The New York Times ran a story Sunday about Abruzzi, the mountainous region east of Rome and as far north as you can go and still be in the South of Italy. Reading this brought back stories my father used to tell me, of growing up among those mountains, of working the family farm, of the Franciscan monks who would stop to kick a soccer ball around with the kids ... about the German occupation ... about the Allied bombings ... about spending Christmas hiding from air raids and German bayonets ... about the decaying dead everywhere ... outbreaks of typhoid ... landmines buried in wait for unsuspecting kids postwar ... the destruction of dreams and the redirection of futures.
But the Abruzzese are a tough breed. Mountain folk usually are. Their great, great ancestors, the Sabines and the Samnites, among the original non-Latin Italic peoples, held off the Romans for some 200 years before finally being incorporated into a united peninsular and a growing empire.
Now Abruzzi is just one more Italian tourist attraction. The hermitages, the food, even the skiing, I hear, attract people from around the world.
The story of San Domenico and the ritual of the "healing" snakes that the Times highlights is what would ordinarily put off Protestants like mebut one only has to remember the story of Moses and the bronze serpent (Num. 21:6-9) to mute the idolatry alarm. (Granted, the bronze serpent was destroyed once it had become an object of veneration, but I'm trying not to get too far off-topic here.)
I used to dream about going back to Abruzzi with my dad and walking through the towns and villages he knew as a kid. But now that he's gone, I don't think I could do it. While he used to hold out the possibility of returning one day, his heart was never in it. While he was proud of his Italian heritage, the Old Country still held too many bad memories, primarily those rooted in the war. America was his home. He had no desire to leave it, even for a week or two.
Not even timeor the snakes of San Domenicocould heal some wounds.
In addition to which:
From the beginning, First Things has been a collaborative enterprise. It is not just a magazine but--as we rather pretentiously put it--a universe of discourse. Which is another way of saying that it is a moveable feast of personal and intellectual friendships. From time to time, we'll be posting here pictures of some of the people who sustain the First Things conversation.
The late William Sloane Coffin, Jr., did not always take Fr. Neuhaus' advice.
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