It’s well-known that there is a vocational crisis in the Roman Catholic Church and, not least, the church in Italy. Fewer and fewer young persons want to go in for an occupation that denies them a chance of starting up their own family or of buying their own house. In past ages, however, to be a member of the clergy was the only guarantee for many men of attaining a reasonably comfortable standard of living with a decent home, servants and regular meals.
As the local saying goes: “Si vive bene all’ombra del campanile” (one lives well in the shadow of the bell-tower). Who knows whether this fact, in a crisis-ridden Italy, may tempt more young men back into the priesthood?
In my area I’ve met very few young people drawn to the vocation. Some I know almost made it and then drew back because they’d found the girl of their life. I’ve come across only one, in Santa Gemma’s sanctuary in Lucca, who was dedicated to becoming a Franciscan friar. However, if one goes to Lucca’s vast seminary, situated just north of the city, one can see photographs of previous student intakes. It was not unusual to have fifty newly ordained priests let out loose on the parishes until well into the nineteen sixties, the majority coming from Lucca province. Today, at the last count, there were two young men preparing for the priesthood at Lucca’s seminary and one of them came from another continent.
There is a less drastic solution to becoming a priest, however, and this it to be ordained as a deacon. (See my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/a-baptism-an-ordination-a-procession-andsomething-more/ on that subject).
The” Vernacoliere”, a satirical paper published in Livorno and which produces those often anal headlines one can see outside any edicola or newsagent, once ran a front-page which, translated, said “the Vatican has decided to import priests from China to fill the gap and they cost a lot less to run too”.
I have yet to meet a Chinese priest here but already several parishes are maintained by clergy from such places as Ruanda and Nigeria. I met one of these serving a parish in the upper Garfagnana and he complained to me about how primitive the local natives’ thinking patterns were….
The last priest our parish of San Gemignano had all to itself was Don Emiliano Lovi who celebrated his final Mass in this role on 31st January 2006. I can only find my following (not very good) pictures of that event.
(The organist is, of course Maestro Enrico Barsanti).
At the end of the Mass Don Emiliano was presented by his parishioners with a smart leather briefcase. It was a heart-felt farewell as he was very well-considered by his parishioners (unlike a certain local priest earlier in the last century who was hounded out by a less appreciative congregation).
Don Emiliano has since moved further up the valley of the Serchio to become parish priest for a Garfagnana pastoral unit made up of the following parishes:
Bolognana – (s. Margherita m.)
Brucciano – ( s. Sisto ii papa m. )
Calomini – ( s. Tommaso apostolo )
Cardoso – ( s. Genesio m. )
Fiattone – ( ss. Pietro e Paolo apostoli )
He was very ill a few years back but has made an excellent recovery.
After Don Emiliano’s departure, and for several years following it, Don Alessio Barsocchi, who was also vice-chancellor to Monsignor Italo Castellani, the Bishop of Lucca, came to give much appreciated help in the celebration of Masses in the Controneria. However, in September 2012 Don Alessio was promoted as Castellani’s chancellor and so had to leave his (temporary) post here.
Of course, San Gemignano still has a priest to celebrate Mass, Don Gianfranco Vitali, whose vicarage is next to that wonderful ancient church at San Cassiano, but he also has to serve the following parishes as well:
Montefegatesi (S. Frediano vescovo)
That’s a tall order and, for someone who is well into his seventies, must be a particularly heavy load. There has been talk of closing down some of the churches and of having “ecumenical centres” in the valley instead but this idea would only reduce even further the number of church-goers who, above all, associate themselves with their own local parish church.
Some figures to conclude: in the archdiocese of Lucca there is a total of 363 parishes subdivided into 11 pastoral unities of which 59 are in the Val di Serchio area where Bagni di Lucca is. I wonder how many of these parishes will remain at the end of this century?