“Mr. Coppo, what are you doing here?” the Carabinieri asked me in that harsh evening: they were on patrol near the “Domus Pacis” of Assisi, at Santa Maria degli Angeli, where the meeting of the Italian Episcopal Conference was coming to an end. I hd been there since the day before, wearing a “sack” and barefooted. In penance, I was searching for some prelate that would - and could - do something for the Community of which I’m a member, the “Bethlehem Families”, publicly censured as “heretical” by the bishop of Assisi in 1994.


I had already been thrown out bodily by a zealous franciscan “father”, when  I ventured  into the hall of that  huge centre: the penitencial sackcloth I was wearing, indeed was not a novelty in the land of Saint Francis, who chose as religious habit the rough and patched cloth of the poor; but undoubtedly was in contrast with the place…


"Here you can not stay !” that friar had warned me. And so I had remained outside, feeling somehow like those little dogs standig in wait of their owners outside hotels or restaurant where they cannot enter, because an unequivoical sign at the entrance  admonishes: "no entry to dogs".


I also, though, was waiting fot someone: in that very morning I had succeded in meeting Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, on his way for the Congress. After having held the bishop chair of Perugia and then of Florence, he had just recently been raised to the dignity of cardinal.

That morning, the Cardinal with his uncommon affability had not only stopped to pay attention to a  ragged bother; but - being in that moment busy - had also ensured me that I could meet him afterward at the end of the Congress, right there at the "Domus Pacis" gates.

“Mr. Coppo, what are you doing here?” the two Carabinieri had asked me from inside their car: with an expression of pity due not oly to the bitter cold - it was a raw,drizzly weather - but also, I believe , for my staying obstinately there as a lunatic. “I’m waiting to meet a Cardinal”, I answered, realizing immediately how unusual - and exceptional - was all the situation. After the gathering of the highest ecclesial assembly in Italy, a Cardinal  had arranged to meet an heretic, barefooted and dressed with a sackcloth…


And yet, that very special meeting took really place, in the space of half an hour or so. The car that was taking away Cardinal Antonelli and others - I noticed  Monsignor Chiaretti, Archibishop of Perugia - stopped a few meters after me. I was astonished to see the Cardinal getting out of it and coming toward me, showing he himself to be surprised that I was still there to wait for him, in that dim place, notwithstandig the late hour. So, the  two  Carabinieri filled  with wonder saw me kissing the Cardinal’s hand, and then talking quite at lenght with him… I don’t want here to refer the content of that conversation.That very meeting in itself was a real prodigy, of great significance, not just for me and my community, I believe. Maybe I’d been wrong in saying hat I was going to meet a Cardinal: perhaps the one I  had been waiting to meet was a…Pontiff ! This synonym with which the Pope is also called, literally means “one who makes bridges” (from the latin :” pontes facere”). And really in that occasion Cardinal Antonelli did his best, with loving care, to "lay a bridge" between emarginated people - as our community is in Assisi - and  God. Yes, in that very special occasion I’m sure to have met a real “Pontiff”. The new Pontiff, maybe.


Massimo Coppo

Aprile 2005

in 2006 the painful heretical story to which the article refers, ended up successfully: the Bishop revoked the "note of heresy", redeeming in the Catholic Church the Community and its founder, Marcello Ciai.


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