By Hilary White
Italy’s President Mattarella visits Norcia
I have heard from friends closer to the scene and here is what I know so far:
– The monks, having set up a kind of camp monastery up the hill are OK, and aren’t very much worse off than they were since the first quake in August, they continue to pray and to participate in the plans for restoration, including speaking to benefactors about funding. They have said they are not leaving and the core of the Catholic revival that they started – that is, the Mass in the traditional rite and the monastic Divine Office, continues. That thread has not been broken.
– St. Benedict is still the patron of Norcia. God has not ceased to have plans for that city. As agonizing as the destruction of the churches there has been, we must remember that it was His providence that kept there from being any deaths, and even any serious injuries. There are of course natural reasons for this, but those reasons are part of His providence as well.
– There is a great deal of work to be done, and for many of us a long wait. But it seems to me there can be no doubt that even this awful situation will be used for His greater glory, and that Norcia will be reborn according to His will.
The nuts and bolts:
– There is limited power in the city but the water situation is more questionable. I have been told that the centro is completely dark at night, except for the one spot of light in the piazza where the emergency workers have a headquarters set up.
– The main part of Norcia, that is, the centro storico inside the medieval walls is entirely evacuated and has been declared unsafe
– My friend from Norcia says there are still people living there. About a thousand have been relocated to Lake Trasimeno, about an hour away. Most of these people wish to and plan to return.
– He says there are plans to provide secure wooden homes for the people determined to return, though this will not likely be until spring or next summer. The town will be secured by 15 – 20 days, and will be, perhaps, habitable by Christmas, though of course, this is mostly the areas outside the walls, since the centro storico will remain closed for a long time.
– For those friends who have visited Norcia, please be assured that our friend whose house some of you may have stayed in is fine. But the house is badly damaged and has been declared “inagibile”. She has chosen to move out of Norcia for the time being. Though, of course, as much as the rest of us, she loves it and I’m sure will think again about living there if it becomes possible. I can’t speak any more for her plans, but be assured that we are all still united on the Norcia team.
– Things in Rome are a bit more settled in the last couple of days. A kind friend with a spare flat in her house (a mother-in-law sort of thing) has generously given me and the kitties shelter. This is a very nice place and very secure near the centro with all mod cons, including wifi, so I can get back to work, and start having something close to a normal sort of life. Work is very helpful for making life normal.
– For the longer, mid-term, I have decided to seek out a short-term rental of a house in a town near Florence, Pontassieve, where it will be possible to take a train into Florence on Sundays for Mass as we who lived in Santa Marinella would go to Rome on Sundays. But, like S. Mar, it is far enough away from the city that the rents are very reasonable, and the town is quieter and less tourist-dense. I have checked online and there are some pretty good little modest and simple furnished places on the outskirts of town that are, if not in the country exactly, at least garden-y and quiet.
The big bonus of Pontassieve is that it is close to Gricigliano, the headquarters of the Institute of Christ the King, so I can be close to the traditional Mass and I expect there are at least a few tradition-minded people to make friends with. AND the extra-cool bonus of Pontassieve is that right across the river (the Arno) just on the other side of the bridge, is the ancient benedictine monastery of Rosano where the nuns retain the traditional full monastic Divine Office in Latin. Some years ago, before I moved to Norcia, I made a retreat there, and though they have the novus ordo, they were very tradition-friendly, or at least not at all hostile. I liked them very much and they liked me. (The very kindly and motherly Abbess even gave me a spare diurnal, English/Latin, that they had from a previous postulant, which I have used ever since. It’s a treasure, since they are rather difficult to get hold of.)
Pontassieve is not a tourist town, but rather an industrial town – leather and electronics – where people are mostly ordinary working-class folks who have a much more sensible attitude than one finds in other places. And the climate is not quite so … Roman… let’s say. It’s not in the mountains but the foothills. Anyway, I have some friends in Rome who have contacts there, and I hope to start making trips up there to talk to realtors either this weekend or next week. If I can find a place that’s furnished, I hope to be able to convince the owners of my house in Norcia to allow me to leave my own furniture there. Perhaps to sort of suspend the lease until I can move back. I don’t know, but I hope we can work something out.
How to help:
– The plan is to rent a van next weekend. I have the phone number and name (and am working on the email) of the local head of the Protezione Civile who is coordinating all the assistance for local people still in Norcia who may be in need. We plan to contact him and ask what he needs the most of. We will load up the van with non-perishable food, toiletries, laundry soap, medical stuff, warm clothes and bedding – everything we can get our hands on, and drive up there and drop it off. Then load up the van with the basic necessities from my house and our friend’s house to bring back. Just clothes and some kitchen things, perhaps the plants and even great grandma’s china if it is still intact, and bring it all back down to Rome.
So this is where we have an opening if you guys want to help. I don’t know what size of van we will be able to get, but I really want to pack it solid with supplies. We have to wait to hear back from the Protezione Civile to see what they have most need of. But I had a thought that if you want to help with this project, you can make donations with the note that it is allocated “for Nursini relief”.
– And for myself, I cannot begin to express my gratitude. Your donations thus far will cover the costs of securing a place in Pontassieve.
I feel as though I was falling, and have been miraculously caught in mid-air. I have a great deal more thoughts on this whole situation, and will share soon, but wanted to get this information out there.
No one knows when disaster will strike (especially if one lives in a geologically interesting part of the world) but knowing there are people out there who want to help makes things less frightening. Because of this, I haven’t been frightened by this situation. I have been desperately sad, and have experienced homesickness like I never have in my life, but I am not afraid. I am reminded of my cancer diagnosis; in a span of twenty seconds, everything in life changed utterly and forever. But then people come forward, eager to have an opportunity to help. Your help has made it possible for me to not worry about my own situation, and now to turn my attention to helping others.
I have seen so many comments to the effect that “something is going on”. What with developments in the Vatican, in politics, in Europe and now with Norcia, I know I am not alone in having the gut feeling that this is all part of a huge plan. Something certainly does seem to be “going on”. Our own role in things, however, must be judged according to the immediate tasks before us. The only question we have to ask is, “What is the next right thing to do?”
On the Feast of All Saints, I was able to go to Mass at Trinita, and since the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage was just ending, there were a great many of my friends in town and it was wonderful to see them. But among the crowd was one friend from Norcia, a young icon painter who, like me, had come there to be closer to the monastery and live a more prayerful life. When I saw Fabrizio on the church steps, I burst into tears and flung my arms around him, unable to let go. This was, perhaps, the best indication I’d had yet that the dream of a community of believers had begun to become a reality in Norcia. I know beyond a doubt that this is the will of God, and that it will be fulfilled. We just have to keep going.
It has become something of a mantra for the Nursini over the last few months of difficulties: “just keep going. Don’t give up.”