MY COUSIN THE SAINT
A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles
by Justin Calanoso

Archive for June, 2008

Book review: The Tablet

Monday, June 30th, 2008

The Tablet, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, reviews “My Cousin the Saint.”

An excerpt, from reviewer Nancy Hartnagel, wire editor of the Catholic News Service:

“The wonderful Padre Catanoso evoked in these pages was born on St. Valentine’s Day in 1879. Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Reggio Calabria in 1902, he served as a parish priest in a mountain village and as a pastor, chaplain and seminary spiritual director in a coastal town. His compassionate ministry, including shelters and orphanages, was prompted by the grinding poverty of the region and a devastating 1908 earthquake…

“Padre Catanoso did not see himself as a saint, but as “one of the Lord’s little donkeys.” In a telling anecdote, the author recalls that, when the priest had the chance during a private audience to ask Pope Pius XII to approve the new religious congregation, he forgot to do it and could only laugh at himself afterward.

“Catanoso also does a nice job with the saga of his grandfather, Carmelo, born in 1887 in the same village as Padre Catanoso. Carmelo and his wife, a Sicilian immigrant, settled in Wildwood, N.J., where they ran a grocery store and raised nine children. This part of the story, like many immigrant tales, is full of hard work and success, reunions at the family’s campground in Avalon, and the dreams and sorrows of succeeding generations.

“An especially touching chapter of the American Catanosos’ story is the death of the author’s brother, Alan, from brain cancer, not long before Padre Catanoso’s canonization. The author says his mother, Connie, ‘would pray to Gaetano with all the hope and conviction her long and unquestioned Catholic faith could sustain.’ “

Start planning

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Once again, October will be declared National Italian American Heritage Month. No sense in waiting until the last minute to plan your celebrations! Details here.

The power of Pio

Monday, June 30th, 2008

With the possible exception of St. Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio likely ranks as Italy’s most popular saint. He’s surely popular in America, too, as this blog post details. He’s even popular in Reggio Calabria, home of my cousin the saint, Padre Gaetano Catanoso.

Padre Pio

There is a lot of lure and legend and mysticism connected with this southern Italian priest (1887-1968), who famously bore the stigmata much of his adult life. Some of his powers, quite frankly, are beyond belief. The Vatican was highly skeptical of him in the 1920s, when his fame first rose (as I discuss in my book). But Pope John Paul II believed in Pio intrinsically, and revered him in life and death.

According to a web site about him: “As Padre Pio’s fame grew, his ministry began to take the center-stage at the friary. Many pilgrims flocked to see him [including Padre Gaetano in 1922, as I write in my book] and he spent around nineteen hours each day saying Mass, hearing confessions and corresponding, often sleeping not even two hours per day. His fame had the negative side effect that accusations against him made their way to the Holy Office in Rome (since 1983, known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, causing many restrictions to be placed on him. His accusers included high-ranking archbishops, bishops, theologians and physicians.”

Fast track

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Some canonization causes just move faster than others. Long ago, successful causes for sainthood were typically measured in centuries. Since JPII, successful causes were often measured in decades (it took Padre Gaetano Catanoso 26 years, from start to sainthood). The process of canonization for the Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, who was the first successor of St. Josemaria Escriva, is hurtling forward.

The details are here.

Journal entry: Mass at the church of St. Gaetano — 6-17-06

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Sanctuary, Church of Padre Gaetano
We had a houseful of company this morning, and I didn’t get to Mass. This journal entry from two summers ago describes the first Mass I attended at Gaetano’s church in the Santo Spirito neighborhood of Reggio Calabria.

We arrive at the church at 5:55 p.m. (Saturday)…The nuns are all praying aloud when as Daniela and I take our seats. They pretty much fill the first four rows of the narrow sanctuary. They are praying the rosary with those in church early, and then shift into an Our Father and Hail Mary, all in Italian of course, before the Mass starts sharply at 6 p.m. Three Filipino nuns, two on acoustic, gut string guitars and one on tambourine, start to sing. It is stunningly beautiful, the lovely rythem, the flutey, voices filled with passion, the perfectly timed tap and rattle of the tambourine. I’m surprised by how beautiful it sounds, echoing off the hard surfaces of the sanctuary – marble floors, stucco walls, modern stained glass windows high on the left side of the church. The alter wall is amazingly beautiful, a glorious modern mosaic depicting Jesus on the cross with St. Veronica standing at his feet, head bowed, holding up the cloth showing the Holy Face. It’s a remarkably simple piece of art, sketched in long, bold sweeping strokes of rectangular tiles and soft colors. Totally evocative.

“The singing makes me fee strange – like my heart is rattling around in the chest. I remind myself that I am actually attending Mass in Gaetano’s church, a place he did not say Mass in himself, being that it was completed nearly 10 years after his death. But his remains lie in a glass tomb just a few yards behind me, looking even more like a mannequin than ever. As I listen, I realize I’m on the verge of tears, again. If this keeps happening, I’m going to scream! But I’m convinced this is the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard play in a church anywhere, anywhere, with the sole exception of when I’ve heard Laurelyn sing at wedding or funerals.

“This seems a good place to pray, so I give it a try. The sanctuary is warm and several of the nuns are fanning themselves. A few of the older nuns have trouble standing and kneeling, so they remain seated in the straight-back pews with fixed kneelers. I close my eyes and try to figure out how to make this work. Who to pray to, who to pray for? There are plenty of options, and I won’t discuss them. I don’t know the Bible that well, but I know that Jesus wasn’t crazy about people making a show of praying. In fact, he wasn’t crazy about churches at all. But it occurs to me that he might like this one, simple as it is, stuck in the middle of a shabby working class neighborhood, where the constantly running public water spout on the corner is always crowded with some poor person filling up large, empty water bottles to cart home…”

YES! Weekly

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Editor Brian Clarey offers his take on “My Cousin the Saint,” and his alternative weekly, Yes! Weekly, offers its picks for summer reading. Brian’s story begins:My Cousin the Saint

“Justin Catanoso and I have a lot in common. We are both editors of weekly newspapers, and both of us grew up in the Northeast before settling in Greensboro to nurture our families and careers. We are both married to beautiful blondes, and we both have daughters named Rosie. And we share a common heritage.

“Catanoso, like my own mother, is an American of full-blooded Italian descent, and we can both trace our roots back to Calabria, the toe of the boot.

“You can read the history of Italy in his face: his Roman nose and heavy brow, raw intelligence gleaming in his dark eyes, his jaw like an outcropping of rock, his olive-oil skin and hair like black wire.

“He looks like he could be one of my uncles, out there throwing bocce balls on the lawn.”

JPII santo but not so subito?

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

This story on a Polish web site suggests that the process of beatification for Pope John Paul II is being slowed in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Some suggested it might come this year, on the 30th anniversary of his rise to the papacy. Others suggested it would come next year, on the fourth anniversary of his death. Now, the Vatican suggests it could be a few years.

Jesus was apolitical

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

In these highly politicized days (and years), it’s important to keep the life of Jesus Christ in its appropriate context, and not hijack his life or teaching for political ends — Republican or Democrat. Louis Moore, a well-known and well-regarded religious journalist in Houston, writes about this topic with grace and insight on his blog.

“So often we Christians try to re-shape Jesus into our image, like the Medieval artists who fashioned the famous artwork that makes Jesus and His disciples look like Venice merchant,” Moore writes, “in Medieval attire, complete with Medieval hairstyles, Medieval clothing, and so forth. American Christian leaders from both the left and the right have become adept at this same slight of hand. Each wants to re-make Jesus to match his or her own personal political preference.

“Who would Jesus have voted for in the presidential primaries just ended? No one, because he would have found registering as either a Democrat or a Republic—a prerequisite for voting in many primaries—to be difficult.”
You can read the entire post at his blog.

Fewer saints?

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Under the sensational headline “Vatican halts John Paul II’s ‘saint factory’,” The Independent in Great Britain reports today that Pope Benedict XVI “wants the congregation to pay ‘maximum attention’ in its evaluation of documents supporting a candidate’s claim, with ‘scrupulous observation’ of ecclesiastical norms. The Pope himself reads every file page by page, according to the archbishop, and until he is personally satisfied with the miracles accredited to a candidate, no progress is possible.”

The paper goes on to note that such scrupulous observation may stall the most anticipated canonizations — that of Mother Teresa and of Pope John Paul II, who critics accused of running a “saint-making factory” during his 26-year pontificate. The entire story is here online.

John Paul II and Mother Teresa

Some context, in defense of JPII. Yes, he is responsible for naming 482 saints, more than all popes combined in the previous 400 years. Yes, he changed the rules regarding canonizations in 1983, eliminating the office of the Devil’s Advocate, and reducing the number of miracles needed from four to two.

Now some additional context: some 380 of the saints JPII named were canonized as martyrs, some in groups as large as 100 at a time in a single ceremony. The late pope canonized 103 individual saints, or roughly four per year for 26 years, a ratio not that much greater than his many, many predecessors.

But the real defense is this: JPII rightly saw the saint-naming process as too laborious, too bogged down, and too focused on holy men and women from another age and era. Saints are named, first and foremost, to be role models for the faithful, and particularly for those struggling with their faith. Sometimes it’s hard to draw much inspiration from a 15th century cleric from Germany or France. So JPII encouraged archbishops to bring him contemporaries who had lived lives of heroic virtue, and from all over the world — not just western Europe. And as I write in Chapter 1 of my book, it was his encouragement that led to a humble priest from Reggio Calabria being presented for sainthood in the first place. And the Catholic faith is richer because of it.

I am proud to say that Padre Gaetano Catanoso was among the last of the five saints to be approved by JPII before he died, and among the very first to be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, now seemingly intent on slowing the process down. Benedict has every right to defend and protect this most sacred and ancient Catholic honor. But it is both unfair, and largely inaccurate to castigate John Paul as Benedict considers his own changes to the canonization process.

What do you think?

From CNN to the Vatican

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Catholic commentator and blogger Tony Rossi serves up a compelling Q&A with former CNN Faith and Values reporter Delia Gallegher. She is now senior editor of Inside the Vatican magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

Tony Rossi: You’ve written that the Pope’s larger vision of the Catholic Church is often overlooked. What is that vision and why do we not get it sometimes?Delia Gallagher

Delia Gallagher: The vision is, as he himself as said…some people have called it pessimistic. In other words, maybe the Catholic Church of the future is going to be a smaller church. I think when people think of evangelization and making fishers of men and certainly (words) from the Pope, the idea should be ‘We should go out and get as many people as possible.’ I think the Pope understands his role right now to be a re-enforcing…of the basics of the Catholic faith precisely so that in the future – if the world is going to become increasingly secularized and so on – this smaller but more faithful group of people can carry the light…

Read the whole thing on Tony’s blog.