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

Posts Tagged ‘Reggio di Calabria’

The toe of the boot

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Reggio di Calabria is not a top tourist destination for travelers to Italy. But this web site could change a few minds. It is not Tuscany, but the region and the city have their charms.

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.

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.

Travel tip: Reggio, a Southern Italy destination

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

I was invited to offer a guest travel post today at My short feature on Reggio di Calabria is here.

New video: Making a Saint

Friday, October 17th, 2008

The process of making this video came in two parts. First, Micheael Frierson, a film maker at UNC-Greensboro, filmed me doing a stand up in front of the cathedral in Reggio. I had to just about shout over the noise of the traffic rushing by on the street. There’s a short transition related to the canonization and then, presto, there I am in Rome! This segment was shot on the last night of our stay in Italy last March. It was filmed around midnight and St. Peter’s Square was all but deserted. Laurelyn and Martha, Michael’s wife, were holding a light reflector and boom mic. We were all gibby from a late, wine-soaked dinner and tired from a long train ride that day from Reggio to Rome. We must’ve done 50 takes, laughing through most of them. Somehow, Michael found a take that worked well enough to use.

Answering questions, part II

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

As promised, here are the answers to more questions left last week at the blogs bleeding espresso and My Bella Vita:

Q: Had you lost your faith…and did this make you find it again?” (oops that’s a two part question. Because I also wanted to ask: Did your wife slap you upside the head when she read the above passage [referring to the posted story I wrote "Almost like falling in love]? LOL Sorry. Couldn’t resist./This eclectic life

A: Last question first. No, my wife didn’t slap me. She laughed. We’ve been to Italy several times together, and she’s pretty used to me swooning over the beauty that seems to be everywhere. She swoons as well! How could we not? As for my faith – lost and somewhat found – this truly is a major theme in my story so I don’t want to give away too much here. Let’s just say that I fell completely away from Catholicism after high school and it took a canonized relative to draw me back.

Q: Before your trip to Calabria in 2003, did you spend a lot of time Italy? What role did religion play in your day-to-day life? Nyc/Caribbean ragazza

A: When my wife and I married in 1984, we spent two months traveling through western Europe, 10 of those days in Italy — Venice, Padua, Florence and Rome. It was a glorious experience, and we vowed to return when our children were old enough to take it all in. Our return to Italy took 19 years. I’ve been back four times since then. Regarding religion, it played only a minor role in my life prior to researching and writing my book.

Q: Can we hear the NPR interview somewhere [this commentary led to me being able to write the book]? Fern

A: Yes, just click here. It’s less than four minutes long and aired Oct. 20, 2005, three days before the canonization.

A: In 1984, during a two-month honeymoon tour of Western Europe, my wife and I spent 10 glorious days in Italy – Venice, Padua, Florence and Rome. We didn’t return for 19 years, but that time with our three daughters. Prior to writing this book, religion played a very small role in my day-to-day life.

Q: If you return to Italy again, please promise that you will take your wife and daughters. I, too, am catholic, and wish I knew more about my religion. Question for you: does it all make sense now? Marmie

A: I’ve taken my wife and daughters to Italy, including Calabria twice since 2003. And we were all together for the canonization in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 23, 2005. And last March, my wife and I went back to Calabria so that the relatives could see the book (I had galley copies to share). I have every intention of visiting my Italian relatives as often as possible, and no intention of ever going back alone. As for Catholicism. I feel like I am a few steps down a very long road. Some things make a bit more sense to me – the rituals of the Mass, the meaning of saints, the tangible comfort of prayer. But the great mysteries of the Church remain mysteries to me.

Q: Has your Italian improved in the past years since visting Italy and doing your research? Carla

A: Yes, relatively speaking. When I made my first trip to Calabria in 2003 with my family, I had no Italian. Upon my return, I started studying on my own, settling on the Pimsleur language training system. I found it extraordinary. Over the next four years, I completed all three levels, some 90 30-minute lessons. I am far from conversant, unfortunately, but I can enough to communicate at a basic level.

Q: When Dorthy Day was called a saint her response was “I won’t be dismissed so easily” (That’s one of my all time favorite quotes). So Justin, What do you think St Gaetano’s response would have been if someone called him a saint?

A: I think Padre Gaetano would have said, “I am not worthy of the honor.” Among his many virtues was his humility. He called himself “the little donkey of Christ.” My Calabrian relatives who knew him tell me would not have approved of the fuss and expense expended over 25 years to ensure his canonization. But like Dorothy Day, Gaetano Catanoso was a saint in the truest sense of the word. He and she lived lives of heroic virtue in service to others.

Q: What does it feel like to be related to a saint? Joanne

A: One of the central questions in my book is this: what does it mean to have a saint in the family, does it mean anything at all? I spent the better part of 300 pages addressing that fundamental question. I wasn’t sure there was a compelling answer when I started my research for this book, but I learned otherwise after spending the better part of a month in Calabria in the summer of 2006 with my Italian relatives there, many of whom knew the saint personally (he died in 1963).

Q: Do you think you reconstructed the episode exactly or do you think you were guided in part from Saint Gaetano who motivated you to write your book? Thanx From Australia

A: It’s hard for me to separate out how hard I had to work for so long to complete this project, with the great luck and good fortune I experienced along the way to make it actually happen. Did St. Gaetano play a role? I won’t argue against that.

Q: Did your trip to Calabria, finding new/old relatives, discovering Italian lifestyle and the research about your cousin the Saint change your attitude towards religion? Do you believe in God (now?/before?/at all?) suzie

A: To answer these questions here would be to reveal 85 percent of the book!

Q: I think what you are doing is brave and admire your goal and aspirations. Today so many people criticize the Catholic church for so many things. How do you think this book will help other Catholics be brave? And able to open up more about there lives in the Catholic church? Thanks, Lainey

A: I don’t know how brave I’m being, but I did strive to be honest, as honest as possible about some deeply personal things when writing my book. The Catholic Church gives many reasons for someone like me to walk away and stay away — particularly when church leaders become politicized, exclusionary and judgmental. I have been fortunate. I have found a church where I feel welcomed, which focuses on the true meaning of the faith, which doesn’t make socio-political demands which exceed its moral authority. I am comfortable there.  But I still wrestle with many questions, concerns and doubts. In college, I had a mentor about whom I write about in Part II of my book who told me — “it’s ok if you don’t believe everything the church teaches, just believe what you can.” That piece of advice has resonated with me for more than 25 years.

Q: What’s changed for you (faith-wise) since your book was published? Donna

A: I joined a church – St. Pius X in Greensboro, North Carolina. That’s an enormous change.

Bigger family, smaller world

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Last night, we hosted a special guest at our home – Thiago Catanoso, a 29-year-old computer expert for an America-based software company who lives in Sao Paolo, Brazil. In that South American country, there are scores of Catanosos who, like the Catanosos in America, trace their roots back a few generations to Calabria in the toe of the boot of Italy.

Thiago CatanosoThiago’s great-great grandparents emigrated from Chorio in 1903, a year before my grandfather left the same tiny Calabrian village (also the birthplace of the future saint to whom we all share a common bloodline). One of his Brazilian uncles, Jose Carlos Catanoso, returned to Reggio di Calabria several years ago to meet his Italian relatives for the first time, and learn also about Padre Gaetano. Jose Carlos and his wife, Maria, returned, as we did, to attend the canonization in St. Peter’s Square in October 2005.

Last evening, we had a wonderful visit with Thiago, who was at the end of a business trip for his employer that took him first to Miami (we “met” online earlier this year when he contacted me by email). We shared family stories and family photos and spoke about our lives in America and Brazil. His father and wife called during the visit to say hello from the southern hemisphere. To our knowledge, this is the first time that American and Brazilian branches of the Catanoso family have ever met.

The world feels like a smaller place today, but I know now that I have a bigger family.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

The Philadelphia Inquirer writes about “My Cousin the Saint” in today’s edition. Religion writer David O’Reilly, whom I met and interviewed with in the Inquirer newsroom on July 25, does an exemplary job. No surprise. He’s among the best religion writers in America.


So why did his immigrant grandparents never talk about the southern Italy they fled a century ago? Had they left some family secret in the impoverished mountain region of Calabria – a home to the Mafia?

They had, but never knew it.

And it was no dark secret at all, but luminous.

The clan they left behind in 1903 had spawned a holy man, the Rev. Gaetano Catanoso, whom the Roman Catholic Church would proclaim a saint in 2005.

And in the course of discovering his long-lost cousin – a parish priest born in 1879 who grew into what he calls an “ethereal, holy being, so virtuous that he is hailed as a miracle worker” – Justin Catanoso would discover his larger family, his Italian roots, and the faith he hardly knew.

“It was an experience that pulled me into the heart of the family,” Catanoso, now a 48-year-old North Carolina journalist, said during a recent visit to Philadelphia. He recounts his journey of discovery in a new book, My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family and Miracles.

Read the whole story here.

Travel alert: the pleasures of Calabria

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

This is truly something you do not see every day, or hardly at all — a glowing story about travel in Italy not focused on Rome or Tuscany or Venice, but CALABRIA. Amazing. But that’s what today’s story in The Independent of London offers, without any equivocations or apologies. An excerpt:
Lungomare Regio Calabria
“While Tuscany can point to its Renaissance treasures, the Calabrians patiently explain the widespread evidence in their province of great and ancient civilisation. The Bronzi di Riace – full-size bronzes of Greek warriors found in the sea and on display in Reggio di Calabria, the regional capital – and the archaeological jewels of Locri Epizefiri, a walled Greco-Roman town – are held up as proof of Calabria’s status as the cradle of Italian civilisation. It is no coincidence that Calabria’s first indigenous tribe was called the Itali.

“Above all, Calabria, with its turquoise waters, hidden coves and ancient villages, is a place that rewards curiosity. Although their compatriots have long since discovered the region’s charms, it remains largely undiscovered by foreigners. The region, one of Italy’s poorest, is taking a new-found pride in the myriad treasures that have survived down the ages, cut off from the coach-party hordes by miles of twisting country roads.”

Read the whole story. The inset photo shows the coastline of Reggio along the Strait of Messina with Mount Etna looming beyond on the east coast of Sicily. Bella vista.