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May 9 An Assassination tests the Pope's Faith

Aldo Moro's bullet ridden body was found in the trunk of a Renault in the centre of Rome on the 9th of May in 1978. Italy's longest serving prime minister after the Second World War, he had been kidnapped by 'The Red Brigade' extreme left terrorist group just as he was putting into place the Historic Compromise integrating the communist party into mainstream politics. A close friend of Pope Paul VI his kidnapping lead to an excruciating 55 days for his family and friends, including the Pope who offered himself in his place.


Moro’s cause for beatification was opened by the Diocese of Rome for investigation in September 2012. His great legacy was the compromesso storico, or historic compromise with the Communism, which began a process of reconciliation between the Italian communist party and the country’s mainstream parties and political institutions. This achievement in itself, means that he his now seen as one of the most important fathers of the modern Italian centre-left. Considered to be an intellectual and a patient mediator, especially in the internal life of his own party, he was a lifelong friend of Giovanni Battista Montini, who would be elected as Pope Paul VI in 1963. he had befriended Montini thirty years earlier in Bari, when he had become president of the Italian Catholic Federation of University Students. During his university years, Italy was ruled by the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, and along with other Catholic students, he founded the periodical La Rassegna, which was published until 1945. He was a leader in Catholic Action and other Catholic youth groups and this developed into the mainstream political life of his country. All through his career he was a daily Mass-goer at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Montemario. He would serve two terms as Prime Minister of Italy. During Moro's premiership, a wide range of social reforms were carried out in housing, education, minimum wage, pensions. After a stint the minister for foreign affairs his second term was dominated with trying to tackle inflation, and put in place the building blocks of the 'Compromesso storico'.

His achievements created many enemies, and after his second term as prime minister he was exonerated in court from false corruption allegations in the Lockheed Scandal. However on 16 March 1978, on the Via Fani, in Rome, a unit of the militant far-left organisation known as Red Brigades blocked the two-car convoy which was carrying Moro and kidnapped him, murdering his five bodyguards. He was on his way to a session in parliament, where a new government, for the first time, with the support of the Communist Party was being debated. It was to be the first implementation of Moro's strategic political vision. The nationwide response was immediate, in the following days, trade unions called for a general strike, while security forces made hundreds of raids in Rome, Milan, Turin, and other cities searching for Moro's location. After a few days, even Pope Paul VI, a close friend of Moro's, intervened, offering himself in exchange for Aldo Moro. The Red Brigades proposed exchanging Moro's life for the freedom of several prisoners. The government immediately took a hard line position: "the State must not bend to terrorist demands". Italy security officials had to track down his wife, Elornora Chiavarelli, at the parish in Montemario, where she had been teaching a class for mothers of children preparing for their first communion.

There was a large-scale manhunt, which was unsuccessful, and during the agonizing 55 days of his capture by the Red Brigades, the aging pontiff tried to move heaven and earth to secure his friend’s release. In a rare intervention by a pontiff, a note in his own handwriting was published by the Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. “I am writing to you, men of the Red Brigades … you, unknown and implacable adversaries of this deserving and innocent man, I pray to you on my knees, liberate Aldo Moro simply and without any conditions.” Vatican officials had asked prison chaplains to contact the leadership of the Red Brigades, offering to collect money to pay a ransom. Other reports suggest that Paul VI even considered offering to take Moro’s place as a hostage.

The Pope was scheduled to meet with a group of young Italian children who had just received their first Communion. Unable to hold back tears, Paul VI openly wept. “He was a good and wise man … a person of great value, an exemplary father and, what counts even more, a man of high religious, social and human feelings,” the pope said. “This crime has shocked every honest person in the world, the whole of society.” In an astonishing moment three days later, the Pope gave us an insight into the depths of his despair and how his faith was being tested when addressed himself to God in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, saying: “You did not grant our plea for the safety of Aldo Moro, of this good and gentle man, wise and innocent … who was my friend.” The Pope would die just three months later with many people close to him believing that his never-resolved grief had hastened this.

In 2012, a foundation in Milan dedicated to Moro’s memory announced a request to open a beatification cause. Even this would not prove straightforward, with a couple of postulators, the officials in charge of preparing all the materials for the cause and seeing it through, quitting declaring the job impossible without more help. Momentum towards beatifying Moro was stalling so his daughter, Maria Fida Moro, wrote to the Vatican to complain and had an audience with Pope Francis, creating expectations that maybe things would get moving. They do seem to be, as the Italian Senate decided to recognize Maria Fida Moro and other members of the family as victims of terrorism, which, under Italian law, entitles them to a tax break on pension income and also slightly higher payments from the state pension fund.


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