Dear fellow citizens, I have always experienced this traditional end-of-year event with great involvement and also with some emotion. Today these feelings are heightened by the fact that, in a few days, as provided in the Constitution, my role as President will end.
My wish for you is therefore all the more intense because, in addition to the need to look to the new year together with confidence and hope, I would like to express my thanks to each one of you for having shown, on several occasions, the true face of Italy: it is hard-working, creative and supportive.
They have been seven challenging, complex and emotional years: I remember the happiest moments as well as the tragic days, when difficulties and suffering seemed to prevail.
I sensed beside me the widespread aspiration of Italians to be a true community, with a sense of solidarity that precedes – and goes alongside – the many differences in ideas and interests.
Over the past few days, I have been thinking about what we have been through together over the past two years: the time of the pandemic that shook the world and our lives.
Once again, we extend our sympathy to the families of the many victims: their mourning was, and is, the mourning of the whole of Italy.
We must remember, as a priceless heritage of humanity, the self-sacrifice of doctors, health workers and volunteers. Of those who worked to fight the virus. Of those who continued to carry out their duties despite the danger.
The merits of those who, trusting science and the institutions, took the recommended precautions and chose to get vaccinated: almost all Italians, whom I want, once again, to thank for the maturity and sense of responsibility they showed.
At a time when contagions are once again a cause for concern and alert levels are being raised because of virus variants – unpredictable in their changing configurations – there is sometimes a sense of frustration.
We should not be discouraged. We have achieved so much.
Vaccines have been, and are, a valuable tool, not because they guarantee invulnerability, but because they represent the defence that makes it possible to decisively reduce damage and risks, for oneself and for others.
I remember the feeling of helplessness and despair we felt in the first months of the pandemic when we saw the tragic scenes of the victims of the virus. The coffins carried by military vehicles. The long, necessary lockdown of everyone at home. Closed schools, offices and shops. Hospitals collapsing.
What would we have given, in those days, to have the vaccine?
Research and science have given us this opportunity much earlier than we could have hoped for. To squander it is also an insult to those who did not have it and to those who cannot get it today.
Vaccines have saved many thousands of lives, they have greatly reduced – I repeat – the danger of the disease.
Just think of how we spent the Christmas holidays last year as against how it was possible to celebrate this time around, albeit with caution and limitations.
The pandemic has inflicted deep social, economic and moral wounds. It has caused hardship for young people, loneliness for the elderly, suffering for people with disabilities. The crisis on a global scale has caused poverty, exclusion and job losses. Often the already disadvantaged have been forced to suffer further hardship.
And yet we got back on our feet. Thanks to the responsible behaviour of Italians – although amidst persisting difficulties that require us to maintain adequate levels of safety – we are on the road to recovery; with policies to support those affected by the economic and social slowdown and thanks to the framework of confidence created by the new European instruments.
A response of solidarity, equal to the gravity of the situation, that Europe has been able to give and to which Italy has made a decisive contribution.
We have also found within ourselves the resources to react, to rebuild. This journey has begun. It will still be long and not without difficulties. But the country's economic conditions have recovered beyond the expectations and hopes of a year ago. It is a recovery that has been accompanied by a resumption of social life.
In the course of these years, Italy has experienced and endured other serious suffering. The threat of international terrorism of Islamist origin, which has painfully claimed many victims among our compatriots abroad. The serious disasters caused by human responsibility, earthquakes and floods. Military and civilian deaths in the line of duty. The many deaths at work. Women victims of violence.
Even in the darkest moments, I never felt alone and I tried to convey a feeling of trust and gratitude to those who were on the front line. To the mayors and their communities. To the presidents of the Regions, to all those who worked tirelessly in the territories, alongside the people.
The real face of a supportive and united Republic is the patriotism concretely expressed in the life of the Republic.
The Constitution entrusts the Head of State with the task of representing national unity.
This task, which I have endeavoured to perform with commitment, has been facilitated by the awareness of the connection, essential in a democracy, that exists between institutions and society, and which our Constitution outlines so precisely.
This connection must be continuously strengthened by responsible action, by the loyalty of those who hold public office pro tempore, at all levels. But it could not last without the support coming from the citizens.
News reports often focus on tensions and divisions. They indeed exist and should not be concealed. But especially in times of serious national difficulty, the attitude of our people emerges to preserve the cohesion of the country, to feel part of the same destiny.
Institutional unity and moral unity are the two expressions of what holds us together. This is what the Republic is founded on.
I believe that each President of the Republic, at the time of their election, feels two basic needs: to divest themselves of all previous affiliations and to take on exclusively the general interest, the common good as the good of each and every one. And then, to safeguard the role, powers and demands of the institution that they received from their predecessor and that – by exercising them fully until the last day of his mandate – they must pass on intact to their successor.
It is not for me to say whether and how far I have succeeded in fulfilling this duty. What I would like to tell you is that I have strived, in all circumstances, to carry out my task in strict compliance with the constitutional requirements.
The Constitution is the firm and vigorous foundation of national unity. Its principles and values must be lived by political and social actors and all citizens.
And in this respect, also on this occasion, I feel I must express my gratitude for the loyal cooperation with the other institutions of the Republic.
First of all, with Parliament, which expresses popular sovereignty.
In the same way, I would like to express my gratitude to the Prime Ministers and the Governments that we saw in office in these years.
The governance that the institutions have achieved has enabled the country, especially in some particularly difficult and challenging periods, to avoid dangerous leaps in the dark.
We are in the midst of increasingly accelerated processes of change.
Of course, this requires the courage to look at reality without convenient filters. The pandemic season has added new inequalities to the old ones. The spontaneous dynamics of the markets sometimes produce imbalances or even injustices that need to be corrected, not least for the sake of greater and better economic development. A still too widespread lack of job security is discouraging young people from building a family and a future. The sharp fall in the birth rate is one of the most worrying aspects of our society today.
Ecological and digital transitions are unavoidable necessities, and can also become an opportunity to improve our social model.
Italy has the necessary resources to face the challenges of the new times.
Thinking about the future of our society, I am reminded of the gaze of so many young people I have met over the years. Young people who are involved in voluntary work, young people who distinguish themselves in their studies, young people who love their work, young people who – as is necessary – become involved in the life of institutions, young people who want to learn and understand, young people who emerge in sports, young people who have suffered under difficult conditions and who are climbing the ladder by taking a new path.
Young people are bearers of their own originality, their own freedom. They are different from those who have gone before them. And they ask that the baton is not withheld from their hands.
To the new generations I feel I have to say: don't stop, don't get discouraged, take your future because only in this way will you give it to society.
I would like to recall the moving letter of Professor Pietro Carmina, victim of the recent tragic collapse in Ravanusa. A professor of philosophy and history, retiring two years ago, he wrote to his students: 'Use the words I taught you to defend yourselves and to defend those who do not have those words. Do not be spectators but protagonists of the history you are living today. Get into it, get your hands dirty, bite into life, do not adapt, commit yourselves, never give up pursuing your goals, even the most ambitious ones, put those who cannot make it on your shoulders. You are not the future; you are the present. Please: never be indifferent, do not be afraid to take risks just to avoid making mistakes...".
I respectfully make these effective words of exhortation my own, which also show the dedication of our teachers to their educational task.
I would like to extend my affectionate wishes and sincere thanks to Pope Francis for the strength of his teaching and for the love he expresses for Italy and Europe, underlining how this continent can play an important role in peace, balance and the defence of human rights in a changing world.
Dear fellow citizens, we are ready to welcome the New Year, and it is a time of hope. Let us look ahead, knowing that the fate of Italy also depends on each one of us.
Many times, we have spoken of a new season of duties. Many times, especially recently, we have emphasised that difficulties can only be overcome if everyone agrees to play their part to the full.
When I look back at the road we have travelled together in these seven years, I feel confident.
Italy will grow. And it will do so to the extent that it is aware of the common destiny of our people, and of the peoples of Europe.
Happy New Year to you all!
And to our Italy!
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