A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles
by Justin Calanoso

Answering questions, part II

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.

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8 Responses to “Answering questions, part II”

  1. Bleeding Espresso » celebrating italians and sprezzatura on columbus day Says:

    [...] Justin continues to answer your questions at his blog here. [...]

  2. Calabrian Nduja: Putting the Fire in Fiery | My Bella Vita Says:

    [...] had nduja? What did you think? What is your favorite way to enjoy this specialty.    Justin is answering more of your questions about his new book “My Cousin the Saint” today. There is still time to enter the book [...]

  3. Cherrye at My Bella Vita Says:

    Great responses, Justin. I think many of our readers will be glad to know you’ll be taking your wife on your next Calabrian trip and that she didn’t get too upset about your proclamation of love for the pizza gal.

  4. nyc caribbean ragazza Says:

    Thank you for answering my question.

    Since moving to Rome, I’ve thinking about faith and religion more. I

  5. This Eclectic Life Says:

    Thanks for answering my questions, Justin (as well as all the other questions people asked). I’m glad to know your wife didn’t lose control when you swooned over another woman. I’m intrigued to know how learning about your saintly cousin helped you come back to center in your faith.

    I enjoyed your interviews!

  6. Carla Says:

    Thanks for the answer, Justin. I look forward to reading more Q & A!

  7. justin Says:

    Thanks for these enthusiastic responses. It really has been a great thrill to be introduced to so many wonderful people through these Calabrian-based blogs. If you are inclined to order a book (and I hope you are — Amazon is the easiest way), I would love to hear reaction to my story. You’re welcome to email me at this web site.


  8. Susan_capemaycounty Says:

    Justin: I am not very good at these blogs but I wanted you to know how much I am enjoying your book on the Saint. I am half way through it and I love it. I’ve been alternately laughing and crying my eyes out. The picture you’ve painted of Southern Italy is beautiful. I can almost smell the smells and see the hillsides.

    As life long friends of your Uncle Tony and Aunt Phyllis I particularly loved the stories of his military service, what a character he was in high school and what a devoted family you have.

    Your family should be so proud of this book. It’s such a tribute to what a great family you Catanoso’s are. Although my parents bought a ton of your books and shipped them to our family in Italy, I too am ordering your book for Christmas presents. Best wishes on a great success.

    Sue (Matalucci) Sandman

    My grandmother was 5 when she emigrated from the Abruzzi region. I guess that makes me second generation but your story could be mine.

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