A MADONNA A MUNTATA (THE RETURNING MADONNA)

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A MADONNA A MUNTATA (THE RETURNING MADONNA)

The cult of Mary is deep-rooted in Enna. Every church has its Madonna to worship: Our Lady of Grace, Madonna of Valverde, Madonna of Children, Madonna of Lourdes, Madonna of the Rosary, and so on. The main Madonna is Our Lady of the Visitation, because she is the patron and the protector of Enna. The celebrations last for two weeks starting from July 2.

Today, the statue of Maria moves from The Monastery of Montesalvo to the duomo where it will remain until the next July 2.

Almost all the townspeople follow or watch the procession. We can say that the cult of Mary is engraved on the DNA of every Enna people.

When Cicero came to Enna which is called the navel of Sicily 2000 years ago, he was mesmerized by the sacredness of the place to such an extent that he felt that the citizens of Enna looked like “omnes sacerdotes” (all priests). He was right definitely.

Twenty centuries have passed since Cicero came here. Although the cult of Demeter has turned into that of Madonna these days, Cicero’s words are still pertinent. Few cities in the world can boast such a traditional cult like Madonna Feast.

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind

www.sbpra.com/ettoregrillo

AVALON, THE LOST ISLAND

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AVALON, THE LOST ISLAND

The small town of Glastonbury has been a holy place since time immemorial. It is said that the area was a marshland, and only the Isle of Avalon stood amid the swampy water.

According to legend, King Arthur and his wife Guinevere were buried on the top of the Isle of Avalon. Later the monks of Glastonbury Abbey found the burial place and moved the bones to the abbey where they still lie.

These days, the Isle of Avalon is called “THE TOR”. On the top of it, the Tower of Saint Michael dominates the vast surrounding plains. From up there the view is breathtaking.

All the area around Glastonbury is believed to be mystic.

It is said that Joseph of Arimathea was the Virgin Mary’s uncle. He used to come to England to trade in metals. In one of his travels he even brought the young Jesus with him.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail – the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper, filled with the blood that dripped from the cross- to Glastonbury.

At the foot of “THE TOR”, there are two springs across from each other: “The White Spring” and “The Red Spring”. Their water is thought to be miraculous.

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The “White Spring” is inside a cave. The water flows into two small pools, one bigger than the other.

As soon as I entered the cave, I felt a strange energy, similar to that I had experienced in a cave in Tanzania ten years ago. Here, there were naked people, both women and men, that bathed in the water. Four women stood in a circle with their hands up holding roses in the middle of the wider pool.

Inside the cave, small altars with bones of animals, ribbons, small stones, and similar objects were placed all around.

One of the women in the cave told me that if I dipped my legs in the water my brain would be purified at once.

Inside the cave it was dark. The burning candles couldn’t light it.

The “Red Spring” stands in the open air. The water seems to be colorless. Walking uphill I arrived at “Chalice Well”. The water looked quite reddish due to the iron that it contains.

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In Glastonbury I have learned something more about legends, history and traditions of England. The rites which people perform in the cave of the White Spring are unique.

Some day, if somebody asks me where to go while he is traveling in England I will answer without any hesitation: “Go visit Glastonbury! You will not be disappointed definitely. It is one of the most amazing, mystic, and magic place in the world.

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind

www.sbpra.com/ettoregrillo

THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL

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THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL

One day, I went to Church of Saint Francis in Enna. The Franciscan friar that was celebrating Mass told us the story of Saint Catherine Laboure.

She was born in a well-to-do family in 1806. Since she was a little girl, Saint Vincent De Paul appeared to her in a dream.

In 1830 Saint Catherine became a novice in the hospice of Daughters of Charity, the religious order founded by Saint Vincent De Paul.

One night, a young boy woke up Catherine and asked her to follow him to the chapel. She followed him. At the touch of the young boy, the doors of the chapel burst open. The church was lit up. Maria was sitting on a chair and asked Catherine to come close.

At the end of the same year the apparition occurred to her again. This time Our Lady was standing on a globe. She ordered that a medal of the apparition should be made. The miraculous medal.”

The Franciscan friar gave a few medals to the congregation and asked us to give them to those in need.

Now I am in Paris. This morning I went to visit the Chapel where the apparitions happened. I wanted to see the incorrupt body of Saint Catherine, but it was not possible because Mass was said continuously in the chapel. I couldn’t get close to the sarcophagus.

Even though I couldn’t see the body of Saint Catherine, I felt very peaceful.

In this holy place I have learned something more about Saint Vincent De Paul and his Sisters of Charity.

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind

www.sbpra.com/ettoregrillo

SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI

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Saint Francis Of Assisi

The official biography of Saint Francis was written by Saint

Bonaventura, who was appointed this task by the Franciscan

general chapter in 1260, thirty-four years after Saint Francis’s

death.

Saint Francis was born in the city of Assisi on September

26, 1182 and died on October 3, 1226. His father was a

prosperous merchant and his mother a noblewoman. He was

given the name John by his mother, but when his father

returned from France, he changed the name to Francis, in

honor of France, the country where he had made his wealth.

Coming from a well-to-do family, Francis had the opportunity

to study Latin, poetry, music, Italian, French, the Provencal

dialect, and literature. It seemed that Francis was destined to

follow in his father’s footsteps.

Around the age of twenty, Francis joined up with the Assisi

army and fought against the city of Perugia, but he was taken

prisoner and remained in prison for one year. The time he

spent in jail was very hard, so much so that he contracted a

serious illness when he returned home. His sickness was the

turning point in his life. He decided to radically change his

lifestyle. To that point he had lived a worldly life, but now he

chose to dedicate himself to following Jesus’s model. He began

to give money to help the lepers, the poor, and the needy.

Francis’s new life and prodigality were not appreciated by

his father, who eventually disinherited him. From then on,

Francis lived a life of poverty and absolute simplicity. Soon

other young people joined him, giving rise to the monastic

Franciscan order. His soul was so pure that he talked with

birds, and one day he even tamed a wolf. An example of the

pureness of his heart can be found in the “Canticle of the

Creatures,” which he composed in 1225.

Saint Francis’s life was short; in fact, he lived only fortyfour

years. After his death, many authors started writing his

biography. Some biographies had a hagiographic aim, while

others were straightforward accounts, but some data is

common to all of them:

Saint Francis was a great traveler. Around the age of thirty

he left his hometown to go to Syria. Unfortunately, his journey

was interrupted in Dalmatia for an unknown reason, but

probably because he couldn’t find a ship to Syria, so he was

forced to return to Italy.

In spite of the failure of his first attempted trip to a Muslim

country, he set off on another journey to Islamic lands, this

time Morocco. To go to Morocco, he crossed France and Spain.

Again he failed to succeed in his plan, because he contracted

a serious disease in Spain and once more had to return to

Assisi.

His third endeavor to get to an Arab country finally

succeeded. He boarded a ship at Ancona in the year 1219,

seven years before his death, at the same time the fifth crusade

was under way. Once in Egypt, Saint Francis wanted to meet

Sultan Malic al-Kamil. Their meeting really happened, and as

far as we know, he was treated kindly by the sultan as a guest,

and not as an enemy. He received safe conduct and was invited

to return to visit Egypt anytime.

From Egypt he travelled to the Holy Land. About two years

before his death, he received the stigmata on Mount Verna.

Later, his health worsened and he died in a small church

near Assisi called Porziuncola. At his death, his body was taken

to Assisi and a basilica was later built in the place where he

was buried.

I had the opportunity of going to Assisi three times in my

life. The first time was with my parents on a travel to north

Italy. It happened many years ago. Even though I was very

young and not in a condition to appreciate Saint Francis’s

message to humanity, a few things remained etched in my

mind. One was the sight of the cilice, which Saint Francis wore

to mortify his body.

The cilice was a special garment made of goat hair, which

caused considerable suffering to the person who wore it. The

flesh was considered a kind of contamination of the soul;

therefore, through the mortification of the body, the soul

would be purified.

Hearing the story of Saint Francis from my parents, I was

struck by the strength of character of this great man who

rebelled against his father in order to follow the aspirations of

his heart.

The second time I visited Assisi was while I was traveling

on a trip organized by the parish priest from the Church of

San Cataldo. We visited the basilica, which is divided into three

parts: the upstairs basilica, the walls of which are covered with

gorgeous frescoes by Giotto; the downstairs basilica, which

contains other works of art; and finally the crypt where Saint

Francis’s mortal remains are kept.

The tomb is placed in a raised position over the altar, and

is made without frills of grey square and rectangular stones.

As soon as I knelt to say some prayers and make a wish, I had

the sensation that a kind of energy was radiating from his

tomb, and then I asked Saint Francis to hear my prayer.

Please, Saint Francis, grant me a gift! You are a very

powerful saint and can easily make my wish come true. I love

Elisabetta more than life, and I want her to become my wife.

There are many hindrances that prevent us from getting

married. Please, Saint Francis, remove all the hindrances and

help us get married as soon as possible.”

At that time I had fallen in love with a young lady named

Elisabetta. She was from Enna as well, and taught Latin and

Greek at the high school. I courted her for two years and

wanted to get engaged to her. We used to stroll along Via Roma

and Belvedere and talk religion. In fact, she was an earnest

Catholic, to such an extent that she was once on the verge of

quitting her job to become a Carmelite cloistered nun.

One day while we were walking around the Lombardia

Castle, she told me of her pilgrimage to Assisi. “I have been

struck by Saint Francis’s burial place. I felt a special energy

coming from his tomb,” she said.

Now, I don’t know whether or not it was due to

autosuggestion because Elisabetta had told me her feelings,

but the same strange sensation was now happening to me.

While I repeatedly asked San Francis to grant my wish, I felt

as if powerful energy was radiating from his tomb and talking

to me.

I have spent all my life searching for God,” Saint Francis’s

energy seemed to say, “and now you arrive at my tomb and

ask me to grant you a trivial wish, Vincenzino!”

I wondered why Saint Francis would consider my wish to

get married to my beloved trivial. As time passed, I realized

that I had actually requested something really trivial. In fact,

human affairs like love, business, careers, and so on are trifles

in comparison to the search and love for God, who is the giver

of life.

Meanwhile, Elisabetta got married to another man, and I

understood that what I had considered a great love was

nothing more than an infatuation doomed to dissolve like the

fog dispersed by the wind.

True love is not related to a woman or a person. Love is

something that you must have inside you. Love comes from

your heart and mind, and it stands apart from the appearance

and character of the people who you come across and the

happenings of life.

Later, I married a lady from Greece, and we now live

together in Enna. In the evenings after dinner, my wife and I

usually stroll along Via Roma and Saint Francis Square, which

is surrounded by old palaces on three sides and by the stately

Church of Saint Francis on the fourth.

A small green area had recently been attached to the

church, with an olive tree and a statue of Saint Francis

surrounded by white doves inside it. While my wife and I

were going back home and passed by that green, we noticed a

fragrance emanating from the area. We turned in all directions

but couldn’t spot a flower or a tree from where that subtle

scent might be emanating. The following days we passed by

the same place again, but we couldn’t smell anything.

A subtle thread was leading me to Assisi for the third time.

My Greek wife and I decided to take a car trip across northern

and central Italy. We embarked on a ferry in Palermo and

landed in Genoa. From there we travelled to Pisa, Florence,

and San Gimignano.

While we were admiring the numerous towers of the last

town, my wife suddenly cried out, “What about going to

Assisi? Is it far from here? Do you remember the fragrance we

smelt in Enna near the Church of Saint Francis?”

No, it is not far away. We can go to Perugia first, and Assisi

is a stone’s throw from there,” I replied.

We arrived at Saint Francis’s hometown around midday

and found lodging in a monastery run by Filipino nuns. We

strolled for a while around the medieval city and then arrived

at the basilica. My wife was surprised at the sight of the

frescoes both upstairs and downstairs.

Even though I am not a Christian,” she said, “and don’t

follow any religion, I cannot help being astonished by the

religious ardor that was behind these great masterpieces.”

Then we went to the crypt and sat on a pew facing Saint

Francis’s tomb. As soon as I sat down, I had the sensation that

the same energy that had talked to me many years ago was

now speaking again, suggesting the path I should follow to

find out who really I was.

Purify your heart, mind, body, and actions, and then you’ll

see God inside you!

What was Saint Francis telling me this time? I inferred

that he meant that the real kingdom of God is inside every

living being, but we cannot find it if our mind is contaminated

by too many materialistic desires or our actions are not

directed towards the wellbeing of our fellow creatures. I also

inferred that prayer and meditation are a good way to purify

the mind and get close to God, as long as my actions aim not

towards an egoistic goal, but to the love of all creatures.

While I was meditating on what Saint Francis was

suggesting to me at that moment, my wife suddenly turned to

me. “I have a pain in my heart, and my heart is pounding! I

shed tears and I don’t know why. I don’t feel sad and I don’t

know why I am crying!”

My wife is not Catholic, and actually doesn’t practice any

religion. So we couldn’t understand why such a phenomenon

befell her. Maybe the same energy that had talked to me was

revealing itself to her in some way.

I left Assisi with a strong devotion to Saint Francis. Every

time I had trouble in my life after that, I thought of him and

reminded myself that my worldly misfortunes are a mere

trifle. What really matters in life is the search and love for God

and all His creatures.

Reviewing my encounter with Saint Francis, I reconsidered

what my law teacher had taught me a long time ago. She had

stressed the importance of the difference between a piece of

evidence and a clue. A piece of evidence is a fact that you have

seen or heard, or a way that an event can be proved with

absolute certainty—evidence that can direct the judge to

return his verdict. A clue doesn’t have the strength of evidence,

and a mere clue is usually not enough to bring in a judge’s

verdict, but if the clues are numerous, unambiguous, precise,

and concordant with one another, they can be taken into

consideration by the judge in order to pass judgment.

In the case of my encounter with Saint Francis, there are

five clues that can be admitted as evidence of the existence of

another spiritual level that is beyond our ordinary worldly

life:

1. The energy that Elisabetta felt while she was praying

before the tomb of Saint Francis;

2. The fragrance that my wife and I smelt near his statue

while we were strolling in Enna;

3. The energy coming from his tomb that talked to me

about the true goals of my life, which were not a mere

love of a woman, money, or some other worldly

pleasure. Searching for God is the real goal;

4. The energy that I felt when I went to Assisi for the

third time. I realized that the kingdom of God is really

inside me. I just need purify my mind, my heart, and

my actions, and then I can be on the path that leads to

the spiritual world;

5. The unusual sensation of pain in my wife’s chest and

the tears in her eyes while she was sitting with me in

front of Saint Francis’s tomb.

These days, Saint Francis is the master in my daily life.

Whenever I am too worried because my business didn’t go

well, I remind myself of the teachings he gave me in the crypt

in Assisi. The ups and downs of life are mere trifles when

compared to meeting God, who stays in the heart of every

human.

By minding Saint Francis’s teachings, I live my life in a

more relaxed way. I am less anxious. I just juggle the events of

life as soccer players do when playing a friendly match.

Excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind

www.sbpra.com/ettoregrillo

LA SALETTE

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La Salette

The Carmelite monks of Sicily and Veneto organized a

pilgrimage to Lisieux, a town in the north of France where the

Carmelite nun, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, had lived in a

convent. The pilgrimage started from Verona, a city in the

north of Italy, where the group coming from Sicily joined the

other from Veneto.

I could never imagine going on a pilgrimage to the north of

France, and I hadn’t even heard of Saint Therese of the Child

Jesus. It was a girl named Margherita, who attended Saint

Joseph Church in Enna, who proposed I take part in the

pilgrimage with her. Despite her young age, she had a degree

in classic literature and taught ancient Greek at Enna’s high

school.

It is not just a pilgrimage,” she said to me. “It is also a

sightseeing tour. We will visit Paris, a few castles by the Loire

River, and Versailles.”

I had fallen in love with Margherita, and the chance to go

on a trip together thrilled me. So I accepted with enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, people’s minds and hearts are changeable, and

a few days before the start of the trip she told me that she had

changed her mind and wouldn’t come. What to do? I could

cancel my booking, but I didn’t, despite the fact that travelling

with a group of people who I didn’t know didn’t thrill me at

all.

At that time, I feared of travelling by airplane, and that

was not my only phobia. I also feared being isolated from

other people. What would I do alone on the trip? All the other

participants knew one another, while I didn’t know anyone. I

resigned myself to being alone for the duration of the trip, but

I felt very ill at ease.

After I arrived at the station in Verona, I walked to the

meeting place, which was not far away. A girl was waiting

there for the rest of the group. As soon as I arrived I seized the

opportunity not to be alone.

My name is Vincenzino. What is your name?”

My name is Lucia,” she answered. She was tall and lean

and had shadows under her eyes.

Do you want to sit together on the bus?” I asked.

She looked at me with her broad eyes full of surprise.

Certainty she would have preferred saying no, but she was

too polite to refuse my request. “Okay,” she answered, “you

can sit close to me.”

I was relieved because I had solved my problem of being

alone, but over time I realized that I had behaved stupidly. In

fact, I had compelled that well-mannered girl to stay with me

while she might have preferred to travel with her friends

whose company was more enjoyable than mine. I had treated

her not as a human being but as a tool to solve my problem.

The trip leader was a Carmelite monk from northern Italy.

His name was Father Leo, and he was a very learned person

who knew Saint Therese’s life to perfection. He gladdened our

trip on the bus by telling biblical stories and, above all, talking

about Saint Therese.

Saint Therese of the Child Jesus was declared a Doctor of

the Church by Pope John Paul II. She is the youngest person,

and the third woman, to be so honored in the history of the

Catholic Church. She died from tuberculosis when she was

just twenty-four years old.”

What did she do to be declared a Doctor of the Church?”

asked one of the pilgrims.

She pointed out the ‘Little Way’ to humans. It does not

take vast learning to know God, but it does take humility and

simplicity of heart,” answered Father Leo.

We had just visited the Palace of Versailles, and on the bus

Father Leo kept telling the humble life story of Saint Therese.

As for me, I couldn’t help comparing a nobleman’s life in the

Palace of Versailles to life in a convent. They were two opposite

ways of living. I concluded that everyone follows his or her

own path according to their destiny and tendencies, but in the

end paradise has its gates open to all, because God is inside

every human being.

What made an impression on me was when Father Leo

told us the story of Saint Therese’s miraculous recovery.

At the end of 1882, Saint Therese was seized by a

persistent headache that lasted until Easter of the following

year. She was just nine years old. Afterwards, she got worse

and the doctor diagnosed a serious rare disease, unusual for a

little girl. She was bound to die, but one day while she was

praying before a statue portraying Our Lady, she saw the

Virgin Mary smiling at her. Suddenly big tears welled in the

little girl’s eyes. From then on she started recovering, and five

years later she entered the Carmelite convent as a cloistered

nun.”

How is it possible,” I asked Father Leo, “that a teenager is

allowed to take the vows?”

You are right to ask this question,” he answered, “but

Saint Therese got a dispensation from the bishop. Indeed,

canon law is not as strict as civil law, thanks to the institution

of dispensation. Obviously, if the bishop allowed Saint Therese

to enter the convent at a very young age, he did so after due

consideration.”

On the way back when we were near the sanctuary of La

Salette, I took a seat near another pilgrim. At that moment I

saw Lucia laughing for the first time. Now she was sitting near

a nun, with whom she was at ease. As for me, I had overcome

my stupid fear of being alone.

On the way, Father Leo told us the story of the

apparition of Our Lady of La Salette. “One hundred fifty years

ago, La Salette was a small village in Southern France. There

were less than one thousand people living there. One day, two

children who had been minding the cows on Mount Sous-Les

Baisses came back to the village and reported that they had

seen a weeping beautiful lady.

According to the children’s account, the apparition, who

spoke their dialect, was weeping because people didn’t respect

God anymore. The lady gave the children a few messages,

which were all based on her wish that human hearts are

converted to God.”

Our bus took us up to the top of the mount where the

apparition had happened. At that moment, thin mist alternated

with clear sky. I had the sensation that the whole area was

enveloped in mystery, as if Our Lady had left the imprint of

her apparition on the mountain.

When I returned home from the pilgrimage, I saw

Margherita with another man. I thought maybe they were just

friends, but unfortunately they were already engaged, and six

months later they got married.

I had lost Margherita, but I had gained much more. In fact,

the pilgrimage to Lisieux and La Salette strengthened my

personality. Now I had the sensation of being stronger and

less picky. Apparently, the teachings of Saint Therese about

keeping a simple and pure heart had worked.

Excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind

www.sbpra.com/ettoregrillo

LOURDES

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LOURDES

The cult of the Virgin of Lourdes is followed by many in

Enna, and every year in May a train loaded with pilgrims,

volunteers, and seriously ill people travels to Lourdes. It is

called the White Train. Lourdes is a place for pilgrimages for

Catholics from all over the world, and every year around five

million visit the cave where the apparitions happened.

In 1858, Our Lady appeared to a little girl named

Bernadette Soubirous in a cave called Massabielle in Lourdes.

The apparitions occurred for five months, and were initially

seen with skepticism by the Catholic Church, but when the

apparition revealed herself to be the Immaculate Conception,

all doubts were removed. In fact, the little girl couldn’t

understand a deep theological concept like that of the Virgin

Mary.

The journey from Enna to Lourdes takes forty-eight hours,

as the White Train stops continuously to give precedence to

regular trains. The volunteer’s main task is serving meals in

the train and pushing the wheelchairs once arriving in Lourdes.

Only the most expert volunteers look after people with serious

disabilities.

One year after Giuseppina’s death, I still acted like an

automaton and a dark fog separated me from the rest of the

world. The police had investigated the incident for a few

months, but I was eventually acquitted. My mother was very

worried about me. She had no idea what to do, and confined

herself to praying for me. Moreover, every week she used to

go to the Convent of Saint Marc to ask the nuns to pray for

me as well. She hoped that all those prayers would sooner

or later rid me of my heavy depression.

What about going to Lourdes?” she said one day.

I was so clouded that I didn’t have the strength and will to

answer her. But she insisted. “Do you want to go to Lourdes

on the White Train? It leaves from Enna in ten days. It is a

good opportunity to take your mind off your idea you are

guilty of Giuseppina’s death.”

I don’t want to go,” I said curtly.

But it is a good opportunity to help the sick!” my mother

said.

I actually considered myself a social waste, but the thought

that I could be helpful to somebody in need made me feel less

despicable. Moreover, I couldn’t remain in a state of inactivity

forever. I had stayed at home like a prisoner for a year, but

sooner or later I had to come down from my ivory tower.

Okay, I’ll go,” I said, and a feeble ray of hope revived in my

heart. Maybe someday I would come back to life as a normal

human being.

After twelve months spent in my room reading books,

magazines, and listening to the radio, my eyes were not

accustomed to daylight. My mother had arranged everything

for my journey, including packing my luggage and providing

my volunteer uniform, which was brown, while the ladies wore

white skirts, white stockings, blue cloaks, and veils similar

to those of nuns.

My parents came to see me off at the station and entrusted

me to the priest who was the spiritual guide of the pilgrimage.

He was from a town near Enna called Valguarnera Caropepe.

Father Guido was a red-haired man who, despite the

reformation of the Second Vatican Council that had given

priests the freedom of dressing, still wore a cassock.

The train was very old, and two special cars dating back to

the Second World War had been arranged to accommodate

disabled people on stretchers. The two cars still bore the huge

red crosses from the war. We didn’t have any hoist, so we had

to lift the people on stretchers into the cars by hand. It wasn’t

that hard a task, since we had many volunteers to do the

work.

We had finished lifting stretchers when I saw a stretcher

on wheels coming from the side entrance of the station. On it

was a young man who had to weigh nearly 200 kilos. I

couldn’t imagine how we were going to get him on the train. It

took six of us to lift the stretcher. My arms and legs were still

weak after a year of inaction, but through our joint efforts we

finally set him on the train.

It was the late afternoon when the train finally left the

station. The sun was setting beyond the mountains, and in a

few hours we would serve dinner to the pilgrims and invalids.

Meanwhile, I went to my compartment and watched the green

countryside and the wheat that waved under the breeze

through the window. My eyes were looking outside, but my

mind still saw the car plunging down into the ravine with its

human load. Apparently, going out of my house had changed

nothing. I was as absentminded and depressed as I was when

secluded in my room. The environment had changed, but my

heart was still shut to life.

Before entering the ferry from Messina to mainland Italy,

the train stopped many times to take on more sick people,

pilgrims, and volunteers. There were four volunteers in our

compartment, but from time to time Father Guido came and

sat down to chat with us.

When the train left the station in Catania we started

serving dinner. The train was very long, and every volunteer

was given the task of serving a certain car. I was told to serve

dinner in the car with the people who were the most seriously

ill.

I was doing just that when I heard someone call out my

name. I turned back, thinking that another volunteer from

Enna was calling me, but I didn’t see anybody.

Vincenzino, Vincenzino!” the voice kept calling.

I stopped serving and saw that it was the fat young man

that we had lifted on the car that was calling me. “How do you

know my name?” I asked.

It is written on your badge!” he answered.

I was so absentminded that I hadn’t paid attention to the

badge on my uniform. “What is your name?” I asked.

My name is Carmelo, and I want to thank you for the

great effort you made in lifting me. As you see, my body is all

out of proportion. My weight keeps increasing more and more,

and all I can move are my head, eyes, and lips. All the rest is

paralyzed like dead flesh. I can see that you are not peaceful

but, believe me, your adverse fortune is nothing compared to

mine.”

Tears streamed down his big cheeks. “Can you see the

moon and the stars out of the window?” he asked.

I bent my head and Carmelo also slowly turned his head to

watch the full moon. “Ask the moon and the stars if it is right

that my body lies on a stretcher from my birth to my death,

while my mind is clear and realizes the uselessness of my life.”

His words dumbfounded me. I had thought that only my

problems existed and other people were immune from them.

After Giuseppina’s death, I had isolated myself in my room,

thinking that I was the most unlucky person in the world. But

now, Carmelo was opening my eyes to real life; his condition

was far worse than mine!

Tell me,” continued Carmelo, “why there are half-men

like me? I have done nothing to deserve such miserable luck.

Do you think that my harrowing life derives from God or from

a different malicious being? I am completely useless. While

you may be helpful to others, Vincenzino, I am just human

waste who is kept alive by a moral and criminal code that

doesn’t allow society to kill the heap of flesh I am.”

It was as if I had been catapulted to life again. After a long

time of seclusion, now in front of me was someone who was

talking to me and wanted me to answer him, but I actually

didn’t know what to say. I looked around to see if the meals

had all been served, and noticed that the other volunteers had

done the work in my place. As for Carmelo, he had been fed in

advance by a qualified nurse.

As for the second of his questions, my answer sprang from

my heart naturally. “You are not a useless person, Carmelo.

Thanks to you, I am coming back to life. I have been living like

a vegetable for a year, except for speaking with my mother in

monosyllables. Now, talking with you has been as if a

thunderbolt has fallen on me. You have shocked me! Now I

can see and watch you, while I saw no one before so immersed

in my thoughts as I was.”

What happened to you?” asked Carmelo.

It is an old love story that ended tragically, but now I can

see that there are people like you who have no hope to live a

normal life, while I am in a better condition. You have been

like a mirror for me. Through you, I have looked inside myself

and realized the uselessness of continuing to torture myself.”

What about my first question?” asked Carmelo.

During my year of insulation, I read many books and

magazines. One of the most significant was the Book of Job in

the Bible.

Do you know the story of Job, Carmelo?”

I have heard something about him. Job was renowned

because of his patience, right?”

Job was a rich, pious man,” I answered, “who later lost all

his riches, his children, and even his body became purulent.

What have I done to deserve such bad luck?’ Job asked God

one day. The answer was that man cannot know what God’s

plans for us are. Therefore, Carmelo, accept your situation and

do your best to live your life fully, even under such bad

conditions.”

The forty-eight hours spent on the train seemed neverending,

but the other volunteers in our compartment were

cheerful. From time to time, Father Guido also joined us to say

the rosary. When we arrived at the station in Lourdes, we had

to offload the baggage and take the invalids to the hospitals.

Then we volunteers went to the hotel.

My task was to carry the invalids from one place to another.

The wheelchairs in Lourdes had a handle in the front, while

some disabled people had their own personal wheelchairs

that could be pushed.

Every day, in the morning and the afternoon, the disabled

in their wheelchairs were lined up in the hospital courtyard

and the volunteers took them wherever they liked to go. The

disabled usually wanted to go to the Massabielle Cave to pray

before the statues of Our Lady and Saint Bernadette, or to the

baths, which stand in the place where Saint Bernadette

found a spring by digging in the ground with her hands. This

water was supposed to be miraculous, and several miracles

have actually been recorded and corroborated by the Catholic

Church. People who wanted to have a bath were just dipped

into the water for a few seconds. They got dressed while they

were still wet, but the water had the properties of drying

immediately, so towels were not needed.

There were frequent Masses both in the cave and in the

churches and basilicas. In the late afternoon, the sick and

disabled were lined up in the vast square in front of the

basilica and Holy Communion was given to them.

One afternoon while I was in the square looking after a

sick old man, I lost my faith. I had the sensation that God was

just a human creation. I saw the earth and the universe like

matter with no spirit inside and no God that could vivify it. It

was a real paradox that I had come to Lourdes to strengthen

my faith in God and in life, but instead I had become an atheist.

I remained in this condition as a disbeliever for several

months, but with the passing time I felt that my life was

completely empty without Jesus. After the terrible accident

with Giuseppina, my only anchor was Jesus. Therefore, my

atheism didn’t last long, and for the rest of my life Jesus has

been my only safe harbor.

During my staying in Lourdes, I wanted to do my very best

to serve the sick people that I looked after. One afternoon I

took a sick lady from the hospital courtyard. She was around

sixty years old and dressed in black.

Where would you like me to take you?” I asked.

I want to go shopping!” she answered. In Lourdes, there

are so many shops that sell holy images, rosary beads, small

statues, and every kind of holy item, that sometimes I had the

impression that big business gravitated around the cult of Our

Lady.

The sick lady wanted to buy a small golden medal, so we

went around many shops to find the item she liked. After two

hours of shopping, she found the one she wanted. Afterwards,

she wanted me to take her to the top of the hill, as she wanted

to cover the Stations of the Cross. At last, after a long day of

walking, I took her back to the hospital.

As soon as we arrived at the hospital courtyard, the sick

lady got up from the wheelchair and walked at a brisk pace. I

looked at her with a slight annoyance. Why had she asked me

to carry her around when she was able to walk by herself? But

suddenly the lady started crying out, “It is a miracle! A miracle!

I couldn’t walk before. That volunteer can testify to it,” she

said, pointing to me.

A few people gathered around me. “Is it true?” one of them

asked.

What?”

It was really a miracle?” he insisted.

I don’t know,” I answered. “I can only say that the lady

was already sitting in the wheelchair when I took her out to

the shops. Then I took her to the hill where the Stations of the

Cross are, but I cannot say if she was able to walk before I met

her.”

Okay, thank you,” said the man who had questioned me,

and soon the small crowd of onlookers dispersed.

The following day I heard from the volunteers, whom I

used to meet at lunchtime, of a miracle that had happened in

Lourdes. I didn’t ask what kind of miracle they were talking

about. It possibly referred to the lady that had regained her

ability to walk. At the time I had fallen into my feelings of

atheism, so I wasn’t interested in the subject.

Many years went by, and that episode seemed to have

fallen into oblivion, but one day it came to mind for some

reason. I wondered why that sick lady would have deceived

me, pretending to have been miraculously cured when she

was already in good health. What was the point?

That afternoon in Lourdes was still vivid in my mind. I

relived seeing the lady dressed in black sitting in the

wheelchair waiting for a volunteer. When I arrived at the

hospital, as soon as I saw her I headed for her and grasped the

handle of the wheelchair without uttering a word. Once we

were in the street, I asked her where to go. Then we went

shopping and then to the hill. At last I took her back to the

hospital.

I decided that there had to be a rational explanation.

Maybe the old lady was lazy and didn’t want to walk by herself.

Perhaps she took advantage of me to stroll around Lourdes

while sitting comfortably in the wheelchair. Nevertheless, my

conjecture collided with the fact that the lady had been

admitted to the hospital in Lourdes.

If my memory serves me right, there were two hospitals

for sick people at that time in Lourdes, one bigger and one

smaller. Neither of them admitted patients that were not

disabled. There should be medical records certifying her

disability. Being wise after the event, at that time I was very

shallow. I should have investigated the matter in depth.

However, if she is still in my mind after so many years,

perhaps something supernatural really did happen that

afternoon in Lourdes.

Excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind

www.sbpra.com/ettoregrillo

MARIAN SANCTUARIES – BANNEUX –

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MARIAN SANCTUARIES

BANNEUX

My natural desire to meet the supernatural and allay my

fear of death had, over time, been leading me to the places

where it was said that the Virgin Mary appeared to human

beings. In my life, I had visited quite a few Marian sanctuaries,

a few of them by chance, others of my own free will.

A constant of all the sanctuaries I visited was that Our

Lady had appeared to children or plain folk. This made me

think about my way of searching for God. I read hundreds

of books about enlightenment, meditation, religion, Holy

Scripture, and so on. I don’t want to say that my work has

turned out to be useless. Learning is better than ignorance,

but definitely it is not enough to get close to God, because the

path to God can only be covered by the soul and not the

intellect. The soul doesn’t need learning, only purity of heart.

BANNEUX

One day my wife said, “There’s another important

sanctuary that you have not seen yet, called Banneux in

Belgium.”

I really didn’t know about Our Lady of Banneux, even

though I was always looking for holy places. “We should go

there,” I said. “And we’ll take the opportunity to visit Belgium,

which is a small country, but rich in traditions.”

When we arrived in Brussels we found accommodations

near downtown. What left me speechless was the view of the

Grand Place, which is an architectural jewel. We visited all the

tourist attractions in Brussels, and then we moved to Banneux

by bus. It is a small village near the city of Liege.

Mariette was the first-born child of seven children. She

went to school and catechism, but she didn’t make much

progress because she didn’t have time to devote to study, as

she had to help her mother in the daily chores. On the evening

of January 15, 1933, she was looking out of the window,

waiting for her brother who had not yet come home, when

she saw a young, beautiful, shining lady in the garden.

Mom!” she called. “I see a lady in the garden. She is the

Holy Virgin.”

The apparition appeared eight times. The Virgin called

herself “The Virgin of the Poor.” During the second sighting,

Our Lady led Mariette to a spring, saying that it should be

reserved for Herself and for all nations. As it had happened

in other places where the Holy Mother appeared, she also

recommended praying, and asked that a chapel should be

built in the place where she appeared.

When we arrived in Banneux, the bus stopped next to a

square. At the end of the square there was a street that led to

the sanctuary. The atmosphere in Banneux was different

from other Marian sanctuaries. It was much simpler and

there weren’t many shops. We walked towards the chapel and

found a water basin on the right, which was where little

Mariette had dipped her hands. We too dipped our hands and

drank some of the water.

After visiting the chapel, we walked through the woods

that bound the water basin. While we were walking, I realized

why Our Lady had called herself The Virgin of the Poor. We

well-to-do people tend to underestimate the issue of poverty.

It is one of the most serious social problems. Here amid the

woods of Banneux, in my mind I saw all the jobless, poor

Sicilians that had migrated to Belgium to work in the coal

mines after the end of the Second World War. Many of them

died trapped underground, while those who survived

contracted an illness called silicosis, which was a progressive

disease caused by the inhalation of dust in mines. My mind

went to the immigrants that try to reach the Sicilian coast

packed in precarious boats, which sometimes wrecked, causing

the deaths of hundreds of people, whose only fault is to be

poor and searching for a better place to live.

I recalled a butcher in Enna who had a large family. My

father used to go to his shop to buy lamb at Easter. Over time,

many butcher shops sprang up in Enna, so that butcher

couldn’t match the competition and became poor. He took on

debts to feed his family, hoping he would be able to pay them,

but things didn’t go well. He fell into despair and couldn’t find

a way out. One night he left his home and told his wife that he

had to cut a few lambs’ throats, but things went differently. He

pulled down the shutters in his shop, and instead of cutting

lambs’ throats, he cut his own. The following day his blood

still leaked through the chink of the shutter, flowing into the

street.

There are many tragedies caused by poverty that we don’t

know about. Sometimes, even when we know about them we

ignore them instead of doing something to try to overcome

the scourge of poverty.

Here, where Our Lady of the Poor appeared, I saw in my

mind’s eye how many conflicts were sparked off by poverty.

Indigence gives rise to social malaise, and then to a Mafia,

terrorism, and war. It is not by chance that terrorists and

members of the Mafia are recruited from the poorest classes.

We left Banneux and headed for Amsterdam. My wife

wanted to visit the Van Gogh Museum, which contains an

ample collection of his paintings. He was a genius, but also a

very unlucky man who suffered from mental disorders. He

was found dead at the age of thirty-seven from a gunshot

wound that he likely fired himself.

Excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind

www.sbpra.com/ettoregrillo