way it was - an opposition that must be distinguished from dissent which is obviously legitimate when expressed civilly and with democratic methods - now express outright concern and regret. After having observed an almost complete silence in the preceding days.
The seriousness of this episode, unprecedented in the history of the Italian Republic, was confirmed by the letter to the Pope from the head of state, a sincere and noble gesture which attenuates the earlier omissions in part.
Benedict XVI's intention was evident: To show his interest and sympathy for the vast academic community in Italy, afflicted for decades by multiple problems and which has been undergoing lately the most wide-ranging crisis of universities in Italy, and more generally, in Europe.
To say something about the role of the university, certainly, but with clarity, reasonableness, and the desire for dialog from a man of uncommon gentleness.
As the theologian and pastor that he has always been. But let no one forget his truly world-class intellectual and academic stature which is acknowledged even by his adversaries.
Moreover, he was going to a secular autonomous institution whose centuries-old history is profoundly interwoven with that of the papacy - since it was founded in 1303 by Boniface VIII - and where the successors of Peter have always felt almost at home, as pointed out on March 13, 1964, during a visit by Paul VI, an alumnus himself, and as John Paul II showed on April 19, 1991, when he was their guest.
In continuity with his predecessors, Benedict XVI was glad to be able to return to a place where he had delivered a lecture on February 15, 1990, to advocate the need for a positive dialectic between faith and reason. But he had to forego the visit this time.
Already, Paul VI, aware of the adversary attitude based on commonplace stereotypes, as well as the polemical tones, of those who prefer to keep their eyes closed and their spirits hostile, wished to reassure these opponents: "The Pope," he said, "will not force open closed minds, he will not unhinge any doors but stay outside, knocking, like the 'witness' described in the Apocalypse (3,20), and says to those who won't open up, 'Study, understand yourself, read your soul, look at the authentic experience of our time with its rejection of religious values and transcendental truths, and you will find, in such widespread torment, an enormous number of fearful ruins, starting with the most desolate and most common: despair, absurdity, an arid nothing."
Even Benedict XVI has been knocking tirelessly at the door of every human being, confident that reason will not close itself to faith, to the encounter with Christ.
Is there really anyone who would consider this attitude obscurantist, mendacious, anti-science? Who could fear this gentle and reasonable man, this shepherd who, upon being elected Pope, declared that he was taking on his ministry comforted by the awareness that he would not be alone?
And the Pope is not alone. The whole Church prays for him today, as it prayed for Peter in Jerusalem, and there are many more non-Catholics and non-Christians who are with him. Who have no fear of facing the truth.