Monday, December 3, 2012

Thanksgiving Italian-Style

It was a Thanksgiving Day to remember. Back in early October, Sr. Germana and I began talking about the possibility of celebrating this all-American holiday here in Rome. After talking with our local superior, who loves Thanksgiving (she spent years in Canada) it became clear that, for a number of reasons, it wouldn’t be possible here at the generalate. Of course, Thanksgiving Day itself is a workday in Italy and class day for me. So, the Italian sisters at via del Mascherino, near the Vatican where our Pauline Multimedia Center is also located, very enthusiastically agreed to host it there the Sunday before.

They also decided to invite our international student community on the floor below them. That brought our party to 22. With a little rearranging of the dining room furniture, everybody actually fit. I think that was easier than finding enough space inside us for all the food we prepared! Two of us offered to cook: Sr. Bernadette Mary, the American in the Mascherino community, and I. Sr. Germana took over décor, and enlisted Sr. Elaine’s talent. From the generalate community we had invited any sisters who had spent the holiday in the U.S. even just once, but only Sr. Elaine from Scotland was able to come. Since she’s here from the delegation of Great Britain, I told the others that we brought her along as a token representative from the mother country.

It’s no small task to get holiday fixins here. Sr. B had ordered two ten-pound turkeys the week before; a large one wouldn’t have fit in ovens the size of a shoebox. The birds were imported, since Italy doesn’t grow them that big. (A heartfelt word of thanks goes to a friend of ours in the States whose donation made that possible. You know who you are!) Then she went to Castroni’s, the import chain, for cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin, evaporated milk, and brown sugar. Sr. Lorenza has a pass to the Vatican grocery—kind of like the commissary on a U.S. base—so we were able to get the other items at a reduced rate. I stayed overnight so that we could pop the first turkey in the oven before 7:00 A.M. Mass.

I had already entrusted the project to the prayers of Sr. Bernadette’s mom, who died just a few months ago, and mine, who died on Thanksgiving weekend three years ago. It added a little extra TLC to the day’s preparations. With their help, we managed to keep on an even keel, while churning out bread and chestnut stuffing, twice-baked sweet potatoes, green beans with almonds, biscuits, two pumpkin, and two apple, pies. I don’t know which mother to blame for the gravy, but even though we had to throw it out, nobody missed it. Of course, it was a “spirit-filled” event as well…if you know what I mean. Sr. Rosaria, the 80-something superior of the student community, brought up a bottle of limoncello as “a digestive,” said she.

Sr. Germana prepared a beautiful meal prayer, sharing the story and significance of the holiday. She explained how, more than any other holiday or feast day in the States, Thanksgiving is the day for family. And here we are, she added, celebrating with our Pauline Family, “pilgrims” from eight countries on four continents.

I ran into several of the sisters the following Monday, Nov. 26, at “the Sanctuary,” our Queen of Apostles Basilica, where Blessed James Alberione is buried. Hundreds of Paulines—religious and lay—celebrated Family on the founder’s feast day. After the liturgy, we gathered to chat. The sisters grinned at me and called out a word they’ll never forget: “Tacchino!” I can’t tell you how heartwarming it is to be called a turkey.

On Thanksgiving Day itself, Sr. Germana and I led the day’s prayer at the generalate. Sr. Bernadette was able to join us for morning prayer and Mass. So was Sr. Karen Marie, who had flown in from the States to work on a project with the Secretariat for Spirituality. So we had a little group that could carry off a few hymns in English—in harmony, no less! Even if it wasn’t concert quality, the community appreciated our efforts to involve them too. Afterward, a sister from Sardinia quipped, “The only thing we’re missing is the Statue of Liberty!”

Those Thanksgiving celebrations were the first encounter most of the FSPs had with this blessed tradition of ours—one of the last non-commercialized holidays left (Forget about Black Friday beginning on Thursday. I’m talking about the holiday itself.) The day’s blessings, stories, singing, and laughter that colored the welcome we gave each other resonate with the spirit of the Pauline Family. Those of us who fêted the communities felt blessed too—by the presence of our sisters, by everything they shared, and by their joy.

Compared with this abundance, I have to think hard to remember anything we did miss besides gravy. The mulled apple “cider” was incredible, even though we lacked most of the necessary ingredients. The turkey frame soup that evening was hearty, even if it was a little bland. Martha Stewart would never have given a second glance at the potatoes (See the slideshow at right.) Her loss; they sure tasted good. And everyone was more than satisfied.

In article nine of the Daughters’ constitutions, we’re reminded that “from [St. Paul] we learn to live in Christ with thanksgiving….” It’s true. Scan any one of his letters, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a page that doesn’t pulse with blessing, gratitude, or thanks for something. Nor is it unusual for him to offer it in the face of the thanklessness of others. Anyone who can sing hymns of praise while chained in a maximum security prison is worth learning from! (Acts 16:16ff.)

What a great preparation for Christmas it would be to cultivate this spirit in some small way, regardless of our circumstances. When our surroundings scream at us to buy everything in sight, how liberating it is to name what we already have and be grateful. How Christian. How American.

“Let freedom ring!”

Photos: Germana Santos, FSP; Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP; Rukhsana, FSP.

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