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Don Mazzolari and Don Milani
Cinema, History & Politics

A Call for Disobedience

The Unexpected Revolution of Two Priests in Post-War Italy

October 17, 2023
6:30 pm

A Call for Disobedience
The Unexpected Revolution of Two Priests in Post-War Italy

An introduction to Don Primo Mazzolari by
Diletta Pasetti, Rutgers University

An introduction to Don Lorenzo Milani by
Vanessa Roghi, historian and author

The event will feature the screening of a newly rediscovered
previously un-broadcast short documentary about Don Mazzolari
by Italian director Ermanno Olmi


Two of the most radical thinkers and influential public intellectuals of the 20th century in Italy are two priests whose names are almost unknown in the US. They belonged to different generations, different social classes, different geographic contexts, and exhibited very different temperaments, coming – as they did – from  very different cultural backgrounds. They exchanged a few letters but never met in person. Yet, they shared the same values: they sided with the poor, the disenfranchised, and other people normally kept at the margins of society. They were strong advocates of workers’ rights, social justice, and the promotion of lasting and just peace. Because of this, they were both treated harshly by the Church authorities of their time. It was only in 2017 that Pope Francis, with his unexpected visit to the tombs of the two priests, recognized their greatness and the shortsightedness of their persecutors.

Father Primo Mazzolari was a controversial and prophetical figure who marked the Italian socio-political panorama of the 20th century. A strong anti-fascist and a radical pacifist, Mazzolari was the very first figure inside the Roman Catholic Church to voice the revolutionary concept of conscientious objection. His “standing obedience” remains the lasting feature of his existence, one ruled by a ceaseless investigation of moral obligations and social justice.

In the aftermath of World War 2, Father Lorenzo Milani dedicated his life to educating both the young working class and the children of farmers. Restricted by Pius XII’s Church to a small parish in Tuscany, he wrote – together with his pupils – two books that received international resonance: L’obbedienza non è più una virtù (Obedience is No Longer a Virtue) and Lettera a una professoressa (Letter to a Teacher). Translated into many languages, these works allowed the voice of this country priest to become a point of reference to radical pedagogy all around the world, placing him side by side with Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire.

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