Situation of the Protestant Church(es) in Italy
Development of Protestantism in Italy
Since the Catholic Church is by far the largest Christian denomination in Italy, Protestantism is extremely minoritarian, but at the same time old and rooted in the history of the country. In fact, the Waldensian Church is a medieval pre-Protestant denomination founded by Peter Waldo in the 12th century in Italy that adhered to the Calvinist theology in the Synod of Chanforan in 1532. The Lutherans arrived in Italy in the same period.
The evangelical presence in Italy grew in the 19th century. Between 1815 and 1871, during the ‘Risorgimento’, a political and social movement that joined different states of the Italian peninsula to a single state of the Kingdom of Italy. That happened because of the close contacts with some Protestant countries that supported the Italian unification. On 17 February 1848, Charles Albert, king of Piedmont-Sardinia, granted the Waldensians religious freedom and civic emancipation. Freedom of worship and equality of civic as well as political rights were later extended to Jews and to the other Italian states that were progressively annexed to Piedmont-Sardinia during the process of unification of Italy. These imprintings make the different denominations of the Italian Protestantism so concerned about social and political issues, so responsible for the quality of the democracy, the inclusion of the people, justice and care for creation.
Nowadays they are around 50.000 people in the historical Protestant Churches plus the Italian and immigrate Evangelicals and Ortodox. The so called ‘historical protestantism’, the Waldensian Church, has the numeric majority. The great part of the Waldensians remains in the original site, in the north west of Italy in the Alps but they are spread all over in Italy, mainly in the towns. Newer Waldensian congregation sprang up as well as the Free Christian Church (which lasted from 1852 to 1904) and the Evangelical Christian Church of the Brethren. Meanwhile British and American missionaries began to preach and establish Anglican, Methodist and Baptist churches.
The common people can appreciate the evangelical hospitals, health centers, retirement homes, diaconal work. Press agency, bookshops, cultural centers, meeting center (Agape, Ecumene, Casa Cares, Bethel) television programs, magazines, and the Waldensian Theological Faculty.
Relationship between the Italian state and the church(es)
The relations between the Catholic Church and the Italian State in defined by a concordat, a convention between the Holy See and a sovereign state that concern both, i.e. the recognition and privileges of the Catholic Church in a particular country and with secular matters that impact on church interests.
About 30 years ago, in 1984, was signed the first agreement, an Entente (a national contrat under public law), between a ‘non-catholic’ church and the Italian State, pursuant to the art.8 of the 1948 Constitution of the Italian Republic. It is not the same as a concordat because the concordat is an international agreement between two sovereign states. The first Intesa was signed with the Waldensian Church. Now they are 12 and the last one involves the Buddhist Soka Gakkai in 2015.
Since 1993, it is possible not only for the Catholic Church but also for other organized religions recognised by Italy to have access to the Eight per Thousand (Italian: otto per mille), an Italian law under which Italian taxpayers can choose which congregation to devolve a compulsory 8 ‰ = 0.8% (‘eight per thousand’) of their annual income tax return to. People are not required to declare a recipient; in that case, the law stipulates that this undeclared amount is distributed among the normal recipients of such taxes in proportion to what they have already received from explicit declarations.
In Italy, there is not a general law on religious freedom yet. For example some organizations as Salvation Army are not recognized as churches and are discriminated.
Partnership between the Italian state and the church(es)
A recent example of partnership between churches and the state is the humanitarian corridor for refugees. Mediterranean Hope is a pilot project carried out by the Community of Sant’Egidio in collaboration with the Federation of Evangelical Churches and the Waldensian and Methodist Churches, completely self-funded.
The main goals of this project are:
To avoid journeys by boats on the Mediterranean, which have already caused a high number of deaths, also of many children;
To avoid human trafficking, preventing the exploitation of human traffickers who do business with those who flee from wars;
To grant people in “vulnerable conditions” (victims of persecution, torture and violence, as well as families with children, elderly people, sick people, persons with disabilities) legal entry on Italian territory with humanitarian visa, with the possibility to apply for asylum.
It is a safe solution for all because visa issuing procedures require all the necessary checks by Italian authorities.
Once in Italy, the refugees are welcomed in houses at the expense of our associations. We teach them Italian language, enroll their children to school, promote integration in Italy and help them to find a job. Between February 2016 and August 2017, about 1000 people have already arrived, they are Syrians fleeing the war. The project foresees the arrival of one thousand people in a period of two years.
CSD – Diaconia Valdese (http://www.diaconiavaldese.org/) is a non-profit organisation managed by the Union of Waldensian and Methodist Churches in Italy (http://www.chiesavaldese.org/) and performs diaconal activities nationally, providing rest homes for the elderly, educational and accommodation facilities for the young, facilities for the disabled and support to social solidarity projects.
The word “diaconia” means the service provided to people in need, as a sign of God’s gratuitous love to men and women. The social and diaconal commitment, together with preaching, is part of the life of the church: a Christian church must face the challenge that forms the basis of its vocation. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”. This biblical verse taken from the book of Ecclesiastes (9.10) sums up the mission of the Diaconia Valdese: the pressure on things to do, which do not exist in themselves, but must be found, seen, acknowledged and accepted. Therefore, service does not simply refer to the fulfilment of duties and obligations, but commits the eyes to see and the ears to listen, placing attention on people in their concrete form.