Don Camillo and Giovanni Guareschi
Catholic Mind and Modern World
Giovanni Guareschi (1908-1968) wrote the stories of Don Camillo at a time when his fellow Italians were at a low point. WWII had already weakened their Faith and so they were an easy prey of Communism and Atheism. Little did they suspect that they were being set up for the Aggiornamento of the Conciliar Church.
However, evil plots can never fully succeed as long as there remains at least one Don Camillo who relentlessly pursues his adversary, the Communist Mayor Peppone – not to destroy him – but to bring him to the love and knowledge of God. And if Giovanni Guareschi in the end did get caught up in the Aggiornamento, read the story, and say a prayer for him. And then ask him in turn to pray for us.
The following story is a demonstration of how our mind is worked on by the modern world. Observe how the attacks and the temptations are followed by the progressive deterioration of the mind.
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“The Thirteenth-Century Angel” is borrowed in part from Don Camillo and the Prodigal Son, pp 142 – 146. The italicized parts are the author’s; the others are mine.
A bequest was made to Don Camillo, the parish priest, to have the angel on the church tower gilded. It was soon discovered that the angel was the Archangel Gabriel made in beaten copper and that he dated from the thirteenth century.
That afternoon a photographer came to take pictures of the statue from every possible angle. And the next morning a city newspaper carried an article, with three illustrations, which said it was a crime to leave such a treasure exposed to the four winds, when it was part of the nation’s cultural heritage and should be kept under shelter. Don Camillo’s ears turned crimson as he read. …
Then some more important people arrived upon the scene, including representatives of the bishop, and as soon as they came down from [the scaffolding] looking at the angel they all told Don Camillo that it was a shame to leave it up there, exposed to the weather.
“I’ll buy him a raincoat,” Don Camillo said in exasperation, and when they protested that this was an illogical thing to say he retorted with considerable logic: “In public squares all over the world statues have stood for centuries amid the raging elements and no one has dreamed of putting them under shelter. Why should we have to tuck our angel away! Just go and tell the people of Milan that the Madonnina on that cathedral of theirs is falling to pieces and they ought to take it down and put it under cover. Don’t you know that they’d give you a good, swift kick if you suggested anything of the kind?”
“The Madonnina of Milan is a very different matter,” said one of the important visitors.
“But the kicks they give in Milan are very much like those we give here!” Don Camillo answered, and because the villagers crowding around him on the church square punctuated his last remark with a “That’s right!” no one pursued the subject further.
Some time later the city newspaper returned to the attack. To leave a beautiful thirteenth-century angel on the church tower of a valley village was a crime. Not because anyone wanted to take the angel away, but because the village could make good money from tourists if only it were in a more accessible place. No art-lover was going to travel so far, simply in order to stand in the square and gape up at a statue on top of a tower. They ought to bring the angel down into the church, have a cast made, and then an exact copy which they could gild and put in its place.
After people in the village had read that newspaper article, they began to mumble that there was something to it, and the local Communists, under the leadership of Mayor Peppone, couldn’t very well miss the opportunity to comment on “a certain reactionary who should have been born in the Middle Ages.” As long as the angel stayed up on the tower, no one could appreciate its beauty. Down in the church it would be in plain sight, and there would be no loss to the tower if another angel were to replace it. Don Camillo’s most prosperous parishioners talked it over with him, and eventually he admitted that he might have been in the wrong. …
And so the angel was taken down. And because the bequest was large enough, both the original angel and the replica angel were to be gilded. That way both angels would look identical.
The new angel was hoisted to the top of the tower, and the experts proceeded to gild the old one. It was placed in a niche near the door, and everyone gaped at it in its shiny new dress.
The night before the unveiling of both statues, Don Camillo could not sleep. Finally he got up and went over to the church to look at the original angel. …
Don Camillo stared at the great wings of the Archangel Gabriel and ran his big hand over his perspiring face. How could a heavy copper angel like this one have flown up to the top of a tower? Now he stood in a niche, behind a glass door that could be opened and shut for protection. Impulsively Don Camillo took a key out of his pocket and opened the door. How could an angel that had lived on top of a tower stay shut up in a box? Surely he must be suffocating for want of air. And Don Camillo remembered the text of old Bassini’s will: “I bequeath everything I have to the parish priest, Don Camillo, to be spent for gilding the angel on the church tower so that I can see it shining all the way from Heaven and recognise the place where I was born.”
“And now he doesn’t see his angel at all,” Don Camillo reflected. “He sees a false angel in its place. That isn’t what he wanted.”
Don Camillo was very troubled, and when that happened he went to kneel at the feet of Christ on the big cross over the altar.
“Lord,” he said, “why did I cheat old Bassini? What made me give in to those rascals from the city?”
The Lord did not answer, and so Don Camillo went back to the angel.
“For three hundred years you’ve watched over this valley and its people. Or perhaps for seven hundred years. Who knows? For this church may have been built on the ruins of one much older. You have saved us from famine and plague and war. Who can say how many gales and bolts of lightning you have turned away? For three, or perhaps seven hundred years, you have given the village’s last farewell to the souls of the dead as they rose up into Heaven. Your wings have vibrated to the sound of the bells, whether they called men to rejoice or to mourn. Yes, centuries of joy and sorrow are in your wings. And now you are shut up in a gilded cage, where you will never see the sky or the sun again. Your place has been usurped by a false city angel, whose only memories are the swear words of unionized foundry-workers.You took shape from an unknown thirteenth-century craftsman with faith to inspire his hammer, while the usurper was turned out by some monstrously unholy machine. How can a pitiless, mechanical creature like that protect us? What does he care for our land and its people?
It was eleven o’clock at night and the village lay wrapped in silence and fog from the river when Don Camillo went out of the church and into the darkness.
Peppone was not in a good humour when he answered the knock at his door.
“I need you,” said Don Camillo. “Put on your coat and follow me.”
When they were inside the church the priest pointed to the captive angel.
“He protected your father and mother and their fathers and mothers before them. And he must watch over your son. That means going back to where he was before.”
“Are you mad?” asked Peppone.
“Yes,” said Don Camillo. “But I can’t do it alone. I need the help of a madman like you.”
The scaffolding was still up all around the tower. Don Camillo tucked his cassock into his trousers and began to climb, while Peppone followed him with a rope and pulley. Their madness lent them the strength of a dozen men. They lassoed the angel, detached it from its pedestal and lowered it to the ground. Then they carried it into the church, took the original angel out of the niche and put the false one in its place.
Five men had worked at hoisting the false angel up to the top of the tower, but now the two of them managed to do it alone.They were soaked with fog and perspiration and their hands were bleeding from the rope.
It was five o’clock in the morning. … At this point they began to be afraid. Day was breaking, and they went to peer out of the window. There was the angel, high above them, on top of the tower.
“It’s impossible,” said Peppone.
Suddenly he grew angry and turned upon Don Camillo.
“Why did you rope me into it?” he asked him. “What damned business is it of mine?”
“It isn’t damned business at all,” Don Camillo answered. “There are too many false angels loose in the world working against us already. We need true angels to protect us.”
“Silly religious propaganda!” he said, and went away without saying goodbye.
In front of his own door, something made him turn around and look up into the sky. There was the angel, shining in the first light of dawn.
“Hello there, Comrade!” Peppone mumbled serenely, taking off his cap to salute him.
Meanwhile Don Camillo knelt before the crucifix at the altar and said:
“Lord, I don’t know how we did it!”
The Lord did not answer, but he smiled, because He knew very well how.
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Taken from: Don Camillo Omnibus, Don Camillo and the Prodigal Son, Giovanni Guareschi, Readers Book Club, London, 1956, pp 543.
Sister Constance TOSF