My husband and I were standing with other tourists in the Vatican waiting for Sunday Mass to begin. No guidebook had been able to prepare us for the overwhelmingly beautiful treasures we were seeing. Michael Angelo’s Pieta was directly in front of us, then as we moved on, there was the burial site of the Apostle Peter. It was almost too much to comprehend.
As we moved around the enormous building, a side door opened and guards moved the crowd back. Velvet ropes were stretched across the area to keep us at a distance. Then, two by two, black robed men solemnly processed out of the room. Being raised protestant, I wasn’t sure what was going on. It was then, that I noticed a young man standing next to me who was wearing a long black cassock, so I assumed he would know what these men were doing.
I leaned over, summoned up my best Alabama — Italian accent and whispered, “Scusi, parla inglese?” which was supposed to mean, “Excuse me, but can you understand me if I start blabbering in English with a Southern accent?”
The young man casually whispered back, “Si . . . uh, yes. I’m from America.”
“We’re from Alabama.” I told him.
“Oh!” His eyes were big now. “I’m from Mobile!”
“HEY! We’re from Fairhope!”
They young man broke into a wide smile and said, “Well, actually, I’m from Daphne, but I didn’t think you would know where that was!”
“Not know Daphne? Why I practically live in their Target!”
Over the next fifteen minutes or so, we got to know our new Daphne — Roman friend, Nick Napolitano, who had graduated in 2009 from McGill-Toolen in Mobile. Nick enrolled in classes at St. Meinrab Seminary and School of Theology in Indiana and was now assigned to an internship at the Vatican. I had a quick flashback to my own internship experience which was in a moldy public school, where I caught two colds, one case of pink eye and had a five year old throw-up on my shoes. In contrast, the Vatican was a pretty good gig for a college kid.
As we were talking, I suddenly realized that Nick was even younger than I thought and in fact, was only about five years older than my own son. I had just started having anxiety about my son’s plans for starting college in some out of town location, yet here was another local young man who was half way around the world! How could his poor Mother stand it?
Call it being moved by the spirit, or being moved by Southern hospitality, I suddenly blurted out, “I’m sure your Mother would want me to give you this hug from all the people back home in Alabama!” And with that, right there in the Vatican underneath a centuries old marble statue of a saint, I threw my arms around Nick Nipolitano and gave him an old fashioned, down — home neck huggin’.
Being true to his polite Southern upbringing, Nick acted grateful, but I suddenly panicked. Not being familiar with the Catholic rule book, I was afraid I had just violated some kind of “look, but don’t hug” policy. We snapped a quick photo of our new friend, then headed out to hear the Pope’s beautiful address to the crowd.
Later that day, still concerned about my possible breach of church etiquette, my husband and I sat in a piazza and watched the locals walk by. Children of all ages were playing near a fountain as their Italian Mamas animatedly chatted nearby. When it was time for them to leave, every single woman started moving around, vigorously hugging the necks, kissing the foreheads, and pinching the cheeks of all the children, even the older teenagers. I hadn’t seen that many Mothers hug and go-on over their children since my son’s first day of school at the K-1 Center.
My guilt over attacking poor Nick in the Vatican with a heaping dose of Southern maternal hospitality was assuaged a bit by knowing that Mothers in Alabama, Italy, and probably worldwide, have the same feelings of nurturing love towards all children, no matter who they belong to or where they may be.
And I think the Pope’s own Mother would completely understand.
This article first appeared in the Gulf Coast Newspapers.Â
As a Catholic and southerner, I feel confident in saying in spite of him being half way around the world his mother is probably elated God’s will is for him to be in Rome. If you don’t know or feel close to God there, you never will imho. What more could a mother ask for 🙂
p.s. Uou didn’t break any Catholic etiquette – we hug like everyone else. In fact, every mass we offer one another the sign of peace to each other which includes hugging if you prefer 😉 Enjoy your trip! Italy is the best!
Great story. You write so well, Leslie Ann! I am catching up on your blog. Hope there are more Italy posts.
Blessed are the Mamas who hug!
Leslie Anne, you truly have the gift of storytelling! I loved every word. Thanks for sharing and for being mom to that young man so many miles from home. I’m sure his southern mama appreciated you!
Oh, Leslie, what a fun story! I loved that and your pics of Italy/Rome. Love that country so much and hope to get back there one of these days. It’s been over 20 years and that’s way too long.
What a sweet story….I’m sure he will always remember you! Have a Happy 4th of July!!!!
What a small world!!!
Loved your story and your pics of the Vatican, Leslie Anne. Lots of fantastic places to visit in Italy but Florence is my favorite. Are you going there, too? Buon divertimento!
Glad to hear you liked Florence. We plan to visit the Northern part of the country next time.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t have a little tear in his eye. Home is home and I am sure he appreciated the moment. Wonderful story.
It’s an amazing place to visit. Your photos are bringing all of my Roma travel memories to mind. My southern accent sure did get a lot of smiles! It’s always a small world when we travel. We’ve run into neighbors on our travels too! Look forward to more photos…………….Safe travels Leslie Anne
Did they think you were British? That’s what they kept guessing for me.
The sad thing was, some local Italians said we didn’t look like Americans because we weren’t dressed sloppy! They said it in a nice, apologetic way, and honestly, we understood what they meant.
No, not British but an alien from another planet! You know how my accent is way out there!:) Hey, proud to be an American with an accent on this wonderful July 4th celebration. Hope you enjoy the weekend, now that I realize you are not in Rome at the moment!
Oops, I wanted to comment on dress. We thought we would try to blend in, we thought we looked good and we never wore white tennis shoes (not that’s there is anything wrong with white tennis shoes) but we still were walking targets for the gypsies. Nothing like having someone come up from behind and grab you. Yikes!
Makes me want to run out and find a youngster away from home and give him or her a good old “Mama loves you hug”. From all mothers whose children are away from home for whatever reason (using 60’s slang) “Right on,Mama!”
So funny how God works. I bet nick was needing that hug from home and The Lord used you to get it to him. Beautiful story.
And I like this explanation even better!!!
Loved the story and photos! I am sure you are right. Once those Mama hormones kick in, there seems to be no way to neutralize them.
I like your explanation!
Leslie Anne… great story and fabulous pics. I’m sure his Mama appreciated that you gave him a big ol’ Southern hug. Have a great 4th!