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

Posts Tagged ‘Venice’

It’s hot

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

News reports out of Rome say: “Italy is bracing for a sizzling weekend and health alerts have been issued for 19 cities due to the unusually high heat and humidity. The country currently finds itself at the center of a high pressure system which is ushering hot and sand-filled air from the Sahara.”

Among the cities suffering the most: level 2 alerts for Catania, Messina, Reggio Calabria and Venice – while the highest ‘level 3’ alert has been issued for Florence, Latina, Perugia and Rome.

When I was in Reggio three summers ago during June, it didn’t rain once and the temperature routinely topped 100 degrees.

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.

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?

Italians for Obama

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Even if you’re not an Obama/Biden supporter, you should get a kick out of this light-hearted endorsement — straight from the Grand Canal in Venice! As if we needed a reminder, the whole world is watching this election, even Venetian gondoliers.

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.