It has always been the custom of human society to mark the passing of time by dividing it with precise and significant dates: the beginning of the new year, religious holidays and, in modern times, the remembrance of past events which have marked our national identity, for example, 20th Settember, 25th April, 2nd June.
Recently a new category of special dates has been introduced into our calendar: Remembrance days. Circumstances which should represent a fixed awareness point of our corporate identity because they are events which left their mark on past generations and which must never be forgotten.
While the celebration of national holidays brings back to mind victories or glory (though ephemeral, as are all human glories!), the Remembrance Day recalls suffering and pain.
Is this because our age has been scarred by atrocious tragedies and has seen a qualitative and quantitative change in evil? Or is it because it unwittingly reacts to the false and unreal image of affluence which the consumer society offers us? Everybody is good-looking, young, rich, sportif, well-built and smiling, even though children of the Holocaust and the "foibe" (underground caves)?
In recent years, our modest Protestant community has also formulated its remembrance day: the Day of Freedom. The date is not a random choice, but goes back a century and a half. The 17th February, in fact, recalls the Civil Rights Bill with which Carlo Alberto ended centuries of discrimination against his Waldensian citizens and, in 1848, recognized their civil and political rights. A bill of toleration which conceded, though, a very limited freedom. In fact, as far as religious freedom was concerned, nothing changed, all the Counter-Reformation curtailments remained in force.
The red-letter day celebrated by the Waldensians for decades has become the Italian Protestant festivity for two reasons.
First of all it reminds us of a problem, that of freedom: religious freedom, freedom of conscience. In a modern society, it is not within the competence of the civil and political authorities to control the freedom for all and everyone to express their religious beliefs, neither should they show favour to any particular religion or religious body. Religious freedom is not the appendix of civil freedom but the source; the religious conscience comes first, to be followed by politics, economics, work and thought.
Secondly, we remember that tolerance is a favour granted by Power; freedom is a conquest of conscience. The State can grant certain privileges, but to live in complete freedom, as free persons, can only be the result of a long struggle. Too often those in authority,
responsible for the secular society, tend to identify freedom with their own interests and are disinclined to recognize the freedom of others. In our country the struggle for religious freedom goes right back to that Bill of 1848 and continues to the Constitution which was drawn up after the Second World War; it continues in the present.
A positive Remembrance Day then, which recalls to mind events long past but which are projected into the present time, constructive commitments, battles won, pages which are rich in humanity. Memories not so much of ourselves but rather of ideals, conquests, like the Gospel itself.