I don’t have any religious belief. I was raised as a Catholic in Italy. And my grandma is a strong believer. So I went to “Sunday school”. It wasn’t on Sunday – it was on Tuesday. But I went once a week to learn about Jesus. And I went every Sunday to mass. And I was really good at it. We had little tests afterwards and I always aced them.
I did all the sacraments. But then when I turned 13 I just realised, I don’t believe this stuff. And I have no reason to other than that I was told to. And I’ve never been much good at doing what I’m told.
So for a long time I’d say “I don’t believe in anything”. But after talking about it with [my partner], I thought well maybe my beliefs come from my actions – what I do. So I’m vegetarian. I don’t want animals to die. And I want every creature to be respected. So maybe I believe that every living thing shares something in common and should be respected. We all have a spark within us. And then when we die we just go back into the great…whole. And perhaps that spark goes somewhere else: into a plant or into the soil.
That’s probably why I always try to be nice to people. At work I try to be kind to my colleagues. And a lot of people think I’m a little weird. The think I’m so nice. And I guess maybe that’s because I respect them as a living being. It’s up to each of us to decide what to do with our own lives.
Going back to the Catholic religion, my name is Francesca and there’s a Saint in the Catholic church called Francesco, and that’s where my parents got the name from. He grew up in a rich family and then at some point decided to leave everything behind. He gave I all away to the poor. And he went to the forest and spoke with the animals. And he wrote a famous poem called Cantico di Frate Sole where he talks about the sun, the moon and all the creatures as his brothers and sisters. And I had that instilled in me because I read it when I was very young.
I don’t identify with any religion but there’s a lot of things I like. I like aspects of Japanese Shinto religion because it says that for every natural being, whether an animal or a grain of rice or a waterfall, a divinity lives within it. So I don’t follow that actively but I like the idea. And similarly, because I studied Japanese studies, I learnt things from Buddhism such as not hurting others. But again, that doesn’t mean I believe in reincarnation.
Where I actually got the idea of the inherent worth of every being was a movie called An [Sweet Bean]. It’s about an old Japanese woman who wants to make red bean jam and she is seeking for a place that will pay her to make it. And because she had leprosy when she was young, she was confined to an apartment for a long time. And she meets a man who works in a pastry shop. But during the movie, you find out that he doesn’t want to do the job; that he hates it. And he’s only doing it because he committed some mistake in the past and owes money. But then this woman teaches him that we all have inherent worth and I doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past or what we are doing in the present. We should just be.
I do a lot of things that contradict this belief. I am constantly judging myself for how slowly I’m progressing – that I haven’t got the right job; that I’m not fluent in Japanese. But instead I should just appreciate being alive. And just as I judge myself, it is hard not judge others, who don’t seem to be going anywhere, and ask, “why aren’t they trying?” But perhaps they want to just be.
Or if you wanted to talk about every human being’s dignity and the notion of not exploiting each other, I work in a big retail shop. The clothes come from somewhere. These clothes aren’t made by people who are living a good life. The clothes themselves are destroying the planet. Everyone’s being exploited from the makers to the consumers. But it’s something I have to do to pay the bills.
One thing that might surprise people, given I’ve said I don’t believe, is that whenever I visit a beautiful church, I always light a candle and give some money. It’s just something I’ve always done with my grandma and I light a candle knowing how sad she is that I don’t believe in God! And she prays to God to forgive me. And I know it’s a heartache for her thinking I could go to hell. So I light a candle in her honour.