Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Eat! Eat!

Santa Maria della Grazia
This past weekend I experienced something straight from a classical Italian film. I went to a small town on the east coast of Italy in Puglia called San Giovanni Rotondo. Back in October I became friends with two university students studying in Rome from San Giovanni Rotondo. I'd help them with English and they'd help me with Italian. One of them, Maurilio, invited me to spend the summer with his family working in his parish. So this weekend I went with two other seminarians to check out the parish and meet the pastor. It was  such a great experience that I want to share with you some of the details, so bear with me because this post may be a bit long.

On Friday we set out from Roma Termini by car, which we had rented. Luckily the seminary has a few GPS units that we can borrow when we travel because let just say it is not the easiest to navigate the streets of Rome. Luckily one of the other seminarians knows how to drive a manual transmission so he did all the driving. The drive to San Giovanni Rotondo was spectacular. Crossing across Italy, we went up and around mountains and down through valleys. Then we passed along the Adriatic coastline for another hour and half until we came into Puglia, which is known for its olive groves and buffala cheese. San Giovanni Rotondo is itself a famous town because it is where St. Pio of Pietrelcina lived and worked throughout the 20th century. Consequently this tiny town has been transformed into a bustling pilgrimage site. We arrived at my friends house with no problems (with the help of the GPS of course). Maurilio's mom greeted us at the door with a hug, a kiss on each cheek and coffee and goodies on the table. Little did we know that this was only a foreshadowing of the things to come. Later that evening, Maurilio took us to San Guiseppe Parish to meet the pastor, don Vincenzio. He expressed to me his happiness to have me helping in the parish during the summer. I felt very welcomed by him and he was so patient with my Italian (or lack thereof). Then we took a quick walking tour of the city, which was full of activity. Even though the town if used to strangers, several people came up to me took my arm and walked with me asking me where I was from and how I was doing. One gentleman even asked if I was Polish. I smiled and said no that I'm an American seminarian. He smiled and went on to say some things that I didn't quite catch. 

The family, Kevin, Fernando and I
Maurilio also took us to see the tomb of St. Pio which is in the crypt of the new Basilica which is less than ten years old. It was incredible to be in the presence of such a saint. I'm looking forward to learning more about his life and relying more on his intercession. My birthday, September 23rd is the same day as St. Pio's feast day. Much later that evening the whole family gathered for dinner. I learned quickly that it was better to eat slowly and not to be the first with an empty plate or else the ladies will give you twice as much food during the next course. I enjoyed talking with Granny, though I needed Maurilio to translate whatever she said from the dialect into Italian. Both Granny and the aunt had personally known St. Pio. They had both gone to him for confession and had gone to his Masses. Amazing huh....

The next day was chuck full of activity. After a beautiful Mass in the older basilica, Maurilio took us to meet the bishop which was a complete surprise. The bishop of the diocese had heard that I was going to be spending the summer in his diocese and wanted to me. We arrived in Malefodonia, the see city, and awaited our meeting with the bishop. He was so kind and again was patient with our Italian. It was no surprise at all that he knew Bishop Hebda. When I mentioned Bishop Hebda's name at first he didn't seem to know him. Than I called him 'Bernie' and with my hand indicated bishop's height he immediately remembered him and exclaimed, "Bernie, I know Bernie. Legistlative Texts, Yes, Yes." Everybody knows our bishop...

We returned home and after a huge lunch and a equally long nap we went to another important pilgrimage site, Monte San'Angelo. It was a pilgrimage site throughout the Middle Ages because it was the apparition site of St. Michael the Archangel. Maurilio was so patient with us and gave us plenty of time to pray in the church carved out of a cave. On the way home we stopped at another monastery which Maurilio recommended to us as place for quiet prayer or a retreat. By the time we got home it was time for dinner. We had pizza for dinner which was a treat. Maurilio's brother-in-law after dinner took us up the mountain to star gaze for a while. I hadn't seen the stars that clear in such a long time. Needless to say after such a long day, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. 

On Sunday we went to Sunday Mass at San Guiseppe parish. It was so good to be in parish setting again. I think that I will be very content this summer in the parish. After Mass the whole family went out for gelato and  coffee. All told, I had never ate so much gelato and drank so much coffee in one weekend. Maurilio's aunt cooked lunch for us, and we had one last meal with the family. For lunch we had lasagna which was so good. It reminded of my mom's own lasagna (which of course I am bound to say is the best in the world). After what seemed liked hundreds of hugs and kisses it was time for us to depart for Rome. 

All in all it was a great weekend in San Giovanni Rotondo. The weekend was exhausting. It was harder than I thought it would be to speak Italian the whole weekend. I have to admit by the end I was a bit cranky, because of the added stress of constantly thinking and listening with such care. It's a good lesson for me that this summer I will have to be careful not to over do it and become overwhelmed. The key will be to make time for quiet prayer to allow my mind to rest. 

Now all I have to do it make it through the next few weeks of school and exams and I'll be back there before I know it. I can't wait...