Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

Teacher Sees Italy Turning From Tradition

(Staten Island Advance, February 8, 1997)

The image that many Americans hold of happy, easy-going Italians living the quiet life with a glass of wine in hand is crumbling as the European Community grows, a historian said yesterday.

Most Italians regard themselves as members of a multicultural society, said John Rao, an associate professor of history at the Grymes Hill campus of St. John’s University. In the process, he said, they are intent on downplaying their Italian, Greek, Roman Catholic and local traditions because of the belief that to flourish in today’s world they must cast aside pre-World War Two institutions.

Rao, an authority on Roman Catholic Church History and Church-State relations, spoken on current trends in Italy at a meeting of the First Friday Club, held in the Pavilion-on-the-Terrace, New Brighton.

Since 1970, the Italian government has embarked on a systematic policy to abolish traditional classical cultures, he said. Remnants of these cultures, separately or in parts, may still be found, but mostly in “ferocious local loyalties”. Even food, the joy of Italy, is being affected by this anti-culture program.

As with many nations worldwide, Italy is caught up in a hectic, materialistic society. Its birth rate is now among the lowest in Europe, Rao said. Many couples are content with one child whom they treat as a “grand Christmas gift” and shower “with every gift imaginable”. The Community has also forced many Italian businessmen to rethink traditional ways.

The Catholic clergy, as in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, is often looked upon with disdain. Not even the Vatican seems able to stop what Rao called the “collapse of church attendance and practices” in many parts of Italy.

Nowhere is the decline of the Catholic Church more evident than in middle Italy, Rao said. Frequently, Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists are as numerous as Catholics. Moslems have become a “vibrant population” in Italy, winning large numbers of converts from among nominal Catholics. The result of this multinational consortium is that whole neighborhoods are changing.

Rao, who spends each July in Italy in an educational capacity, said that the country is beset with immigration problems from such areas as Africa and Eastern Europe.

According to Rao, many Italians felt a sense of “guilt” about their nation’s heritage at the end of World War II. They appeared to rejoice in breaking down these cultures and reaching out for a pluralistic society, embracing things associated with the victorious Allies, including Marxism and communism.

Traditional Italian thinking holds that Italians have survived so much in their past that they will survive what is taking place today, Rao said. He does not share such optimism. While the Catholic Church in Italy is experiencing bleak days, he sees it as the only hope for Italy’s future.

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