20 December 2022

20 December

Giuliana Sgrena – journalist

War reporter who survived kidnapping in Iraq

The journalist Giuliana Sgrena, a war correspondent for an Italian newspaper who was kidnapped by insurgents while reporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was born on this day in 1948 in Masera, a village in Piedmont.  Sgrena, who was covering the conflict for the Rome daily Il Manifesto and the weekly German news magazine Die Welt, was seized outside Baghdad University on February 4, 2005.  During her 28 days in captivity, she was forced to appear in a video pleading that the demands of her abductors – the withdrawal of the 2,400 Italian troops from the multi-national force in Iraq – be met.  Those demands were rejected but the Italian authorities allegedly negotiated a $6 million payment to secure Sgrena’s release.  She was rescued by two Italian intelligence officers on March 4 only then to come under fire from United States forces en route to Baghdad International Airport.  In one of the most controversial incidents of the conflict, Major General Nicola Calipari, from the Italian military intelligence corps, was shot dead. Sgrena and the other intelligence officer were wounded.  Read more…


Francesco Bentivegna – military leader

Patriotic baron executed in what was to become Mafia heartland

Baron Francesco Bentivegna, a Sicilian patriot, died on this day at Mezzojuso in Sicily in 1856.  Bentivegna led revolts against the Bourbon rulers of the island in the mid 19th century and became renowned for his bravery.  He was born in Corleone near Palermo - a modern day Mafia stronghold - and it is believed his parents originally intended him for the church.  But after leading his first revolt against the Bourbons in 1848 in Palermo he was appointed military governor of the Corleone district as a reward.  Within 16 months the Bourbon soldiers had reoccupied Palermo and offered all the rebels an amnesty if they pledged loyalty to their French rulers.  Bentivegna refused and again attempted to launch a coup, which was unsuccessful. Afterwards he had to live as a wanted fugitive, while continuing to try to organise revolutionaries.  He was arrested in 1853 but released in 1856, after which he began to plan a full-scale uprising against the occupying forces.  The Baron was betrayed by one of his compatriots and arrested. He was sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad on 20 December 1856.  Read more…


Gigliola Cinquetti - singer and TV presenter

Eurovision win at 16 launched successful career

Gigliola Cinquetti, who was the first Italian to win the Eurovision Song Contest, was born on this day in 1947 in Verona.  She took the prize in Copenhagen in 1964 with Non ho l'età (I'm Not Old Enough), with music composed by Nicola Salerno and lyrics by Mario Panzeri.  Just 16 years old at the time, she scored an overwhelming victory, gaining 49 points from the judges. The next best song among 16 contenders, which was the United Kingdom entry I Love the Little Things, sung by Matt Monro, polled just 17 points.  Non ho l'età became a big hit, selling more than four million copies and even spending 17 weeks in the UK singles chart, where songs in foreign languages did not traditionally do well. It had already won Italy's prestigious Sanremo Music Festival, which served as the qualifying competition for Eurovision at that time.  Italy had finished third on two occasions previously at Eurovision, which had been launched in 1956. Domenico Modugno, singing Nel blu, dipinto di blu (later renamed Volare) was third in 1958, as was Emilio Pericoli in 1963, singing Uno per tutte.  None of the country's entries went so close until Cinquetti herself finished runner-up 10 years later with Sì.  Read more…


San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio

Franciscan monk canonised in 1867

San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio, whose feast day is celebrated on November 27 each year, was born Paolo Gerolamo Casanova on this day in 1676 in Porto Maurizio, which is now part of the port city of Imperia in Liguria.  Leonardo recovered from a serious illness developed soon after he became a priest and devoted the remaining 43 years of his life to preaching retreats and parish missions throughout Italy.  He was one of the main propagators of the Catholic rite of Via Crucis - the Way of the Cross - and established Stations of the Cross - reconstructions in paintings or sculpture of Christ’s journey to the cross - at more than 500 locations. He also set up numerous ritiri - houses of recollection.  Leonardo was a charismatic preacher who found favour with Popes Clement XII and Benedict XIV, who helped him spread his missions, which began in Tuscany, into central and southern Italy, inspiring religious fervour among the population.  The son of a ship’s captain from Porto Maurizio, the young Paolo was sent to Rome at the age of 13 to live with a wealthy uncle and study at the Jesuit Roman College. Read more…

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