Termini Imerese Stories

My Trip To Termini Imerese - 1979

Submitted by Father Anthony Delisi

That afternoon I flew out of Rome to Palermo Sicily. On the plane there were a lot of students from the lowlands and I learned from them that Sicily was a tourist center for people from northern Europe. As we approached Palermo we flew through some clouds and then I saw the cliffs of Sicily. They seemed to drop off 12 or 15 feet right into the Mediterranean Sea. When we landed at Palermo I saw a beautiful mountain before me. I got off the plane, kissed the ground of my forefathers, and walked to airport where I met my two first cousins, Rosa and Catherina. There were eight of my relatives there whom I had never seen before. We embraced and tried to communicate as best we could. Then they drove me through the countryside and I beheld one of the most beautiful places in the world. I realized that I was home. Giant mountains, palm trees, flowers along the road, the sea, and then we arrived at Termini Imerese, the place where my parents were born. As we drove along the narrow street, I noticed that the exterior of the houses were all the same. My relatives gave the tour of their house. The first floor was quite simple, and the second floor had a plush living room. Only very special guests used this room. Not once was I asked to sit in this room! This room is a symbol of one’s status. Then they showed me my bedroom. I noticed that the plumbing and electricity seemed more advanced than in the States, probably since it was introduced later, and they had learned from our mistakes.

That evening I was able to visit my 87 year-old Aunt Petrina. I think she knew who I was. On Sunday, September 9th, my relatives arranged for me to concelebrate at the local church of Saint Catherine. I was able to follow along in Latin as the celebrant used Italian. They had four altar boys who ran all over the place, but didn’t have the slightest idea as to what they were to do. The celebrant had to constantly tell them what to do. Nobody seemed to be disturbed, except perhaps myself. This is probably the way Italians interpret rubrics. After Mass we went to the country home, the campangna and my cousins cooked the pasta and steaks over the open fire. They had broiled sausage, fresh grapes off of the vine, wine, salad, and lots of garlic in the food which could be eaten without offending the neighbor. About five o’clock, they brought me to the bay where there was to be a procession with the statue of the Madonna Catina. Tradition has it that Our Lady appeared to Saint Peter when he was freed from the chains, so now they have this procession from the church to the pier. At the pier the men began arguing as to how to place the statue into the boat. Finally they placed the statue on the fishing nets and everyone applauded. I climbed onto the boat where Mass was celebrated. After Mass they started the motors and we went around Termini Bay. What a beautiful sight, with Termini in front of me, and the giant mountain on the left. Other boats of the fleet were following us. With my camera I was taking photos of this place where my parents originated. We returned to the home of my cousins where I tried to communicate with my Italian-English dictionary.

The next morning Joe Idoniva, who knew my father, and was about 65 years old, drove me to the farm where my grandfather and father used to harvest olives. It was located along a dirt road near the top of a mountain. The olive trees were growing on a steep hillside. From there I was able to look over at the highest bridge in Europe. It was a beautiful scene, but looking over the terrain of this farm, I could understand why my dad left Sicily. On the way back we stopped at a small church located on the top of this mountain. There was a hermit living there. His dwelling was much worse than even Father Marcellus’ little chicken house across the lake at Conyers. He showed me around the church and then took me to his garden and gave me some figs to eat. From there we returned down the valley and saw an ancient bridge, probably going back to Roman times. He then took me to another olive grove and then to a garden where two of my cousins were hoeing in a field of small artichokes. I took a photo of them.

That evening I was taken to another small town where a picture of the Madonna was venerated. We ate Sicilian pizza topped with an American hotdog. The pizza also had artichokes and a great variety of other toppings. I think the American pizza has more taste since that hotdog ruined the Sicilian pizza.

The next day Tony and his wife took me to see the sights of Palermo. There we visited the famous Cathedral of Moriale. This is the Panti Cratus seen in the movie of Saint Francis, “Brother Son, Sister Moon.” Because they were doing some repair work there, I could not get a good view of the church. Then we visited the Capuchin Church. There I saw a Brother I had met at the blessing of Termini Bay, and he gave me a tour of the catacombs, which was actually a room under the monastery, were they had many skeletons of deceased Franciscans wearing their habits. There were corridors filled with skeletons. This was perhaps one of the most moving sermons on death I have ever seen. The public has to pay to get in, but the brother got me in for nothing. After that we went to the Palace of the Kings that was filled with masterpieces of art. In the afternoon they drove me to Cefalu. This town was built on land that protrudes into the Mediterranean Sea. The Cathedral is located on the highest point, and behind it is a giant cliff. This 12th century Cathedral was built by the Normans. I consider it the most beautiful church in the world. In this church I was moved to tears as I beheld the beauty of the Panti Cratus. From there they drove me high into the mountains to a shrine called Gibilimani, once an old Benedictine monastery, now run by the Franciscans. I celebrated Mass there. Sam Badali and his wife, whom I had met on my short stopover in Toronto were also there. Sam helped me communicate with my cousins by translating for me. On our return to Termini Imerese we drove past an ancient Greek temple. That evening the man across the street invited me over to his home. He spoke broken English. He took me to the second floor of his home and it was like a museum. There were pieces of art, gold and silver pieces, and even an ivory elephant tusk from Africa. From the street one would never believe what is to be found in some of the homes. The narrow streets and the exterior of homes are all the same, but within is another story. The interiors of these homes are covered with local marble cut from the mountains of Sicily.

The next day I went out to see the campagna again to study how they irrigate their fields. They had not had any rain since June, but, due to their irrigation, they had plush crops and I wanted to bring some of this information with me to Nigeria. I also gathered garden seed to bring with me into Africa. My relatives rushed me to a lunch of roasted shrimp, they could not do too much for me. Of all the places I have ever been, Sicily is the climax of beauty and hospitality. My relatives drove me to Palermo and from there I flew out to Rome.

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