The biggest building site in the world has rebuilt the Basilica. We could be celebrating with more enthusiasm if even the little building sites, of our homes, had had the scaffolding taken off. This is a sort of refrain amongst the people of Nocera Umbra, Foligno and Gualdo Tadino, struck by the earthquake, as the Basilica reopens. In their little tin huts they have to face a third winter of cold and damp. Seven thousand people still inhabit the prefab villages, and 13,000 are staying with relatives, renting or staying with friends. Many of them had hoped to spend Christmas in a different way, but they will have to wait. The reconstruction of the houses damaged by the quake started a good while back. Some 400 of the 4,500 projects have been completed. The regional government says that by April, 800 families living in the container camps will be able to go home. A couple of hundred projects for restoration of infrastructure are also under way. But to the risks that have always existed, now there is a new danger, the infiltration of organised crime, which is trying to get its hands on the 15bn lire rebuilding fund. There have already been extortion attempts and the first fraud of fake companies. "Why have they not been so swift sorting us out, like they did for Assisi?" ask the residents of tiny ruined hill towns.
There is controversy regarding this apparent contradiction; the Basilica reopens but the houses are still waiting to be built. We all share the understandable anguish of those who are still waiting to return to their homes but not the stance of those who wish to play off the restoration of churches and cultural heritage sites against the problem of the destroyed homes. It's an unjust and damaging polemic. If it's true that the Basilica of St Francis would have little reason to exist without the houses around it, we should ask ourselves frankly what sort of lives would the people in these houses lead without the Basilica and the thousand other artistic cultural and religious sites in Umbria. These sites are by a long margin the most important "factory" of this part of Italy, visited each year by millions of tourists and pilgrims from around the globe. The churches and the houses are therefore strictly interconnected in a common destiny. Today let's rejoice that the Basilica has been restored to mankind, but only when the last earthquake victim is back home will we proudly declare the job is done.
For a day we were all Franciscans. And we were all moved in the face of the austere gestures of Cardinal Sodano, who reconsecrated the altar of the Upper Basilica of St Francis in Assisi. In the meantime the earthquake victims are facing their third winter in makeshift camps. Between the media circus of yesterday and the inhabitants of Colfiorito and other towns hit by the quake, one could legitimately think that the latter represent the real image of our nation. Because they are the embodiment of the day- to-day Italy of environmental distraction, of the rhetoric of bureaucracies incapable of spending the funds made available to them. The master craftsmen and restorers of Assisi agreed to work for the first year, on the basis of trust, without pay. They started before the official paperwork was sorted and without the go-ahead of the bureaucracy. By so doing, they did not allow any meddling in their toiling and in their art to those who manage to profit from everything, even sorrow. We have seen just how efficient the state, the clergy, and the local administrators can be when they have the commitment of expert citizens who are allowed to express their talents.Reuse content