Italy’s Lombardian cross

In Milan, and even more so in the rest of the region of over 10 million inhabitants–by far the most populated, the wealthiest and the most productive in the peninsula–Catholic movements have always represented a political and cultural force. On the one hand there are the progressives, in the wider sense of the term, who still follow the social message of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a prestigious Jesuit, who was the Bishop of the city from 1980 to 2002.

On the other hand, there are those, such as the Communion and Liberation Movement (CL), who in the spirit of Jean Paul II, brandish Catholic values first and foremost. The current Bishop, Cardinal Angelo Scola, a front-runner to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, is close to this current whose political weight is a determining factor in the region due to its vast social and economic networks. If the progressives have clearly opted for the left and the Democratic Party, the others–beginning with CL, which backed Silvio Berlusconi for years–are now confused. The bewilderment of a good part of Lombardy’s Catholics was amplified when Roberto Formigoni, the all-powerful president of the region for 17 years and a CL member, was forced to resign due to accusations of corruption.

The Catholic hierarchy long supported “Il Cavaliere” but, since early autumn of 2011, even before he was forced to resign under the pressure of the street, the Church began to attack, calling for an ethical renewal. “It was not about telling people how to vote, but about the reaffirmation of principles and reflecting on how to reinforce the presence of civil society in order to revive politics,” explains Massimo Ferlini, a Milanese leader and the vice-president of a national network of 40,000 small- and medium-sized firms, half of them in Lombardy. Accounting for a total annual turnover of about €70bn, the firms operate in the health sector, the food service industry, waste management, biotechnology and other hi-tech sectors. However, they also sponsor food or medicine banks to help the disadvantaged. The opponents of CL see this as its economic arm and the core of a power structure that rests on regional administration.

For Massimo Ferlini, a former leader of the Communist Youth now returned to the faith of his childhood, it is important to “keep an eye on Europe” and to not render useless the sacrifices imposed for the past year by Mario Monti and his caretaker government. Many have made the same choice, including leading elected officials such as MEP Mario Mauro, who resigned from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party (PDL). Others, nonetheless, remain faithful to “Il Cavaliere” for lack of what they consider a credible alternative.

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