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METAPHYSICAL ANALYSIS of WORLD EVENTS

* HOW ASTROLOGY WORKS *

* FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE SAINTS & FINDING MIRACLES IN ITALY *

* MIRACLES & MADONNAS IN ITALY *

* REFLECTIONS ON SEPTEMBER 11TH *

* RETROSPECTIVE ON FLORENCE, ITALY *

* PRAYERS FOR IRAQ *

* AMERICA'S KARMA *

* EIGHT YEARS OF SIGNIFICANT CHANGE AHEAD *

* CARDINAL CLIMAX OF 2010 *

* PLANETARY FORECAST 2017 *

QUARTERLY PREDICTIONS 2013: Spring EquinoxSummer Solstice Autumn Equinox

QUARTERLY PREDICTIONS 2014: Spring Equinox | Summer Solstice | Autumn Equinox

QUARTERLY PREDICTIONS 2015: Spring Equinox | Summer Solstice | Autumn Equinox

QUARTERLY PREDICTIONS 2016: Spring Equinox | Summer Solstice | Autumn Equinox

QUARTERLY PREDICTIONS 2017: Spring Equinox | Summer Solstice | Autumn Equinox



Following the Footsteps of the Saints & Finding Miracles in Italy

by Laurie A. Baum, MSW

July 2017

I fell in love with Italy in 2001 while living for a year on a small cobblestone street in the historic center of Florence in a renovated Renaissance-era apartment. I was in Florence at the time writing my second book, improving my Italian, practicing psychotherapy (mostly with men complaining about still living with their mothers), and experiencing Italian art and culture, not to mention brushing up on my Italian cooking skills.  I came home a year later, smitten by the loving warmth, hospitality, and compassion of the Italian people and their natural joie de vivre in everyday life.

 

It was perhaps a more innocent time—the first 9 months were pre-9/11. It seemed back then that Italy would never change—family-owned pizzerias, delis, and vegetable and fruit stands lined the pedestrian-only street where I lived. A local giornalaio (newspaperman) sat at his newspaper stand all day long, greeting the neighbors by name, ready to provide our favorite newspaper or magazine, whether we had the money or not. On September 12, 2001, the day after 9/11, Gianni (the giornalaio) came out of his newspaper booth to greet me with tears in his eyes. He touched my arm and asked if my family in the United States was safe. Italians always have a way of making you feel loved and at home.

 

I’ve returned to Italy several times over the years, and at no time did I notice Italy’s surface more changed than during this summer’s month-long visit. The Florentine giornalaio and his newsstand were gone, as were the vegetable and fruit stands, and the family-owned pizzerias and delis that had been on “my street”. In their place were an international medley—a Mexican-Italian fusion taco shop (think tacos filled with meatballs marinara, olives, garlic, and anchovies), a white-tiled Asian fusion eatery with tatoo-and-body-pierced locals and tourists lining up for take-out sushi rolls, an authentic Indian spice shop, and an Arab-owned leather shop. A polite African man walked the street asking passers-by if they would like to buy “Firenze” magnets. Loud music filled the air.  

 

 

Friends walking with me commented that they never heard so much noise or seen so much activity on “my street”. I too only remembered the occasional sound of a street musician playing a guitar or accordion, a motorino (a small Italian motorcycle), or people whistling or singing (usually the classics). 

 

Yet, despite the accelerated pace of activity and changing surface appearances—I still experienced something deeper, something of the spirit of Italia that remained refreshingly the same. Outside of the hopping, eclectic restaurant scene, Italia's churches, its saints, its Madonnas, and its miraculous healing waters, are still well-preserved—and revered—even by some young Italians. And these places we visited on this trip provided me (and hopefully you) a life-changing experience of Italia that might not be apparent to the casual tourist.

Sunflowers near Assisi
   

 

I set out on this particular journey with two Italian friends from Florence. Our aim was to spend 35 days visiting sacred sites in Italy that are not written about in guidebooks—and often not widely known among the Italian people themselves without some serious research (well-marked signs are not exactly ubiquitous in Italy; in fact, if there are signs at all, some of them actually point you in the wrong direction due to lack of upkeep and winds that blow the signs in random directions). 

 

Prior to departure, we each spent four months researching various aspects of the trip. My job was to find little-known places where Saint Francis had lived, slept, preached, and meditated. I found the book, "On the Road with Saint Francis," by Angela Maria Seracchioli (Cart’Armata Edizioni, 2013), to be indispensableThe second part of my job was to find saints whose incorrupt remains we could view along the route. I thought, “how many incorrupt saints could there be? This job will be easy!”  Unlike the United States, where burial or cremation of the deceased is commonly required due to the natural decomposition of the body that sets in shortly after death, the incorrupt remains of various saints are revered and on display in hundreds of churches around Italy (and other countries in Europe). It turns out that Italy has preserved the relics of some 250+ saints.  It also was common practice during the Middle Ages for people to steal pieces of saints’ bodies because these relics were considered to have healing powers. And miraculously, many of these relics can still be found today in churches throughout Italy. While even if the whole body of a saint was not visible in many of the churches, a lock of hair or bones, or heavens, a finger, would grace the church. This was often true in even the smallest of hilltop towns, where the keys to the local church can be secured through local residents who take visitors on personally-guided tours. My extensive research turned up a number of saints who we intentionally visited. But we also stumbled upon a number of other incorrupt saints whose bodies were displayed under glass in niches of small village churches where we paid our respects.  

 
   
Tunic of Saint Francis

 

We ultimately decided we would travel (mostly by car interspersed with hiking) in the footsteps of Saint Francis from Rome to Assisi, through Perugia, Umbria, and Tuscany to La Verna (where St. Francis received his stigmata). Along the way, we also would stop to drink the Lourdes-like healing waters of Collevalenza near Rome. Our route would culminate in the Italian Alps with visits to the Sacra di San Michele, a pinnacle topped by a large castle where the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared, and at Oropa, a mountain-top shrine dedicated to the “Black Madonna.” We would then return to our home base in Florence via Bologna, where we visited the miraculously incorrupt body of Saint Catherine of Bologna’s that remains seated on a throne since the 1400s.  

Our first stop after my arrival at the Rome airport was in the town of Collevalenza, where water miraculously sprang from earth that had been totally dry and devoid of water. The blessing of a saintly nun, Madre Speranza, brought forth water in the 1960s. Many miraculous healings have been reported at this site. I certainly felt a lot of energy after drinking the water, which unpretentiously flowed from a tap in the courtyard of the shrine. And although I splashed some of the water on my face, I regret to say it was not effective in removing my ever-growing laugh-lines around my eyes. But this was the beginning of our journey.  I was just getting warmed up to the possibility of the miraculous in the midst of everyday life. Any remaining molecules of resistance would melt away with each step we took along our route of holy places.  

Sacra di San Michele
   

From Collevalenza, we headed to Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, where we visited his tomb at the Basilica di San Francesco (Basilica of St. Francis), as well as the mostly incorrupt remains of his sister saint, Clare of Assisi, at the Basilica di Santa Chiara (Basilica of St. Clare). As a follower of St. Francis, Saint Clare started the monastic order of the Poor Clares at the San Damiano Convent near Assisi several years after St. Francis founded his order of Friars Minor. We also went off the beaten track to find the hut inhabited by St. Francis, and the friars who joined him in the early days of 1206. The stone hut is now housed inside of a larger neo-Gothic church (see photo), the Santuario di Rivo Torto (Sanctuary of Winding River). It is located by a river in the foothills of Assisi with a magnificent view of the medieval city of Assisi rising in the distance (see photo). The unlikely pairing of a stone structure inside of a larger, more ornate church also can be seen at the towering Baroque Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels), where inside you can find the tiny Portiuncola church that St. Francis rebuilt at the start of his ministry in the early 1200s. If you follow the hallway to the right of the altar of Santa Maria degli Angeli, you will find a statue of St. Francis holding a pair of live doves in his hands, where doves have made their nests for as long as anyone can remember. And if you continue down the hallway past the statue, you will see a thornless rosebush in an outdoor garden. After experiencing carnal temptation, St. Francis threw himself onto a bramble bush. Upon contact with his body, the bramble bush turned into a thornless rose bush that still grows today.  

 

 

 
   
Assisi from Rivo Torto

 

 

Our next stop was at the†Santuario della Verna, a mountaintop sanctuary north of Assisi and east of Florence, where St. Francis received his stigmata in 1224. Many miracles occurred at this place, including the appearances to St. Francis of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Water also sprang from an oak tree when St. Francis needed it, and a rock miraculously turned soft to enwrap St. Francis when a windstorm threatened to blow him off the side of the mountainous promontory. While you are at La Verna, donít miss the†sasso spicco, a large protruding rock at that base of the sanctuary. Legend holds that†the promontory upon which La Verna sits emerged from the ground at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The legend is tied to the biblical description of the crucifixion: "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split."†(Matthew 27:51)

A twice-daily procession of Franciscan monks intoning Gregorian chants will take you back in time and lead you to the site of the stigmata at the Capella della Stimmate (Chapel of the Stigmata). The chapel can be visited at your leisure when you arrive at La Verna (see photo). The Sanctuary of La Verna also features a Foresteria, a 100+ bed complex that houses pilgrims in simple rooms with a bed and bathroom facilities. Prices may vary by season by the number of beds per room and the number of meals you may have. 

 

Chapel of the Stigmata (honoring the place where St. Francis received the stigmata, La Verna, Italy)
   

One enchanting sidetrip from La Verna took us to the medieval town of Cortona, where we toured the hermitage of Le Celle, the monks’ hermitage where St. Francis and other monks lived and prayed (see photo). You can also visit the place where St. Francis slept, and attend a mass along with resident monks at a medieval church within the complex. Beautiful gardens outside the monastery are the perfect setting for a picnic. The medieval complex offers lodging to pilgrims. 

 
   
Cell (Cella di San Francesco) Where St. Francis Prayed and Meditated in Cortona

 

In the nearby city of Cortona, which is bustling with artists and has a thriving culinary scene. you can also view the incorrupt remains of Santa Margherita di Cortona (Saint Margaret of Cortona) at the Basilica di Santa Margherita di Cortona (Basilica of Saint Margaret of Cortona). (see photo) Margaret’s life began inauspiciously in 1247. By age 7, her mother had died, after which time she was raised by her father and an unloving stepmother. By age 17, she ran away with the son of a nobleman to live with him and their son, as his mistress, in his family’s castle. Ten years later, when the son of the nobleman was murdered, she went into a frenzy of fasting and prayer, and went to live with the Franciscan friars of Cortona. From there she established a hospital and a new religious order of nuns. She died in 1297 and was canonized in 1728.

 

Saint Margaret of Cortona (incorrupt since 1297)
   

Also in Cortona, the Chiesa di San Francesco (Church of Saint Francis) has relics from an earlier time, including a tunic worn by St. Francis and an embroidered cushion where laid his head prior to his death. You will also find a fragment of the wood from the cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified preserved in a reliquary on the altar of the church (see photo).

 

In visiting other medieval hill towns near La Verna, we also stumbled upon the miraculous holy cross of Anghiari, at the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino (Church of Saint Augustine). It is said that a nun who was blind and mute had kissed this cross and was returned to good health. 

 

And another peaceful place to enjoy the Tuscan countryside and experience the spiritual vibrations of Italy’s saints is at the Eremo di Monte Casale (Hermitage of Monte Casale). At this peaceful mountaintop hermitage near the city of Sansepolcro, you can visit the cells where St. Francis, Saint Anthony of Padua, and Saint Bonaventure slept and prayed. Also on display are the pillow of St. Bonaventure, the blanket of St. Anthony, and a tunic of St. Francis. You also will see the preserved skulls of the two thieves converted by St. Francis. They became friars in the Franciscan order. 

 

On our way back to our home base in Florence, we stopped in the out-of-the-way lush mountain village of Cetica (population 265). We met proprietors Ricardo and Vanessa, who invited us to drink the healing waters of Cetica, where we found the water to be even sweeter than the water at Collevalenza.  The miraculous healing waters have been enjoyed by pilgrims since Roman times. According to Roman-era legends, Saint Giovanni Gualberto, founder of the Valambrosian Order, and Saint Romualdo, founder of the Camaldolese Order, were both were moved to go to the mountain spring at Cetica at the same time--without the benefit of the internet or any prior communication. When they met at the source, the spirit of another saint, Saint Romolo, the first bishop of Fiesole (a town near Florence) miraculously appeared. The three saints blessed the water and miraculous healings have occurred for those who drink or bathe in the 40-degree spring water ever since (except for a period from the 1200s to the 1600s, when a landslide buried the water source). 

 
   
Relic of the Cross Upon Which Jesus Christ was Crucified
 

 

Not one to drink from streams flowing from mountainsides, I cast caution to the wind and gulped down a glass of the water from the mountain spring. It was the sweetest, most vibrant water I’d ever tasted! We filled several jugs with the Cetica waters and drank from them over the course of the next few weeks. Never did the water taste old or stagnant. There is no admission charge, nor is there a line to wait for the healing waters of Cetica as it is a relatively unknown destination. We were the only visitors on a sunny, springlike day in late May (an optimal time to visit Tuscany to avoid crowds),  just prior to the “official” opening of the inn at Cetica. Perhaps it’s the winding mountain road leading to Cetica, which can be impassable in winter, or its virtual lack internet presence in English, that has rendered Cetica such a well-kept secret. In searching for Cetica online, I found only a handful of mentions on Italian websites, including its own website, http://www.bagnodicetica.it, and another Wikipedia entry in Bosnian that simply notes the existence of Cetica. Cetica is definitely one of the lesser-known and pleasant surprises we found along our path from Rome to Florence and ultimately to the Italian Alps.

 

Italian Alps
   
 

But even as we adhered to well-researched and planned visits to holy places, we were amazed by the presence of even more unanticipated holy places tucked away in unassuming corners of both small villages and large city churches along our route. It turned out we didn’t have to look very far for a cross, a Madonna, or a relic of a saint, where miracles—and testimonials to these miracles—abounded.

We unexpectedly discovered the cord that was said to have been wrapped around the waist of the Virgin Mary at a Romanesque-style church in Prato, a city northwest of Florence, at the Duomo di Prato-Cattedrale di Santo Stefano (Dome of Prato-Cathedral of Saint Stephan). The Sacra Cintola (Sacred Cord)  is kept in a reliquary under lock and key in a chapel dedicated to the sacred cord. The Virgin Mary is said to have handed the cord to the Apostle Thomas at the time of her assumption into heaven as a way of proving the validity of miracles to “doubting Thomas.” (see photo)

 

A priest at the church explained to us that we could attend a mass at the chapel of the sacred cord but that the cord is only shown to the public on five occasions every year: at Christmas, Easter, May 1 (marking the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary), August 15 (when Mary’s Assumption is celebrated), and September 8 (the day devoted to her nativity). Three keys are required to open the reliquary: the keys are held by the Archbishop of Prato, the Mayor of Prato, and the Priest of the Duomo di Prato. All three people must be present to open the reliquary. 

 
   
The sacred cord, on display at the Duomo di Prato, near Florence

 

Painting by Fra Bartolomeo + angel (see Madonna on right side, crown painted by Fra Bartoloemeo larger than face painted by "angel"
 

At another church within Florence’s city limits, the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata (Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation), we were surprised to find a 13th century painting that is said to have been miraculously completed by an angel. The painter, Fra Bartolomeo, a 13th century monk, was painting a scene of the Archangel Gabriel visiting the Virgin Mary to announce the birth of Christ. At a certain point, Fra Bartolomeo, was unable to paint the face of the Madonna. So, he left empty the spot where her face should have been, and went to sleep. When he awakened, an angel had completed the painting for him. The painting, on display in a chapel to the left of the entrance to the basilica, does look like it was painted by two different hands (see photo). For believers, the site of the painting by an angelic hand is a moving experience that stirred many visitors to bend to their knees in reverence and prayer.

 

At another church within Florence’s city limits, the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata (Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation), we were surprised to find a 13th century painting that is said to have been miraculously completed by an angel. The painter, Fra Bartolomeo, a 13th century monk, was painting a scene of the Archangel Gabriel visiting the Virgin Mary to announce the birth of Christ. At a certain point, Fra Bartolomeo, was unable to paint the face of the Madonna. So, he left empty the spot where her face should have been, and went to sleep. When he awakened, an angel had completed the painting for him. The painting, on display in a chapel to the left of the entrance to the basilica, does look like it was painted by two different hands (see photo). For believers, the site of the painting by an angelic hand is a moving experience that stirred many visitors to bend to their knees in reverence and prayer.

 

 

And finally, in Florence, I personally had one of the more uplifting spiritual experiences of this moving trip. A certain positive energy seemed to accompany our journey in the footsteps of the saints. And my receptivity to the positive energy seemed to increase with each new experience, perhaps as my sense of faith and belief in divine intervention grew with each successive step. At one shrine we visited, I had the fortunate experience of being handed a small box by a friend of my friends. I felt as if my feet were lifting off the ground as I held the mysterious box. I inquired as to what was inside of this little box, and when I opened it, I discovered it contained 3 strands of hair from St. Clare of Assisi. I felt as if I had been simultaneously transported back in time with my mind expanded beyond the confines of my mortal frame—without even knowing what I was holding. 

 

Each visit to a sacred place left my heart a little more open than the visit before, as we experienced each of these holy venues dedicated to the infinite love of the divine. It seemed as if a mere willingness to receive opened a channel for positive energy to flow. At those times when I felt a wee bit sceptical about purported miracles, I felt myself close a little, and was unable to receive positive energy that seemed to permeate these holy places. As soon as I would open my heart, a positive sense of upliftment would envelope me. Whether all of the miracles were true or not, I do not know. I saw preserved bodies from 800 years ago with my own eyes and I know the authenticity of various relics, such as the wood from the cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified and the blood of Christ have been corroborated by papal authorities. But outside of “official” verification, it seemed simply a matter of faith that allowed a positive expansion of positive awareness to occur.

 

From Florence, we headed to the Ligurian Sea on the west coast of Italy. There, we visited the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Asunta (Cathedrale of Saint Mary of the Assumption) in Sarzana, just north of the seaside town of La Spezia. La Spezia is famous for its proximity to Cinque Terre, where colorful, boxlike houses that look like Legos cleave to the side of mountains as if they are about to tumble into the sea). The unassuming cathedral of Sarazana has been the repository of a cloth that bears the blood of Christ, stored in a reliquary in the Capella del Preziosissimo Sangue (Chapel of the Most Precious Blood). The Sarzana Cathedral also houses the oldest painted cross in Italy. The Croce di Mastro Guglielmo (Cross of Master Guglielmo) was painted in 1138.

 
Saint Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi

 

 

Other unexpected—and touchingly uplifting—spiritual experiences came in other unanticipated venues throughout Italy. One sunny afternoon in the Italian Alps, we visited the the town of Aosta at the foot of Mont Blanc, near the Italian border with France. We decided to go to the cathedral to meditate and were surprised to discover the cathedral filled to capacity with more than 400 people. From infants in strollers to elderly people in wheelchairs, there was barely space to move. It turned out that two young men from the town had been ordained as priests, and the whole town came to the church to celebrate. It brought tears to my eyes to think of people being so joyous for others embracing a religious life. I imagine, in some communities in the United States, families would lament the choice!

 

Finally, on our way back to Florence from the Italian Alps, we detoured to Bologna, to visit the incorrupt body of St. Catherine of Bologna. There, her miraculously preserved body remains seated on a throne since the 1400s. Verified accounts hold that 18 days after St. Catherine of Bologna’s death in 1463, a sweet fragrance emanated from her grave. After she was disinterred, she stood up, kneeled before a crucifix in the church, and sat down on a throne, where her supple body remains to this day. (see photo)

Saint Catherine of Bologna on June 8, 2017 (554 years after her "death")
   
 

Throughout the journey, I felt the power of my own thoughts to allow me to be blissful or doubtful. I could feel myself going from tired and overwhelmed to energized and happy, simply by tuning in to the spirit of the places we were visiting. I discovered I could just as easily “tune in” as I could “tune out.” 

 

To truly feel the power of these relics, incorrupt saints, Madonnas, and miraculous crosses, one must suspend the analytical mind to allow space for the divine presence, which seems to be the thread that connects each of the reported miracles: belief and faith that the miraculous is possible. The openness to believe in and experience the existence of of beneficent divine intervention generates a state of wellbeing and positive energy that can attract even more good.

 

I might add at this point that I grew up in the Jewish faith, which has its own share of miracles, including burning bushes, commandments delivered on tablets from heaven, prophets bringing forth water from rocks, and angels drinking wine from goblets at the Passover supper. During my late 20s, I discovered Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), a spiritual path that combines the wisdom of Eastern religious teachings from the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita with those of the Christian Bible. This meditative path opened my mind to the beauty in all religious traditions. Several years later, while living in Florence, I immersed myself in the teachings of love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. I visited the many beautiful Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque churches of Florence and experienced the power of built-up spiritual devotion over the centuries, and have been continually fascinated by the uplifting energy it is possible to experience when we open our hearts at these sacred holy places.

 
 
Rainbow Near La Verna

 

 

We ended our journey on the way to the airport in Rome with a visit to Saint Peter’s Square, where generous friends helped reserve second-row seats for the Wednesday morning talk of Pope Francis (affectionately known as “Papa Francesco"). He delivered a moving address on love, a message that is so needed in our world. He concluded his talk by shaking the hands of many of the onlookers and by touchingly blessing a baby named “Lara,” who had been tenderly passed forward through the audience to “meet” the Pope.

 

The way I observed Italians in the audience gently passing the baby (a long distance from its parents) to be touched by the Pope said so much to me about the Italian psyche. There is so much reverence for those elements of life considered holy and sacred. The Italians are infinitely respectful of those who engage in prayer or meditation. Even burly construction workers seemed to melt into little children as they paid their respects to the crucifix behind the altars of the many ancient churches practically on every corner.   

Pope Francis on June 14, 2017
   
 

In some ways, Italy has undergone some radical and progressive changes since I first lived there in 2000-2001, and in other ways, little has changed in the way of cherished Italian traditions such as hospitality. Toward the end of my visit in Rome, a mid-June heat wave from Africa had raised the otherwise spring-like temperatures to the high 90s. To take a break from the heat, I stood in the shade outside of a sidewalk cafe. A waiter must have noticed that I looked hot, so without asking, handed me a teacup on a saucer with water that he had lovingly filled with sugar, apparently an Italian remedy for those who are drenched in sweat. I was so touched by the unsolicited act of kindness that I went into the restaurant to thank the waiter and pay for my “sugar water.”  He had already disappeared and they would accept nothing for their hospitality.

 

  The Italians are so concerned that everyone have enough to eat and be comfortable that it is virtually impossible to go hungry in Italy. Waiters in restaurants routinely serve free meals to patrons seated at tables who cannot afford to pay. And the tradition of hospitality is institutionalized on even the oldest of buildings, where little brick houses are built into the structures to provide homes for the birds. No creature seems to be overlooked in Italy!   

As well, new immigrants to Italy, mostly from Africa, seem to be adjusting to their new environs and benefitting from Italian hospitality, which in many municipalities includes housing, meals, and Italian language classes. Young African families with new babies can be seen on public buses heading home for the suburbs from major Italian cities. Young African men and women fill jobs in restaurants and hotels. This is not to say that the transition has been easy for either side, as a divide between the Italians and the new arrivals exists—but with far less rancor than these displaced people might find if they tried, say, to enter the United States. The deep and traditional sense of respect for the rights and needs of humanity imbued in the Italian psyche is in evidence as Italy navigates this world crisis.

 

Yet, perhaps as a result of global cultural shifts, I did notice some Italian traditions beginning to erode. It used to be that Italians would only eat formal sit-down meals as recently as 5 years ago. But today, take-out restaurants are packed with young people standing up to eat while others are walking down the street, eating, and simultaneously talking on their phones. Even the menu offerings in Italy have changed. It used to be pasta, cheese, salad, bread, or some kind of meat. Now, you can get soy products, quinoa, millet, or other exotic grains that were once unheard of, and fresh fruit and vegetable juices. Waiters routinely ask “Is anyone vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free?” I was pleasantly surprised at the level of open-mindedness in a country that once strictly adhered to centuries-old gustatory traditions—due to the ubiquity of gluten and dairy allergies among Italians themselves. This is in a country that once subsisted on wheat and cheese.

 
   
The author "helping" the Leaning Tower of Pisa
 

Other changes were apparent too, such as an “Americanization” of styles, including abundant fleece, synthetic athletic wear, and neon-colored running shoes. Tattoos and body-piercings, which debuted in Europe prior to arriving in the United States, are alive and well among those in their 20s-to-40s. Smartphones are ubiquitous too, as are people communicating (mostly with their mothers) in every possible location.

 

Yet, despite the superficial changes in Italy, some things remain remarkably the same. The love of home, family, the saints, and holy places, and the immediate acceptance of the miraculous in the midst of everyday life is still alive and well in Italy. 

 

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