FOR THE SALVATION OF THE CITIES ALL OVER THE
Excerpts from Prof. Giorgio La
Pira’s speech at the World Wide Conference of Mayors
October 2nd 1955:
Towns have got a life of their own: their own mysterious
and deep way: their own countenance: so to speak, they have got
a soul and a destiny of their own. They are not random heaps of
stones: they are mysterious houses of men and much more than this,
somehow they are mysterious houses of God: Gloria Domini in te videbitur.
It so happens that the final harbour of human historical navigation
shows, on the shore of Eternity, the square structures and the precious
walls of a blessed city: the city of God!
Our lack of attention to these basic values, which give invisible
but true weight and destiny to human things, has caused us to lose
the perception of the mystery of towns. Yet, this mystery exists,
and today, in such a decisive point of human history, it reveals
itself by signs, which seem to be more and more prominent in calling
upon everyone's responsibilities. So: this era of towns we have
entered coincides, because of a mysterious historic paradox, with
an era when the simultaneous destruction of the essential towns
could take just a few seconds!
By this time, it is not a dream any more: it is something possible:
within a few hours the human civilization could be completely deprived
of Florence and all world capital cities.
Everybody is wondering:- what would become of the world without
these essential centres, these irreplaceable fountains, these beacons
bearing light and civilization? That is the main problem in our
days, which is provided with an exact juridical formulation, that
is the following: Do the governments have the right to destroy towns,
and kill these “living units” - real microcosms where
the essential values of the Past are gathered, and real centres
of irradiation of values for the Future – by which the very
tissue of human society and civilization has to be built? In our
opinion, the answer is negative. Present generations do not have
the right to destroy the heritage they received from past generations,
so that it could be handed down to future ones! Cities' right to
exist is held by us belonging to the present generation, but even
more by those who will follow. A right whose historical, social,
political, and religious value is the greater the more the mysterious
and deep meaning of towns emerges again in human meditation.
Each town lies upon its peak, it is a lighthouse destined to lighten
the path of history. Each town, and each civilization is organically
linked, thank to a close relation and a close exchange, to any other
town and civilization: all together, they form a single grand organism.
All for one and one for all. History and civilization transcribe
and fix themselves, as it were, almost petrifying themselves onto
walls, temples, buildings, houses, workshops, schools, hospitals,
which make up the city. Towns, and particularly the essential towns,
retreat into eternal values, bearing with them, along the whole
course of centuries and generations, the historic events, which
have seen them being players and witnesses at the same time. They
are like living books of human history and civilization: destined
to guide the spiritual and material education of coming generations.
They are like endless reserve of those essential human goods –
both the highest cultural and religious ones, and the basic technical
and economic ones - absolutely required by each generation.
Towns are the adequate instruments to get over any kind of crisis,
human history and civilization might be subjected to.
Our times' crisis, that is a crisis of disproportion and intemperance
in comparison with what is actually human, provides us with the
evidence of the therapeutic and decisive value of towns. As it has
already been said, in fact, the current crisis can be defined as
the eradication of the person from the organic context of the city.
Well: such a crisis can only be solved deeply and organically by
settling again the persons in the cities where they were born, and
whose history and tradition they belong to. And, before I finish
my speech about the value of towns for the destiny of the whole
civilization, please let me take an overall look at the millenary
cities, which, like precious stones, beautify the lands of Europe
and Asia. Gentlemen, we would need the inspired speech of the prophets
to describe them: Tobiah, Isaiah, Jeremy, Ezekiel, St. John. Péguy’s
brilliant definition can be applied to everyone of them: being the
city of man, and the sketch and prefiguration of the city of God.
Cities standing all around the Temple, irradiated by the Celestial
Light springing from it: cities where beauty delays, transcribing
itself onto the stones: cities placed upon the mountain of centuries
and generations; destined forever to bear a deeper and essential
integration of quality and value to present and future mechanical
civilization! Each town is not a museum where even precious relics
of the Past are gathered; it is a light and a beauty destined to
lighten the essential structures of future history and civilization.
Towns cannot be sentenced to death, since their death would let
the whole civilization die.
… and in towns, there are the children, the future of human
kind (UNICEF CAMPANIA)
Naples, March 23rd 2003