Tag Archives: Italy

The San Damiano Cross

October 2, 2020

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The Franciscan Connection. The San Damiano Cross is especially revered by the Franciscans. The original cross was located in a small, dilapidated country church in Umbria, Italy. One day in 1206 AD St. Francis of Assisi was ambling along a country road, happened upon the church, went inside, and knelt down before the cross. While he was in prayer, he saw the lips of Jesus move and he heard his voice say, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling completely into ruin.” At first, Francis thought Jesus wanted him to repair the building itself, but over time and upon further reflection, it became apparent to him that Jesus did not want him to fix the church building, but to revive the faith of the people which was crumbling, lax, dilapidated, and in ruins. From that time forward, Francis was an animated preacher. He attracted huge crowds and he drew thousands of people back to Jesus and the gospel. He was a master builder of the Body of Christ, the Church.

The San Damiano Cross Present Location. The San Damiano Cross hung in the San Damiano Church from 1206 to 1257 AD. Then the Poor Clare Sisters moved the cross to the Basilica of St. Clare, and it has remained there until the present day where it is on display in its own chapel.

Description. The San Damiano Cross is a painted, icon-style cross. The artist is unknown. It probably was painted sometime in the Twelfth Century AD.

The Major Witnesses. There are five large figures beneath Jesus’ arms that are the major witnesses of the crucifixion. On the left side beneath Jesus’ right arm there are two figures, the Blessed Mother Mary on the outside and the Beloved Disciple on the inside; and on the right side beneath Jesus’ left arm, there are three figures, the closest, St. Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James in the middle; and the centurion on the outside.

The Minor Witnesses. There are two smaller figures below the major witnesses: St. Longinus on the lower left, holding a lance, the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side (Jn 19:34); and Stephanton on the lower right, holding a reed and a sponge, the one who raised a sprig of hyssop to Jesus’ lips (Mt 27:48; Mk 15:36; Jn 19:29).

Other Noteworthy Details. There is a small face behind the centurion’s left shoulder, the “signature” of the artist; there is a tiny rooster on the lower right between Jesus’ left kneecap and ankle, the rooster that crowed when Peter denied Jesus; and in the dark box at the bottom of the cross, there are six important saints. According to one local tradition, they are Peter and Paul, Michael, John the Baptist, John the apostle, and Rufino, a local martyr. According to another legend, the saints are Peter and Paul, Michael, Damian, Rufino, Victorino, and another local martyr.

The Heavenly Welcome. At the top of the cross there is an outstretched hand, a symbol of God the Father welcoming Jesus into heaven. There are ten angels, five to the left and five to the right, all welcoming the risen Jesus to heaven. The circled figure in the middle is Jesus, gloriously triumphant, victor over sin and death, with the inscription, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19).

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St. Pius of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

September 20, 2019

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St. Pius of Pietrelcina, commonly known as Padre Pio, was born on May 25, 1887, in the small southern Italian town of Pietrelcina. His parents, Grazio and Maria Giuseppa Forgione, were devout Catholics and poor peasant farmers. He was baptized the day after his birth at St. Ana’s Chapel and given the name Francesco, named after San Francesco, St. Francis of Assisi.

Padre PioFrancesco entered the Capuchin Franciscan Friars at the age of fifteen, was invested with the Capuchin habit on January 22, 1903, and chose the name Pius or Pio in honor of St. Pius II, the patron saint of Pietrelcina. He imposed severe fasts on himself, lost weight, compromised his immune system, and eventually became seriously ill with tuberculosis or bronchial pneumonia as well as raging fevers. He left the friary and returned to his family because they were better able to care for him. Once recovered, he returned to the community, moved to San Giovanni Rotondo and studied philosophy and theology. He was ordained a priest on August 10, 1910.

Less than a month after his ordination, on September 7, 1910, while at prayer in his family’s farmhouse in Piana Romana, Padre Pio received the invisible stigmata, the five wounds of the crucified Jesus. Eight years later, on September 20, 1918, while at prayer in the Friary Chapel at San Giovanni Rotondo, he had a mystical encounter with Jesus and received the visible stigmata, wounds that he carried on his hands, feet, and side for the next fifty years, and he did so with great humility covering his hands with gloves and his feet with stockings.

Padre Pio was highly regarded for his personal holiness and spiritual wisdom, and as a result throngs approached him for advice and encouragement. He also had a tremendous reputation as a kindly confessor. Many days he spent up to twelve hours in the confessional, and some years he reportedly heard as many as twenty-five thousand confessions. Not only did he give wise counsel, he was able to see into the penitent’s heart and determine if the person was unaware of or in denial about a sin, and able to help the person to both name and turn away from the sin.

As the steady string of pilgrims and the size of the crowds grew, so did his troubles. Members of his own Capuchin community and Vatican officials were increasingly jealous and skeptical, alleged that his stigmata was a fraud, and maintained that he was promoting himself. Padre Pio was placed under investigation more than ten times, his priestly faculties were suspended, and he was forbidden to say Mass or hear confessions. It was a cross of untold suffering for him to be doubted, ridiculed, and rejected, and for long periods he retreated into isolation. Dark as those days were, he never lost faith, kept his sense of humor, and remained steadfast in prayer, especially before the Eucharist. He often said, “I only want to be a poor friar who prays.” It took until 1968 before Pope Paul VI granted the official approval of the Church.

Padre Pio’s dream was to establish a hospital that would provide compassionate care for the poor, and it was realized with the establishment of La Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the Home for the Relief of Suffering, a one thousand bed hospital. It was dedicated in 1956 and it continues its mission today in conjunction with an international bioscience research facility.

Padre Pio died September 23, 1968 at the age of 81, was beatified in 1999 in the presence of 250,000 people, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 16, 2002. St. Pius of Pietrelcina is the patron saint of civil defense volunteers and Catholic adolescents.

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St. Romuald, Abbot

June 15, 2018

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St. RomualdSt. Romuald was born in Ravenna, Italy, in 950, into the aristocratic Onesti family. When he was twenty, he witnessed his father Sergius kill another man in a duel, and deeply disturbed by what he had seen, fled to the nearby Benedictine monastery of San Apollinare at Classe where he became a monk to make expiation for his father’s sin.

St. Romuald quickly embraced the Benedictine Rule of Life, and he meticulously observed it in every detail with prayer, simplicity, and strict self-discipline. Some of the monks had grown lax in their spiritual lives and were offended when St. Romuald admonished them with his fraternal correction, and their antagonism toward him forced him to leave the monastery.

St. Romuald found a hermit named Marinus near Venice to serve as his spiritual director, and he spent the next ten years in a secluded location in an austere life of solitude, self-denial, prayer, and meditation, and made great headway in virtue and holiness.

St. Romuald’s father was so moved by his son’s example that he decided to enter the monastery of San Severo near Ravenna to atone for his sins. St. Romuald learned that his father was being tempted to leave the monastery and go back to his worldly ways, so he went in haste to attempt to persuade him to remain, and his father persevered as a monk until his death.

Ironically, after having left San Apollinare years earlier, in 998 Emperor Otto III appointed St. Romuald the abbot of the same monastery. He served only two years and then resigned in order to return to his life as a hermit at Pereum. Sometimes his prayer seemed dry, his spiritual energy low, and his outlook dark, and one day when reciting a Psalm he had a mystical experience of a bright light and the presence of God which propelled him for the rest of his life.

Even though St. Romuald was a monk and a hermit, it was also his desire to be a missionary and suffer a martyr’s death. The Pope approved his request to be a missionary to the Magyars in Hungary. As he made the journey northward he became seriously ill, was forced to abandon his plans, and returned to Italy to resume the monastic life.

St. Romuald subsequently moved to the monastery at Monte di Sitrio. During those days he chastised a young local nobleman for his immoral behavior, and in retaliation, the aristocrat falsely accused Romuald of a scandalous crime. Incredibly, the monks believed the false allegation, imposed a severe penance, and excommunicated him. He suffered this terrible hardship in silence for six months, and then, prompted by God in prayer, he broke silence, repudiated the unjust sentence, and resumed his ministry.

St. Romuald spent the rest of his life establishing monasteries and hermitages in northern and central Italy, particularly at Fonte Avellana and Camaldoli near Arezzo in Tuscany. He also founded a religious order, the Camaldolese monks and hermits [O.S.B. Cam.], and wrote a new rule of life based upon the Benedictine Rule. He combined the cenobitic life, a common life in religious community, with the eremitical life, the solitary life of a hermit. The monks assembled each day for Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and some meals, and spent the remainder of the day in solitude. St. Romuald died alone in his cell at Val di Castro, Italy, on June 19, 1027.

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14 murders. Serial killer. Florence. True-detective-story. Can’t go wrong!

March 14, 2012

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If you’ve ever wanted a reason to be glad you’re an American, read “The Monster of Florence.”

Italy has the judicial system from hell, and Doug Preston and Mario Spezi describe it the way Dante did — only this time it’s a true story.

The best-selling American novelist and the hard-working Italian reporter found out just how devilish that corrupt, ethics-barren system could be when they began investigating what appears to be serial killings in the hills around Florence.

Over the course of 14 years seven couples were found slain after parking in “lovers’ lane” types of spots in the scenic Tuscan hills. The males were shot with the same Beretta, the females pulled from the cars, killed, stripped and their sexual parts cut out with a knife and taken.

When I get to that latter part of a book, that’s when I usually toss it aside. But the misogyny here is not what “The Monster of Florence” is about.

It’s a page-turner

This is a nonfiction crime story told as well as any of the novels by Doug Preston (“Relic,” for example) that have sold millions. Once the authors start on the trail to see the murder cases solved and justice done, the tale is can’t-put-it-down reading.

Along with being a compelling story — who doesn’t want to find out who The Monster of Florence is ? — the ineptness and unprofessionalism of Italian police, investigators, judicial administrators and judges all turn the story on its head to the point where the reporters covering the story become accused of involvement in covering up the crime, and Spezi is suspected himself as being the Monster and gets thrown in jail.

But listen to this: He isn’t told what he’s being charged with.

In Italy, you can be arrested and the charges “sealed” because they are a “secret.”

And investigators can prevent you from talking with an attorney. In the meantime, the investigators leak the charges to the media, making up whatever they want without any evidence. The salacious Italian media eat it up with a spoon, not checking the statements, not demanding evidence.

Ever hear of Amanda Knox?

This book has been out for more than two years, so no, it’s not new. But there is a coincidence that makes this story fresh and worth reading.

Remember Amanda Knox? Spent four years in jail waiting for her murder trial to be held, was convicted, then the conviction thrown out on appeal?

The same investigator who jailed “The Monster of Florence” authors handled the Amanda Knox case.

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What if you knew a secret you dared tell no one?

May 6, 2010

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Im not scared cover

“I’m Not Scared,”

by Niccolo Ammaniti

Can a nine-year-old be brave?

Brave enough to try to save the life of another boy?

Niccolo Ammaniti’s little, 200-page mystery is one you’ll read in one sitting.

You’ll have to.

You’ll just have to find out what happens when young Michele makes an amazing discovery as he and his friends are out exploring in the Italian countryside where they live.

Ammaniti captures Italian family life, community tension, childhood fears and blunders that anyone who has been a child will identify with.

Best of all is how he puts readers inside the mind of his nine-year-old hero. He lets us see how someone who is just a boy knows the difference between right and wrong and is willing to risk the consequences of doing what his heart tells him he must.

This is not a new work but one first published in Italian in 2001 and translated into English by Jonathan Hunt in 2003. That “I’m Not Scared” has been translated into 20 languages should tell you how good a read it is. — bz

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Everything by a top-selling author is not gold

February 11, 2008

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“Playing for Pizza,”
by John Grisham

Do not waste your time reading “Playing for Pizza” just because John Grisham’s name is on the cover.

With a weak, predictable plot, this will make a made-for-TV movie of the poorest kind.

Here’s a guess: John G. went on vacation to Italy, and, to write-off the expenses on his taxes, he wrote this garbage-y tripe to pass off his airfare, train, hotel and restaurant bills as “research.”

All the “local color” can be found in any guidebook on Italy. Actually, some of those guidebooks make better reading than this football-based schlock.

If Grisham had the slightest sense of shame he would travel the world buying back this book from all who have wasted their money on it. – bz

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