ROME – With violent protests against the government-mandated vaccine ‘Green Pass’ sweeping through the streets of Rome this week, there has been one noticeable category missing from the slew of commentary the demonstrations have elicited: Rome’s Church leaders.
Things started with a scheduled demonstration Saturday night in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, a typical gathering place for political rallies and other major events.
Some 10,000 people packed into the iconic square to protest the Italian government’s mandate to hold a “Green Pass” proving vaccination against COVID-19, which is required for citizens who wish to participate in almost any indoor activity, including attending or teaching at school.
Both public and private workers are required to hold the vaccine Green Pass in order to avoid suspension or, for some company owners such as restaurateurs, the closure of their business.
As the crowd of thousands of unmasked demonstrators gathered Saturday, shouting slogans such as “Freedom” and “No Green Pass,” things escalated, and protestors began moving up and down large streets.
A number of protestors stormed the offices of the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL) – Italy’s most important national trade union – with some 50 of the demonstrators breaking down the door and entering the building, taking selfies as they wandered through hallways and offices.
Police eventually disbanded the crowds with tear gas and water cannons, however, a number of them moved onto Rome’s Palazzo Chigi, which is the headquarters of the Italian government and the residence of Italy’s Prime Minister, currently Mario Draghi.
After protesters were again warded off from the Palazzo Chigi, most either returned to Piazza del Popolo or went home, however, after 10p.m. around 30 of them stormed the emergency care unit of Rome’s Umberto I hospital, where one of the demonstrators had been taken after being injured during the night’s events.
The unruly crowd refused to undergo the hospital’s COVID procedures and began shouting insults and slurs at healthcare workers and supervisory staff on duty. A scuffle broke out which left four people injured, including two healthcare workers and two police officers who came to disband the crowd.
As a footnote to the episode, the uproar of the protestors as they were marching through the streets caused security staff for U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was in town for a meeting of parliamentarians ahead of the COP26 climate change summit next month, to pull her out of an evening Mass at Rome’s American parish, St. Patrick’s, in the middle of the liturgy over security concerns.
So far, neither Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome, nor the Cardinal Vicar for the diocese, Angelo De Donatis, have issued statements about this weekend’s violent protests. Nor has the Italian bishops’ conference said anything about the situation.
In Italy, given its proximity to the heart of global Catholicism, a word from Church officials goes a long way, so the silence of Church officials on the protests could be related to a hesitancy of Church leadership to get drawn into the political debate over the Green Pass, and the inevitable conclusion that support one side or the other.
That does not, however, explain their silence about the use of violence and the general deterioration of the situation.
So far, the only formal Church official to speak out against this weekend’s events is Archbishop Filippo Santoro Taranto, president of the Italian bishops’ Scientific Committee and Organizer of Social Weeks, who during a press conference on the upcoming Oct. 21-24 Social Week said, “the mentality of resentment, the mentality of destruction, must be overcome.”
“It is the mentality that refers to a fascist mentality,” Santoro said in response to a question about the protests.
He expressed “closeness and solidarity” to CGIL employees, insisting that “a violent, destructive mentality and the practice of everything that is contrary to democratic life must be overcome. We need a change of mentality.”
Giustino Trincia, director of the Rome branch of international charity organization Caritas, also remarked about the protests, saying the violent scenes at the CGIL and Umberto I hospital “cannot leave us indifferent.”
Recalling the U.S. Capitol riots earlier this year, Trincia said “The images and deeds, the expressions of profound fury which evidently arose from afar, took me back to last January, to the assault on the American Congress in Washington.”
“When peace, universal brotherhood, and the values of democracy and our constitution are at stake, one cannot remain neutral, because charity, beyond any political, social, or religious affiliation which must all be deeply respected, means first and foremost work for the common good., for general interest, for justice.”
Without justice, he said, “there is no salvation for anyone.”
Trincia said he personally visited the CGIL offices and the emergency unit of Umberto I with his wife Sunday afternoon, following Saturday night’s unrest, as an expression of closeness and solidarity at a personal level, but also at the level of Caritas.
“From the bottom of my heart, I feel I am making an appeal to those men and women who have deemed it possible to express their radical and general dissent to the point of resorting to violence in words and deeds.”
He asked those who turned to anger and violence to let go of their rage, and to imitate Jesus in asserting their ideas “in respect of others,” noting that the pandemic has taken its toll on everyone. Because of this, the building of “a civilization of love” is needed “today more than ever,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen