Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pastor's Sabbatical - Rome/Sicily

Journal entry 2 Feb 2011 Tuesday (Venerdi)

This is my first attempt to write to all of you. I have been in Italy only three and a half days and I am just getting settled in. The first couple of days were traveling. I landed in Rome on Saturday and stayed the night at the seminary where I will be staying for the sabbatical program starting on the fiftieth of February. The next two weeks I will spend taking Italian classes in Sicily. I arrived here renting a room from a family arranged through the school. It turns out she is a widower who speaks very little English and is very religious. Tonight she was reading at mass and led a couple of songs in singing.

My first couple of days have been very interesting. I was only in town a couple of hours and they had a special mass with the Arcbishop from Messina who was the main celebrant. They are celebrating the Feast of St John Bosco. My landlady Antonina Spadoni introduces me to the pastor and they ask me if I want to concelebrate, I agree and they dress me vestments as I meet a number of the priest who are waiting for the Archbishop to arrive. There are some younger servers that are there and they are working on their English as I am working on my Italian. I am not yet over my jet lag and I am in a church right out of a Fallini movie. It ends up being packed with altar servers sitting on the steps of the altar and a children's choir in the balcony. They introduce me at the beginning of the mass which are the only words I understand. I smile and nod approvingly, I wish you could be here, I think you would enjoy it if you have a sense of adventure. After mass is finished the archbishop leaves and they start a possession from the church of St Joseph to the Basilica a half mile down the narrow cobble stone street with banners flying overhead. You should see they statue of St John Bosco they carry down the from steps of the church to be a part of the procession, they put a wooded ornate canopy on top of the statue with lights and with the priest with a relic and a band they head down the street. I pinch myself that I am really here a part of it all. It is very powerful seeing all the people and the energy.

That was Sunday night, last night they had the second mass for the feast at the basilica which was packed again and I arrive just in time after class to concelebrate and some young people remember me from the night before and they usher me back to the sacristy, put me in vestments. I meet the main celebrant who is the head of the Salesian province in this area. He speaks English and we have a few words after mass. I realize they are introducing me at the beginning of mass because I hear Fr. Giuseppe, I smile and have it confirmed the next day at school because two of the secretaries where there at the mass. I don't know how I got so fortunate. During the mass they realize it is raining too hard to have the possession back to St Joseph so they postpone it for two days when the weather is suppose to be better. At this mass they have dignitaries from the community and some military people there as well. They are dressed very ornately and you can tell this is a very big celebration.

After talking with a few people I inquire of a good local place to have dinner, one lady tells me of a place just a few meters down the main road and I fine my way there. There is a birthday party for some children in the basement and a wood burring oven in the kitchen for pizza. I am happy, the place is warm and the waiters speak some English. I order some "pasta normale" which is the normal pasta of the area with eggplant and cheese. It is hot and tasty and I have that with "insalate mista", mixed salad and I am very happy! As I ask for check I am informed a man at the table next to mine has bought me dinner, he was at mass that night and remembers me. I give him my business card from the parish and he gives me his, he is the president of their local government council and he invites me to his office in a couple of days. I am still very happy!

I have regressed for a couple of days to get you up to some of my happenings. Tonight as I was mentioning, they had mass at 5:30 at the church of St Joseph. One of the priest from last night said he would be the main celebrant and invited me to join them. There ended up being three priest there and a few people from the congregation. They dressed me up and I smiled nicely, my land lady was there and she seemed pleased that I was concelebrating. I was greatly pleased just to be there.

After mass was over, I started wandering the street to find a place for dinner. You need to picture this, it is raining hard, few people are out and many of the restaurants are closed because this is not tourist season and they are on holiday. As I walk down the street there is an umbrella which as gotten away from its owner in the wind, I stop to pick it up to return it and it belongs to a restaurant owner who is trying to tape his sign up to a post in the rain. I hold the umbrella while he is working and he suggests that his restaurant is good place to eat. I know it is too early for the locals to eat, they usually eat around 8:30 or 9 o'clock but since it is raining and I have no other place to go, I venture up to get out of the rain.

He is suggesting heavily that I try some seafood that he shows me telling me the fish is very fresh. I order that and some pasta as my first plate. I order gnocchi with eggplant, sauce, onions, mushrooms and squash. My condition for ordering is that I get to watch him cook, he doesn't seem to mind. I wanted to take a cooking class, I just didn't think it would be this way! I watch him make a great pasta dish and vegetables he cooks on the grill as well as the fish caked in sea salt. It is all wonderful. I realize in the process he is the owner, the waiter and the dish washer, it is the off season. I ask him he minds if I work at the table and he tells me I am like family and he is happy for the company. I did tell you it is the off season and it is now about two hours after I arrived and no one else has shown up. I am still working on my wine and water and listening to music. He asked me what I want to listen too, Italian of course! I still don't understand a word but it is fitting for the experience.

I am sorry for the rambling, but it has been a wonderful experience so far and I hope I can share some of it with you. As you can tell I have been in church a few times already and you have been in my prayers, please keep me in yours. Next time I will try to tell you about some of my classmates and classes, it is all very interesting to me. Also say a special prayer that I can find a part for my camera which is missing so that I can recharge the battery. It will take me a half hour train ride and some of the best Italian I can muster! Bono Notte!
fifth Sabbatical Blog post -
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second Sabbatical Blog post -
this Sabbatical Blog post -