Italian Senator Liliana Segre’s testimony

President of the Republic of Italy Sergio Mattarella in Milan, greets Senator Liliana Segre during the inauguration of the 2019-2020 Academic Year at Bocconi University. (photo by Francesco Ammendola; attribution: - via Wikimedia Commons).

(from the Alphonsian Academy blog)

She undoubtedly represents those living monuments, which, as she often says, will soon only be a part of the history books. Still, we hope she will be something more, as an ever-unsettling presence in the living memory of those of us who continue to make this history. History always needs to learn hard from its past mistakes.

She was born in Milan (10.09.1930), of Hebrew origins, with her mother Lucia, who died when she was barely one year old, and with her father Alberto, who declared himself a layman. As a child, because of her origins, she knew what exclusion and persecution were like. Until the day she was “deported” with her father from the “infamous” platform 21 of Milan’s Central Station on 30 January 1944 to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. This ordeal lasted until 1 May 1945, when she was finally liberated and took refuge in the Malchow camp for a time. Back in Italy, she slowly rebuilt her life with her remaining family, planned her own, and dedicated herself to testifying in schools and wherever she could to the meaning of that whole grim history of inhumanity. In 2018 she was appointed senator for life by Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Her civilian and now political stance has only further confirmed the depth of her historical significance.

On Sunday, 23 October last year, in a television programme (“Che tempo che fa”), among other things, she said two sentences that we feel deserve our attention: “I want to hope that there is still anti-fascism” and indicating what our fundamental attitude should be in order to move forward, she said that it is “To be free and not to be afraid”. For Christian theological work, these are two fundamental attitudes. A theology that is not only constantly called to overcome the horrors of the past and its possible complicities with those dark sides, but even more so, it is called to be, at every moment of history, a teacher of life, a generator of new alternatives that help to realise the project of new humanity revealed to us by the God of Jesus of Nazareth, Hebrew.

Fascism, as an extreme ideology of totalitarian and authoritarian character, can never find any justification in the Christian faith[iì]. And while being “anti” is not usually a very constructive attitude, it must be acknowledged that it is sometimes imperative in order to overcome certain dehumanisations. Thus, a moral theology that is not anti-totalitarian, in the sense that it does not clearly denounce the abuses of power and the instrumentalisation of religion for the sake of such attitudes, and that at the same time is not capable of announcing alternatives in which the plural and free participation of society is highly guaranteed, cannot be a moral theology worthy of being such. What is needed is a vigilant theological work, not from the outside and not high-sounding, but committed to the historical reality, safeguarding the essential elements of a healthy and plural human coexistence, making clear its options, which – in the style of Jesus – always know how to give priority to minorities, to the most abandoned from every possible system of life that directly or indirectly generates exclusion and marginality. Not only, as it used to be said, “being the voice of the voiceless”, but – better still – letting their voices be heard and their lives made visible.

Therefore, we need a free and fearless moral theology, with humility and audacity, to work inter- and transdisciplinarily in order to accompany and sustain processes of building ever more humanising societies, where not only a real “citizenship” but also a real “cuidadonía”, that is, to give room for participation in the mutual care of human dignity and its different manifestations, both personal and social, can take place.

Learning from the horrors of the past, where so many times we have wanted to homologate and unify history under a single way of being human, discarding and annihilating those “different”, those “who are not ours”, this cannot happen again, we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of repeating these atrocities; however, they try to re-appropriate the socio-cultural, political, economic and religious scenario.

Liliana Segre allows us to understand how the experience of atrocious pain can turn us, not into avengers, but into propagators of peace, but of active and vigilant peace, sustaining a proactive memory and generating a future of dignity and freedom.

Fr. Antonio Gerardo Fidalgo, CSsR