The following is an article, translated from Italian, published in "L'Osservatore Romano" Italian Daily edition on 11 February , the 82nd anniversary of the creation of Vatican City State set up by the Lateran Pacts. The complex process of the Unification of Italy, known as the Risorgimento, culminated in October 1870, when Rome voted to join the union and in July 1871, Rome became the Capital of the new Kingdom of Italy. The Lateran Pacts resolved the "Roman Question" by creating Vatican City State and leaving the Pope free to carry out his mission.
In several 19th-century prints, Pius IX and Victor Emanuel II appear together arm in arm, calm and smiling. Marked by an irenical optimism, this popular image offers a cue for reflection on the 11 February anniversary of the signing of the Lateran Pacts, which falls in a special year for Italy: the 150th anniversary of its national Unification.
These are two different anniversaries, yet they are profoundly interconnected; the Italian movement of the Risorgimento was strongly interwoven with both the Catholic question and the problem of guaranteeing the Apostolic See full sovereignty and independence in exercising its universal mission.
Revisited many years later, that popular image of the two protagonists of the Italian Risorgimento lends itself to a twofold interpretation. On the one hand, it expresses the Italian people's dream of reconciliation between the Church and State, after the well-known lacerations that scarred a particular season of the peninsula's history; a dream that at the same time was also a fervent hope.
On the other, this candid image reflected a fact: namely, the reality of a deep, subsisting friendship, underlay the political, diplomatic and military leadership that created the unity, between the civil and the religious communities. Moreover, the image also reflected the Catholic identity of Italians, which was the soundest basis of the Unification and its well-established agenda.
Thus two different sentiments were expressed. The first revealed the drama of being inwardly torn between the duties of fidelity to the State and to the Church, which could only be settled much later, with the signing on 11 February 1929. Vice versa, the second sentiment indicated the existence in Italian society of a positive leaven that, over and above opposition, was to encourage the Unification process in the common sentiment, in culture and in solidarity.
All things considered, the reconciliation was to be between the institutions, as a formal act and not relating to the body of society, where faith and citizenship were not in conflict. The religious orientation of the masses provided the new State with the binding force, reliable and strong, of the differences that the process of Unification was called to surmount.
From a contemporary perspective the Lateran Pacts and the Villa Madame Agreement of 1984, which reconciled the Norms of the Concordat with the Constitution of the Republic, present a striking fact: they acted as positive instruments for the protection and promotion of religious freedom, as an individual, collective and institutional right. Hence the need for the full and effective respect, in letter and spirit, of the measures prescribed by these Agreements on the part of all those who are called to apply them.
As Benedict XVI observed in his Address on 17 December 2010 to the new Ambassador of Italy to the Holy See: "Those international Pacts are not an expression of a desire of the Church or of the Holy See to obtain power, privileges or positions of economic and social advantage, nor with them is it intended to exceed the bounds of the area proper to the mission assigned by the Divine Founder to his community on earth. On the contrary, these Agreements are founded on the just desire on the part of the State to guarantee individuals and the Church the full exercise of religious freedom, a right that has not only a personal dimension" (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 12 January 2011, p. 9).
In fact religious freedom, in its various more typical expressions, is not depleted with the simple affirmation of the relative law. Rather, in a secular State, it postulates a determined commitment to remove the legal and other obstacles that in practice prevent or limit the exercise of that right, which is even theoretically assured to everyone. From this point of view, the Italian experience seems to be quite exemplary and can be a significant paradigm of reference.
The protection of religious freedom, on the other hand, like that of every human right, cannot be considered an objective fully achieved once and for all. It entails constant attention in order to adapt the legal experience to the ever-changing needs presented by the evolution of society. Hence the responsibility for vigilance to determine areas in which it is necessary to intervene in order to implement the principles.
In this regard one's thought turns to the question of the institutions that provide assistance, to which people are admitted, who are in need of shelter and support, because for one reason or another they are not free or fully autonomous agents. Yet institutionalization, an appreciable expression of solidarity to those in need, can constitute an obstacle at the personal level to the full exercise of religious freedom. For this reason Article II of the Concordat provided for specific forms of spiritual assistance to be guaranteed within the institutions providing assistance services.
Nonetheless, these forms of assistance have yet to be defined by the competent Authorities to enable one of the weakest categories of the associates to enjoy a right which, as the Pontiff recalled on the occasion mentioned above, "is historically and objectively the first of those fundamental rights of the human person".