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

Posts Tagged ‘Rome’


Monday, April 6th, 2009

From The New York Times: L’AQUILA, Italy — More than 90 people died and tens of thousands were left homeless when an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3 shook central Italy early Monday morning, seriously damaging buildings in the mountainous Abruzzo Region east of Rome, officials said. The whole story is here.

HOW TO HELP: The Italian-American Museum is collecting donations to support the emerging relief effort in Italy. Joseph Scelsa, the museum’s preident, said that checks should be made out to “I.A.M. Earthquake Relief Fund 2009 and mailed or delivered to the museum, at 155 Mulberry Street, at the corner of Grand Street, in Little Italy. Donations may also be made by credit card by calling the museum at (212) 965-9000.

ALSO: The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) has set up a relief fund. Details here.

Mixed message

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI says he’s praying for the beatification of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. But Monsignor Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, says the next to last step before canonization for JPII is not imminent.

Wondering: doesn’t the former have a bit influence over the latter? Full story here.

A star and her saint

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

An Italian web site reports: “Sophia Loren has lent her weight to the cause of Pope John Paul II reaching sainthood. The screen star has written to the Vatican official who is putting the case for the late pope’s beatification, one step from sainthood, Italian magazine Chi reports in an edition out Wednesday. ‘The memory of John Paul II is jealously guarded in my heart,’ says the 74-year-old screen icon. ‘It is a daily memory,’ she says, adding that she prayed at the pope’s tomb ‘to bear witness to my great admiration and devotion.'”

The whole story is here.

The pope’s photographer

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

giansanti of JPII
Photo by Gianni Giansanti
From The New York Times today: “Gianni Giansanti, an internationally prominent photojournalist known for nearly three decades of images that captured Pope John Paul II on the bustling world stage and in contemplative private moments, died on Wednesday in Rome. He was 52.” Full obit here.

John Paul’s friend, and a vivid memory

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Vatican news today:”Pope Benedict XVI has agreed to speed up the beatification process of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who was murdered by communist secret services in 1984.”

This cause holds particular interest to me. Father Popieluszko, a close friend of Pope John Paul II from Poland, was murdered while Laurelyn and I were on our honeymoon in Western Europe in the fall of Pope John Paul II1984. We followed the grim news in the International Herald Tribune. Weeks later, while in Rome and at the Vatican, we witnessed one of the most extraordinarily powerful scenes of our lives. This scene appears in my book, but I wrote about it first in a column in my newspaper the week JPII died in April 2005. The column follows:

Setting business aside to remember the pope

At some level, the talk of the Triad this week is similar to the talk around the world. The life and legacy of Pope John Paul II was so far-reaching that it had an impact on people everywhere, whether or not they are Catholic.

It’s with that in mind that I momentarily set aside Triad business to share an experience I had during the early part of the pope’s 26-year reign as the church’s 264th pontiff.

It was November 1984, and my wife and I were in Rome on our honeymoon. Bus No. 64 carried us across town, across the Tiber to Vatican City and a Wednesday morning audience with the pope.

We dashed through St. Peter’s Square, through Bernini’s colonnade and into the modern auditorium near the basilica.

After being searched for weapons by Swiss guards — the pope had been shot in the square just three years earlier — we took our seats near the front. Some 8,000 people filled the space. When Pope John Paul II made his entrance, resplendent in his white robes and cape, a kind of electricity swept through the hall.

Like teenagers at a pop concert, the scores of Spanish nuns in front of us went wild. I had never experienced someone able to exude charisma with merely a nod or wave. But you could feel it. And that was just the beginning.

A master communicator, the pope delivered his set address that morning in eight languages. He saved Polish for last. A large group of Poles were seated together several rows behind us, and the pope had spotted them.

His address had been on the sanctity of marriage, and he offered a special blessing for newlyweds like ourselves. But now the pope was departing from his text. He looked directly out at his people, the Poles, as his voice grew more intense, his gestures more animated. We had been following the news; we knew why.

Just a month earlier in Poland, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a parish priest and a dear friend of the pope’s, had been kidnapped and murdered by Polish police and dumped in a river. The priest had been silenced for his support of the outlawed union Solidarity and his opposition to Communist rule.

The pope reflected on that tragedy as he spoke — his low, steady voice charged with emotion. I knew John Paul had suffered as a young man under Nazism; what must he be thinking, I wondered. As a young, naïve American spoiled by our freedoms at home, I knew nothing about actual political oppression.

But now, in the voice and presence of this pope, I could easily imagine its suffocating nature as his uncompromising stand against such inhumanity filled the room.

My wife and I were startled witnesses to this suddenly intense moment, but the Poles in the crowd were grateful recipients. When the pope stopped speaking, dozens of them rose in unison. They unfurled a Solidarity banner, stretched it wide and held it aloft. Others held up crucifixes or simply their hands flashing a V-for-victory sign.

At that time, those simple actions would have landed them in jail, or worse, back home. Now they were defiant, emboldened. All eyes in the auditorium were transfixed on this group as they spontaneously began to sing a gorgeous, hymn-like song in Polish.

Their voices rang out, but not in celebration. Their faces were masks of solemn determination. As they sang, I turned to see John Paul drop his head into his right hand, which was propped up on the arm of his high-backed chair.

With that simple gesture, he was telling them: your pain is my pain, your struggle is my struggle. There was no mistaking that.

I looked at my wife as tears streamed down her face. She was not alone in that regard. We knew we were witnessing something extraordinary, glorious even — the will and spirit of one man giving courage to an entire people. From our place in the auditorium between the pope and the Poles, that power seemed to pass right through us like lightening.

As we were leaving, I met a young Polish man and asked him about the song. He explained that it was the equivalent of “We Shall Overcome,” a plea to God asking him to restore freedom to Poland.

In 1984, years before the end of the Soviet Union or the toppling of the Berlin Wall, such a plea could not be taken for granted. Few people would’ve dared envision Eastern Europe and much of Asia unleashed from the grip of such totalitarianism. Yet one man did.

Since his death on April 2, commentators have emphasized the political role Pope John Paul II played in contributing to the fall of communism. But what we saw that long-ago morning transcended politics and revealed perhaps the pope’s greatest influence.

What we saw was nothing less than John Paul’s spiritual force on those who would actually bring about the collapse.


Pressure mounts

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

The New York Times reports here: ROME — Responding to global outrage, especially in Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany, the Vatican for the first time on Wednesday called on a recently rehabilitated bishop to take back his statements denying the Holocaust.

Responding to an uproar

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The New York Times reports: “ROME — Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday addressed for the first time the uproar over his decision to rehabilitate a Holocaust-denying bishop, expressing solidarity with Jews and strongly condemning Holocaust denial.” The whole story is here.

UPDATE: Now this. Probably not going to make anything better. Couldn’t this whole thing have been avoided?

Is this the right direction?

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

The New York Times reports: VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI reaching out to the far-right of the Roman Catholic Church, revoked the excommunications of four schismatic bishops on Saturday, including one whose comments denying the Holocaust have provoked outrage.  The decision provided fresh fuel for critics who charge that Benedict’s four-year-old papacy has increasingly moved in line with traditionalists who are hostile to the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s that sought to create a more modern and open church.

Vatican secret confession tribunal opens up

Friday, January 16th, 2009

ROME (AP) — One of the Vatican’s most secrecy shrouded tribunals, which handles confessions of sins so grave only the pope can grant absolution, is giving the faithful a peek into its workings for the first time in its 830-year history. Full story here.

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.