May 20, 2013
Italy awaits Monti's decision on political future
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti stood before the cold stones slabs that hold the remains of St Francis and prayed to the man who preached what the Franciscans call "the gift of discernment" - the wisdom and courage to make the right choice.
Monti will need that gift soon.
He has already said he will resign once Italy passes the next budget law but has yet to announce whether he will run for prime minister in next year's elections - which many European leaders want him to do.
An indication of his political future could come as soon as Sunday when he is due to meet President Giorgio Napolitano, the man who appointed him a year ago to lead a technocratic government charged with saving Italy from financial crisis. But most analysts judge his decision to be least a week away.
Being in Assisi at this critical moment for his - and Italy's - political future, was like a balm for Monti, who has been tugged by all sides on whether to enter active politics. It was solace from the storm.
"It was a big emotion," he told Reuters during a simple dinner with Franciscan monks and guests in the large refectory of the convent-basilica complex in the Umbrian hill town after he prayed before the tomb on Saturday night.
"It combined art, history, religion and simplicity, as St Francis preached to us," he said.
Saint Francis also preached discernment - the need for wisdom and enlightenment in making decisions.
When asked if the visit to the tomb of St Francis - where he prayed standing for a few minutes - will help him make his decision on his political future, he said: "Of course, of course it will," adding, however, that he did not know when he would make it.
In his year in office, Monti, 69, an economics professor and a former European commissioner, has passed a series of tax increases and reforms to steer Italy away from the risk of a Greek-style economic crisis.
Monti, a sober and reserved man with a keen understated sense of humor, has won high hosannas from the markets, which tremble at the uncertainty that a non-Monti government could bring to Italy and Europe.
European politicians from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to French President Francois Hollande, shocked by the possibility that his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi could return to power, have heaped praise on Monti and urged him to run for office.