It is thanks to Costanzo Melino that I know about L’Amico del Prigioniero. His daughter Rosa wrote Anzaro: The Home of my Ancestors which included her father’s memoirs of his time as a prisoner of war.
Costanzo said, “In 1943, Italy surrendered but we had to go to Australia [from India] to work on the farms. We boarded an English ship which took us to Melbourne and then eventually by train to Cowra and Hay. At that time we had an Apostolic Delegate who was from Lecce, also Pugliese, and he gave all the prisoners a book that I still have called the ‘Amico del Prigioniero’ (‘Friend of the Prisoner’’).”
The Apostolic Delegate was Monseigneur Giovanni Panico and he published this book through Pellegrini, Sydney, 1943. It is a prayer book written in Latin and Italian containing the service of the mass, important prayers, Catholic Calendar of Holy Days from 1943 to 1951 and hymns.
The book being written in Italian and Latin is significant. As mass was said in Latin until Second Vatican 1965, ensuring that the Italian prisoners of war had a prayer book in Italian was a significant show of concern for their spiritual welfare.
- Also, while the Italians had access to books in Italian in the libraries of Hay and Cowra, when they were on the farm, a book in Italian was an important gesture on behalf of Giovanni Panico.
There are six copies of L’Amico del Prigioniero are held in museums and libraries in Australia. I spent a morning in the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW and felt honoured to view this special relic pertaining to Italian prisoners of war and internees.
To understand the importance of this prayer book in Latin and Italian, a little background is necessary, “…the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (also called Vatican II) to discuss how the Catholic Church would face the modern world. Until 1965, all Catholic Mass was said in Latin, and the Church realized that may alienate parishioners who spoke Latin only in church. So the Church had to translate the Catholic Mass into a variety of different languages. from http://www.dictionary.com/e/catholic/