Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Heroes and mentors
November 22, 2010, 7:34 pm
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The extract from the new book of interviews with the Pope that caught my eye was not the one that has caused all the controversy. It was the revelation that for relaxation the Holy Father and his secretaries sometimes watch a DVD, and among their favourites are the old films about Don Camillo.

Don Camillo was the first Catholic priest I ever came across, and he remains a hero of mine to this day. The stories of the priest and the Communist mayor of a little village in the Po valley, in northern Italy, set in the 1950s, were by the Italian journalist Giovanni Guareschi, and first appeared in a magazine before being collected into several books.

Don Camillo and Peppone (“Big Joe”) Bottazzi were comrades during the war, but afterwards were on opposite sides, Church against Party. They are not above engaging in fisticuffs over their quarrels, but remain friends. Don Camillo has a strong sense of social justice, Peppone remains at heart a devout Catholic. At times Don Camillo goes into church to tell his troubles to the Crucified Christ above the altar, and often he hears the Lord’s words of consolation and admonition.

Guareschi admitted that the Christ who spoke was not the historic Jesus, but Guareschi’s own conscience, which proves that he was himself a man of fairness and compassion. Discovering the books as an agnostic teenager, they taught me how to talk to the Lord myself. When the films began to appear, starring the immortal Fernandel, I watched them at a little cinema, later a pub and now a club, which specialised in continental films. They breathed an atmosphere of humanity, a belief that people can disagree even on important matters, and yet still respect one another and work together for the common good. The priest and the mayor both care for the people of their village, and each knows that in the last resort he can rely upon the other.

Recently, I have found them on DVD: The Little World of Don Camillo, Don Camillo’s Return, Don Camillo’s Big Fight, Monsignor Don Camillo and Don Camillo in Russia. They remind me of the time when I first found faith, and first met a priest. I am glad the Holy Father still enjoys them, as I do.

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