A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles
by Justin Calanoso

Archive for December, 2008

Jen Miller: Best Books of 2008

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Author, free-lance writer and blogger Jen Miller offers her reasoned and well-regarded picks for the year, including one especially close to my heart.

Il terremoto

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Another anniversary, and a terrible one — the 100th anniversary of the worst earthquake to strike Western Europe, before or since. It struck today, in 1908 in the Strait of Messina, virtually obliterating the city of Messina in Sicily and doing nearly the same amount of damage in Reggio di Calabria. Tens of thousands were killed. Padre Gaetano was a parish priest in Pentidattilo at the time and barely escaped injury. The devastation was widespread and longlasting. It was decades before the two main cities were rebuilt.

MORE on the American response to the devastating earthquake here and the role of President Teddy Roosevelt, thanks to Joe Guarino.

Five years ago

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

train station
Today is the fifth anniversary of the start of a life-changing family vacation. On this day in 2003, with headlines blaring code-red alerts about airport threats of terrorism, we boarded a US Airways flight from Newark to Rome with our three daughters for the start of a two-week vacation in Italy. Rome, Florence, Venice and a magical, memorable weekend in Reggio Calabria, where we were embraced by Catanoso relatives we never knew we had. I kept a detailed journal about the entire trip. I’m a journalist. I take notes. I had no idea, of course, that those journal entries, a few years later, would become of the first draft of two chapters for my first book.

The photo here, taken on Dec. 27, 2003, feels somehow historic. It was taken at the train station in Reggio Calabrian when the American and Italian branches of the Catanoso family were reunited for the first time in decades. My girls and me gleefully stand between Daniela on the far left and Giovanna and Pina on the far right. All of us Catanosos. All together. Five years ago.

A Talese holiday tradition

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to receive a dust-jacket blurb from one of America’s great writers of nonfiction, Gay Talese. It was a very generous gesture. Turns out, as this story indicates, the generosity of Talese and his book editor wife, Nan, is legendary this time of year in New York City.

Talese’s classic work Unto the Sons remains the quintessential immigration story. He, too, traces his Italian roots to Calabria, and his father, like my grandfather, settled in Cape May County, New Jersey, and started a business that flourished. For Talese’s father, it was a men’s and women’s clothing store in Ocean City. My aunts and uncles were frequent customers.


Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Pope Benedict celebrates the 400th anniversary of the former heretic Galileo’s use of the telescope.

UPDATE: More here in the International Herald Tribune.

Troppa pioggia

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Too much rain in Italy. Bibically speaking, 50 days is really 10 days too much, don’t you think?

Vincenzo Infortuna, mi’amico

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Vincenzo Infortuna
I received a call at home this morning from Reggio Calabria. It was sad news. Vincenzo Infortuna, the 49-year-old husband of my cousin Caterina Catanoso, and father of Domenico and Manuela, died earlier today at his home in Reggio from complications of ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Vincenzo appears in my book several times, initially in Part II during our first family trip to Italy nearly five years ago, and then again in Part III, when I returned to Calabria in June 2006 for research. Vincenzo was a wonderful man — vibrant, generous and soulful. My first night back in Reggio, when I was uncertain my relatives knew why I was there or how much I needed their assistance, Vincenzo told me at dinner: “Whatever you need, we will help you; wherever you need to go, we will take you.”

And they did, for three solid weeks. Even though Vincenzo was traveling to Torino for treatments(and was already partially paralyzed from his ALS), he made time to take me and Germaine, my friend and interpreter, to Roccaforte del Greco to meet Anna Pangallo, the peasant woman who received the second Vatican-certified miracles from Padre Gaetano Catanoso. The photo above was taken in the Aspromonte of southern Calabria, on our way to see Anna Pangallo. It was a memorable day at so many levels — not the least of which was spending the entire day with Vincenzo (Caterina had me over for dinner that evening).

Near the end of my visit, Vincenzo spoke to me at length, and from the heart, about his illness, about his love for the Catanoso family and about his abiding faith in Padre Gaetano. He told me of his prayers for a miracle cure and humbly explained why he believed he was worthy. And perhaps as much, if not more, than my Catanoso cousins, Vincenzo helped me understand truly what it means to have a saint in the family. I have heard from many readers who were touched by Vincenzo’s eloquence and inquired with me about his health. It is gratifying for me to share his story and message of faith with so many others.

When my wife and I traveled back to Calabria earlier this year to visit our relatives and share with them copies of my book, we got to visit with Vincenzo and his family. His condition had grown so much worse since the summer of 2006. ALS is such a progressive, unforgiving disease. But his eyes and face lit up when I was able to show him where I wrote about him in my book, and where his photograph appeared. I will never forget that smile. Nor will I forget Vincenzo. But I will miss him very much.

Ciao mio caro amico.

Book review: bleeding espresso

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Michelle Fabio, the committed and talented keeper of the lovely Calabrian blog bleeding espresso, makes good on her promise to review My Cousin the Saint. It’s here.

And this at the site: Top Italian Gift Guide

Only in Reggio

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

The Riace bronzes, here.

Chorio and Enzo Catanoso

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Video by Michael Frierson, UNC-Greensboro, in Chorio, March 2008