Growing up Italian-Canadian I was exposed to much of the cultural celebrations throughout my childhood. In addition to the food and family traditions I was also exposed to the cultural ways that the Catholic faith is experienced, expressed, and celebrated as an Italian growing up in Canada.
Much of these sacred traditions have become a means of gathering family together, sharing time, and also to honor "La Madonna". I was greatly confused while growing up and did not understand the various "Madonna's" that were venerated. Depending on one's region (paese) that they come from there is usually a feast for "La Madonna" of this region annually.
My family is from S. Angelo Limosano in Molise Italy. The Madonna that we celebrate bi-annually (once in August and again in January) is "La Madonna Delle Stelle" or Our Lady of The Stars. Growing up the feast for "La Madonna" was a very exciting time. It is where I spent time with my cousins, ate a lot of food, and was able to be exposed to something about the Catholic faith that I would reach for many years later. Sadly, the focus of this gathering was often missed in the ignorance of my youth. However, the reverence of these elderly people in attendance is something that has never left my mind. As my cousins and I enjoyed time together in the simplicity of childhood many sat in front of the statue of "La Madonna" in quiet prayer.
In August we celebrate the feast outdoors which begins with a Rosary followed by a Mass. January's feast is celebrated at a Church, and following Mass everyone heads to the basement of the parish to enjoy time together, food, and dancing.
It was during the feast of "La Madonna" when I was about twelve years old that something beautiful happened. I recall this moment now as I look back on my faith journey and recognize how present God always was, even if I felt Him to be so far away. He is always there calling us quietly toward Him in love.
While everyone was in the basement parish hall following Mass I snuck upstairs into the Church and sat quietly in a pew by myself. I did not have much of a faith then, and was not regularly attending Mass. Catholicism in my family was seemingly more of a cultural experience than a profound truth and necessity. Still, through the small exposure to the faith that I had, I was able to somehow by grace come to understand the beauty of it all.
As I sat in the parish talking to God a man entered the Church tearfully, and knelt at a pew in front of "La Madonna". I remember feeling uncomfortable and that I should leave him alone in prayer. I decided to stay and was taken by his reverence as he knelt in tearful prayer.
This man's witness was a profound lesson for me. Through this man God showed me that Church is where you come with tears, with prayers, with brokenness, and with surrender. This is where you come to encounter God.
My adolescent years were those that I am not often entirely proud of, and yet they are still moments where I know God was gently calling me and there for me. During my times of difficulty I remembered this man who tearfully knelt before "La Madonna" , it was his witness that led me to enter into Church in my own tears, in my own brokenness, and with my prayers. It was through this witness that I came to understand where it is we run to. I came to see Who it is we must return to.
Years would definitely pass before I would see the immense healing power of God's grace, experience His unconditional mercy, and be filled with the joy of His presence and love. In returning fully home to the Catholic church and striving to live out my faith daily, I have come to realize that our Lord calls us away from our brokenness and our tears in love. God calls us to prayer to encounter Him so that He can heal our wounds and help aid our brokenness. He yearns for us to kneel before Him always and not only in our pains. God desires for us to live in peace, joy, and in love. May we turn to Him always trusting in His providence, and may we pray for the intercession of our Blessed Mother who is always there in love for us yearning to carry us into the heart of Her Beloved Son Jesus Christ. Amen. (C.C.)