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Father Nazareno Taddei, Jesuit, seems one of those people whose watch is a few minutes fast. He gets to the appointments when nobody is there yet, he gets tired of waiting and moves on. When the others arrive, they look around, but they don’t see him. “I was there!” says Taddei, but the others, usually more than one, sometimes ten or so, reply: “No, you were not! We looked everywhere. There were many of us.” Thus it has happened that he started the religious television programs even before the TV was officially born. He was sent into exile because he said that the DOLCE VITA is a movie that speaks about Grace and for this idea the cardinals were against him. Then, thirty years later, a cardinal has celebrated the funerals of Fellini. For a while he’s been preaching on the Internet: he has begun when almost nobody was ‘surfing’ the net. Now that he’s eighty, he’s still looking ahead. This book-interview tells a little of his story. (A.F.)
ANDREA FAGIOLI: Father Taddei, why did you accept to do this interview?
NAZARENO TADDEI: I accepted because I think it could be a testimony of a life serving God, in a time where everything has changed due to the new technologies means used for communication. I found myself, first priest in Italy (at least I think so), to be ‘full time’ destined to this mission as a real apostolate and not administration or organization. I hope my modest experience can be useful for those young people who want to be priests or religious, to convince themselves that when serving God one has put into practice and act upon His teaching, rather than just preach the Word from a far away pulpit.
Have you kept a diary of your activity and of your meetings?
Unfortunately not, actually if there’s a sin for which I consider myself guilty that is this one. I’m really sorry because I found myself in situations that after 40-50, sometimes even 60 years; it would have been interesting to be able to remember. Many of those people already died and also about the dates I can be very precise, anyhow everything is part of that atmosphere of testimony that I was talking about.
Speaking of dates, you were born in 1920. When exactly and where?
The 5th of June at 11.30 pm, (or so they told me), in Bardi, near Parma.

How long did you live in Bardi? 
Until grade 3
What did your parents do?
My dad was the medical officer of our little town. My mother died when I was 4, because of the childbirth, when she gave birth to me she caught a disease that slowly caused her death.

What was your father’s name?

And yourmother?

I suppose you don’t remember much of your mother. What do you remember of your father?
I clearly remember an episode: the river Ceno was in spate and my father was trying to cross it with his horse because there was a woman in labour waiting for him on the other side of the river. I remember all I could see were my dad’s head and the head of the horse coming out of the water. Then I finally saw him getting out of the water on the other side of the river. This, of all episodes, is the one that impressed me the most.
So your father must have left a good memory in town?
Yes, that’s true. In fact 40 years after his death people in Bardi still remembered him. Once I went back there and while I was having a coffee in the local bar someone came to ask me «Are you doctor Taddei’s soon?»« Yes, that’s me». Rumors spread that I was in town and many people came to mention all the good things my father did for those people. One of them was saying «If I’m alive is because of your father»; another one «My mum was able to give birth to me thanks to your father»; others were saying similar things. It gave me a lot of pleasure.
Do you know why your parents gave you such a ‘binding’ name: Nazareno?
I think it was my mother who wanted to call me Nazareno. My father was a positivist, he wasn’t religious but being an objective man he understood that nature didn’t create itself. He was positivist regarding the Church. When my sister became a nun he respected her choice; he realized he was depriving himself of a daughter but he respected her freedom to choose. He also respected my choice to join the seminary. He converted when my sister died.

The day of my sister’s funeral I took my father to Bardi. I remember in the evening he got drunk as he was suffering from the loss. When he went to bed he fell and I hardly managed to help him up. He was talking vaguely, few words, mumbled, I understood he was asking God to forgive him. The day after he told me that it was necessary for him to convert, because he understood that it was the most important thing. That was the first grace that my sister obtained by dying.

Other than your sister, that become a nun, do you have other brothers or sisters?
Yes, I have a broche and a sister Adriana, who’s still alive and has two sons and three nephews. Out of the four sons I’m the youngest. The eldest was my brother, Mario, who became one of the ten managers of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL); he was head of human resources. He died of a cancer. He was so dutiful that when he was the director of the Bolzano branch office, I asked him for a loan for one of my initiatives and he said «I’d rather pay you out of my own pocket»; in the end I didn’t want the money. Then there was my sister Maria Pia, she was the second, when she became a nun she chose the name of Mother Nazarena, she was five years older than me.
So, you have Emilian origins but in some of your books we can read that your young formation is from Trentino. Why?
My father was from Trentino. They told me during the times of Cesare Battisti he had been sentenced to death but he managed to escape trough the Tonale pass and walk to Parma where he settled and he got a degree in Medicine. During the specialization in cardiology he met my mother and fell in love with her deciding to be a medical officer instead.
So, were saying about Trentino…
Yes. My father decided to send me to my aunts in the mountains because he was left without a wife and with four young sons and with his job as doctor he didn’t have time to look after us. So he decided to put my sister Maria Pia in a nuns’ boarding school, the one of the Orsoline of the Sacred Heart in Parma; the other son in a boarding school in Piacenza and my other sister was already with my aunts. One summer he decided to send me to Trentino for my vacations; he took advantage of the fact that our cousins came to visit him in Bardi, they had a car (which was very rare at the time) and I still remember the trip on the back seat of an old Fiat convertible trough dirt roads and I remember especially the dust in my face even if the covered me with some towels. This is how I arrived to my aunts’ place; they didn’t feel like taking me back by train: they didn’t know how to catch connected trains. This is how I stayed there, in Malè, since third grade. I still remember with great fondness and devotion my teachers of primary school. I recently met my teacher of sixth grade, Marcello Conta, we both started to talk about those times and for a short time we wrote each other letter; then I lost track of him. Among my memories of those times it’s still very vivid the image of the first Fascists attempts to conquer Trentino, an antifascist area. But I also have older memories.
How old are those memories?
It was in the early 20s, I was about 2 or 3 years old.

What do you remember?
Well, I was in Bardi and I remember I was looking out of the window of Mrs Giacomina (the grandmother of the lawyer Valenziano who was an important person from Genoa) when I saw the members of the Fascist action squad giving the castor oil to the ice cream man. At first I didn’t understand what was going on, Giacomina moved me from the window and that night we didn’t go to have ice cream in that ‘small place’ that smelled so good, a perfume that I never forgot. Later on I found out what happened.
From castor oil in Bardi to the Fascists in Trentino: what did those ‘political’ experiences mean to you at such a young age?
Those experiences left a mark on me: antifascism and antihitlerism directed my efforts toward the constant search for truth and justice. Since then, I’ve been educated to look at politicians from this point of view. For example I remember that my family was in touch with the family of De Gasperi who, at the time, was a deputy at the Austrian Parliament. Later I was very surprised when I found out that at the referendum Monarchy- Republic, De Gasperi, of his own initiative or forced to, played an important role in the elections (for what I’ve been told) for not considering some results that were due to arrive from Sardinia and southern Italy but hadn’t arrived yet, otherwise the Monarchy would have won. As I said, I was very surprised about that.
Before starting to talk about this, I want to ask you if you have some memories of those young years spent in Trentino.
Yes, there is one that taught me to respect women. I don’t remember exactly if I was in fourth or fifth grade, anyhow I fell in love with a classmate coming from the mountains, where there were the so called ‘masi’, some sort of farms with cows. From her house, to reach the street, she had to cross a meadow that we called ‘fat’ because it was full of cows’ excrements. I remember this girl arriving at school with dirty shoes but to me they looked like flowers. I never spoke to her, I never got close to her but I knew that she liked me because my classmates told me so. We respected each other. When I grew up I found out that she got married with one of my classmates. One day I went to visit them, mainly to see how she was, also because there wasn’t any emotional attachment anymore. She had already had four or five sons and she was all flabby. This experience made me understand that in the emotional aspect there are some elements, maybe some values that today are completely neglected. For a period of my life I experienced hypnosis under medical control, I did one of the experiments with two fiancés (he was a TV director) that weren’t sure of truly loving each other and weren’t sure of getting married. I hypnotized them and to both of them I showed the partner full of plagues, diseases and faults; during the hypnosis I asked both of them if they still loved the other one and both of them said yes. When I woke them up, they hugged each other without saying a word: they realized it was love. This has been an example of validity of those feelings that I received from a world where the moral was severe but very human.
What did the mountain mean to you?
The mountain taught me a lot in several aspects. With some friends I started to climb rocks and ice, I reached the forth grade (that was how the level was called at my times). I didn’t want to go too far because one of the things I learned from the mountain is to use caution. The mountain is stronger than you, you can’t think of wining against it: you have to respect it. I was also lead climber and I remember once on the Tosa one person of the group couldn’t go any further and I had to hold the rope with my hands and with my teeth to keep him up. This is one of the episodes about the mountain that gave me a sense of big responsibility. The other thing I learned is the conquer of the difficult, of the inaccessible to be able to hear the voice of God, or better, the silence in which He speaks (and I said this after many years of life and experience). This is another aspect that influenced me a lot: the silence; not so much the physical silence but the internal silence to hear the voice of God. Those two things of the mountain stayed with me culturally and spiritually.
Moreover mountain people also taught me honesty. They were all honest. They believed in God, even if they didn’t go to mass, or if they went to mass they would wait outside the church until after the preaching. This is how men especially used to act. They didn’t pay much attention to the liturgy, but they were honest inside: they would respect others and other people’s things. Before the war, when Austrians were exercising control over the area, they told me there were three policemen in the Valleys of Noce: one in Mezzolombardo, one in Cles and one in Malè or in Mezzana. After the war, when they passed to Italy they had to double the Carabinieri posts in the area. When I was young you knew to find the keys of the refuges, you would get in to get what you needed and you would leave the money for it. After few years the owners realized that things went missing: I’m not talking about money or supplying, I’m talking the equipment. That sort of atmosphere really influenced me and it prevented me to accept many conditionings.
Andrea Fagioli, Nazareno Taddei un gesuita avanti, ed. Edav, Roma, 2000


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