First Awardee – May 2021

The Seraphic Institute of Assisi

On May 15, 2021, the Feast day of the Sanctuary of the Renunciation, the first award was conferred, in an honorary way, on the Seraphic Institute in Assisi, founded as a small seed 150 years ago by the Italian Franciscan, Saint Ludovico of Casoria, to serve three deaf and mute persons and two blind men. Today, it has grown to care for some 164 children, from new born infants to teenagers, 84 of whom are resident, with very serious and multiple disabilities, making use of the resources that it receives to develop the most advanced technologies to care for and defend the life and dignity of the most fragile little ones in our midst. At the center of the Institute’s daily life is Perpetual Adoration. “Christ’s love has wounded my heart,” Ludovico once said, which moved him to give of himself, in imitation of the Eucharistic Jesus, in acts of charity.

When Pope Francis visited Assisi in one of the initial trips of his pontificate, his first stop was at the Seraphic Institute. “Here is Jesus hidden in these boys and girls, in these children, in these people,” the Holy Father said in unprepared remarks. “On the altar we adore the Flesh of Jesus; in the people we find the wounds of Jesus … In this place real love can be seen, I say to everyone: let us multiply our work in the culture of acceptance, works primarily enlivened by a deep Christian love, love for the Crucified Christ, for the flesh of Christ” (Address of Pope Francis, Seraphic Institute, Assisi, October 4, 2013).

When Pope Francis visited Assisi in one of the initial trips of his pontificate, his first stop was at the Seraphic Institute. “Here is Jesus hidden in these boys and girls, in these children, in these people,” the Holy Father said in unprepared remarks. “On the altar we adore the Flesh of Jesus; in the people we find the wounds of Jesus … In this place real love can be seen, I say to everyone: let us multiply our work in the culture of acceptance, works primarily enlivened by a deep Christian love, love for the Crucified Christ, for the flesh of Christ” (Address of Pope Francis, Seraphic Institute, Assisi, October 4, 2013).

 

Archbishop

Domenico Sorrentino

REPORT FOR CONFERRAL TO THE SERAPHIC INSTITUTE OF ASSISI

May 15, 2021

By instituting, at the Sanctuary of the Renunciation, the International Prize “Francis of Assisi and Carlo Acutis for an Economy of Fraternity,” we had no doubts that our Seraphic Institute, for what it has been for 150 years, and for how it presents itself today, is an excellent example of what this award wishes to express and promote. The conferral is not the result of a competition, because we wanted to give it an altogether emblematic, inaugural and explanatory character. We hope to have equally significant nominations every year for the future. But today, conferring this award on the Seraphic Institute is a gesture of gratitude and, at the same time, a concrete presentation of the message of a true economy of fraternity.

I will limit myself here to summarize some traits of this long history and the current makeup of the Institute, highlighting those aspects that have greater relevance to our Award.

  1. FRATERNAL ECONOMY “FROM BELOW” NURTURED BY THE CHARISM

The Prize aims to make a contribution to a change in today’s dominant model of economy, encouraging those initiatives that arise from below, without great means, but relying on commitment and fraternal collaboration.

The Seraphic was born precisely in this way, in the distant 1871, when a son of Francis, Saint Ludovico of Casoria, felt an interior call to take care of the education and instruction of blind and deaf-mute children, seeing in them not only wounded existences to be helped, but a great resource for society, engaging in their care and education. Aspects that today seem obvious to us, but which, at the time, were a real revolution because blind and deaf-mute children did not even have access to education.

The Seraphic was born from a charism given from above, embodied within a visionary motive and a mission: to defend and guard the most fragile and defenceless lives.

It was born, depending solely on the capital of the fraternity. Saint Ludovico of Casoria began without even the shadow of a penny, but trusted in divine Providence and in the goodness of many hearts. To the Prefect of Perugia, who proposed that he place the Seraphic under State assistance, setting it up as a religious work, he responded in a surprising way: “When works are placed among the multitude, the people, and entrust themselves to private charity, they die no more; when they become governmental, they become sterile.”

The charismatic works were born over time to respond to new needs, which their founders met by resorting to a true fantasy of charity.

Today, one laments the crisis of health facilities and of the entire national health service due to “lack of resources.” But if public resources are scarce, private ones can make up for them.

The “welfare state,” in which the State takes care of the needs and well-being of citizens, is an important achievement of democracy, but it has points of weakness that can only be overcome by a mature democracy, by a participating democracy, I would say, which does not expect everything from above, but knows how to express its vitality – as the social doctrine of the Church underlines – in the so-called “intermediate bodies,” in which all of civil society, in its various articulations, cooperates, no less than the State, for the common good. A perspective that was developed in the time of Saint Ludovico of Casoria by a great Catholic economist, Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo, who is remembered precisely in the Seraphic with our socio-political school, named after him.

It is a perspective to be rediscovered, and it is no coincidence that we begin to speak not only of the welfare state, but also of the welfare society. In this system, it is the whole of society and not just the State that takes care of the needs. For this, the three spheres of the social organism need to interact strategically: the public sphere (State, Regions, para-state bodies, etc); businesses, or the business community; and the sphere of private citizens, also through their organizations.

In order to finance its work, the Seraphic has activated over time a whole network of community solidarity. 30% of its budget is based on private income and this is an extraordinary achievement. A result also achieved through a style of fraternity, namely the promotion of relationships between all the players involved, ensuring that those who intend to donate do not do so anonymously, but, in some way, become the protagonists of the Institute’s very mission.

2. ECONOMY OF FRATERNITY AND THE LOGIC OF CARE

When we speak about economics, our thoughts immediately turn to some concepts that relate to the operational structure of the economy – production, consumption, trade, finance, etc – and the basic idea of ​​the economy is concentrated in the great law that presides over economic action, that of the maximum result with the minimum effort. However, we forget that the word economy has an etymological root that opens up another perspective: “oikos,” the Greek word that means home, family, suggests that “oikonomia” is, above all, the care and governance of the house. So, something that has to do with the family, with the concrete people who make it up, with their habitat. A concept that can expand to the whole of humanity, understood as a great fraternity, as Pope Francis reminded us with “Brothers all” (Fratelli tutti), signed here in Assisi, and as he had reminded us even before in Laudato si’, where, in the light of the Canticle of “Brother Son,” the Pope applied the concept of the common home to the whole world around us, defining ecology as the “care” of the common home.

The concept of “care,” when it comes to family and home, is fundamental. If this is in respect to material things, it applies all the more to the relationship between people, and is expressed in the highest degree towards the most fragile and neediest people.

Taking care of the disabled person, as the Seraphic does as per its specific “mission,” is, above all a great affirmation of the dignity of the human person, of every person, regardless of his or her characteristics. It must be said that the disabled person, even when he is wounded in his or her sensory and intellectual abilities, is a fully human subject, entitled to the sacred and inalienable rights proper to every human creature. This is an affirmation that belongs to the universal conscience, even before any positive legislation. Our Constitution is within this logic when it states, in art. 32: “The Republic protects health as a fundamental right of the individual and, in the interest of the community, guarantees free medical care to the native people (…).” A right that refers to articles 2 and 3 in which the inviolable rights of the human person are recognized.

Defending, welcoming and assisting the life of the most fragile, therefore, is not a discretionary activity, it is not just a service of charity: it is a response of justice, it is giving everyone what they are entitled to in terms of a moral and juridical obligation of solidarity. How can we fail to see the harmony of all this with what our award calls the “economy of fraternity”?

The Seraphic Institute lives its identity, not only as a rehabilitation centre in the medical sense, but also as a laboratory of citizenship. Many small gestures of care accompany disabled people in the acquisition of new autonomies and the beauty of life in its totality: physical, psychological and spiritual health. Both those who carry out the care work and those who are its users are, at the same time, guardians of life, builders of democracy, bearers of hope. Through this lived fraternity, the disabled person himself is not only one who receives, but also one who gives.

What does taking care actually mean? The modality of treatment, too, has its importance. The care model of the Seraphic Institute goes far beyond the act of health and welfare; it is part of a relationship. Professionalism counts, but also and, above all else, the heart. What counts are the gestures that express love for the other, becoming a gaze that recognizes, a hand that supports, and holds that of the fragile person in order to be “with” him or her, to support them on their journey by becoming almost one with them.

In the Seraphic’s philosophy of healing, one principle is very clear: unhealable does not mean incurable. Even the person with the greatest limitations can be accompanied to live a full life, according to his or her possibilities. In this logic, the throwaway culture denounced by Pope Francis is totally defeated. Here, life is worth what it is: it is priceless. Here it is defended in every way, even when it is disabled or diversely able. Here it is defended a priori in all its conditions, from the womb onwards. Already in the womb, in which every life blossoms, we must refuse to distinguish the able and the disabled life, as if only the former is worthy of being welcomed and lived. Life is valuable in itself. An economy that differentiates between “prices” of life would be an inhuman, unacceptable economy, made to create a world that, even when it appears efficient and advanced, ends up being hell.

Society must become aware of this, rolling up its sleeves so as not to leave the defence of life to the State alone. Of course, a State has precise obligations to protect life, and, if it wants to be fully democratic, it cannot fail to make this principle its own. Unfortunately, a certain culture of efficiency works in the opposite direction. If the scarcity of resources is understandable, one cannot tolerate a culture that does not justify investments, in favor of the most disadvantaged, just because they are not compensated by benefits such as healing. The commitment of society to every life, and especially to the most fragile one, is justifiable in itself, and not by virtue of the productive results that are obtained from it. An important moral question is at stake here. By conferring our award to the Seraphic Institute, we intend to affirm a basic principle with respect to which the human person, democracy and civilization stand or fall together.

At the Seraphic Institute, the children who are cared for every day are at the centre of every concern, even beyond the spending possibilities ensured by the national health service with which the Institute is obviously affiliated. For each one, an individual path is drawn that is focused not only on the “limits,” but on the resources of the person. For this reason, in recent years, in addition to introducing technological innovation in the rehabilitation courses at the Seraphic, many educational workshops have been activated to accompany children to express their talents, their interests and to develop their skills. For example, the graphic, artisan, pictorial, musical, and theatrical laboratory, the radio studio, or even garden therapy, physical activity adapted to children, from competitions in the Special Olympics and goal setting, to holidays by the sea.

Technologies are certainly important, and, for this reason, the Institute has launched the “Invita Research Center” (Centro di Ricerca Invita) through which research of the highest quality has already had an immediate effect on the well-being of children (for example, research on music and epilepsy), with international recognition. Technology, yes, therefore, and at the highest level, but a technology that is profoundly linked to human resources and substantiated by humanity.

3. ECONOMY OF FRATERNITY AND THE CULTURE OF WORK

When compared to how it was born in 1871, the Seraphic today presents itself today also with the profile of a company – and not of small dimensions. Suffice it to say that it has 185 employees, and takes care of almost 164 children a day, of which 84 are residents.

The conferral of our Award takes account also of the working model that it embodies.

First of all, there is a screening of candidates, which highlights some of the fundamental qualities of the candidates in relation to the aims of the institution, namely involvement in its mission and adherence to its visionary motivations. Strictly speaking, in terms of work, corporate decisions aim to increase the sense of belonging and participation. Hence, the need to present to collaborators and involve them in corporate objectives, teamwork, internal communication.

The style of “care” that the Seraphic affords to the beneficiaries of its services also extends to those who work there, identifying their needs, so that the worker and his or her family feel they are the first stakeholders of the entire organization.

This explains, for example, the creation of a solidarity fund, which comes into play in the event of extraordinary needs of employees; the offer of a service of psychological support with an external psychiatrist; the promotion of outside work activities with the aim of promoting relations between employees – a course for postural gymnastics, organized outings with families, negotiating discounts with suppliers for the benefit of employees; organizing a campus for the children of employees; redefining the organizational structures for the best enhancement and integration of specific roles; promoting integrated work with hours set aside for weekly meetings for larger teams; creating an hourly bank for extra hours worked that the employee chooses to use in different ways according to his or her needs, and, last but not least, the offer of a spiritual service, with the presence of a spiritual assistant and a group for pastoral healthcare, animated by the employees themselves.

4. ECONOMICS OF FRATERNITY, EFFICIENCY, TRANSPARENCY

The Seraphic is well aware that an economy of fraternity is not opposed to a transparent and efficient economy. Things must be done efficiently, and therefore resources must be managed in such a way as to maximize the results obtainable with the minimum cost. Effective action must be taken, and then, if a goal is set, resources must be allocated consistently. And all of this in the name of the widest transparency, not only in internal relations, but also in relations with the outside world. Hence, the careful work on the budget and the training of all employees; management control, the use of certifications, recognized by international standards of reference.

CONCLUSION

These are some features of the Seraphic Institute. Of course, if we were to question the President and the workers, as in all things human, they would tell us that we must always do better, and that there are things in which further efforts must be made to pursue this ideal vision to the end.

But the International Award “Francis of Assisi and Carlo Acutis for an Economy of Fraternity” does not reward perfection, which does not exist on earth, but rather the convinced, persevering and productive commitment that makes one pursue the visionary objectives with all the strength that one has.

The aim of the Award is precisely to highlight this and to express a grateful recognition and, at the same time, a heartfelt encouragement to continue in the chosen direction.

With great joy, therefore, expressing myself in the name of the entire Foundation that approved the institution of this Award and promotes it, together with the President, Don Cesare Provenzi, I confer, for this year 2021, the first International Award “Francis of Assisi and Carlo Acutis,” to the Seraphic Institute of Assisi.

The two heavenly patrons of our initiative, both of whom are venerated in this Shrine, will grant from Heaven their most significant contribution, that of intercession.

For our part, we offer our warmest congratulations to the whole Institute, in all its components, from those who direct it, to those who animate it, to those who lend their service at the most diverse levels, to the guests who constitute its heart, to the families who follow them in collaboration with the workers, to the benefactors who take care of them, hoping that the public institutions will do ever more and ever better, also to ensure the support that such demanding works need.