It’s not a question I’d ever asked myself before the move, when living in the flat fens of Cambridgeshire, despite being a stone’s throw away from what is arguably East Anglia’s greatest cathedral. And what a place for three atheists to start their new life, in the foothills of the Vatican City no less! Now whilst the Catholic Church is an ever present feature in the lives of most Italians and we certainly enjoy the many ways religion has enhanced this country, through its strong legacy of art, history and culture, we weren’t ready to sign up just yet.
Or were we?
I remember saying to a friend, that, wrapped up in our plans to relocate was (well for me at least) a strong desire to start saying yes to so much more. Yes to everything! Ice cream for breakfast, certo! Can’t be bothered with home schooling – neither can I! Aperol Spritz for elevenses, bring it on! Once you open the floodgates to saying yes, it’s rather hard to stop.
Which brings me back to our Father.
We received in our tiny postbox (Italian post – a whole other blog) – it must have been within the first few weeks of moving, a notice of the Benedizione di Pasquale. A quick google and a shout out on social media to Italian friends and we had all the facts: this was common practise in the run up to Pasquale (Easter). The local priest comes by to perform an Easter Blessing and it’s customary to offer caffe and biscotti, which he always politely declines.
We waited. We were ready at 3pm. Mimi and I. We knew we had until 6pm but this was our first opportunity to make good on our promise to integrate fully in to our local community. We waited. On the table in front of us, our homemade biscotti. On reflection, the gold sugar dust and the playboy style white icing tails and bunny ears might have been overdoing it a tad. But hey, this was Easter, on the outskirts of Rome! We were excited, no doubt about it. Mimi was on countdown until she got to eat a bunny biscotti (after the priest, who was sure to be some kind of cardinal, naturally). And I, giddy at the prospect of my first authentic, neighbourhood encounter.
The hours passed, the biscuits dwindled in number until finally, at 6.10 pm, the doorbell rang. Heart beating fast, I opened the door and proceeded to greet our local priest with bunny like enthusiasm. Now confession time…I may have been brought up in a family of atheists but a part of me has always leaned towards the divine. Whether it’s a desire to belong to something, an innate respect for institutions (anyone who knows me will tell you it’s highly unlikely to be this) or my love of the theatrical, it’s hard to say. Perhaps I picture myself as a winsome Maria, running through the hills, purity trailing behind me as I shake off my habit and break in to song…
All I know, is that I was definitely in full on Maria mode when the priest began reciting (in Latin no less!) the Benedizione di Pasquale. Something stirred in me as I listened to ‘In Nomeni Patri et Fili et Spiritus Sancti…I started to chant along. Now this is a song to which I definitely don’t know the words but so caught up in the moment was I, that I also tried the moves. Now, I have never crossed myself. I’m not religious (although we may arrive at a different conclusion at the end of this) and I’m the one who always looks around at weddings (including my own), or funerals, to check I’m doing IT right.
Reader, I crossed myself. From left to right or right to left, I cannot say. Holy water was sprinkled across us and the living room and by now I’d progressed from Sound of Music to full on Godfather.
At this point, I expected to wave our friendly (but by now slightly bemused) priest arriverderci with a gesture of caffe and biscuits. Not so. There were forms to be completed – but of course – this is Italy! Details of our household that could be kept on file. My hand hovered over the Baptism tick box. The priest looked puzzled. Had I not just crossed myself? Of course I’d been baptised! Well now I had been, at least on paper. And not just me, Paul and Mimi too! There were more boxes, for First Communion and Confirmation. By this point I was in too deep, I ticked them all, for all of us! All I know is that I had come to Italy to say Yes to everything – forget Maria, I was Sofia Coppola in The Godfather 3!
With the clammy feeling you get when you know you’ve done something you really, really shouldn’t have done, I waved goodbye to our Padre, turned to Mimi and tried to explain, as best as I could, what on earth had just happened.