WELL-known journalist Julie Etchingham, on interviewing British Prime Minister Theresa May, concluded her questions with the following challenge, “What’s the naughtiest thing you ever did?” Initially Mrs May seemed at a loss in recalling an occasion when she had stepped out of line, but upon being encouraged by her interviewer she said, “Well, nobody is ever perfectly behaved, are they? I have to confess, when me and my friends, sort of, used to run through the fields of wheat. The farmers weren’t too pleased about that!”

Well, this month I would like to confide to you, dear readers, an episode from my life which I do not look back on with pride, something which caused my parents useless pain and worry.

In 1961 my family moved from Trieste to Padua because my dad had found a better job in our Saint’s city. Naturally, my brothers and I had to change schools.

To my great misfortune my new classmates were a closely-knit community and they immediately classified me as an ‘illegal alien.’ My Italian had a strong ‘Triestino’ accent which was in sharp contrast to the accent of the Paduans. Moreover, I was the shortest in the class and my fellow students were ahead of me in the curriculum, so every time I was interrogated my classmates would burst out laughing.

As time went by the situation only got worse, and the giggles became nasty tricks, like hiding my exercise or text-books, trippings and so on. Naturally I hid all this to my parents, partly because I was ashamed, and partly because I did not want to give them cause for concern.

One day my malicious schoolmates decide to play an especially nasty trick on me. While I was cycling home from school I realized that five of them were following me with their bicycles. I started to panic and rode faster, but they soon caught up with me, and one of them, a certain Alberto, pushed me off my bicycle. Fortunately I did not suffer any serious consequences, but my trousers were torn around the kneecaps. Once I got home I started crying, partly from the shock and partly from the fear of my mum’s reaction. And in fact my mother was not at all pleased by the incident. She phoned Alberto’s mum, pretending an immediate excuse for her son’s terrible behavior as well as monetary compensation for the broken trousers.

With this, however, my situation only got worse. I was now shunned by everyone, and became a sort-of pariah in the school, literally the laughing stock of the whole class. This was the last straw, and now the mere idea of going to school only made me feel sick, so I decided that if I did not have a fever, I would make myself have a fever!

I started telling my mum that I had a headache and that I was feeling cold, and then I rubbed the thermometer to make her believe I had a fever. Initially my dear mum kept me home, but when she realized that my ‘temperature’ would not go down she started taking me to a series of doctors to discover the cause of my mysterious malady. Finally, one pediatrician told her, “Forget about the doctors, your son is probably only experiencing the effects of puberty. Throw away the thermometer and keep him at home. You’ll enroll him next year, and you’ll see that everything will be fixed by then.” My mother followed that doctor’s advice and decided to keep me home – my nightmare was now over!  

For some years, however, I had qualms of conscience about the extraordinary deceit I had orchestrated: I had made my parents worry over something that was a huge lie. Of course I had confessed everything to my parish priest, who told me that I shouldn’t worry about telling the truth to my parents, however I was still unable to confess to them what I had done. Only when I became an adult did I find the maturity to tell them exactly what happened, but that was because I now knew what had happened to me: I had been the victim of bullying.

All teachers should educate their students on the importance of not being bullies; they should teach them to fight against this desire to intimidate or aggressively dominate others.

During a Mass at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis noted, “It starts from childhood, from when we are children, and at school the weakest ones are attacked because they are fat, black, foreigner or just a bit off. It is that instinct that sociologists and psychologists identify in the phenomenon of bullying. Maybe psychologists will give their own explanations to this desire to annihilate the other because they are weak, but I say that it is a trace of original sin. This is Satan’s work.” And it is quite obvious that there is no compassion in the Devil.

Updated on February 05 2019