On June 20, 2017, after visiting the tomb of Fr. Primo Mazzolari, Pope Francis went to the cemetery in Barbiana, the resting place of Fr. Lorenzo Milani, another challenging prophet of our time. There they were facing each other: Francis and Lorenzo, in silence. With the pope praying alone, it was almost a showdown. The pope had recently freed from censorship Don Lorenzo’s book, Pastoral Experiences. In a message for the publication of his Opera Omnia, he had made it clear that Don Milani was not a priest to be rehabilitated, but “a believer enamored of the Church, even if a flawed one.”
At Barbiana, Francis intended to respond “to that request made many times by Don Lorenzo to his bishop, namely, that he be recognized and understood for his fidelity to the Gospel and in the appropriateness of his pastoral action. […] Today the Bishop of Rome does so: the Church recognizes that life as an exemplary way of serving the Gospel, the poor and the Church itself.” He added that “the school was not something different from his mission as a priest. […] He wanted to give a voice to the poor, […] to open for them the way to full citizenship in society, through work, and to full membership of the Church, with conscious faith. […] Everything stems from his being a priest, which has an even deeper root, his faith. […] Being a priest [is] the way in which to experience the Absolute. Without this thirst for the Absolute one can be a good functionary of the sacred, but one cannot be a priest, a true priest, capable of becoming a servant of Christ in the brethren.”
May 27, 2023, marks 100 years since the birth of Don Lorenzo Milani. The prior of Barbiana is widely known for his works and his school. However, there is perhaps still something to be discovered in the religious sphere, for example in his priestly ministry. Three years after his death, in 1970, the topic of priesthood emerged in the first interview with his mother, Alice Weiss. To the question, “If the Church canonized your son, would you pray to such a saint?” she, an agnostic Jew, always reserved in speaking about Lorenzo, replied, “I want Lorenzo to be better known. Let us speak of his cheerfulness. […] The rest is not up to me. If anything, it is up to the Church, which made him suffer so much, but which also gave him the priesthood and the strength of that faith that remains for me the deepest mystery of my son.” The mother knew her son well; he loved her and always confided everything to her, even in the most difficult moments of his ministry.