“This is not a pipe (Ceci n’est pas une pipe).” In his famous 1929 painting depicting a pipe, Magritte inscribed these words in a simple, cursive font. The great Surrealist painter was sending the viewer a message as surprising as it is obvious: representation is not the object that represents. The same can be said of the journal you are now reading. Civiltà Cattolica is not an object, that is, it is not to be identified with its paper or digital medium. Indeed, Pope Francis has been more radical, calling it, rather than a journal, “a true spiritual, communal and intellectual experience.”
Civiltà Cattolica embodies, in fact, a vision of the world, of culture, of politics, of the tensions of life. It is, therefore, an interpretation, a way of seeing things, which is expressed in print and on the web, but also in all the communication and relationships it is able to generate, embracing social debates, journalistic reflections, academic essays, emotional or rational reactions, whether polemical or supportive. It is generated by a community of Jesuits and, therefore, by a shared spiritual experience.
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After 25 years spent in continuous service to this journal, 12 of which as editor, the time has come for me to thank you, and to pass the baton to my successor, Fr. Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, SJ, formerly rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University. To him go my best wishes as he takes up the task. I leave with enormous gratitude for this experience during an extremely complex and eventful time for the life of the world and the Catholic Church. I pass the baton with some relief, but also with a hint of nostalgia for a passionate task that has seen some very good years and relationships with more than 200 Jesuit confreres in the editorial staff and around the world who have been committed to making La Civiltà Cattolica a truly special journal. To all of them I am very grateful, as also to the lay collaborators for whom the journal has been a place to invest their best talents, contributing with high professionalism to its mission.
Great trust was placed in me. In the College of Writers we have shared surprises, joys, uncertainties and tensions. I sincerely thank all who have been involved during these years of leadership. It has not always been easy. This reminds us that Civiltà Cattolica is a living journal, just as it was when it was born in 1850. The oldest still active journal of Italian culture is “younger by the measure of its aging,” as St. John XXIII said to the editor at the time, Fr. Roberto Tucci, on February 9, 1963.
I began writing for the journal in 1993 – 30 years ago – when St. John Paul II was pope; I was appointed editor under Benedict XVI in 2011; my editorship developed with Francis. Civiltà Cattolica has journeyed through this time as it always has: with fidelity to the Holy See, to the pope, and to today’s world in intense and significant times and situations. The Church? Today, she “needs to protest, call and cry out,” Francis said. The journal has protested, called, cried out. It has done so diplomatically, but also with parrhesia. How it was possible to continue with both in mind is a mystery whose judges are our readers.
Ours is a journalistic and not an academic publication. It expresses “opinions,” which therefore are open to debate. The worst thing that can happen to such a journal is to fail to generate discussion, to leave readers indifferent. Today I feel grateful to all of you: both to those who agreed with the thoughts expressed in our pages and to those who criticized it in a serious and intelligent way, thus widening the concentric circle of reflection on our chosen topics.
I have tried to be faithful to what I promised readers in my first editorial on October 1, 2011: “As much as possible, we would like not simply to comment on reflections that have already been formulated, but also to try to anticipate trends and predict their impact, aiming to keep readers’ attention.” And we have tried, as best we could, not so much to predict the future, but to see today in the light of the possible future with open thinking, with restlessness and with imagination, as Francis asked us to do.
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In the last 10 years we have experienced the pontificate of the Jesuit pope and Civiltà Cattolica has renewed its mission. In particular, I feel I must thank for his robust support Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 2008 to 2016. He prophetically confirmed the value of our journal, giving its development close and effective support.
Civiltà Cattolica has become the international journal of the Society of Jesus. It began to collect contributions – all by Jesuits, as our unbroken tradition dictates – from all over the world. It also created an external editorial staff of “correspondents.” It brought out over time, in addition to the Italian edition, 10 other editions in as many languages: English, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, as well as a supplement in Hungarian. I feel a sense of special gratitude to the editors and managers of these editions for their passion and expertise.
The Chinese edition deserves special note. We have devoted much energy to China’s culture, its role in the world and the life of the Church. This has led to: articles, five books (including one in Chinese on the magisterium of Francis), two public meetings in Beijing at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and The Beijing Center in June 2018, along with a series of initiatives promoted by the China Forum, the fruit of the journal’s collaboration with Georgetown University. The opening of an office of this American university at our headquarters – following my appointment to its board of directors – has generated a stimulating and profound synergy that promises positive outcomes for the future.
This international expansion of the journal took place without losing our Italian roots, which are fundamental and constitutive. The President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, in one of his messages noted that “the fact the journal now appears in other languages is an important signal because it increasingly spreads the idea that it is not only a matter of transmitting ideas but also of reflecting together, with the various civilizations and cultures, on the fate of the world.”
The journal has promoted its content on all the major social networking platforms that have developed this past decade. It has put itself into play without watching from the balcony – balconear, to use Pope Francis’ expression – but by going down to the streets, often interacting with other newspapers or journalistic associations. It has fought against suffocating and petty-minded thought. It has not avoided taking a stand, especially when the risk was to be accused of hypocrisy or “fence-sitting.” During these years it has sought to be a “militant” journal, faithful to the first editorial of 1850.
All fundamental decisions in the life of the journal were made in lively, sometimes heated debates amongst the College of Writers, which is the true editorial heart of the journal. This, after all, is La Civiltà Cattolica: a fortnightly periodical, written by Jesuits and governed by a College that shares thought and daily life, as stated in its pontifical statutes that no one else except the pope himself can modify.
Some consider it an antiquated way of continuing as a journal. Perhaps it is. But if Civiltà Cattolica wanted to become a “normal” journal it would no longer be itself. It is atypical. In a perhaps more polite, but certainly very clear and incisive way, Francis called it “one of a kind.” This is why we can say that it has changed a great deal in recent years, in order to remain faithful to the spirit of its origins. “Utopias, daring projects and castles in the air,” so the Jesuit Carlo Maria Curci, this journal’s founder, wrote in November, 1849, reporting the judgments of some critics of his publishing proposal. We have remained faithful to those “utopias” and “projects.”
Thus, this is a journal where thought is expressed in many forms and languages. And it aspires to be a “friend.” As our predecessors put it in 1850: “Between the writer and the reader runs a communication of thoughts and affections that contains much of friendship, often an almost secret intimacy, especially when loyalty on the one hand and trust on the other come to reaffirm it.” How singular and prophetic is the idea of journalism as friendship between the writer and the reader!
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And it is a Catholic journal. Being in tune with the Holy See is part of its specific identity, of its genetic code. Its relationship with the pope, foundational from the beginning, has been confirmed in recent years, and has also taken on new forms, for example, in the director’s participation in the Holy Father’s apostolic travel as a member of the official delegation. So has his participation as a pontifically appointed member in the Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops. These experiences – among others – have allowed our journal to offer a distinctive perspective for interpreting the pontificate. A fruit of such occasions is also the publication of the pope’s private conversations with Jesuit communities during his travels: a truly first moment of reflections on the pope’s experience as a traveler, but also a report of open and spontaneous dialogue on issues relevant to the Church, as well as of his experience as a Jesuit.
We also recall that the pope has dedicated two audiences, two letters and a message to us. What is striking about these communications is the willingness to deepen the “constitutional design” of the journal, in the constant confirmation of the original concept.
A special thanks goes to those involved at the Secretariat of State who have allowed me, with their expertise and patience, to ensure that La Civiltà Cattolica would be in tune with the Holy See. I am aware that it was a challenging task, and hence my gratitude.
But ours is a “Catholic” journal also because of its willingness (and I hope ability) to be universal. Since the editorial of the first issue in 1850 our journal has interpreted its “catholicity” in this way: “A Catholic Civilization would not be Catholic, that is, universal, if it could not pronounce on all areas of public life”
One should note that what is involved is not global, but universal, of the authentically and genuinely “Roman” kind. Rome has become an antenna for listening and relaunching. An Israeli author was relaunched in Spanish, as has a German in Chinese, a Korean in French. In being universal it has focused, among other things, on the great challenge of the pandemic and the tragedy of the war of invasion of Ukraine that has upset the world order.
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The digital environment is one that facilitates the sharing of ideas. It increases conflict, it is true, but it also helps to share. We have chosen to experiment with this opportunity, both through the creation of a dedicated app and through a radical renewal of our website, which has happened twice. We now make available not only texts, but also podcasts and videos, offering new and additional in-depth content. Today you can watch and listen to Civiltà Cattolica. It is not just for reading.
In recent years, in addition to having completely revamped the graphics, we have created new columns. Longer pieces have been joined by shorter reflections. The interview genre was added. The first was with Pope Francis published six months after his election. But then there was also the ones with Patriarch Bartholomew, President Sergio Mattarella, and Martin Scorsese: I mention only three notable names.
In 2020 the journal recovered its creative section, the parte amena (the ‘light’ section), which was particularly dear to me, and which had been an integral part of its original inspiration, and had been lost over time. In his programmatic article, published in the first issue, our founding editor, Fr. Curci, wrote that part of the “substance” of La Civiltà Cattolica would be “one that could be called the parte amena, inasmuch as it will reiterate in non-scientific and somewhat graceful language the very truths expounded and argued for in the articles.”
In those words we read a task for us, and a challenge as well. The tools of logic and reasoning are not enough: the poetic words and the language of art are not “ornamental,” but have to do with substance, with truth. In this vein, during the pandemic the section “Dwelling in Possibility” was born. It was originally a newsletter and later gained its own space in the journal to chronicle our present situation with short reflections from books, music, film, art and entertainment.
We have also created a series of volumes – the twenty-fifth is in preparation – titled Accènti (Perspectives) which thematically collect articles from the past so that the reflections of the past may come to prove useful in understanding the present.
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I conclude here the summary of my “navigation” during these 12 years of editorship, in which some 2,400 articles were published. In this time the journal celebrated its issue number 4,000 and its 170th year of existence: remarkable and rare milestones for a periodical.
Dear readers, in greeting you with gratitude, I am aware that the work done also involves a responsibility for the future that will require discernment and wisdom. Civiltà Cattolica is an experience – not just a journal, as I said at the beginning – that others began before us and that we hope others will continue to keep ever more alive. The journey continues.
. Letter from Pope Francis for the resumption of publication of the Spanish edition of “La Civiltà Cattolica”, May 20, 2021.
. In recent years I have had the opportunity to edit, with various publishers, the pope’s writings from the time of his involvement as Provincial of the Argentine Jesuits to the texts of the homilies at Santa Marta. The journal has also published in five large volumes, edited by Fr. José Luis Narvaja, SJ, all the writings of Fr. Miguel Ángel Fiorito, SJ, who was Francis’ spiritual father: cf. www.laciviltacattolica.it/categoria-prodotto/escritos-fiorito
. “Audience to Participants in the Conference Sponsored by ‘La Civiltà Cattolica’ with Georgetown University”, May 27, 2023.
. “Nuovo direttore alla ‘Civiltà Cattolica’”, in Civ. Cat. 2011 IV 7: cf. www.laciviltacattolica.it/articolo/nuovo-direttore-alla-civilta-cattolica
. Cf. “Address of the Holy Father Francis to the Community of La Civiltà Cattolica”, Consistory Hall, Thursday, February 9, 2017.
. Just one example: I was in Lampedusa, in early 2014, for a meeting on the urgent issue of migration, when I received a phone call from the General announcing that Fr. Diego Fares, an Argentine Jesuit who was well acquainted with the pope and his thinking, would be sent to the journal in a few months’ time. While waiting for him to be released from his commitments, however, he had decided to send Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone, over 80 and a well-known thinker of the “theology of the people,” who had made himself available. The presence in the College of Writers of Fr. Fares, who died prematurely in July 2022, was crucial to our work.
. The list of editions and publishers is always given on the last page of the journal.
. “Greeting of the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella on the 170th anniversary of La Civiltà Cattolica”, July 9, 2020.
. In the founding bull Gravissimum Supremi, Pius IX wrote to reserve “only to Us and Our Successors the faculty of introducing changes regarding the same College of Writers of the Society of Jesus, and absolutely forbidding it to all others, of whatever dignity, authority and degree.” Therefore, “if anything shall be attempted otherwise by anyone with any authority, knowingly or otherwise, We resolve and declare that this is and shall be invalid and void,” even if they involved “Rules of Our Apostolic Chancery and of the Society of Jesus.”
. Pope Francis’ Chirograph for the cover of issue 4,000, February 11, 2017.
. “Il secondo volume de La Civiltà Cattolica”, in Civ. Catt. 1850 II 5.
. These texts have been collected in the volume «In mare aperto». Papa Francesco e La Civiltà Cattolica, Rome, La Civiltà Cattolica, 2023, which can also be freely downloaded from our website www.laciviltacattolica.it/prodotto/in-mare-aperto-papa-francesco-e-la-civilta-cattolica
. “Il giornalismo moderno ed il nostro programma”, in Civ. Catt. 1850 I 18.
. Ibid., 17.
. The topic of these volumes is a word, which is also the title: Korea, Jerusalem, Abuse, Youth, China, Apocalypse, Migrants, Europe, Russia, Japan, Fraternity, Covid-19, AI, Saints, Universe, Fathers, Afghanistan, Dostoevsky, Humor, Pasolini, Ukraine, Luke, Manzoni, Travels. They can all be found at www.laciviltacattolica.it/categoria-prodotto/accenti