The Mahatma, Il Duce and the Crucifix: Gandhi’s Brief Encounter with Mussolini and Its Consequences

by Peter Gonsalves

Gandhi in Fascist Rome, 1931; courtesy

After the second Round Table Conference (RTC) in London, (1) Mahatma Gandhi had to embark at the Port of Brindisi in Southern Italy en route to India. He decided to spend a few days in Switzerland as a guest of Romain Rolland, and then stop in Rome on Saturday, December 12, 1931, in order to meet Pope Pius XI. The note in his diary of December 12, states:

Arrived in Rome at 8.30 in the morning. Received letter to the effect that the Pope could not receive me. Three of us stayed with General Moris, the others in a hotel. Went to see the Vatican [Museums] in the afternoon. At 6 o’clock Mussolini. (2)

Barely a year earlier, Gandhi had shot to international fame due to the extensive American press coverage of his Salt Satyagraha. (3) He was on the cover of Time Magazine on two occasions within a span of ten months: first on March 31, 1930 and again as ‘Time’s Man of the Year’ on January 5, 1931. (4) His fame preceded him even in Europe. Whether at Villeneuve, Milan, Rome or Brindisi, people flocked to see ‘St. Gandhi’ in his strange attire. (5)

Romain Rolland’s Warning

In one of his discussions with Rolland before leaving for Rome, Gandhi rather matter-of-factly said: “[I]f the Pope wants to see me I shall go. As for Mussolini, I do not think he wants to see me, but if he does I shall go without hesitation. But it will not be in secret”. (6)

Read the pdf of the complete article here: The Mahatma, Il Duce and the Crucifix

EDITOR’S NOTE: Father Peter Gonsalves, a priest and Salesian of Don Bosco, is Dean of the Faculty of the Sciences of Communication at Salesian Pontifical University, Rome, where he also teaches History of Communication, Peace Communication, and Media Education. His academic research, as he writes, “began with the defence of my doctoral thesis on Gandhi’s sartorial communication for India’s independence, published by SAGE in two separate monographs: Clothing for Liberation (2010) and Khadi: Gandhi’s Symbol of Subversion (2012).” Please consult his website for biographical information and list of his publications;

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi