Impressions of Rome: Aldo Moro

Nearly every day I walk past a memorial to one of Italy’s Prime Ministers who tragically died in 1978. The memorial is just three blocks from where I live and is on my usual “exercise walk” route. This essay is the story of the man and something about the outdoor memorial to him.

Aldo Romeo Luigi Moro was born in September of 1916. He rose to be a prominent statesman and politician as a member of the Christian Democrat Party, eventually becoming the 38th Prime Minister of Italy from 1963 to 1968 and again from 1974 to 1976.

Known as one of Italy’s longest serving Prime Misters in modern times, Aldo Moro is also considered the Father of the Italian “left of center” politics and a very popular leader in the Italian Republican history. An intellectual by temperament and education, Moro was known as a mediator, especially within his own political party as well as with the Italian Communist Party of his time.

On March 16, 1978 Moro was kidnapped by the radical “Red Brigade” and killed after fifty-five days of captivity, on May 9th, 1978. His body was found in a parked red car on a street in the historic center of Rome, not far from the church of Gesu, also near the headquarters of both the Christian Democratic Party and the Italian Communist Party. The possible explanation for the death and subsequent placement of his body will be outlined below.

Today, at the place where the car was parked with Aldo Moro’s body, a huge plaque of unpolished bronze is affixed to the wall of a building, telling the story of Aldo Moro. Next to that is a similarly colored metal depiction of the face of Moro. There are almost always flowers or wreaths on the sidewalk beneath the plaques, especially around May 9th, the anniversary of the death and finding of Moro’s body.

Before his political career, Aldo Moro was a student and later professor of Law at the University of Bari in southern Italy, teaching philosophy of Law, colonial policy and criminal Law. At the age of twenty, in 1935, he joined the Catholic University Students’ Association in Bari. Four years later, with the approval of Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montoni, who later became Pope Paul VI (now a blessed of the Church), Moro was chosen as president of the Catholic University’s Students’ association. Moro kept the post until 1942, succeeded by Guilio Andreotti (1919 – 2011), another important Italian politician.

The 1940’s were the difficult years of the Fascist Regime in Italy and Nazism in Germany, culminating in World War II and the concentration camps.

In 1942 Aldo Moro married Eleonara Chiavarelli, when they were both about 36 years old. They had four children, three girls and one boy who are now in their 60’s and 70’s.

Initially interested in social democratic policies, eventually Aldo Moro’s Catholic faith and convictions directed him toward the newly founded Christian Democrat Party. There he befriended Guiseppe Dossetti, another prominent politician who in later life was founder of a Catholic religious community near Bologna. Needless to say, Moro traveled in an interesting circle of friends.

Aldo Moro was also an active part of “Azione Cattolica” (Catholic Action), which was a strong lay movement in Italian Catholic culture and the seedbed for many religious and priestly vocations.

Eventually Moro became vice-president of the Christian Democrats and took part in an editing of the Italian Constitution. In 1948 he was elected to the Italian Parliament and remained active in politics until his death. During his first term as Prime Minister of Italy beginning in 1963, his political career promoted housing for the poorer sectors of society as well as education initiatives for students of all ages.

The minimum wage was raised during Moro’s time as Prime Minister and pensions for seniors were promoted. Health care was also a concern of his. He was considered a tenacious leader and mediator between varying political parties of the day. Moro also worked to integrate young people, women and laborers into ordinary Italian life. The need for democracy was a constant theme in his political approach.

When in 1978 the militant far-left organization known as the “Red Brigade” abducted Aldo Moro off a street in Rome, he was not immediately harmed, but police and bodyguards accompanying him, five in number, were murdered by Moro’s abductors.

At the time he was kidnapped Moro was heading to parliament for a crucial vote on a ground-breaking alliance he had proposed between the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communists. Both parties had strong objections, even abhorrence, about the alliance. Both Moscow and Washington, DC, were also apparently unhappy about the proposal. Recall this was all in “pre-perestroika” days, before the fall of Soviet Communism.

A general strike was carried out in Italy during Moro’s abduction in 1978 and searches for him took place in Rome, Milan and Turin. During the almost two months of his captivity, Moro was allowed to correspond some with family and friends. Attempts were made to have him released but Moro’s kidnappers would not budge. Even the pope, Paul VI, who had known Moro for decades, offered himself in exchange for Moro.

The Red Brigade had a private trial and Moro was found guilty and sentenced to death. The kidnappers sent out demands that unless sixteen Red Brigade members were released from prison, Moro would be killed. Terrorist demands were not met and Moro was ultimately shot ten times, then left in the trunk of a red Renault 4 that was parked on Via Michaelangelo Caetani on May 9th, 1978. The place seemed carefully selected, as midway between the headquarters of the Italian Communists and the Christian Democrats.

Today the memorial at the place of the finding of Moro’s body there are usually flowers and wreaths especially around May 9th, the day of Moro’s death and finding. Next year will mark the fortieth anniversary of the event. September of last year marked Moro’s one hundredth birthday.

At one point the Holy See was considering the possibility of Aldo Moro being beatified, leading to canonization, but I am not aware of progress in the case or if it still under consideration.

Some films and documentaries have been made since Moro’s death, with, I understand, varying degrees of value and veracity. I have not seen any of them. Books have also been written about this important if controversial political leader of Italy who clearly has not been forgotten in Rome or in the Italian minds.