Rorate Caeli

When Don Camillo prevented the removal of an Altar

Giovannino Guareschi spent the last two decades of his life dedicated to his bestselling novels on life in the Little World of Don Camillo. Yet Guareschi continued his intense work as a journalist and as a polemicist (including harsh criticism of clerics who wished to subvert the Church in the Conciliar and post-Conciliar years).

This was the case in several of his last books in the series, such as "Don Camillo e i giovani d'oggi", published soon after Guareschi's death.

...two days later, the Bishop's secretary plunged into Don Camillo's office. The young priest, like all the progressive priests of the Aggiornamento, despised and detested all parish priests...

"Reverend Father!" he ranted. "Is it possible that you lie in wait for opportunities to show your obtuseness as regards political and social matters involving the Church? What is the meaning of this latest sideshow of yours? Quite rightly Mayor Botazzi intends to encourage tourism and adapt the town to the needs of the motorized times --- and to do this he wants to create an ample parking lot here in the square. How can you have the arrogance to oppose this project?"

"No arrogance at all: I'm simply preventing the destruction of Church property."

"What Church property! You can't clutter half a town square with useless columns. Don't you understand what an advantage it will be to you? Aren't you aware that many people don't come to Mass because they can't find a place to park their cars?"

"Certainly I know that," Don Camillo answered calmly. "However, I don't believe the mission of a pastor of souls should be to organize parking lots and rock Masses to provide the public with a religion complete with all the modern conveniences. The Christian religion is not, and should not be, either comfortable or amusing."

His point of view was a bit hackneyed and it caused the Bishop's priest to explode. "My dear Father, you appear not to have grasped that the Church must attempt to bring itself up to date, and it should be helping progress, not blocking it!"
There was no point in arguing with such an old fossil, so the secretary wound up the discussion. "Don Camillo, are you saying that you refuse to obey?"

"No, if his excellency the Bishop orders us to transform the colonnade into a parking lot, we will do so, even though the Council has reasserted that the Church of Christ is the Church of the poor people and consequently should not have to worry about the cars of the faithful."
"Comrade Mayor," the priest explained humbly, "we have noted that for quite a few years now your Party has involved itself with enormous love and devotion in the major and minor problems of the Church. We would simply like to request that you and several of your comrades be present at the farewell ceremony for our precious crucifix, which after three hundred and fifty years of honorable service to our town is being moved to the city to a fine new home in the Bishop's palace."

Peppone leapt out of his chair. "You're out of your mind, Father! That crucifix is a work of art, and it belongs to this town! And it stays in this town!"

Don Camillo spread out his arms. "I know, Mr. Mayor. The problem is, however, that I have to answer to my Bishop, and not to your Party. Therefore I will have to hand the crucifix and altar over to the Bishop's secretary. I'm well aware that the Christ is a major part of the artistic and spiritual heritage of the town and that it's place should always be the one it's occupied for the last three hundred and fifty years --- on top of that altar in front of which you and so many others took Holy Communion and were united in Holy Matrimony, in front of which your mother prayed while you were fighting in the war --- your poor old parish priest understands all this, but all h can do is obey orders. And he will obey them unless of course he is threatened with violence. Because threatened with violence, what can a poor old parish priest do? Comrade Mayor, I beg of you, explain my plight to your superiors, and remember my position yourself, and realize that nobody could be more distressed at what I must do than I am."

"Father," Peppone shouted, "if you think I'm going to sit still for this, you're out of your mind!"

Peppone was serious and the next morning the town walls were papered with mammoth posters denouncing the planned abduction and ending in two lines of big, bold lettering:


Towards midday Don Camillo, who wasn't the slightest bit disturbed by the position Peppone had taken, calmly pedaled off to the private chapel in the old manor house lost in the countryside --- and there a rude surprise awaited him. The toughest of Peppone's thugs were camping out in his garden full of weeds, passing the time pulling them up.

"You realize this is private property and I could have you prosecuted for trespassing?" Don Camillo said... .

"Oh yes, father."

"May I go inside to wrap up the Christ and the pieces of the altar?" Don Camillo asked.

"You can go inside, but you're not wrapping up anything. You're a priest, not a freight despatcher."

"Well, I certainly don't want to break union rules," said Don Camillo, bicycling off towards town.
A committee comprised of representatives from all the political parties and associations traveled to the city and made the Bishop give them an audience, during which Peppone voiced the respectful but adamant protest of the town's citizens. The Bishop heard all he had to say and then held out his hands smiling.

"But this is all a misunderstanding," he said. "There is nothing to prevent the altar returning to the place it has always been. The Mass can be celebrated in the new way in front of it, and the townspeople will have the additional inspiration of its exceptional artistic and spiritual merits. That is, provided that the parish priest has no valid reasons to oppose the restitution of the altar. The decision rests entirely with him."

When the committee went to tell Don Camillo what the Bishop had decreed, Don Camillo answered humbly: "We are fully prepared to carry out the wishes of our Bishop."
(Transl. L. K. Conrad)