Guest Post and Book Giveaway: My Cousin the Saint by Justin Catanoso

Day One of the My Cousin the Saint book giveaway was a big success yesterday at Bleeding Espresso and I know Justin Catanoso fans are anxious to read today’s guest post.

 But first, the contest rules:

1. Justin Catanoso, author of My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles, was a guest blogger yesterday at Bleeding Espresso and today (see below) at My Bella Vita.

2. To be eligible to win a free, signed copy of Justin’s book, you must leave a question for Justin in the comments on one or both of his guest posts. You can leave as many questions as you like, but only one comment on each blog will count toward the contest (maximum of two entries per person).

3. Justin will select some of your questions and answer them at his blog, We’ll let you know when to look for the answers.

4. You must leave your questions by 11:59 pm CEST on October 17, 2008 to be eligible for the contest. This contest is open to readers throughout the world – None of that North America only mess that usually excludes us!

5. One winner will be drawn randomly from the eligible comments at Bleeding Espresso, another winner will be drawn from the eligible comments at My Bella Vita, and winners will be announced on the respective blogs October 20, 2008, marking the day of St. Gaetano’s canonization.

And now, here is Justin.

 I feel very fortunate to be hosted on this wonderful web site to tell you a bit about my new book, My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles (Morrow/HarperCollins) and share a story that is the essence of “la bella vita.”

Like this site, much of my book is centered in Calabria, where my grandfather was born and left, and where his cousin, Gaetano Catanoso, stayed to become a priest and lead a life of remarkable sacrifice and service. He earned his place in the communion of saint’s in 2005. In the summer of 2006, I spent nearly a month in Calabria on my own to learn as much as I could about my family there, why my grandfather emigrated and what the life of the saint was all about.

At the end of each day, I would compose a detailed journal entry of my thoughts and experiences. The brief story that follows, which I called “Almost like falling in love,” did not fit into my book. But it seems perfect to share here:

“I’ve been in Reggio di Calabria nearly a week, and feel more and more Italian every day. My language skills, while poor, seem to be improving and I’m gaining confidence. So I walk into a corner pizza shop intent on buying a slice and hiking back up to my B&B. The woman behind the counter — early 30s, light brown hair pulled back off a friendly, open face — asks me, I suppose, what I would like. I quickly scan the glass cases and point to a rectangular slice of thick-crusted pizza. She says something to me and I don’t catch a word. I assume, though, that she has asked if I would like it heated.

“Intent on giving the impression that I am a local (after all, I certainly look local), I casually say, “Si.” But she looks at me like I’ve just teased her, and I’m suddenly caught off guard by the lovely, playful smile she offers. She repeats slowly what she said with just a touch of attitude, and it seems she has not asked me a yes or no question. What she asked was: Are you eating here or taking out? Embarrassed, I close my eyes and shake my head, before smiling back.

“At that moment, the looks we exchange are what make Italy, north and south, so universally beloved by travelers. There is a kindness and playfulness in the simplest of encounters that seem to arise out of nowhere. Her eyes say it all. “You’re not from here. You can’t speak Italian. But you’re giving it a shot and you’ve made me laugh. I’m glad you came in.” At least, that’s what I read in her eyes.

“Please understand, I had just talked with my wife and each of my daughters on the phone back in America a few hours earlier; I’m entirely devoted and committed to them. And yet, I feel like I’m falling in love, right there in the pizzeria with the woman with the light brown hair. I want to lean across the counter and speak Italian like Al Pacino did in Godfather III – brooding softly and confidently. I am an American writer here to research the life of a saint, my cousin, of course. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, San Gaetano Catanoso? Oh, and if you like, I’ll drop by later and take you out for a glass of wine. I know a great little place on the Corso.

“Yet as is always the case at times like this, my hard-earned ability to butcher the Italian language completely evaporates. I watch as she carefully wraps the pizza in paper, tapes the package closed and asks if I’d like a bag (she holds one up, which is how I know what she said). Si, I manage. Ok, at least I remember that. She smiles one more time, her eyes as lovely as stars, and hands me the package. I resist telling her that I love her and quietly depart. My wife would be proud of me.”

Speaking of Justin’s wife and family, here is a photo of them taken at St. Gaetano’s canonization — Rosalie, Emilia, Sophia, Justin and his wife Laurelyn.

Thank you, Justin for touching on the flirtatious connection that keeps us all in love with Italy.

Be sure to leave a question below for your chance to win the book My Cousin the Saint. Double your chances by asking another question at Bleeding Espresso.

In Bocca al Lupo … Good luck!

16 Responses
  1. Justin,
    Welcome! My question is, everyone at some time in their life wishes for a miracle. How did your research change or confirm your belief and thoughts of miracles?

    (Cherrye, tell me if i’m supposed to post this question somewhere else! I’m kinda slow today!!)
    Perfect place, Andrea. I know, it is early in Texas. 🙂

  2. Cherrye, you got me interested. I’ve just read the interview at Bleeding Espresso, and now this delightful tidbit. Two questions occur to me for Justin. At Bleeding Espresso, you said, “What happened to my Catholic faith?” Had you lost your faith…and did this make you find it again?” (oops that’s a two part question. Because I also wanted to ask: Did your wife slap you upside the head when she read the above passage? LOL Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

  3. Tamara Garabedian

    Hi Justin,
    After reading your candid description of the Italian spirit, and your blog on bleeding espresso, my question to you is,

    If you had not gone to Italy in 2003, which created a direction for your personal and spiritual journey, How do you think your life would be different today?

  4. Marmie

    Justin, if you return to Italy again, please promise that you will take your wife and daughters. 🙂

    I, too, am catholic, and wish I knew more about my religion. Question for you: does Catholicism make more sense now?

  5. Donna Kwiatkowski

    thank you for yet another great story. I can just imagine the look she gave you. Priceless, no doubt. Now, for my question, at the end of the book, it seemed that your faith was evolving. What’s changed for you (faith-wise) since the book was published?


  6. j

    When Dorthy Day was called a saint her response was “I won’t be dismissed so easily” (That’s one of my all time favorite quotes). So Justin, What do you think St Gaetano’s response would have been if someone called him a saint?

  7. Rosina Ronne

    I would like to read your story of the journey to rediscover your past which includes your connection with Saint Gaetano although I must question if you could have done it without your being a Catholic?
    Thanx from Australia

  8. Lainey

    I think what you are doing is brave and admire your goal and aspirations. Today so many people criticize the Catholic church for so many things.
    How do you think this book will help other Catholics be brave? And able to open up more about there lives in the Catholic church?

  9. Soon Hee

    What a fascinating and incredible journey! Thanks for sharing. What did you find most surprising and profound about yourself during this process?

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