Publish date 29-10-2023

by Renzo Agasso

Luigi Bettazzi never lacked courage. Throughout his long life, which ended four months before he turned one hundred. The evangelical courage of "yes yes, no no". Of taking sides, of exposing oneself, of speaking out. They gradually defined him as a red bishop, an inconvenient bishop, a frontier bishop.

Veneto from Treviso, born in 1923, he soon moved to Bologna, his mother's city. And there he became a priest on 4 August 1946. Then following the usual process of the most culturally lively young priests, teaching, youth movements, Catholic universities. On 10 August 1963 - while the Council was underway - Paul VI, who had just succeeded John XXIII, appointed him auxiliary bishop of Bologna, being ordained by the pastor of that diocese, Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro. The young bishop follows his archbishop to Rome, taking part in three council sessions, breathing that fresh air of novelty and renewal that stirs the thoughts and words of Catholics all over the world. And Luigi Bettazzi will continue to narrate the Council throughout his existence, the last Italian bishop to have taken part in it.

In January 1967 he took over the leadership of the Piedmontese diocese of Ivrea, and would never leave it again, not even as emeritus. For thirty-two years he will be its pastor, soon exceeding its borders - very narrow for his mission - to be present and protagonist, in words and deeds, of the history of Italy, as well as of the Italian Church.

he takes a position, takes sides, speaks and denounces "in season and out of season", according to the evangelical style of the apostle Paul. His initiatives were countless, linked above all to his role as national - and then international - president of Pax Christi, the Catholic pacifist movement. There he will cross his days and his anxieties in common battles with another great pastor of a small diocese, Monsignor ("Don") Tonino Bello, pastor of Molfetta-Terlizzi-Giovinazzo-Ruvo, now venerable, on the path to sainthood.
Bettazzi offers - with two other bishops, Clemente Riva and Alberto Ablondi - to take the place of Aldo Moro, a prisoner of the Red Brigades. He wrote a long public letter to the secretary of the Communist Party Enrico Berlinguer, in an attempt - much criticized in the Church - to find points of convergence between Catholics and communist ideology.

Peace, ecumenism, the poor, the Council, its four cardinal points of an inconvenient bishop. Always bear witness, "in season and out of season", model of Saint Paul.

Renzo Agasso
NP August / September 2023

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