The cry of the prophet is not the usual mode of contemporary preaching, including that of papal rhetoric. But this month two memorable anniversaries were marked in Italy when popes spoke with biblical power in a manner that reverberated across the nation.

Forty years ago, at the funeral of his dear friend, the former prime minister Aldo Moro, Blessed Paul VI shocked a grieving Italy when he publicly professed his frustration with God. It was the desolate lamentation of the prophets.

And 25 years ago, St John Paul II made a pastoral visit to Sicily. In 1993 Italy was gripped by a political crisis as massive corruption was revealed at the highest levels of politics. Thousands of politicians were found to have taken kickbacks.

Prosecutions of the organised crime led to lethal retaliation, with the mafia assassinating a prominent Sicilian judge in May 1992. A year later John Paul visited Sicily. While his prepared remarks were strong but measured, after Sunday Mass he denounced the mafia, his voice and body shaking with anger. It was the fierce denunciation of the prophets.

In 1978, Paul VI was approaching the 15th anniversary of his pontificate. The turmoil in the Church and the world had taken its toll. Terrorism was a present danger in Italy, and in March Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades.

The kidnapping shook the Holy Father to his core. He publicly pleaded for Moro’s release; privately he sought through intermediaries to arrange a ransom. It was reported that Paul VI even offered to take Moro’s place. But Moro was killed 55 days after his kidnapping. On May 13, 1978, Paul VI had the funeral at his own cathedral, St John Lateran in Rome, where he spoke in great torment:

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