Magazine article U.S. Catholic

All in the Family: A Journalist Tries to Get the Real Scoop on His Cousin the Saint

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

All in the Family: A Journalist Tries to Get the Real Scoop on His Cousin the Saint

Article excerpt

The halls of Riuniti Hospital in Reggio Calabria were bustling that summer day with white-coated doctors and orderlies. The P.A. system blared as southern Italians waited in long lines for care. I had come for something else. I had come to see a medicine man about a miracle.

The previous fall, on Oct. 23, 2005, a cousin of mine, Padre Gaetano Catanoso, had been named a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in his first canonization ceremony. I was there with my family, along with tens of thousands of others. Now I was waiting outside the office of Dr. Giuseppe Bolignano, the hospital's chief of infectious diseases. I was researching the life of my sanctified relative, and I had some questions for the doctor.

In January 2003 Dr. Bolignano had determined that Anna Pangallo, a comatose villager stricken with bacterial meningitis, could not be revived after days of antibiotics. The doctor advised the family to prepare for the 55-year-old woman's death.

Instead, scores Anna's loved ones began a round-the-clock prayer vigil in Reggio and her mountaintop village of Roccaforte del Greco. Their urgent prayers went only to the beatified Padre Gaetano, already credited by the Vatican with interceding for one healing miracle shortly after his death in 1963. When Anna rose from her coma after nine days, when a stunned Dr. Bolignano could not explain why she had recovered so thoroughly, when her medical records were fully scrutinized by Vatican officials, Padre Gaetano was credited with a second miracle, ensuring his eventual elevation to sainthood.

A few days prior to my hospital visit, I had traveled to Roccaforte to meet with Anna Pangallo in her tiny home. She was as devout and gracious as she was grateful.

She had revered Padre Gaetano since she was a little girl and attended an elementary school opened by the Sisters of St. Veronica of the Holy Face, an order my cousin founded in Reggio in 1934. Anna had no doubt that the prayers of her loved ones were indeed answered.

When I asked if she understood why she would receive such a blessing, she said humbly: "Sometimes I try to understand. I ask, why me? But I have no answers. It's not for me to understand)."

I have been a newspaper journalist for 25 years. Asking questions is my stock in trade. Being skeptical is a professional requirement. Just because I am Catholic doesn't smooth over the rough edges of my ever-present doubts. I have seen for myself many equally urgent prayers go unanswered.

Now I was awaiting Anna Pangallo's doctor. I wanted to know, from a neutral source, how sick she really was. I wanted to know if her doctor believed her recovery was indeed miraculous. When Dr. Bolignano popped out of his office to tell me that he was running late, he stared at me hard before smiling.

"You look like a Catanoso! I am a Catanoso, too," he said, shaking my hand. "My grandmother was a sister of the saint's. I am his great-nephew." Then he ducked back inside, leaving me staring at his door.

Instinctively, my initial reaction was not, Good Lord, what a wonderful coincidence! It was, Holy smoke, how do you say nepotism in Italian?

This all-important second miracle suddenly smelled of an inside job, with the relative pulling the strings not in heaven, but right here in the halls of Riuniti. My questions multiplied. How truly unresponsive had Anna Pangallo been to therapy? How hard would it be for her primary physician to fudge a few facts and make it look like her amazing recovery was unrelated to the medicine she was receiving, thus clearing a path to sainthood?

Dr. Bolignano's office was narrow and uncluttered. His desk was stacked with medical journals. Two large posters of bacteria cell slides hung on the wall over his desk. There was a Padre Pio calendar, too, but no sign of Padre Gaetano. Settling in, the doctor led me through the case in question.

"Meningitis patients usually respond to the treatment of antibiotics we offer, but Anna Pangallo did not," he told me. …

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