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Finding Mary in Italy

I'll start this off by saying: I'm not Catholic. I was born into a Catholic family and was raised in the religion, but at the age of 16, I went my own way.

I've had...feelings about the Catholic church for a long time. I won't get into them, but suffice it to say, I came to Italy a bit guarded about religion in general. (And yes, it is HILARIOUS that I ended up falling in love with a staunch Catholic!)

And yet, something I've realized is that Italian Catholicism is very different from American Catholicism.

No Separation of Church and State

In the U.S., we have strict lines of division between the religious and the secular. Here, not so much. When there's an event to unveil a new mural in the piazza, the local priest is on hand to give a benediction.

In Calabria, there are almost more churches than people. And it seems like every few days is a religious festival. Everyone celebrates their onomastico, or name day, if they're named after a saint.

It's taken some getting used to.

The Big Difference Between Religion in the U.S. and Italy

I will say, one thing I appreciate is that I've never felt pressured to go to church. Even with Francesco and his family, who attend mass regularly (well, some of them). It's very live-and-let-live, which I appreciate.

Now Onto Mary in Italy

If you've spent even ten minutes in Italy, you know that Mother Mary is a prominent figure. You'll find her statue on building corners, prayer cards tucked behind cash registers, and of course, she's one of the highlights in many a church.

I've been feeling drawn to Maria more and more. Maybe it's because she represents the feminine in a religion primarily dominated by male energy. Maybe it's because, like me, she's a mother. But let me say: she's been showing up a LOT lately, especially on our trip to Verona.

When we were walking around the city, I noticed a strange-shaped building and beckoned Fra to check it out with me. Through a gate and around the corner, we found a magical grotta with a statue of Maria adorned with light-up stars.

People who'd come to pray to Mary (maybe those whose prayers she'd answered) had left flowers and plants at her feet. I watched in awe as an Indian woman finished her prayer, genuflected before her, and then touched the statue's feet in reverence.

When we visited the Basilica di San Zeno, I was surprised to see paintings of Mary on just about every wall. Again, most churches are filled with male saints and, of course, Jesus. But here she was, placidly looking at the infant in her arms, or looking a bit bewildered at the angel who brought the glad tidings that she, virgin or no, was somehow with child.

The Piece de Resistance

But over our vacation, the biggest Mary experience I had was in the town of Lonigo at the Santuario Santa Maria dei Miracoli. True to its name, a miracle occurred here some 600 years ago.

After committing a robbery (and possibly a murder), two thieves paused at the church. One of them, showing his bravado, stabbed a painting with the Virgin Mary, who, to their utter shock, began bleeding and folded in to cover the wound on her heart.


We visited the sanctuary and could see the very painting that had mysteriously come to life, though it was faded nearly to white. There was also a beautiful mosaic of Mary at the altar.

I found myself overcome with the idea that Mary had acted through the painting. I left her a small bunch of wildflowers as an offering.

Italy's Giving Me a New Perspective

I don't know that I'll ever become a practicing Catholic again, but I am open to shifting my perspective about the religion. If Mary is the channel to connect to the Divine, I'm open to receiving.

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