Bartolomeo Sorge, born 1929 on the Isle of Elba in Italy, is an Italian Jesuit, catholic scholar and refomer, active since the era of St. John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. In his youth, he joined the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1946 and was ordained as priest in 1958. He studied at various universities and became the editor, and later director of the magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, a magazine for the Society of Jesus, where he stayed for more than ten years. Later, Sorge founded the Institute of Political Formation in Palermo. After that, he was the editor of the magazine Aggiornamenti Sociali. Today, Sorge lives in a Jesuit community in Gallarate, Italy, and is still an active political and social commentator with more than 8000 followers on Twitter.
In their wide-ranging conversation in April 2019, Bartolomeo Sorge told Joerg Nies, a young Jesuit currently based in Stockholm, about rising rising up against bad government and the mafia in Sicily, the power of religion and belief in society today, and need to renew the humanistic foundation of the “European house” in order to save it.
Bartolomeo Sorge was interviewed by Joerg Nies.
On the future of Europe
“What’s happening today is that they can’t direct the movement of history. The mass ideologies – liberalism, communism, Catholic populism – are over, we can’t guide history anymore but there’s a basic reason that will emerge. I think that Europe, with its cultural heritage of two thousand years of life, can be a crucial force for global unity, which, in spite of everything, is still progressing. You can direct, but you can’t stop. Globalisation will go on, even if people oppose it. The best thing is to try to direct the common values of a global humanism and the formation of new elites by addressing ethical challenges. This is a prospect that makes me optimistic.”
On communism versus capitalism
“I remember that when the Berlin Wall fell, Pope John Paul [II] wrote an encyclical, and one of the chapters had a very, very short title: 1989. He said: “Lots of people have said that communism has fallen, and therefore capitalism has won, but you can’t say that!”. He said this in light of his faith; faith let him understand that the fall of communism was not a victory for capitalism. If he’d lived a few years more, he would have seen that in 2008 capitalism died, too.”
“[After 1989] I visited a few Orthodox churches and I noticed lots of young people, lots of twenty-year-olds, kneeling in front of religious icons for a long time, and I said to myself: «But they were taught scientific atheism here in Russia!” Leaders tried to remove humanity’s religious dimension scientifically, and after seventy years of communism I saw young people in their twenties kneeling in front of an icon for half an hour. Religion can’t be torn from humanity’s heart. That would mean tearing the human heart.”
On working together to create change
“A student said to me: «It’s the ones in Rome that have the power! What can I do as a mere citizen?» It was one of those difficult moments where everything was up in the air, and poetry came to my aid; I said to him: «Young man, do you know of anything in nature more fragile than a snowflake? Snowflakes are light; if the wind blows, they go all over the place. If you hold them between two fingers they become droplets of water». «Father, I’m a snowflake; how can I change the rocky mountainsides, the mafia; it’s useless!»; «Wait! Put, young man, this snowflake together with a thousand snowflakes, and make a good, compact snowball. Roll it along the sides of the mountain until it becomes an avalanche; tell me, dear boy, if you can think of a force in nature that can withstand an avalanche. Avalanches change even the rocky mountainsides!” And then we cried out: «Let’s make an avalanche!» We’re all snowflakes – let’s get stuck in, all the honest people that want to change this situation, this world. We’ll make an avalanche, and even the mafia won’t be able to stop us.»
I still use this parable of the snowflake (laughs); I stumbled across it, and have used it in lots of different situations since. It’s beautiful: when I can’t do something alone – when not even the Church can do something alone – we can help to make an avalanche. Let’s all help each other, black and white, rich and poor, to change the world with the power of our hearts, ethics, education, professionalism – and the better world that we hope for will come. It’s not a dream; it’s the fruit of our common effort, which we all have to commit ourselves to.”