Santo Cielo! (Good heavens)

Michele e Peppino in front of a statue of San Ruocco, their village patron saint

Sore throat? Time to invoke Saint Blaise. Lost car keys? Saint Anthony to the rescue. Pet dog sick? Saint Francis, hear our prayer.  In the Italian (Catholic) culture, various saints are also believed to protect against snake bites, spousal abuse, stiff joints, ulcers, and whooping cough. Some saints protect whole towns like Agrigento, Amalfi, and Rome. Each has his or her own story; often a story of courage, suffering, and divinely human strength. Their brave example gives many the courage to get through their difficulties. Foreigners are fascinated with Italy’s veneration of the saints, but to Italians, these half-human half-divine beings are a normal part of daily life, offering spiritual inspiration, moral support, and generally making their faith more tangible. Each saint has a story: A hurdle to overcome, a passion to pursue, an example to lead with. On the pages of their lives, we find the essence of ourselves.

My mother kept statues of her favorite saints in the window and even changed their outfits depending on her prayer. Different colors symbolized a request, promise, sorrow, or gratitude. Green was my favorite — the color of hope, and of life. Certain saints were special because they were the protectors of our Italian family towns. St Rocco, for example was the patron saint of Girifalco, a little town in Catanzaro, Calabria. Each year, the entire village gathered to honor its patron saint with joyful celebration.  There would be a Mass, a parade through town punctuated by the music of local musicians, an alms-giving ceremony, and then of course a breaking bread tradition as people came together as a community.

 Most Italians are named after one saint or another, and therefore the onomastico  (name day), is acknowledged as commonly as are birthdays. Having your own saint assigned to you offers us  a special way to connect with a saint we like to think is especially watching over us.

 For those who believe in saints, these figures serve as an approachable bridge between heaven and earth. If they can do it, well so can we.  As a close Italian girlfriend once explained:  “Saints help to make my earthly journey towards the afterworld just a pochino (little bit) easier.” Well, I’m all for that.

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Thank you for letting everyone you know about this uplifting blog.  I have another great radio show coming up next Monday on “The Art of Living Well” (88.7FM or www.wnhu.net) at 7AM . Tune in or stream in, and let me know what you think! Mille grazie.

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