Italy One – A Spiritual Reflection
Recently we were asked to host a pair of Italian graduate students at St. Monica. The program was started by a number of Villanova students and involves professionals who already have an undergraduate degree and are looking to enhance their education but specifically to work more in a more focused way to benefit the Catholic Church in their respective parishes. The “Center of Church Management and Business Ethics” at Villanova University helped sponsored and organized the program.
The two gentlemen who visited St. Monica were Mario Compagnucci and Giorgio Paolucci. Mario works in individual financial investments in a large bank while Giorgio, a lawyer, is from the town or Pesaro on the Adriatic Coast and actually spent a year in the American Midwest. There were several hopeful goals for this exchange program. First was to allow these young active Catholics to get a sense of what exciting initiatives are happening in US Catholic parishes. Second, was to get some idea of the challenges we currently face in the US Catholic Church. Third, was to enable a cultural exchange to occur and see if there is a way where the Catholic faith of the two countries could possibly be mutually beneficial in some exchange of best practices.
There were a number of ideas from Italy that the staff found especially interesting and encouraging. The first one is the way that the Catholic faith is taught to young Italian schoolchildren. Religion can be taught in Italian public schools. The Italian State sets out a series of criteria for schoolteachers. The local bishop also has a list of teachers that are approved by his respective (arch)diocese. Teachers that are drawn from both lists are then selected and hired and teach an elective course in Italian public schools. Students themselves can decide whether or not they want to attend the course or not. What was encouraging was the fact that an ever-increasing number of students (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are electing to take the “Catholic course”.
A second interesting Italian initiative involves parish bereavement. The custom in some Italian parishes is the realization that any death in a family is traumatic and disorienting where just getting over the emotional loss can be challenging. Attending to the day-to-day functions of a family while simultaneously planning a funeral Mass, reception, viewing, etc.. can tax people beyond their capacity. Thus, the local parish custom was that the parish family/home closest to the home where the death occurred – nearest to the church parish bell tower is, by custom obligated, to pick up the logistical issues of planning the Mass, calling the funeral home and making all of the funeral arrangements. The bereaving family is naturally involved but is not responsible for details and logistics and can focus on the spiritual and emotional aspects of taking care of their own family members.
The third interesting issue dealt with financial support of parishes. In Italian law, apparently one can designate a certain percentage of tax revenue to any particular “social service.” This could be something along the lines of the Red Cross but could also involve a certain percentage designated to one’s particular parish. Italians feel that religious support is beneficial and have historically found that support of social organizations and churches of various denominations has a significant positive affect to the society. Therefore, they see this as a way to provide financial benefit to organizations that are providing a concomitant benefits.
Next week I will outline what aspects of American Catholicism and parochial life interested and fascinated our Italian guests.