The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
The President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance: “Religious freedom and the family are necessary values for a peaceful coexistence”.
The city of Verona, famous for William Shakespeare’s drama “Romeo and Juliet”, and self-proclaimed “pro-life” city in 2018, hosted the thirteenth edition of the World Congress of Families that finished with the march of the families.
Under the slogan “The wind of change: Europe and the global pro-family movement”, the sessions took place behind closed doors. From April 29, law enforcement officials guarded the Gran Guardia Palace, and watched over large protests promoted by feminist groups and the LGBT community, who crowded the central streets of Verona on Saturday.
The gathering, which started in 1997, was inaugurated by Brian Brown, President of the International Organization for the Family, a network that annually organizes a global congress which aims to “unite and equip leaders, organizations, and families to affirm, celebrate, and defend the natural family as the only fundamental and sustainable unit of society”.
FEMINIST AND LGBT PROTESTS
The 2019 edition, the most controversial in recent years, was chaired by Antonio Brandi, who in the previous days said, regarding the statements and announcements of protests of the feminist and LGBT groups, that he had never seen “so much hatred towards people who have done nothing wrong”.
During the congress, anti-abortion groups distributed plastic fetuses among the attendees with the motto “abortion stops a heart that beats”.
RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL LEADERS
Among the special guests at the congress were the Bishop of Verona, Giuseppe Zenti, the President of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, the Hungarian Minister of the Family, Katalin Novak, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Dimitri Smirnov and the President of Moldova, Igor Dodon.
Additionally, the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini and the League party ministers of Family and Disability and of Instruction, University and Investigation, Lorenzo Fontana and Marco Bussetti. Members of Forza Italia and Fratelli d'Italia parties also attended the event.
Among the speakers who presented papers were Ignacio Arsuaga, President of Hazteoir and CitizenGO, Doctor Massimo Gandolfini, one of the leading voices of the anti-abortion movements, and Giacomo Ciccone, President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance.
TENSION IN THE GOVERNMENT
The Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, distanced himself from the congress, stating that the actions of his government are based on respect for people and their individual and social dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation and the decisions taken in private life, which is protected against any undue interference.
The Italian government withdrew its official support of the congress, because of the protests of feminist and LGBT groups. However, several ministers, as well as right and far-right leaders, supported the meeting and were present.
The participation of Matteo Salvini generated controversy and friction with the government's ally, the anti-system party 5 Starts Movement (M5E).
“The congress defends a vision of the world like the one of the Middle Ages, which considers the woman as a submissive”, the leader of the M5E and Deputy Prime Minister, Luigi Di Maio, said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Friday.
CICCONE: “MARRIAGE IS THE UNION OF A MAN AND A WOMAN”
The President of the Italian Evangelical Alliance (AEI) began his speech by thanking Brian Brown, Antonio Brandi and all the organizers, emphasizing that as representative of the AEI he was going to explain its position regarding the family and its role in contemporary society.
Giacomo Ciccone said that the constituent document of the AEI defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman who publicly choose to develop together a shared project, in solidarity and fidelity, and open to the procreation and education of children, including those who are adopted”.
He pointed out that reality cannot be idealized and that “we must be aware of the distortions which take place in families”, recognizing that the marriage can be exposed to strong tensions, conflicts, abuses and injustices that should be opportunely addressed by the legislators.
He also stressed that the AEI does not deny the possibility of other civil unions that are legitimate and can and should be regulated, but it would be “an error to confuse them with the family as it has been universally considered in human history, or give them tasks that are own and exclusive of the family”.
“PLURALISM, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND THE FAMILY ARE NECESSARY VALUES”
Ciccone explained that this concept of family is shared by the vast majority of Italian evangelicals, more than half a million. Only churches in mainline Protestantism of liberal theology - around 15,000 believers, 4% of evangelicalism in Italy - are against it.
“I want to give you these news, so that you understand how important it is that everyone can express their opinion, by virtue of the principle of pluralism that it is always necessary to affirm in this country”.
“Let everyone know that the vast majority of Italian evangelicals deeply believe what the Lord Jesus Christ said about marriage and the family, and those who want to get out of that perspective are a small part of Protestantism”, Ciccone added.
He then mentioned the participation of evangelicals at crucial moments in the history of the country, contributing significantly to the unity of Italy during the Resurgence, suffering persecution during Fascism and showing love for the country.
“We are present today, in the 21st century, to confirm those values that are always necessary for peaceful coexistence in contemporary society: pluralism, religious freedom and the family”, the AEI President pointed out.
“FAMILIES ARE SITES UNDER CONSTRUCTION, WE HAVE TO WORK HARD”
In the final part of his message, Ciccone acknowledged that the participants might not agree on many things. However, they wanted to promote the fundamental value of the family for the good of society.
“Let me conclude with two brief suggestions from the evangelicals for the good of the family”, he said.
The first advice was that if Christians truly want to promote the family, it is necessary to start doing it on a personal level, with commitment and responsibility in our own family.
“Families, dear friends, are sites under construction: we have to work hard and we cannot excuse ourselves from this responsibility”, he said.
Secondly, he pointed out that in order to promote the family, hysteria and exasperation must be avoided, as well as any extremist attitude that can be found in those people who are not used to live in a pluralistic social context.
“If we live up to our responsibility, we can surely make a positive contribution to the growth of Italy and Europe, working for the common good of our society as a welcoming and plural place, where families rediscover their irreplaceable social capital”, he concluded.