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NEWS The Waldensian Bonfire for Freedom: Celebrating the Right to Equality and to Diversity

bonfire turinBy Ada Treves

The expectation was strong, as were the curiosity and excitement that in Turin brought a huge crowd in the central Piazza Castello for the “Freedom bonfire for everyone’s rights” organized by the Waldensian Church together with the Jewish community and the City Council. The choice to bring in the city center an event traditionally organized in the Waldensian valleys has been a strong reaffirmation of a commitment shared by the two communities, that in Turin have a long story of mutual support and cooperation.

Pastor Paolo Ribet, who moderated the many representatives of the institution who participated, reminded the public the origins of the tradition to hold a bonfire on February 16: “In the Waldensian valleys every year, on the eve of February 17 we gather around bonfires to commemorate when in 1848 Waldensians were finally granted civil and political rights by king Carlo Alberto. The same rights were granted to Jews a few weeks later.”

The President of the Jewish Community, Dario Disegni, underlined, a few minutes later, how Jews have obviously responded with enthusiasm to support the Waldensian Consistory in a real celebration of freedom and for the freedom of all, to reaffirm a strong refusal of any discrimination.

“Jews, just over a month later, on March 29, obtained the emancipation by Royal Decree No. 688, civil rights and the right to acquire academic degrees, while in the following months they were admitted to military service, received political rights and access to civil and military posts. But do not forget – he continued – that it has been necessary to wait for another century, through the shame of the racist laws of 1938, to finally see equality of all citizens in the Constitution of the Italian Republic, with its refuse to make difference among religions, with the right for everyone to freely profess their religious faith and the fundamental principle of equal liberty before the law of all religious confessions”.

In her speech, Patrizia Mathieu, President of the Consistory of the Waldensian Church of Turin, stressed the value of a strongly secular sense of an event open to all citizens: “We have always dealt with rights because for a long time we had none. If the ‘Lettere Patenti’ recognized us as citizens, they did not allow us the freedom of worship. Only a hundred years later, with the Constitution of the Italian Republic, this has come to full approval. For this, we share this stage with all those who have suffered or are still suffering from the absence of rights: the Jews, of course, recipients of the Lettere Patenti in 1848, but also LGBT associations, together with those who fight for the secular nature of the public institutions and those who spend time and energies to help refugees.”

As a strong and impressive reminder of the centuries of discrimination and tragedies that have targeted both the Jewish and the Waldensian minorities, in the same Piazza Castello where the bonfire was burning, there is a plaque in memory of the Waldensian preacher Gioffredo Varaglia, that in 1558 was burnt in the same place.

The Mayor of the city Chiara Appendino has repeatedly highlighted in her speech how important is to maintain a relationship with the other, a value that must always be interwoven with the governing of the city, “a city that is open and welcoming to anyone who wants to belong to it.”

The sense of community is what gathered around the bonfire very different groups, all equally committed to the development of a city which counts on all those who work for the common good, and who are part of a network engaged in defense of the weakest citizens.

Many representatives of the local government along with the prefect, and the representatives of many organizations took the floor to reaffirm their commitment, while the crowd, and many children, enchanted by the fire and at least as much by the colorful group of Pastafarian Pirates who were obviously supporting such an initiative, stayed together around the bonfire for an evening of shared commitment.

And Dario Disegni’s words were a warning for everyone : “We strongly reaffirm that the right to equality must go hand in hand with the equally important right to diversity. We are here to reaffirm our civil commitment to fight so that in our society full equality of rights, regardless of religion, culture, social status, sexual orientation is effectively guaranteed to all citizens, and to all those who aspire to become so, fleeing from totalitarian and murderous regimes.”