Philly’s Message to the World

Elise Italiano

25 Sep Philly’s Message to the World

When I left South Jersey to attend college in New England, I learned quickly that saying you are from Philadelphia elicits a pretty standard reaction.

For outsiders, the city and its suburbs conjure up images of indecorous sports fans, cheesesteaks, and the iconic Rocky steps. But it was also comforting to learn that those not from the region knew that the city and its people value two things above all else: their families and their faith.

For that reason, I cannot wait to get home for Pope Francis’ visit to the World Meeting of Families, when two of Philadelphia’s prized possessions will be on display.

Though Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love, it is also one of familial love. In the 19th and 20th centuries, our city welcomed immigrant families – mainly Italian, Polish, Irish, and German – who made the voyage to America to secure a better future for their families. The cultural traditions of these groups were passed from generation to generation, largely due to the fact that these groups settled in respective ethnic neighborhoods. Despite any differences among these populations, they all shared a rich appreciation for family.

But it is nearly impossible to separate that love for family apart from the faith of many of Philadelphia’s immigrants. The center of many of these neighborhoods was the local Catholic parish. And that parish formed another kind of family among all the individual ones. Though each community had its own unique traditions – prayers, devotions, festivals for saints – their shared beliefs tied them into a family of faith. It is this unity in diversity that will be on display during the World Meeting of Families in just a short time.

I received lessons on faith and family from my own grandparents, who settled first in Chester, and then across the Delaware in Penns Grove. I have many memories of heading into the city with my father to pick up pastries for Easter at Termini Brothers and making trips to Giunta Brothers with my grandmother to pick up a new pasta machine, which we used to prepare Christmas dinner. Those moments were about more than food. It was on those drives across the Walt Whitman or Ben Franklin Bridges that I learned the history and traditions of my ancestors, how they put family first, and why faith was the one constant during their lifetimes.

I knew that my experience was not unique; my peers and coworkers from the region shared similar childhoods. Hollywood was able to capture this typical Philadelphia experience in Silver Linings Playbook. What Philadelphia family wasn’t able to see a little bit of its own in the Solitanos, a family forged together by specialty ethnic foods, the Eagles schedule, and a toughness to face life’s most challenging moments?

Despite growing up a world away from Center City, Pope Francis understands us, from his own experience in an immigrant family and from his countless encounters with families throughout the world. For the last year, the pope has been speaking in St. Peter’s Square each Wednesday at what is called a General Audience about today’s families: our challenges, our hopes, our needs. The pope has addressed the stresses on families that come from unemployment, poverty, separation, and divorce. He has touched on the importance of spending time with and taking care of our elderly family members. He has expressed solidarity with families in which a member has an illness or a disability and with those families grieving the loss of a loved one, or those indefinitely separated from loved ones as they move to a new country to start a better life.

Elise Italiano is the director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., and a Catholic Voices USA associate; she received her master’s in theology from Villanova University
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Elise Italiano is the director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., and a Catholic Voices USA associate; she received her master’s in theology from Villanova University

Elise Italiano