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-- The Epistle of Jude, first century
-- R.S., 1997
Vincenzo Pullara, A Plump Stubby Man, wears the smoldering expression of one who harbors dark secrets. Vincenzo and his group are setting out to make a novena at the shrine of St. Jude, patron saint of impossible causes. By his own admission, Mr. Pullara is on good terms with "the guys who hang around the coffee shops" -- and he doesn't mean Starbucks. He and his friends are the stuff of Hollywood miniseries: their frighteningly childlike nicknames whisper along the mean corridors of New York's criminal courts. The FBI once described him as a lieutenant in the Gambino family.
One stormy day in May, he and forty of his friends and family are hurtling through the rain and fog in a Greyhound bus bound for Baltimore. They are pilgrims. Within hours, they will be kneeling at the foot of an almost diagnostically unimpressive statue, which will, indeed, throw the intensity of their gratitude and devotion into deeper relief.
And here I am, too -- not really sure why. Perhaps to satisfy a longtime reporter's hunch that there is something in the air about a man named Jude, something deeply believed, strangely and repeatedly justified, but never explored. In a Catholic childhood, very representative of a time, and now astonishingly remotein retrospect, he stood motionless among other saints, only murkier and more plastery than they, yet credited with a vast if vague power to rescue and redeem the most lost of causes. Shadowy indeed, but massed into the shadow of a mountain by the intense conviction and devotion of so many of his followers.
In adult life, he became impersonally more real to me. He persisted in the background, his devotees and strange achievements turning up in unexpected places. Repeatedly, I was bumping into stories of how this Unknown Soldier of the spirit was drawing countless new souls, people frantic for hope in an ever more desperate world. But why -- and how? I ask Vincenzo.
"You know, I didn't use to believe," he says, "but now I see that things happen when I ask his help. And I have to say thank you."
And a big thank you it should be. In 1987, two hard-charging federal prosecutors in the Justice Department -- Louis Freeh, now director of the FBI, and Rudolph Giuliani, now mayor of New York City, were hot on the trail of some of the aforementioned coffee shop crowd involved in a heroin importing ring that operated out of several Brooklyn pizzerias and reached all the way to Sicily. The tenacious duo eventually won seventeen convictions in the notorious "Pizza Connection" case. Charged as a fugitive in a murder-for-hire scheme, Vincenzo was linked to the shooting of one of the defendants on a busy Greenwich Village street, only to be mysteriously saved when a key government witness reneged on his agreement to testify and the authorities were compelled to drop charges. His wife's supplications to St. Jude, he is convinced, kept him out of prison. He beams over at her, flashing his diamond pinkie ring.
Jerry Pullara is handing out Twinkies and hard Sicilian sausage, brushing her hair back to show off fourteen-carat-gold St. Jude earrings. She likes nothing better than to lead guests to the five-foot statue of Jude in her Queens living room. "I talk to him as I go around the house each day. I don't know what I'd do without him. I consult him on everything." Now the children are singing in a Sicilian dialect; the men are poring over Oggi, an Italian newspaper, and a lady in black faces the crowd, intoning, "In nomine Patris, et Filii et Spiritu Sancti..."
The pilgrims have begun their journey.
Seventy years ago, G.K. Chesterton observed that "America is a nation with the soul of a church."
Shrewd then, this observation can now be seen as downright prescient, for as the second Christian millennium draws to its fulfillment, America is caught up in one of the most fervent religious revivals in its history, no mere parade of dreamyeyed angels and clamor of New Age vibrations but a stirring of spirits, a yearning of hearts, and, in a deeper sense, a chorus of bewilderment and desperation from a people long seen as the most blest among nations: best, brightest, richest, prettiest, smartest, most resiliently optimistic. And now, perhaps, the most desperate. Peace, prosperity, triumph, and justification in the Cold War -- the hard-won goals of all the demanding years since the breaking of the Axis -- are leaving us the time and sense of anticlimax to turn our spirits inward, to explore the emptiness that no American military or political victory seems able to fill, that no material gain or scientific milestone can dispel.
Once our triumphs, intellectual and technical, fed our legendary American optimism, our "can do" outlook as the leader of the free -- and, implicitly -- the decent world. Small wonder that those conditioned to treat these accomplishments as the prerequisites to happiness, purpose, and self-respect found themselves feeling small, belittled, and desperate in the very moment of victory. As we discovered that a small poverty-stricken Southeast Asian nation could humble us and that "Made in Japan" was no longer a cheap imitation, as a nation and individually, we were brought face-to-face with our own vulnerability, or, as the theologians say, "creatureliness." The fitting recourse to this sense of loss must be hope, for without it, desperation waits to fill the void.Jude. Copyright © by Liz Trotta. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
|A Whisper on the Street: Baltimore||3|
|Lonely City: New York||51|
|Fallen City: Edessa||93|
|City Triumphant: Rome||143|
|The Mesopotamia Invisible Path: To America||187|
|City at the Edge: San Francisco||231|
Posted January 22, 2005
I was not looking for this book but suddenly (as they say) there it was, I could not believe my eyes. I have just given up tobacco smoking by realizing that I was powerless and gave the struggle to my Higher Power. I told a coworker the next day and she suggested that I pray to/with Saint Jude, the patron of hopeless cases (my smoking). So when I saw the book I thought it was a sign from on high. Then I started to have doubts about how these religious books are written, pretty dry stuff usually. But so far this is an interesting book. I think Liz being a journalists helps. Thank you.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.