Immediate Past Grand Master, Grande Oriente d’Italia;
Honorary Grand Master ad vitam, National Grand Lodge of Romania;
Honorary Director, MASONIC FORUM Magazine
(…) When I took over as Grand Master, the situation was depressing, to say the least: there was an air of defeat and isolation, an inability to read the writing on the wall, the stimuli and problems of society; in short, a cultural illiteracy towards the language and needs of young people; an isolation which wasn’t even “aristocratic” but simply and ridiculously self-celebratory. People enjoyed reminiscing about past glory and celebrating old heroes, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour, the Fathers of the Nation and Grand Masters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; a daily review of this elegant painting was like a visit to a wax museum. In short, all glitter and no gold: too much past, very little present and no future. Gone were the dreams of greatness; regrets were tempered by the melancholic mantra “how beautiful, brave and important we were”. A little like certain nobles, unable to remain in the past, we believed that by disconsolately recalling tradition, we had a right to a place in society without doing anything to deserve it. Very few members, very few young people, no social prestige, a very limited ability to dialogue and understand the reality around us, fearful to be seen, to be singled out, to show ourselves, to explain our sense of belonging to the media.
Happily (and in this lies the true force of Tradition), a very courageous group of Brethren invested in a project – in itself nothing special – that trusted fully in the fundamentals of Freemasonry and courageously tried to find a new language with which to talk to society and tackle reality.
This is the idea behind a new “Spring of Freemasonry”
We started by looking for different ways to communicate, in some cases even ways in which to really communicate with civil society: without false fears or by being too reserved. We said to ourselves: to be legitimate in a modern, democratic society an institution like ours has to explain the fundamentals of our philosophy, the roots of what we propose to people, our tenets, and our full support for the values of tolerance, brotherhood and solidarity enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man; tenets and values that indicate how to avoid returning to the age of barbarianism. This doesn’t mean showcasing Freemasonry, breaking the rules of confidentiality or violating the “esoteric secret” of rituals; it means helping people, who can explain the profound meaning of a path, to grow.
(…) Brotherhood between people who are different is more difficult and therefore more meaningful than between people who think alike. While others offer truths, we welcome men who bring different truths and doubts, men who accept brotherly dialogue and discussion. This is why we are not against religions, political parties or systems of government; we are simply different to all three.
(…) A dynamic institution is made up of, and part of, society: if instead it withdraws from mainstream society and becomes incomprehensible for a most members of society, then it means it is sick.
Our rituals, spoken in different languages, but with roughly the same meaning, all convey that we work to dig deep prisons for vices, to achieve wellbeing and progress for humanity, to let light shine and destroy darkness.
(…) We have fought openly not against the theological ideas of this or that church, or this or that religious institution – we would never do this on principle – but against attempts to impose the vision of one Church or one theology on society. In this regard the Grande Oriente d’Italia is certainly a free voice, neither politicised nor associated with a political party; it is latitudinarian in its secularism, but also interconfessional in its composition, a voice that fights to emphasise the need to defend the dignity and freedom of every human being.
(…) When we insist that Freemasonry has to dialogue with contemporary society is reiterating the tasks our institution should perform in today’s society to try and solve its problems. If we want to contribute to the wellbeing of humanity, we have to be part of humanity, not feel superior to it because we have esoteric skills or high-sounding titles – something that many people still believe. I call this kind of freemasonry the “Freemasonry of plumes” or “trimmings” where often intelligence is inversely proportional to the number of honours awarded or the size of the apron. We struggle to get one more degree, we fight a Brother to be given a more prestigious role, and sadly we become full of all those metals that our Initiation teaches us to abandon.
(…) Instead of encouraging a more constructive return to civil life, a renewed drive to try and attain a deeper understanding of reality and testify to the magnificent tenets of tolerance and dialogue, these rites turn into self-celebratory practices, into a liturgy that is an end in itself. (…) Instead our rituals should help empower the self-awareness of our Brethren, their civic courage, the realisation that they are part of a World Chain of Union, the certainty that the esoteric experience is not like membership of a golf or yacht club; it is an ethical choice to become answerable to oneself (through the continuous and constant attempt to achieve self-perfection) and to others (through a spirit of service, listening and openness to dialogue).
Freemasonry must teach us to leave behind the most exploited clichés, to be more unique, to break the usual moulds, to nourish our imagination and inspiration; only then will we be worthy of our founding fathers. When I criticise many Masons for hiding behind the great men in our family, the monstre sacré of the past, it’s because I consider it an excuse to avoid having to work to be worthy of them. Instead of taking up the gauntlet, of proving we are worthy of them, we prefer to praise their deeds, without risking anything, without exposing ourselves, without bearing witness to our tenets, to the force of our Initiation. It will be difficult for the world of the young, of art, music and intelligence, a dynamic world open towards the future, to approach Freemasonry if it is a repetition of the status quo, the flat calm of conventionalism, or the business committee of the bourgeoisie. This path is not the path mapped out and indicated by our ancestors; on the contrary, they would feel deeply ashamed of us if this is the path we choose.
Freemasonry opens the mind; it teaches us to look at reality as if we were backcombing it so that nothing be hidden, neither from others nor from ourselves. This is the only way to be a life-giving salt for contemporary society. A truly ethical and moral authority, an institution capable of directing society towards the basic tenets of tolerance and brotherhood, the defence of secularism, and the protection of the weak and defenceless.
To achieve this goal our institutions need to turn with confidence to the best of civil society; they must open their doors to the best, the most profound, the most sensitive; they must boldly make room for young people and put aside their fear of being made obsolete. History always precedes us if we stay put or proceed without a specific goal. But if Freemasonry renews itself then history will not defeat it.
(…) The globalised world is going through a very serious and economically dramatic crisis that has also severely undermined our ethics. It has led to political and religious intolerance, cutthroat competitiveness, the destructive hoarding of primary resources – we’ll soon be fighting over water – and a huge increase in psychological distress. In fact in the next few years depression will be the number one illness, at least in rich countries, and in some cases will be more important and destructive than other, unfortunately more well-known, pathologies. Young people are looking for a message of hope, societies question themselves about the future. We cannot propose solutions, but apart from politics and religion we can propose a work method, an itinerary of the spirit which will become increasingly attractive and appealing if we manage to tune into the sufferings of the world, its cry of distress and pain.
If we look beyond the horizon and present ourselves as pioneers of the future, our Masonic chain will always be a workshop of ideas, a furnace of values to fight new and old poverty, to defend and build a truly open society respectful of its multiethnic and multicultural nature.
(…) Our rituals, our centuries-old traditions, our Landmarks, are the tools with which we try to rise, to free ourselves from the dead weight of our profane limits; but this upward movement must include attention and care for the world around us, a world that suffers deeply. Faced with such sufferings we cannot turn away; we have to find renewed strength and courage within ourselves.
In short, and I have said this many times, when faced with the scenarios of our post-modern society and globalised world even regular Freemasonry must undoubtedly reflect critically on its identity and role. In fact Freemasonry must remain, as it has always been, part of history and civil society. If not it risks being marginalised, at best it will be like a sort of old and obsolete piece of scrap metal or may end up being completely misunderstood and hounded in one way or another, for example through continuous attempts at discredit and the dissemination of aggressive disinformation.
Good dialogue with the media, but also with a broader public, above all young people, is very different to an outing that uses publicity or a ridiculous recruitment campaign – something that should not even cross our minds. The tools we need to dialogue with modernity are contents and true values that are absolutely free from any ambiguous or unclear notions or ideas. It is also clear that to truly communicate with the outside world we need to transmit strong concepts, including the concept of identity. If Freemasonry proposed beautiful rituals and a performance based on its own mnemonic skills, it would mean very little. In fact, rituals are meaningful when they are part of a speculative and critical reflection that allows man to grow by continually contemplating the symbols and archetypes that are important to his own individual development and the collective progress of society. This is why Freemasonry is always modern, because it can focus each individual’s reflections on important topics, it can facilitate a continuous process of introspection and meditation on universal topics, without however imposing preconceived and closed-shop solutions.
This central role of the true Masonic journey – the one embarked upon by the early English Lodges that spread the philosophical and juridical ideals behind our modern, tolerant and democratic society – is therefore not just an accessory. In this regard, the contents of Freemasonry remain topical, or rather, become topical once again. In a world that wants to make the individual subservient to the market, make him a consumer rather than praising him as a free thinker, Freemasonry proposes the centrality of man and his search for the divine, in other words for truth. This journey is an open journey, in other words, undertaken in an atmosphere of free study, albeit regulated by certain norms that forbid touching on political and religious issues. It means that the traveller finds himself in a free multicultural space, one which is absolutely crucial in today’s globalised society. Freemasonry’s answer to globalised markets is the need to reflect on the globalisation and sharing of human values and rights, the centrality of man I mentioned earlier.
(…) I’d like to end by citing the words of the philosopher Giovanni Bovio. In the second half of the nineteenth century he was a key figure in the Grande Oriente d’Italia, as well as a Great Orator and Member of Parliament. In my opinion, his words summarise to perfection what I have tried to convey to you here today:
“Freemasonry is an institution as universal as humanity and as old as memory. It has its periodical springs, because on the one hand it preserves the traditions and rites that connect it to past centuries, and on the other it is at the forefront of every philosophy and walks with the youth of the world”.