A Personal Account of Masonic Charity
By Alessandro Ruzzi
Published in The Square June 2017
I joined Freemasonry over 15 years ago, proposed by a close friend, the neurologist who had shortly before diagnosed me with multiple sclerosis. Luckily, that brother was a member of an Italian community in amity with the United Grand Lodge of England. This may seem an unusual and unworthy point but in Italy (Arezzo is where I was born and raised) when you join Freemasonry you have to be careful. Here in Italy, Freemasonry involves a large number of different organisations, very few of which work according to regular standards. It means that some regular lodges do not focus that much on the tenets of brotherly love, relief and truth. These were certainly not cornerstones in my own lodge. The first of these is often an excuse for allowing some Brothers to act beyond legal or moral boundaries because members can count on the other lodge members’ code of silence; the second is often unknown. For example, when I had some minor duties in the lodge, counting the charity box would reveal an amazing volume of cents (pennies) thrown in simply to resemble the sound of a large donation. It is not surprising, therefore, that the concept and practice of truth was hardly in place either, from the lowest rank to top national officials.
Anyhow, I was able to attend UGLE, as a Master Mason, when I applied to join an English lodge. Shortly after, a number of situations made me decide that it was time to leave my Italian lodge and Masonic organisation, as I realised that the English approach to Freemasonry was much more appealing to me. What I was looking for was not going to be found in Italy.
The first UGLE lodge to enrol me has quite an international membership and thus, during meetings, the business focus was mainly on ritual and getting to understand the different approaches from the thirty-some nationalities. Shortly after, I met a Mason from the greater London area and, on a following trip, I was able to visit his lodge. I liked it very much; so joining was a consequent step. That lodge became my home far from home, regardless of distance, and I began to feel again those forgotten pleasures, which were with me during my Masonic beginnings. The efforts of the trip and the expenses were nothing compared to the joy it brought.
Unfortunately, my health worsened in 2011 and I then made my acquaintance with my wheelchair and similar stuff. I had to give up working, having to battle between needs and potential. My home was not intended for handicapped people, yet I had become one. I started spending on improvements but this is an ongoing game as the worse you become, the more you need to adjust. So I wrote to my Masonic relations that I was looking for some help financially.
Italian Masons did not react to my cry for help, neither members of another foreign Grand Lodge in which I am a Grand Lodge Court Judge. Also my first UGLE lodge did not go any further than a sympathy message. The other lodge’s reaction was, on the contrary, overwhelming. The Brothers met and several offered their individual support, stating the amount each one was willing to lend, in addition to a lodge donation. From nothing to everything, I told them I would gladly use the lodge funds but individual and personal engagement was out of the question; I did not want their money as I could not know when I could return it. Then a Brother wondered if the UGLE Masonic charity could help.
The first reply from the Masonic Samaritan Fund was negative as I was an Italian citizen, living in Italy. Anyhow at the end, I was offered a grant that enabled me to proceed with more home improvements. I hoped that Italian government support would allow me to recover some money to put back into the Masonic Charitable Foundation as it is now called, but this is another story (in Italy, one may die preparing all documents, waiting to know if they are ok or taken into consideration, hoping to get some money back at the end).
What I want to express, is the mix of feelings arising from my experience. I can say that I found ‘brotherly love, compassion and truth’ only in my West Kent UGLE lodge. Freemasonry is considered to be universal, but this was not true in my previous experiences. I believe Freemasonry showed me the way to be a better man, and also confirmed that all human societies are not as perfect as they often intend. However, eventually I was given a clear and strong sign of brotherhood (and relief).
I always hoped to be a true Mason. In the public eye I am indeed a proud Mason (my readers in regional news know it) thus I am aware how far perfection is from the Masonic ideals and rhetoric in many areas. However, in some lodges and for some men (I do not call them Masons) we only share an initiation.