Our Italian Adventure: Processions can be cool!
Updated: Apr 10
PART 38: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.
We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.
Step 1: I must admit that it seemed weird the first time I saw a religious procession in Italy. Though I grew up and still identify as catholic, the closest I had ever seen to a procession was the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. So when I saw a statue carried through the streets of the town where I was living, followed by people in hoods that looked like the KKK, police officers, officials, school children, a marching band, and, finally, the priest….I didn't get it.
Step 2: In our town in Puglia, as well as all over Italy and other countries, there are religious processions during Easter and other saints' days. Participation is robust from all ages and layers of the town and surroundings.
So I wondered about the meaning of what I was seeing.
Step 3: My neighbor. A short time ago, I was chatting with our neighbor in our Puglian town, and he said: "I love the Good Friday procession. I can't wait until it arrives! I've participated in it since childhood, and it is so beautiful. I'm not a believer, but I love this event."
I was struck by the "I'm not a believer" part.
Why would someone participate in a religious procession if it didn't resonate with their faith experience?
I reflected, asked my Italian friends, and then I had some realizations.
Step 4: History: Religious processions probably evolved from figures of gods honored in the Roman empire carried through the streets. From the empire on, and probably before, the procession originated as an expression of the people asking for diving help.
Rather than abolishing this practice, Christians "baptized" it, giving the practice new content. The seeking of divine help resonates with many involved in the procession, both past and present.
Step 5: Realization. As I stood on the street watching the statue of Christ being carried by, and the lines of carabinieri, officials, school kids, and others, I looked at the faces of the onlookers across the street. There was every type of person present: young, old, and in between, professionals, workers, nuns, moms, dads, believers, unbelievers, good, not-so-good, and the rest of us.
The amazing thing is that, at a procession, everyone is welcome. Nothing is asked of you. You can observe or participate or just be present.
The procession is an expression of the history and culture of a people. Yes, also of a people's religious faith, but that is not a requirement. All are welcome to be part of that event that marks Good Friday or another feast day to make it memorable, give it meaning, and be part of the community.
Step 6: So why is a procession in Italy so cool? Because it has the meaning that each participant brings to it. For some, it is a sacred moment, asking for diving help. For others, it is a historical continuation. For still others, it is an experience to admire another culture from the sidelines. For everyone, it is an expression of community in which everyone is welcome to play a part.
Insights: The longer we are in Puglia, the less we feel like the outsider looking in. Even a religious procession, which can feel so foreign, can begin to have meanings we can relate to. The sense of community, faith, history, and welcome are all moments that make processions well worth participating in.
MY NEW BOOK JUST CAME OUT: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Puglia-Californians-Southern-Italy/dp/1913680649/?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_w=Y8HHi&content-id=amzn1.sym.22f5776b-4878-4918-9222-7bb79ff649f4&pf_rd_p=22f5776b-4878-4918-9222-7bb79ff649f4&pf_rd_r=139-2813617-8702466&pd_rd_wg=LIblK&pd_rd_r=7d440c26-361f-4b9f-90c1-d9518e90ffa4&ref_=aufs_ap_sc_dsk.
It is also on Barnes and Noble. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/stories-from-puglia-mark-tedesco/1143316713.
More next time.