THE 17th FEBRURY

 

THE FIRE OF FREEDOM

by Giuseppe Platone

 

Following a tradition which goes back to the year 1848, on the evening of the 16th February, merry bonfires are lit all over the Waldensian Valleys – though not only in the Valleys! Years ago, I remember being present at a Waldensian bonfire celebration in Sicily, and I remember another on a beach in Liguria. There is a historical background,then, behind these fires of freedom which may sometimes deteriorate into a mere folkloristic occasion, but at the heart of which is expressed the essence of Christian freedom. A freedom which has been hard-won but, at the same time, received as a gift. Next to life itself, this freedom is among the most precious blessings we have on this earth, together with freedom of conscience, freedom to choose…..to be free we are ready to stake all we have.

As citizens of this State and as Protestant believers, we too seek after freedom. The 17th February celebrations, which we call “the feast of freedom”, has a civil and political importance for us; it concerns the historical emancipation of a religious minority. It concerns a civil conquest which will only be fully consolidated on the day that all minorities and faiths are considered to be equal by their state authorities. Many times we have discussed the fact that a law which regulates the question of religious freedom in a fair and impartial way, is lacking in Italy. (our country?) We still live in an inequitable atmosphere even though some kind of result was achieved with the signing of the official agreement (Intesa) between the State and the Italian Methodist and Waldensian churches. There are still many other subjects, however, waiting to see a similar agreement endorsed. In other words, if we speak about freedom, we must specify the freedom to which we refer, because the word is too often hackneyed and bent to achieve different ends. It is like “plasticine”, adaptable to any situation. Let’s take as an example the freedom of information, we can run the risk(or we are already running the risk), of reducing this to a parody of pluralism. The real voices of contradictory information, the modest headlines, the courageous experiences which have poor financial means, are in fact suffocated by the clamour of the giant media and scandal sheets. The risk of an apparant freedom, dictated only by market values which standardize conduct, is real. We look towards that freedom which is bound to the Gospel “truth which will make you free”, to a discipleship which follows Christ (not which goes before him or takes his place) . In this time of anxiety in our churches, let us not forget that freedom is like a fire. It gives light, it warms, but it can also destroy. The seeking after freedom can be used as a weapon which forces everyone into the same pattern. If freedom is not transformed into commitment for others’ freedom (and therefore towards ourselves), even in the church we risk to “bite and devour one another”(Galations 5.16) in an endless game of slaughter. Let us allow the gift of freedom we have received to flower in its various shades and so give colour to our life.

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