In Memory of Fr. GianPaolo Salvini, SJ (1936-2021)

La Civiltà Cattolica

 La Civiltà Cattolica / Obituary / Published Date:20 April 2021/Last Updated Date:19 May 2021

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Father GianPaolo Salvini passed away on the morning of Sunday, March 21, 2021, at the Infirmary of the Jesuit Roman Houses due to complications of the blood cancer from which he had been suffering for some years . He had been the director of La Civiltà Cattolica for over 26 years longer than any other director in the magazine’s 170 years – and had continued to make a valued contribution until his final months. Our debt to him is great and full of esteem and gratitude. We deeply regret his loss.

He had just turned 85, having been born in Milan on March 3, 1936. As a boy he had met the Jesuits as a student at the Leo XIII College. He always maintained a fond regard for the place where his religious vocation had matured.

He entered the novitiate in Lonigo (Vicenza) in 1954, in the then Venetian-Milanese Province, and went through the various stages of his long formation in the Society of Jesus with serenity. After studying philosophy in Gallarate, he returned to Leo XIII for his Magisterium, to experience accompanying students, teaching and to continuing his own education, which he completed with a degree in economics from the Catholic University with a thesis on demographics.

La Civilta Cattolica

Those were the years of the Council. In 1964 he began his theological studies in Chieri, but, after the closing of the local Jesuit theologate, he continued them at the renowned Jesuit Theological Faculty of Innsbruck, concluding with a degree in theology. In 1967, he received priestly ordination.

After finishing theology, he spent the first years of his priestly ministry in Brazil and traveled around Latin America, studying the condition of the people and the issues they faced. With his confreres he co-founded the magazine Cadernos do CEAS, a voice for the Study and Social Action Center of Salvador of Bahia. In those years, the Venetian-Milanese Jesuits were deeply committed in the Brazilian Northeast; many of the young Jesuits of the Province were sent to build up the Vice-Province of Bahia: a passionate missionary experience in the effervescent years of the post-Council period. In 1970-71 Fr. Salvini completed his religious formation with the Tertianship in Recife. Latin America. Brazil in particular always remained in his mind and heart, as a subject of commitment and a focus of in-depth study under various aspects: social, political and ecclesial. To them he dedicated most of the more than 80 articles he published in Aggiornamenti Sociali.

In fact Fr. Salvini had been a member of the Centro Studi Sociali and of the editorial staff of Aggiornamenti Sociali at the San Fedele residence in Milan since 1969. In addition to Latin America, he wrote about world economy, the major UN summits on population and food, foreign debt, demography and religious sociology. In light of the Church’s social thought and a faith that demanded a commitment to justice, he addressed the salient aspects of the modern economy and some of its aberrant mechanisms.

Fr. GianPaolo was not merely a serious scholar, he was also a Jesuit endowed with that human and spiritual balance and ability to collaborate with others that soon made him an appreciated guide of an editorial team and community. From 1977 to 1981 he was the director of Aggiornamenti Sociali and in 1981 he left this role, but continued to be an active part of it, with his appointment as superior of the Jesuit Residence of San Fedele, at that time the largest in Northern Italy, with 46 members and numerous apostolic works. In the meantime, he continued his commitment to education, which he carried out very willingly at his beloved Leo XIII, teaching history and geography in the high school.

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1984 was a turning point in Fr. Salvini’s life. The Superior General of the Jesuits, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, called him to Rome to succeed Fr. Bartolomeo Sorge as director of La Civiltà Cattolica, thus concluding his life in Milan and opening a new chapter in Rome, close to the heart of the universal Church and in a more direct relationship with the ministry of the pope.

Fr. Salvini was appointed director on July 31, 1985, and remained in this post for more than 26 years, until October 1, 2011. As we have said, no one else has been director for such a long period. The spirit with which he took on his new task is well expressed in the brief “Word of Greeting” that he addressed to his readers: “A magazine like La Civiltà Cattolica is the product of teamwork, shared research, a laborious work of presence and mediation that goes beyond who signs the individual articles. It is an awareness that helps those who move on from the magazine to think that their best contribution will live on, and helps those who take over to feel less unequal to the task” (Civ. Catt. 1985 III 110f).

Fr. Salvini was not unequal to the task, and a sincere, wise and unaffected modesty always characterized him. During his years in Rome, he continued to write on global economic-social, demographic and financial issues, on the economics of well-being and on the problems of development and underdevelopment, migration, international conflict or civil wars that are often forgotten. The indexes of La Civiltà Cattolica contain more than 300 articles, notes, chronicles, and press reviews signed by him in the course of 35 years of work, even after he left the editorship. As he himself pointed out, the long years of his directorship were dedicated, even more than writing personally, to leading the work of the team, to its animation, to inspiring his confreres to write, to keeping the team together, to requesting, approving and reviewing countless articles and drafts. His dedication to the shared ministry also led him to systematically follow topics of the life of the Church, to make up for the gaps left by the death of other father-editors, his companions along the way, such as Marchesi or De Rosa.

If he had not been able to carry out the task of servant of the shared ministry exceptionally well, with the appreciation of his confreres for his advice, observations and orientations, and with the appreciation of those in charge of the Secretariat of State, his interlocutors in the Vatican, he would certainly not have remained at the head of the magazine for such a long time. This was a time that coincided with most of the pontificate of John Paul II and, for the Jesuits, the generalate of Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach.

To the articles written for the editions of “his” magazines we should add those published in Vita e Pensiero, in the Rivista del Clero Italiano and in various missionary magazines, as well as  his involvement in numerous conferences, debates, interviews and so on. The range of topics on which he could speak with competence was in fact very wide and interesting; the opinions expressed were balanced, the result ofcalm and reasoned reflection, but very freely expressed, with a keen awareness of the problems of today’s world; his speeches were clear and pleasant in delivery, often veined with fine humor. It is no coincidence that the theme he chose for his talk on becoming emeritus at the Pontifical Theological Academy in 2017 was “God’s Sense of Humor.”

While he was director of La Civiltà Cattolica, he was for several years superior of the community, always distinguishing himself by his respect for people and his promotion of a climate of serenity and collaboration. In the Society of Jesus he was highly esteemed and known internationally. His human and religious equilibrium, his culture and his spirit of service led to his being considered several times for higher positions of responsibility, which he was never inclined to accept. We must not forget, however, that he had significant duties in the Order, in particular, the role of “Procurator” of the Province of Italy.  In1987 he participated in an important “Congregation of Procurators,” of which he was elected secretary and where he met Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was Procurator of the Province of Argentina. Then, in 1995, he was elected to participate in the 34th General Congregation.

To complete the overview of his involvement in the ecclesial and cultural field, it should also be remembered that Fr. Salvini was for 15 years a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a member of the Pontifical Theological Academy, and a member of the Scientific Committee of the Paul VI Institute in Brescia.

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But all those who have known Fr. GianPaolo are aware that there are other dimensions that always accompanied his activity as an acclaimed writer and director. These are essential in delineating his personality.

First of all, there was his friendships with many people, loyal and caring friendships cultivated over time. The number of his friends increased over the years, from the Milanese environment of his youth, from Leo XIII, the youth activities in Selva in Valgardena, to the relationships born of social and cultural commitment, the world of scouting and volunteer work, as well as  in ecclesial and political environments. All of these friendships endured over the years.

His ability to be regularly available to everyone, to respond to every call or message with special attention to those who were in at a difficult moment was extraordinary. As a priest who lived his vocation with naturalness and simplicity, these friendships were at the same time occasions for spiritual service, involving celebrations of weddings, baptisms, anniversaries and, as time passed, funerals.

Among faithful friendships we should not forget those with many who had shared with him a part of the experience of religious life and then had taken other paths. Fr. Salvini was probably the Italian Jesuit who has maintained the best and most profound relationships with his former confreres. During his final illness, even when it was clear that his failure to respond to messages was a sign of his worsening condition, the friendship and gratitude that accompanied him were continually manifested with great intensity of affection.

Then the mountains. There was the regular weekly pattern of his excursions throughout the year; his taste for long walks and climbing on ice and rock – challenging, but not extreme – marked his entire life. In his systematic nature, he had recorded his over 2,800 trips or excursions, generally seeking out destinations that were as varied and new as possible; so that there remained very few areas of the Alps that he did not reach or peaks and areas of the central Apennines that he did not reach. His companions along the way were innumerable, and among them his confrere Carlo Maria Martini when he was Archbishop of Milan should not be forgotten.

Those who love the mountains know that this passion becomes part of a spirituality, a style and a vision of life. Fr. GianPaolo, accompanied and helped by the friendship of many, continued until the last months to go out to walk and climb. He observed with realism that with time the climbs, even if modest, became more and more difficult for him. When he had to give them up, he felt and understood that he had reached his goal.

He had traveled along road, begun before the Council and completed in the years of Pope Francis, in times of continuing profound changes in the world, in Italy and in the Church, a road traveled with sure steps, with him being a sure point of reference for many confreres, friends, readers, people engaged  in human and spiritual searches.

It is rare to find a person who lived the time of advancing age with such lucidity, bearing with great dignity the evidence of continually increasing weakness and the call to abandonment in the mystery of God. Fr. Salvini was certainly aware of having fulfilled his service and of having responded with generosity and fidelity to his Lord’s vocation with the strengths and gifts he had received. We will always keep a grateful, dear and admiring memory of him, along with all the people who enjoyed his friendship and spiritual ministry.

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The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, sent a message of condolence to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa, which was read during the celebration of the funeral of Fr. Salvini on Tuesday, March 23 at the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, in Rome. We reproduce it in its entirety.


Most Reverend Father,

I was saddened to hear of the death of Father GianPaolo Salvini.

I have met him and encountered him numerous times and read much of his writing. I have constantly admired him for the depth of his reflections, for his great culture, for his ability to make people understand the meaning of life and to bring them closer to the spiritual dimension.

During various meetings, I also appreciated the balance and the polite irony with which he was able to accompany even the most challenging discussions.

My deepest sympathy is also motivated by gratitude for the significant contribution that Father Salvini has made to the cultural life of Italian society, particularly during the many years of his direction of La Civiltà Cattolica.

I would like to express my condolences and my closeness to the Society of Jesus in the memory of Father Salvini.

Sergio Mattarella, President of the Republic of Italy

DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 5, no. 5 art. 2, 0521: 10.32009/22072446.0521.2