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Italian Catholics are still mourning the loss of one of their most loyal bishops. Last month, Abp. Emeritus of Bologna Cdl. Carlo Caffarra passed away in his home in the dreamy hills of Bologna — an affectionate, compassionate man, yet extraordinarily discreet. During his funeral service, the archbishop of Bologna, Matteo Zuppi, after quoting Pope Francis' description of Caffarra ("a man with traits of timidity"), said of Caffarra's mild manners, "In times of leading narcissism and persistent ostentation of self, the cardinal's reserve is a treasure that helps us look beyond the appearances and search for one's interior depth in every occasion."
Caffarra's reserve was magnetic because, as he once told Constanza Miriano, "God does the really important things secretly and in silence."
God does the really important things secretly and in silence.
One could easily recognize the authority of such a serene and solemn bishop, one of unwavering tranquility, even under constant hostility — a bishop who never compromised in order to get the approval of a traditionally Communist city, Italy's laboratory for all the whimsical experiments of the Left. Caffarra followed the advice of his good friend John Paul II, who said, "With simple and humble firmness, be faithful to the Magisterium." Caffarra was simple, humble and firm.
I truly discovered the Catholic Church when I moved to Bologna a few years ago, and during my conversion, I was fortunate to listen to Caffarra on several occasions, either celebrating Mass or leading the yearly processions to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. Most of all, I've benefited from the fruits of his ministry. The Church of Bologna catechized me, prepared me for confirmation and eventually for marriage.
It was all around Bologna that I roamed for months, attending Mass anywhere, not knowing what I was doing, desperate for a glimpse of the Truth I hadn't found elsewhere. It was because of Caffarra that I could easily go to a Traditional Latin Mass and commit to it. In Bologna, I learned about my vocation, met my husband, started to grow into the person God created me to be — and that would never have happened if it hadn't been for the presence of such a thriving Church. And in Bologna, that Church was led by Cdl. Carlo Caffarra.
As soon as his death was announced, online testimonials starting pouring in from his friends, spiritual children, collaborators, seminarians from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (of which Caffarra was co-founder, along with Pope John Paul II) — and a phrase echoed through the tributes, time and time again: "Now we are lonelier!"
I had whispered that to God myself that day, especially because 18 years ago on the exact day, September 6, my father died of cardiac arrest, a sorrow that altered the very structure of my existence. I was hit by the news of Caffarra's passing on what was already a day of grief for me, so I thought I was perhaps over-emotional when the sense of loneliness overcame me. When I heard of the same experience from other Catholics, I knew it was a valid, instinctive reaction, the response of the flock yearning to hear the voice of their good shepherd one last time.
Caffarra once confessed that during the 2015 Synod on the Family (which left him in poor sleep out of concern for a Church that tried to dispose of Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor), all he wanted was "to take the train and escape to Bologna."
This is exactly what it feels like for so many of us here, facing a Church hierarchy that casts out "traditionalists," seeing perennially empty confessionals. When we grow tired of ideological homilies, we want to run to Bologna, where, under Caffarra, it was still possible to find guidance in the Sacred Tradition.
How long, Sovereign Lord, Holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?
In 2015, the cardinal declared that whenever he thought about the destruction of the family through our society's deceitful exaltation of homosexuality, he'd often think of Revelation 6:9: "How long, Sovereign Lord, Holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"
For how long will there be a church in Bologna to which to escape? Likely not long. Caffarra himself predicted that he would die in his bed, but that his successor would probably die in prison. Despair seized our hearts on hearing of his death, as we knew that Caffarra's overpowering, consoling presence during his earthly life meant we were, still, in the midst of the crisis, being looked after.
Now he is gone from this earth. So we are left to look to and emulate his confidence in the Lord, as he remarked not long before his death: "Humanly speaking, I don't see a solution to the Church crisis. Spiritually, I am at peace because the Church belongs to Christ, and He'll not abandon us."