Monsignor Clemente Riva


Monsignor Clemente Riva died on 30th of last March, the Tuesday of Holy Week. He was one of the most important and least known of the Italian bishops of the post-conciliar era. For many years he was auxiliary bishop of Rome but his work spread over very many fields of ecclesiastical life. He had followed, studied and made the Council known. A Rosminian, a theologian, but also well-versed in social problems, he was a protagonist of the great ecclesiastical meetings of the ’70’s, on "Christians and Rome" and "Evangelism and Development". A man of culture and extraordinary spiritual finesse he was known and loved in the Roman working-class suburbs, among the poor and priests working with the marginal .

For decades he worked, studied and prayed to create a climate of friendliness and dialogue with the Jews (the visit of John Paul II to the Rome synagogue on 13th March 1986 was his work), with Christian evangelicals and the Orthodox. He was always a participator and supporter of the meetings of SAE (The Society of Ecumenical Activities) at Mendola, mixed commissions, prayers and ecumenical celebrations.

Of humble origins, born in the region of Bergamo, he had the simple and good style of Pope John. We can truly say that "don Riva", as everyone called him, was an example of a bishop of the spirit of Vatican II; no power-seeking, no pretence, no authoritarianism but the winning force of example, of persuasion and of absolute openness.

He was a prophet and a builder of the Church of the future. Driven by the love of Christ and the Gospel he was able to speak in a credible way to people of today. We know this because witnesses of wisdom and humility cannot be forgotten; and indeed ought to be lamps to light our steps on the difficult paths of the new millennium; paths, we hope, of ecumenism and peace.



Angelo Bertani







A Bishop with a Passion for Dialogue


There are ten trees planted in the luxuriant forest in Nazareth which are dedicated to Pope John XXIII. They are a permanent symbol of the gratitude expressed in the name of the Jewish communities of Rome and Milan by Rabbis Elio Toaff and Giuseppe Laras for their meetings with Monsignor Clemente Riva who was auxiliary bishop of Rome for the southern sector for twenty two years and who died after a long illness on 30th March last. Monsignor Riva was a pioneer of ecumenism and of inter-religious dialogue especially with the Jews and carried out his work with complete fidelity to Vatican II of which he was an attentive observer and commentator.

Together with Pope John he came from the region of Bergamo. He was born at Medolago on 5th June 1922. In 1939 he entered the institute of Charity, run by the Rosminian Fathers. He was ordained priest on 24 March 1951. He obtained his doctorate of theology at the Lateran University with a thesis on Antonio Rosmini, his spiritual master. Having carried out various tasks within the Rosminian congregation he was nominated in 1964 as ecclesiastical advisor to the Italian embassy to the Holy See. Two years later he was made rector of Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso in the centre of Rome where he would live for over thirty years until his death. Later on he carried out various jobs connected with the pastoral sphere of the University. He was assistant diocesan ecclesiastic of Fuci 2 of Rome and the Committee of University Lecturers and he was national ecclesiastical consultor to the Union of Catholic Italian Jurists.



A man of great culture.

Monsignor Clemente Riva was a retiring and modest person with an immense depth of culture and he was gifted with an extraordinary capacity for communication. This power brought him into the public eye on the occasion of the meeting on The Responsibility of Christians in the Face of the Demands of Charity and Justice in the Diocese of Rome 3 -which history has dubbed as The Meeting on the Evils of Rome- in 1974 at which he presented the theological-pastoral paper. On 24th May 1975, during the Holy Year, Paul VI elected him as titular bishop of Atella nominating him an auxiliary bishop for the southern sector of Rome. He was consecrated on 22nd June in the church of Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso, where the Cardinal Vicar Ugo Poletti presided over the ceremony. A little later Poletti conferred on him the position of president of the Diocesan Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue. Monsignor Riva devoted the rest of his life to this task.


13th April 1986 is a notable date in the matter of inter-religious dialogue with the visit of John Paul II to the Rome synagogue. Monsignor Riva’s hand was unmistakably present in this. He had worked painstakingly for the success of this meeting with Rabbi Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of the Jewish community in Rome. The visit to the "elder brethren" as the Pope called the Jews, signalled the beginning of a brotherly friendship between Riva and Toaff as the latter mentioned in the columns of Avvenire the day after the death of the bishop. "We Jews mourn a great friend, an exceptional man of never ceasing activity united with an extraordinary intelligence and a great heart. It will be difficult to replace him. Nevertheless the record of his work will be far reaching: Some people will certainly continue his work and devote themselves to ensuring that Judaism and Christianity can live side by side without the strife and prejudice which have built up over the centuries. This is the legacy which Monsignor Riva leaves us." Furthermore, ten years ago in May 1989, Monsignor Riva participated, in the capacity of member of the delegation of CEI, 4 in the first ecumenical European assembly, which was held at Basle on the theme Justice and the Protection of Creation.

He dialogued with everyone. In Rome his work was especially strenuous. He met Anglicans, Moslems, (he was present at the opening of the Mosque in 1995), Protestants, Orthodox, Waldensians, summoning Catholics to a greater common involvement with other creeds, in prayer, solidarity and theological research. And while he launched the idea of an "Ecumenical Council of the Churches in Italy," in collaboration with pastors Renzo Bertalot and Paolo Ricca, eminent representatives of the Italian evangelical world, he certainly did not forget "his" faithful of the Southern sector, the most extensive of the diocese of Rome; a never ending activity and always with a smile, notwithstanding the illness which had afflicted him for eight years but which had not prevented him from living among the people who showed him special affection.

His death, significantly on the vigil of the Jubilee, brings to mind the words which he addressed on the preparation of Christians for the Holy Year. "I wish all Christians in Italy, not only Catholics, to make a genuine contribution to the year two thousand with their life, their witness and their activities. I would like writers and intellectuals in general, artists and workers in social communication to enter into the spirit of the Holy Year in their particular work."




1 An article written by Gianni Maritati and Fabrizio Condo in the magazine Il Messaggero di S.Antonio July/August 1999. This appeared in Speranze nn. 151-2 Autumn/Winter 1999. This article presents a different aspect of Bishop Riva’s pastoral work. TEXT

2 FUCI is an acronym for Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana (Italian Catholic University Federation). TEXT

3 La responsibilita dei cristiani di fronte alle attese di carita e giustizia nella diocesi di Roma TEXT

4 Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (Italian Episcopal Conference). TEXT