At Milan Cathedral, an hour before Silvio Berlusconi’s funeral begins, it’s already standing room only. Images from the big screens show the hearse traveling from Arcore to downtown Milan, the streets passing through lush green fields and factories, and one can’t help but be reminded of Queen Elizabeth’s last journey to Westminster – all is organized as a show of solemnity and grandeur.
“The Knight” wanted to get back those honors he lost in 2013 with his conviction and removal from the Senate – and, posthumously, he got them. In the front rows are his lifelong friends, Marcello Dell’Utri (extremely thin), Fedele Confalonieri, Gianni Letta and Adriano Galliani. Close to them are representatives of all the worlds Berlusconi was active in during his long life: figures from the world of TV, soccer, economics, politics. Mario Draghi and Mario Monti are also present, the two technocratic premiers whom he deposed at one point.
The current government is there in full, celebrating him as a father of the Fatherland; and the last of them to arrive is Giorgia Meloni, who comes in just ahead of Sergio Mattarella, who sits in the front row next to the Emir of Qatar. There are the Cuirassiers honor guard, a military marching band, blasts of trumpets.
A few feet away from the President is Maria De Filippi (next to her daughter-in-law Silvia Toffanin), Viktor Orbán (the only head of government present, along with Albania’s Edi Rama) not far behind Draghi, Gentiloni, then Alba Parietti and Lele Mora a little further back, Gerry Scotti and Constitutional Court President Silvana Sciarra, the presidents of the House and Senate, and Iva Zanicchi, Ilary Blasi and Elly Schlein, leading a small delegation from the PD. Franco Baresi, Mara Carfagna, Matteo Renzi, Arrigo Sacchi, and Umberto Bossi in a wheelchair with his ever-present son Trota, his hair still unruly – he certainly never imagined he would outlive Berlusconi. And today he has only honeyed words for the one whom he’d nicknamed “Berluskaz” (“Berlus-dickhead”), before he became his favorite ally at Monday dinners in Arcore.
Close by are also Fabio Capello, Jo Squillo, Denis Verdini and Giulio Tremonti. It’s all such an unlikely mix of names that it reminds one of those lists that Fiorello and Baldini artfully put together for their sketch parodying Gianni Minà, the reporter who had connections with everybody: an endless list of names that only a mad genius would think to put together, a strange cocktail that could only be the fruit of Berlusconi in Italy. And, for that matter, many of them owe him their success and wealth in the first place.
It’s a perfectly directed funeral, broadcast live by at least 20 TV networks (13 from Mediaset alone). Also present in the church, of course, are the many journalists who over the past 30 years have sung paeans to the deeds of “the Knight” and (very often) struck blows against his opponents: Del Debbio, Giordano, Minzolini, Sallusti, Vittorio Feltri, Nicola Porro. There is Mentana with his publisher Urbano Cairo. There are at least four decades of soccer, TV, politics and business in this packed cathedral, where Berlusconi’s body arrives punctually at 3 p.m. in a handmade mahogany coffin covered with red and white flowers.
Long applause accompanies the long procession to the foot of the altar, where Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan awaits him. In the front row are his five children together with his almost-wife Marta Fascina, all in black, with their own families sitting behind them. Veronica is further back, alone. His first wife, Carla Dall’Olio, didn’t come; Francesca Pascale is in the back, honored by the old Forza Italia notables as in the good old days.
In the Gospel readings, the theme of judgment returns again and again (one wonders what the Knight himself would have thought of that). That of Christ, in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, were he writes that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” And again, in Delpini’s homily, the “judgment of God” on Silvio’s soul. It’s a one-of-a-kind homily, in which the archbishop tries to get to the heart of the Knight’s human story. Without many frills, he describes him as a man who “loved life,” without “shying away from challenges, conflicts, insults, criticism,” able to keep smiling even when he saw decline coming and “his strength running out.” A man pervaded by the desire to “love and be loved,” who “loved parties” and “enjoying the fine things in life.”
The prelate also recalled him as “a businessman” who also ventured into “reckless ventures,” who “looked at numbers and not at standards.” And as a politician who “is always a partisan man,” a “character who is always on stage, has admirers and detractors. He has those who applaud him and those who detest him.” He wound up at the Christian conclusion: “He is a man, and now he meets God.” It’s rather curious that, in this time of national sanctification, the message coming from the pulpit was anything but beatifying for the man who prematurely called himself “anointed by the Lord.”
Certainly, the Knight himself, in one of his comedic routines, had already provided a foretaste of the meeting with the Heavenly Father: he’d tell the story of a lengthy conversation in which the Most High finally agreed to list Heaven on the Stock Exchange, but didn’t understand why He should only be vice-president. Now, in Milan Cathedral, the atmosphere is rather different. Marta Fascina weeps, and Marina holds her hand several times.
Brother Paolo, ashen-faced, takes communion together with Luigi, the youngest of the heirs. Pier Silvio’s children with their mother, and Marina’s older ones, are also there. Meloni is highly focused: “We will not forget you,” and “we will make you proud,” the premier says in a new Twitter video in which she glorifies her predecessor at the head of the center-right.
She, along with Salvini, escort the coffin out of the church and hug the family members one by one. The children go on to greet the crowd, which is chanting “There is only one Prime Minister.” Among the people in the square, there are many Milan banners and few Forza Italia ones. At one point, there’s a chant of “Who doesn’t jump with us is a communist,” but overall there is little politics among the fans who came here for the final farewell.
Milan doesn’t seem very moved by the events: the hearse sets off again towards Arcore and, minutes later, the city is dry-eyed and back to its usual frenzy. Pier Silvio runs over to Mediaset, to the large Studio 20 where there had been plans for his father to lay in state (this was later canceled). A large group of employees is waiting for him: “Guys, from tomorrow let’s snap our fingers and go back to being a company that is alive, full of energy and strength, as his life was. Let’s go back to being what we’ve always been.”