Initially, in tandem with the spirit of those years, such endeavours at providing a framework for mutual exchange of experience and opinion included both Catholic-dominated and secular gruppi spontanei. In fact, some important early efforts at the establishment of a national fabric for such groups to flourish were actually carried out—or at least initiated—by several amongst the astounding range of prolific Catholic reviews and journals operating in Italy at that time.[1] Earlier on in this chapter, we have seen that reading groups of some of the publications in the early sixties often constituted one of the very first of the loose associations of like-minded curious minds which must, in hindsight, be regarded as, in effect, some of the earliest Italian base communities. In fact, the editorial teams of such newsletters or reviews themselves often acted and operated as base communities, as was noted by Ettore Rotelli with regard to Questitalia. ‘In effect, the Milan editorial board of Questitalia not only functioned as a gruppo spontaneo and was a protagonist of efforts to coordinate these groups, but it also aided in making them the object of a state- of-the-art sociological study.’[2]

The first noteworthy meeting in a slowly emerging movement to federate the ebullient but often evanescent gruppi spontanei occurred in Bologna on 15-16 October 1966, when representatives from several leading Left Catholic journals met for deliberations, including Questitalia (Milan) and Il gallo

(Genoa). This effort picked up speed in the course of 1967 when, on 1 August, the progressive editor of the premier Italian Catholic daily, L’avvenire, Raniero La Valle, was forced to relinquish his post. A Bologna base community, the Associazione Culturale ‘Presenza’, on this occasion published a protest manifesto which, within a few days, obtained further signatures from forty-five additional groups, ‘with a growing number of declarations of support arriving in subsequent days’.[3] The Bologna group Presenza, riding the wave of popularity within the milieu of Italian Left Catholicism in the wake of its popularization of the Avvenire affair, now called for a gathering of gruppi spontanei who had signed the petition in order to facilitate mutual interaction and to establish personal contacts and exchange experiences. The key item on the agenda of the meeting in the Bologna Philharmonic Academy’s Mozart Hall was the launch of a newsletter which would provide a link between the far-flung and often isolated groups.[4] On 14 January 1968, representatives of forty-six different groups from Palermo to Udine met for the first national gathering of gruppi spontanei. The minutes of the event make clear that, other than the plans for a national newsletter, the major function of the conference was the mutual cognizance of each other’s existence, and the recognition that one’s local enterprise was part of a much vaster national trend.[5] The newsletter project soon saw the light of day with the regular publication of the Collegamenti for the rest of 1968.[6]

Six weeks later, Bologna hosted yet another convention of gruppi spontanei, this one organized by the editorial group of Questitalia. Already on 25-6 November 1967, Questitalia’s tireless editor, Wladimiro Dorigo, had organized a conference meant to launch an effort at coordinating the emerging gruppi spontanei, but in effect the event was rather top-heavy, with key roles reserved for the interventions by national figureheads of dissident socialists— Luigi Anderlini and Franco Boiardi would soon be elected on tickets of the New Left PSIUP—and the head of the press and propaganda section of the PCI, Achille Ochetto. Consequently, the November 1967 Rimini conference mostly debated the choices for ‘Catholics’ in the upcoming elections.[7]

The 25 February 1968 Convegno Nazionale dei Circoli e Gruppi Spontanei d’Impegno Politica-Culturale thus became the first occasion for the initiative undertaken by the Catholic journal Questitalia to bring together in one hall members of base communities from all across Italy. The conference call was co-signed by sixteen local associations from Messina to Torino. From November 1967 onwards, a series of regional gatherings across Italy had prepared for Bologna. According to the organizers, the preliminary gatherings assembled a total of 2,000 participants, representing about 150 individual local groups. The 25 February 1968 convention assembled in the Sala del Trecento in Bologna’s city centre landmark, the Palazzo di Re Enzo. The more than fifty local groups represented in the Palazzo constituted themselves as the Assem- blea Nazionale di Collegamenti of the movement. Two subsequent gatherings were devoted to the drafting of a programmatic document. The 21 April 1968 gathering, with fifty-six groups represented, adopted a common platform giving rise to the ‘Assembly of Spontaneous Groups with a Political and Cultural Commitment in View of a New Left’.80

The key difference between the two initiatives, which were not meant to be competitive but rather complementary efforts, was the more openly political focus of the 25 February Bologna convention in the Sala del Trecento. The 14 January 1968 Mozart Hall gathering was clearly focused on the inner life of the gruppi spontanei themselves, and the resulting bulletin, Collegamenti, became its logical organizational expression. Yet it would be wrong to ascribe to the crowd in the Sala Mozart a primarily ecclesial orientation and to view the participants in the Sala Trecento as primarily politically motivated. In both gatherings, though dominated by Catholic spontaneous groups, groups composed of non-religious activists were present as well. The January gathering also declared its intent to carry out urgently necessary interventions in public life. And, in fact, a number of the groups present in January also signed the conference call for the convention in the Palazzo di Re Enzo. The simultaneity of similar efforts was a symbolic expression of the sudden realization of the necessity for the countless local initiatives to construct networks. The fact that the student movement in Italy had entered the hot phase with a cycle ‘ “Questitalia” e la polemica sui temi dell’organizzazione e politica dei cattolici’, in Ristuccia (ed.), Intellettuali cattolici, pp. 165-227, and Marcello Vigli, ‘“Questitalia”. Una via cattolica alla laicita’, in Lucia Ceci and Laura Demofonti (eds), Chiesa, laicita e vita civile (Rome: Carocci, 2005), pp. 419-34.

80 The conference call, signed by sixteen groups, can be consulted in the Fondo Domenico Sereno Regis, FVN, faldone 2, fascicolo B. On the series of preparatory meetings and the 25 February convegno in the Palazzo di Re Enzo, see ‘Bologna. Prima tappa dell’associazionismo spontaneo per una “nuova sinistra”’, Questitalia 11 (nos 118-19), January-February 1968, pp. 14-20. On the 25 February and 21 April 1968 gatherings in Bologna, see ‘L’Assemblea dei gruppi spontanei’, Questitalia 11 (nos 120-2), March-May 1968, pp. 16-19; and Nando Fabro, ‘I gruppi spontanei in Italia’, Il gallo 22 (no. 6), June 1968, p. 10.

of ever-spreading university occupations, starting in November 1967 with the Catholic University of Milan (see Chapter 4), contributed its own fair share to the growing politicization of spontaneous groups, Catholics and nonCatholics alike.

  • [1] Two book-length studies may serve as useful introductions to the kaleidoscope of progressive Catholic newsletters, monthlies, journals, and reviews: Ristuccia (ed.), Intellettuali cattolici,and the recent monograph by Daniela Saresella, Dal Concilio alla contestazione. Riviste cattolichenegli anni del cambiamento (1958-1968) (Brescia: Morcelliana, 2005).
  • [2] Ettore Rotelli, ‘I gruppi spontanei del ’68’, in Lorenzo Bedeschi etal., I cristiani nellasinistra. Dalla Resistenza a oggi (Rome: Coines, 1976), p. 186.
  • [3] Fabro, I cattolici, p. 57.
  • [4] A copy of the letter by the Associazione Culturale ‘Presenza’, ‘A tutti i gruppi spontaneid’Italia’, written on 5 December 1967, calling for this meeting, can be consulted in the FondoDomenico Sereno Regis, Fondazione Vera Nocentini (FVN) [Turin], faldone 2, fascicolo B.Fabro, I cattolici, p. 62, provides some additional contextual information.
  • [5] One of the chief promoters of the 14 January 1968 gathering in the Sala Mozart, themonthly journal Il gallo, carried a report, ‘Un incontro di “gruppi spontanei” a Bologna, nellaSala Mozart, il 14 gennaio 1968’, in its February 1968 issue, p. 14. A copy of the forty-nine-page-long proceedings of the gathering can be consulted in Fondo Gianni Vizio, FVN, faldone 3b.
  • [6] Fabro, I cattolici, p. 63 note 2.
  • [7] On the 4-5 November 1967 Rimini convegno, see ‘Introduzione’ to Assemblea dei GruppiSpontanei di Impegno Politico-Culturale per una Nuova Sinistra, I gruppi spontanei e il ruolopolitico della contestazione (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1969), p. 5. On Questitalia, see Francesco Sidotti,
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