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

Archive for July, 2008

The Pope with something to say

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Compelling online column by an Australian columnist named Andrew Hamilton:

“The previous Pope had an instinctive feel for an audience and an occasion. He was a media performer, a Pope for television. Even though what he said was often deep, his speaking was theatre and what he said was declaratory. So people went to see him speak,” Hamilton writes.

“Benedict is a scholar and a naturally reserved man. Public performance comes less easily to him. He has a care for words and argument, and many Western readers find him easier to understand than his predecessor. For all his taste for colourful and ancient clothing, he is perhaps a Pope for radio.”

The entire column is here.

On the air

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

I have the good fortune in the next few days of talking with a variety of people in different parts of the country about My Cousin the Saint:

• Tonight, UNC-TV will air an interview with me with host Shannon Vickery at 7:30 p.m. on North Carolina Now.

• July 18, Greg and Lisa Popcak will have me on their program on Sirius satellite radio, The Catholic Channel 159, at 10:20 a.m. Eastern.

• July 20, Father Ron Lengwin will have me on his long-running program, Amplify on KDKA 1020 in Pittsburgh, Pa., from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

• July 22, I will be interviewed on KWKY Catholic Radio 1150 on the program Rise and Shine in Norwalk, Iowa at 8:20 a.m. Eastern.

Sad anniversary

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Clothing designer Gianni Versace, one of the most famous natives of Reggio Calabria, was killed 11 years ago yesterday. Details.

A saint’s first parish

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Pentidatillo
This is Pentidattilo, a tiny hillside village up from Melito di Porto Salvo on the tip of Calabria. It overlooks the Ionian Sea and offers an unimpeded view of Mount Etna on the east coast of Sicily. It is beautiful and haunting and, since the mid-1950s when rock slides threatened, abandoned. But it is also the place where a saint got his start.

In 1904 — two years after he was ordained, one year after my grandfather emigrated to America — Padre Gaetano Catanoso was assigned to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (look, you can see it clearly) in Pentidattilo. There he found a people beyond poor. They were illiterate, jobless, bankrupt of all hope. This is the place where the young priest began his outreach, where he started his first school, where he stood up for the first time to the Mafia goons in town. He somehow survived the earthquake of 1908, which leveled Reggio and Messina and did its share of damage in villages like this. He stayed here for 17 years, and often hiked to other remote Aspromonte villages to preach and help out. At that time, Italian priests were usually called don, as in Don Francesco. Not Gaetano. The people called him padre, or father.

The Monti in Chapel Hill

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

The Monti is a new organization in the Triangle region of North Carolina that “brings personal narratives and good old-fashioned storytelling to lives audiences.” This organization is the brain child of Jeff Polish of Durham. His first two events have been SRO, attracting more than 100 paying customers.

His third event is next Tuesday, July 22, at Spice Street in Chapel Hill. Tickets, $7 apiece, went on sale today. I’m lucky enough to be among the storytellers next week. Details are here. Jeff predicts another sell out.

Photos from Sicily

Monday, July 14th, 2008

I love to post photographs on this blog, particularly from Calabria. Sometimes simple tourist shots tell a greater tale than the best photo essayist. Here’s an example, with lots of photos — a retired teacher and football coach from California sharing highlights from his recent visit to Catania, Sicily. My paternal grandmother, Caterina Foti Catanoso, was from a tiny fishing village, Riposta, located just north of Catania near Taormina. The coach’s photos of the WWII museum remind me of my Uncle Tony’s experiences there in 1943 as part of Operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily.

Thanks coach. Buon viaggo.

Reggio di Calabria

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Lungamare in Reggio Calabria
In 1921, the archbishop of Reggio di Calabria, the region’s largest city, called Padre Gaetano Catanoso down from his mountain parish to lead a church in the middle of the city. It was a difficult place then, having been devastated in 1908 by the worst earthquake to strike western Europe in modern times (still). The city today, with more than 200,000 people, retains a chaotic, gritty feel in many ways, with dense construction, noisy traffic and throngs of young people crowding the main commercial drag at night.

But down on the lungamare, the waterfront, Reggio offers a look and feel rivaling any seaside resort in Italy. White, sandy beaches, a beautifully designed walkway with a famous monument honoring Italy’s King Emmanuel II , who oversaw the nation’s reunification in 1870, and unparalleled views across the Strait of Messina to the northeast coastline of Sicily.

Reggio is often overlooked as a tourist spot, except perhaps, among southern Italians. But it deserves a closer look. A long weekend stay could easily be justified before hopping the ferry to Sicily. The city’s commercial district, rebuilt in the 1920s and 1930s, retains a kind of New Orleans architecture and charm. The National Museum claims two of the most cherished pieces of art in the world — the 1,500-year-old Riace bronzes.  There’s a 1,000-year-old castle, several beautiful old churches, great pizzerias, and a splendid opera house in the city center.

bergomot
And there is bergomotto. This lemony-looking fruit — a key ingredient in candies, perfumes and Earl Grey tea — grows only in southern Calabria. The fruit pictured here was given to me by the woman I rented a room from during the summer of 2006.

And of course, Reggio is home to only priest ever to be canonized from Calabria, and the first saint from the region since 1517.

Australia bound

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

I have a cousin in Australia — Annette Condello, whose parents hail originally from Calabria and are connected to the Catanoso family tree. I didn’t learn about Annette until after I learned I have a saint in the family. She contacted me by email after the canonization, having seen a story I wrote online. We’ve been communicating ever since; we even talked on the phone a few times. She is a PhD candidate in archiecture and provided much-welcomed research material for me about the great earthquake of 1908 that devastated Reggio and Messina. I was thrilled to thank her in my book acknowledgements — another great gift from this project. A new family connection on another continent.

By the way, Pope Benedict XVI is heading to Australia, which brought this post to mind.

A baker’s halo

Friday, July 11th, 2008

It seems like there are all kinds of candidates for sainthood, at least if The New York Times has its way. From today’s Dining and Wine section:

“TOO bad sainthood is not generally conferred on bakers, for there is one who is a possible candidate for canonization. She fulfills most of the requirements: (1) She’s dead. (2) She demonstrated heroic virtue. (3) Cults have been formed around her work. (4) Her invention is considered by many to be a miracle. The woman: Ruth Graves Wakefield. Her contribution to the world: the chocolate chip cookie.”

The entire delectable store is here. Thanks to Helen McDevitt-Smith for pointing it out.

Relevant Radio

Friday, July 11th, 2008

For Relevant Radio listeners throughout the Midwest and beyond, I will be a guest today on Searching the Word at 1 p.m. Eastern, noon Central. This opportunity comes thanks to highly regarded Catholic author Mike Aquilina, a fellow Penn Stater who offered an introduction to the producers. He was on the show earlier in the week.