Italy is by far the country I have visited the most. I love Italian food, art, architecture, culture, and way of life. Italy always fascinates me; everywhere you go history is at your doorstep and beauty is around every corner. Last week I had the privilege of being invited to Naples for a few days. I was accompanying my friend and mentor Dr John, who was the main speaker at a Charismatic conference.
As soon as you land at the Naples airport you know you are in a special place, as you are welcomed by a hustle and bustle of people who speak in a loud voice, and use their hands excessively in every conversation. The first thing you notice when leaving the airport is that you have to be brave to drive around Naples. In fact, almost all the cars have a bump or a scratch and this does not seem to bother anyone. Our driver was a Catholic priest, and what impressed me was that everywhere we went people kept asking him for a blessing. This is not something that I am accustomed to. I must admit I felt grateful that people still show respect to Catholic priests.
On the way to the retreat centre that we were going to stay in, I found out that Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited urban areas in the world. In fact, Naples’ historic city centre is the largest in Europe and a UNESCO world heritage site, the most famous being the Palace of Caserta and the Roman ruins of Pompeii which had been destroyed by the enormous amount of ash that spewed out of the volcano Vesuvius. We had a long drive from the airport to the retreat centre and this gave us the opportunity to stop several times along the way. I loved this as it gave me the opportunity to see and taste the local cuisine. I realised that the coffee is much stronger in Naples and the food is an experience in itself. The freshness of the food is something you can see, and taste. I realised that many small restaurants produce their own delicacies and they are extremely proud of them, if you just show some interest you would find yourself tasting all types of chillies, oils and fruit. The locals are so friendly and easily approachable. They are extremely affectionate and expressive.
Once we arrived at the retreat centre we were met by a beautiful convent that has been converted into a retreat centre. This castle-looking convent at the top of a mountain was purchased from the Government by the venerable Don Giustino Maria Russolillo and today depends solely on God’s providence to survive. On entering the retreat centre I noted the simplicity of the place, and the extreme devotion they have to the figure of Mary, the place having over 80 different images of Mary. Also surrounding the convent one finds numerous fruit fields that reveal the richness of the land. What truly fascinated me through the conference was the extreme openness of the people. I was impressed at the way they show affection to each other, young men freely hugging their fathers and praying as a family with no shame or fear.
It is beautiful to see such freedom of expression. Neapolitans are loving, expressive individuals and after a few minutes of being with a Neapolitan, he or she will start speaking about his family, and telling you a story or sharing something that happened to them.