The founder of ‘Christian Russia’ experienced the mission to Russia for decades, showing the greatness of persecuted Christians in the West. A prophet of ecumenism, he worked so that Eastern spirituality enriched that of the West.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Father Romano Scalfi lived almost a century (1923-2016), representing for all of us a point of reference and a very special spiritual guide.
He became a priest after the Second World War, which had radically altered political and cultural balance of centuries, leaving the world in a permanent conflict between different systems and worldviews.
It was a world of atheists against Christians, although in reality, things were not so simple (many believers remained among atheists, and good Christians rapidly became more atheistic than the atheists), and the Catholic Church of Pope Pius XII called all the faithful, especially priests, to a great crusade against the enemies of the faith.
Like many others, Father Romano responded with enthusiasm. In fact, the postwar years saw a huge wave of priestly and missionary vocations, youth driven by the idea of spiritually rebuilding a destroyed world from hatred and violence.
Father Scalfi’s land of birth, the Trentino, was one of the most generous, and many of those young people devoted themselves to the most daring and risky mission, in the countries dominated by "communist devil", in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Like him, many priests spent those years at the Russicum College and the Pontifical Oriental Institute, especially men from the former territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to which the Trentino once belonged, and which had united Christians of the East and West for centuries.
After graduation, Father Romano tried the romantic path of the "mission to Russia," but after a few attempts, he was denied this possibility: the Iron Curtain had become impenetrable.
Along with other missionaries from the Russicum, he tried other ways, finding a completely different solution: not aimed at Russia and East, but addressed to the faithful of Italy and the West. If he could not go to Russia, he could bring Russia to his land. With others (like Father Pietro Modesto and Father Nilo Cadonna), he founded the Christian Russia Study Centre, and devoted himself to spreading the Russo-Byzantine spirituality in the Latin world.
After so many centuries of mistrust, from Father Romano Scalfi, and a few other pioneers of the ecumenical mission, the West learnt to love icons, the Byzantine liturgy, the mystique of Dostoevsky and the philosophy of Soloviev and Berdyaev, and many other treasures of Russia and eastern Christendom.
With a solemn monastic white beard, and the heavenly eyes of a man of God, he became the starets of the West for many young people, a teacher of faith and life, who loved those faraway and defended the persecuted, a passionate reader of the Church Fathers, and a voice for the "Church of Silence" in Europe, who published underground testimonies.
We do not know what impact Father Scalfi had on the collapse of the Soviet Union's atheist regime (certainly quite a lot), but he had the joy of seeing his dream realised. Young people trained by him went off to Russia as missionaries and explorers of a world he so loved and desired. He himself went back to Russia to give his smile and wisdom.
At the end of his long life, Father Romano was able to contemplate both Russia’s religious revival and the beginning of new fears for the future of the globalised world, to which he will dedicate his heartfelt intercession from heaven, confident that our Lord will listen to his voice, now singing in heaven the hymns of the Church in union with all the saints.