Dante, a Prophet of Hope

Author: Pope Francis

On the seventh centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri, Pope receives delegation from Ravenna-Cervia

May celebrations for the seventh centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri be “an invitation to hope, that hope of which Dante is prophet”, Pope Francis said to a delegation from the Archdiocese of Ravenna-Cervia, whom he received in audience in the Clementine Hall on Saturday morning, 10 October [2020], for the occasion of the “Anno Dantesco”. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s words which he shared in Italian.

Dear brothers and sisters!

I welcome you and I thank you for coming to share with me the joy and the effort of opening the celebrations for the seventh centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri. In particular, I thank Archbishop Ghizzoni for his words of introduction.

For Dante, Ravenna was the city of “last refuge” (cf. C. Ricci, L’ultimo rifugio di Dante Alighieri, Hoepli, Milano 1891) — the first was Verona. Indeed, the poet spent his last years in your city and brought his work to completion there; according to tradition, the final canti of Paradiso were composed there.

Thus, he concluded his earthly journey in Ravenna; and he concluded that exile that so greatly marked his existence and also inspired his writing. The poet Mario Luzi has highlighted the importance of the turmoil and the higher rediscovery that the experience of exile held for Dante. This leads us immediately to think of the Bible, of the exile of the people of Israel in Babylon, which constitutes, so to speak, one of the “matrices” of Biblical revelation. In a similar way, exile was for Dante so significant as to become a key to interpreting not only his life, but also the “journey” of every man and woman in history and beyond.

Dante’s death in Ravenna took place — as Boccaccio writes — “on the day that the Church celebrates the exaltation of the Holy Cross”(Trattatello in laude di Dante, Garzanti 1995, p. XIV). It brings to mind that golden cross that the Poet surely saw in the small midnight blue dome, scattered with nine hundred stars, of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia; or that sparkling and “flaming” Christ — to use the image of Paradise — (cf. XIV, 104), of the apse of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

In 1965, on the occasion of the seventh centenary of Dante’s birth, Saint Paul VI gave the city of Ravenna the gift of a gold cross for his tomb, which had remained until then — as he said, “without such a sign of religion and hope” (Address of the Sacred College and to the Roman Prelature, 23 December 1965). That same cross, on the occasion of this centenary, will shine again in the place where the earthly remains of the Poet are kept. May this be an invitation to hope, that hope of which Dante is prophet (cf. Message on the 750th anniversary of the birth of Dante Alighieri, 4 May 2015).

It is therefore to be hoped that the celebrations for the seventh centenary of the death of the supreme Poet may inspire us to revisit his Comedy so that, made aware of our condition as exiles, we may allow ourselves to be provoked to undertake that path of conversion “from disorder to wisdom, from sin to holiness, from misery to happiness, from the terrifying contemplation of hell to the beatifying contemplation of paradise” (Saint Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Motu proprio Altissimi cantus, 7 December 1965). Dante, in fact, invites us to rediscover once more the lost or unclear meaning of our human journey.

It may seem, at times, as if these seven centuries have opened up an unbridgeable distance between us, men and women of the postmodern and secularized age, and him, the extraordinary exponent of a golden age of European civilization. And yet something tells us that it is not the case. Teenagers, for instance — even those of today — if they have the opportunity to encounter Dante’s poetry in a way that is accessible to them, find on the one hand, inevitably, a great distance from the author and his world, and yet, on the other hand, they perceive a surprising resonance. This happens especially where allegory leaves space for the symbol, where the human being appears most evident and exposed, where civil passion vibrates most intensely, where the fascination of that which is true, beautiful and good, ultimately the fascination of God, makes its powerful attraction felt.

Thus, making the most of this resonance that crosses the centuries, we too — as Saint Paul VI invited us to do — will be able to be enriched by the experience of Dante to traverse the many dark woods of our land and happily make our pilgrimage through history, to reach the goal dreamed of and desired by every man: “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradiso, XXXIII, 145) (Message on the 750th anniversary of the birth of Dante Alighieri, 4 May 2015).

Thank you again for this visit, and I wish you all the best for the centenary celebrations. With God’s help, next year I propose to offer a more extensive reflection in this regard. I offer my heartfelt blessing to each one of you, your co-workers and the entire community of Ravenna. And please do not forget to pray for me.


*L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly edition in english, n. 42, 16/10/2020

L’Osservatore Romano
16 October 2020, page 8