Italian Church on Good Friday

I’ve previously mentioned how I enjoy the traditional Italian Catholic elements of the neighborhood where I work.

I’ve also mentioned that there’s an Italian chapel near my work. Generally, only the ground floor chapel is open. It’s full of gaudy Italian statues of Jesus, Mary, and the saints that the polytheist idolator in me adores.

I go there from time to time before work to pray or, if it happens while I’m there, listen to the old Italian ladies pray the rosary.

Today, though, was a treat. I was moved to go in and see the statues draped for Lent. The drapes will be removed at Easter, of course, to mark the Resurrection.

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I knew there was a sanctuary upstairs but it’s never been open in the nearly 2 years I’ve been working in the neighborhood. However, it was open today for Good Friday Mass.

(It will be open more often for the next few months due to the other Catholic church a block away being renovated.)

I explored it for the first time and it was beautiful. Like the ground floor, it’s full of statues and very Old World. But what shocked me was the vivid pink color, the frescos, and the marble columns. I can’t believe this beautiful historic sanctuary is generally hidden from the public!

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The Stations of the Cross are in Italian. This was a neighborhood church in an Italian neighborhood. Even downstairs, they still have Mass in Italian on Sundays.

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This was beautiful to see and yet heartbreaking because I know how endangered this is. There is not a big enough congregation to support keeping the upstairs sanctuary open generally.

This is in one of the most Catholic cities in the US, in one of the most Catholic neighborhoods.

I am not a Catholic. I am a polytheist. I’m proud to be a polytheist. My religion is my life and my identity. That said, Italian Catholicism is my family’s heritage. I feel guilty that this is not a tradition I will carry on or pass on to another generation.

Even if I could have faith in their Holy Trinity, I have issues with the institution of the Church. The obscene wealth while people are dying, starving and poor. The institutional pedophilia and the conspiracy to cover it up. The generations of oppression of women.

But I find such beauty in the tradition, in the art, the culture, the life. As if I were a nun or monk in a previous life. It grieves me to see this beauty and to know that in a few decades, it will be gone. Like seeing the last of an endangered species.

Catholicism may live on but the culture, the centrality to people’s lives here in what was once an immigrant neighborhood (and rapidly becoming a mere tourist attraction, affordable only to yuppies)…will be gone.

I have such mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I know that the Church oppresses  women, it oppresses queer people but also there is this beautiful current of social justice that has come from the Church.

Also there was an option for queer people back in the day in the Church, they could become monastics or priests. (Of course, they’d have to be celibate but the Church expects that of unmarried single people gay or straight.) This wasn’t a good option, of course. But it was better than other religions.

In our various polytheisms, we often look to our heritage. It took me many years to process, but I have largely made peace with my Catholic heritage and find a beauty in it. I feel much more of a link to Catholicism, especially of an Irish or an Italian flavor…than I do to Italian polytheism, the religion of my distant ancestors.

I find the devotional element within Catholicism to be especially beautiful. I admire the way that Catholics struggle with their values, their beliefs, their sins in a materialistic society that all too often has little use for people that believe in prayer as a solution to problems.

As a queer person, I find myself often on the other side of their struggles. I am what they are opposing, often. Or rather, people like me. The people I love, too. When I briefly flirted with returning back to Catholicism, I thought about being a social justice-y leftist Catholic but I’m not a fan of the post-Vatican II church.

I want the Latin. I want the ritual, the culture, the mantillas on women’s heads (if they want to veil), the way people turned their lives over to religion because there wasn’t an Internet or television or movies to distract us.

(OK, I’m idealizing the past too much. I imagine many people just spent more time at the bar or sports or private clubs or work instead of TV or movies.)

I want to see polytheistic religions have this sort of culture and centrality in people’s lives. I want to see people full of devotion and prayer. I want processions of holy statues of the gods in the streets during festivals.

That’s one of the things I find alluring about Hinduism, different as the culture is from my own and my heritage.

I know that I will not live to see it in Western/European polytheism and it makes me grieve. But if the gods are good, and I know they can be..a future generation will see it.

~ by sacredblasphemies on 04/14/2017.

One Response to “Italian Church on Good Friday”

  1. This post resonated so much with me. I see so much of my own struggle in your words, particularly with the yearning for tradition while acknowledging the issues with the current institution. I too wish for the processions, festivals, group prayers… a solid community of faith united behind our ancestral gods. A rich, thriving polytheistic community.

    Perhaps someday our descendants will know of this! Thank you, nonetheless, for the beautiful images. Despite the Catholic Church’s history, the architecture and sacred imagery left behind is still worth admiring.

    Liked by 1 person

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