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A Catholic professor in Italy is facing strong backlash for doing the unthinkable in modern society: briefly interrupting a lesson to ask her Catholic students to join her in praying a "Hail Mary."
Professor of Linguistics Clara Ferranti at the University of Macerata took the occasion of the national Rosary rally organized by the Italian Marian Association on October 13 (the 100th anniversary of the Miracle of Fatima) to encourage students to pray. The whole deed lasted less than 30 seconds, but the controversy that arose may have consequences for many months to come.
Member of Parliament Giovanni Paglia from the leftist party Sinistra Italiana ("Italian Left") submitted a complaint to the Ministry of Education. "We couldn't believe that in a public institution ... people were forced to pray by the imposition of a professor," the complaint read. "I questioned the government if it isn't the case to bring an action against the professor, as this is an evident assault on state secularism."
But Ferranti told Church Militant she has also received much support in light of the backlash.
"[H]ow the hundreds of messages of solidarity claim a newfound courage to witness the Faith," she commented. "I heard this especially (but not only) from young students, who are usually more afraid to disclose their creed because of the ridicule they suffer. ... Many of my students have thanked me, assuring me they are many."
The first group to publicly condemn Ferranti's prayer was the anti-fascist student group Officina Universitaria ("University Workshop") by publishing the following statement on its Facebook page:
A language professor forced the students to recite a Hail Mary. Some of them did, some of them remained in silence and some of them walked away, whilst facing the gaze and the words of disapproval from the professor. ... Therefore we invite Prof. Clara Ferranti to apologize publicly for her behavior.
Officina Universitaria refuses to back down from its accusations, even though its version has been repeatedly denied by students present during the prayer, and by Ferranti herself:
All I did was interrupt the lesson and ask the students ... to say a prayer for peace. ... I invited them to stand up, even the non-believers, as a sign of respect. Some ... joined me ... while others remained silent. Nobody left the classroom. I don't believe I've offended anyone ... by praying for peace.
As observed by many Catholic outlets, this certainly wouldn't have been an issue had it been an ecumenical prayer for peace, the chanting of a Buddhist mantra or even a passionate performance of the Beetle's "Imagine" — the only acceptable, fashionable reaction to terrorism these days. But because it was a Catholic prayer, quick as it was, the disproportionate rage revealed that "the Prince of this World reacts wildly to the vitality ... of the soul that searches for God," commented Ferranti.
Even though none of the students in the classroom filed a complaint; even though the version of Officina Universitaria was false and deceitful; even though the students and the professor have publicly described what actually happened — the rector of the University of Macerata, Francesco Adornato, still rushed to issue an apology.
"If the facts ... correspond to what has been described by the students' complaints, it's absolutely inappropriate and reprehensible behavior ," he declared. "The University is not a place for divisive gestures. ... I apologize to everyone who has been hurt in their sensitivities and in their trust of the university."
Church Militant reached to the rector's office and asked if he wished to clarify his reasons for not contacting Ferranti before releasing his statement, and the reply was: "We can confirm that the university's position has already been clarified in the rector's declaration."
[T]hose who believe even more than we do that those few words move mountains and hearts ... Thank you to all who've protested because you remembered for us that our prayers have power ... that might frighten some people. Thank you non-believers and anticlerical brothers for reminding us of the treasures we own and don't fully appreciate.
When speaking to Church Militant, Ferranti confirmed she doesn't know what the intentions of the rector were and that her sole goal is to continue with her projects of research (one of which is dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the Holocaust).
"I've noticed a lot of enthusiasm flowing from [students'] hearts," Ferranti told Church Militant on public reaction to her prayer, "an enthusiasm ... that comes from being able to show oneself free from the invisible chain that inhibits the deepest and truest aspects of every man .... One cannot live lies, and sooner or later every single one of us will have to acknowledge ... our dignity as children of God."