What’s so good about Good Friday?

Christians throughout the world are honoring Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the year leading up to Easter Sunday. In Italian, Good Friday is translated as Venerdì Santo or Sacred Friday and throughout Sicily there are dramatic processions reenacting his passion, death and resurrection. Worldwide there will be passion plays and Easter pageants, but sadly we are still living in a world where many Christians are being persecuted and killed for their faith.

This day represents when our Lord Jesus was tortured, mocked and ultimately crucified on a cross to die – the worst day in human history. So have you ever wondered why such a horrific day is called “Good” Friday (in the English language) when there’s nothing good about it? Maybe horrible Friday or devastating Friday, but certainly not “good.”

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There are several theories why it’s known as Good Friday. The word “good” is from the word holy, or Good Friday is derived from “God’s Friday.” Personally, I believe it’s called Good Friday because it is the definitive reality that good conquered evil. Death could not hold the body of Jesus and he arose from the grave to a glorified body. Jesus conquered sin and death and gives us the pathway to eternal life, if we’re willing to accept him. Yet without his suffering we could not fully understand the power of His resurrection. He may not ask us to suffer and die a martyr’s death, but he asks each of us to share the love and mercy of Christ with ALL.

As humans we go through life-changing situations –depression or loneliness due to death of a loved one, even the fear of our own death; the loss of a job or finances, the reality our dreams may never happen; comprehending your aging body and fragile health, or struggling with an addictive behavior you cannot control.

There are no easy answers to our life challenges, but on this Good Friday, let’s try to reduce the distractions and “noise” of life for 15 minutes, and quiet our hearts to listen to the still small voice of our victorious Lord and Savior Jesus speaking to us and saying, “I love you. I forgive you. I conquered death, and if you trust me, I will see you through your difficult situation, too.”

Sicily – My Eyes Adored You

Sicily is much more than a wonderful island; it is paradise on earth! The famous German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, once wrote: “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” For me, Sicily became a transforming experience. Reconnecting to the bonds of my Sicilian family has brought me closer to our rich and unique culture.

The first time I saw the beautiful island of Sicily was in October 2014 as our flight from Rome was descending into the Palermo Airport. We were flying at an altitude of about 2,000 feet and I began to see the Western Sicilian highlands, a glorious mountain range that spreads down the coast of Sicily with breathtaking views of patchwork fields of green. The Tyrrhenian Sea is an incredibly deep blue color – like an emerald blue – yet extremely clear. I don’t know what was more exciting, to witness the grandeur of God’s magnificent creation, or the realization I would soon be putting my feet down on the same ground my ancestors left when they immigrated to America in 1907.

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We landed at the Falcone–Borsellino Airport just outside of Palermo. The airport is named in memory of the two leading anti-mafia judges, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were murdered by the mafia in 1992. At the time I did not fully grasp how their murders impacted Sicilians. I came to understand the deaths of these two heroic leaders were as momentous to Sicilians as the assignation of JFK or the attacks on 9/11 are to Americans.

During this first visit I spent only a few short days in Sicily, but it was just enough time to experience magnificent sites, eat delicious cuisine, and tour two exceptional Sicilian wineries: Cusumano and Donnafugata. But the absolute highlight was discovering and reuniting with family, after ten decades apart. I felt incredibly sad to leave Sicily; like a part of my heart was being left behind. When I returned to Michigan I knew I would have to go back to Sicily. As the days went by I felt Sicily calling me and pulling me back, like the undertow of the ocean’s current.

Last April, with anticipated joy, I allowed the undertow to pull me back to Sicily. Again I experienced the beauty of flying into Palermo – seeing the triangular gem off the toe of Italy. What a sight! I had a wonderful time with my newly-found Sicilian cousins. They pampered and treated me to the very best Sicilian hospitality, including delicious foods, festivals, and quality family time. I loved every single minute meeting more family and getting to know my cousins better –only 7 months before we were strangers, now their hearts were knit deeply into my heart forever.

This summer I’m blessed to be returning a 3rd time to Sicily – I discovered affordable flights through Windsor, Canada rather than flying from the US, go figure. This time I hope to do a bit more sightseeing in Palermo, visit the eastern side of Sicily, and get in some relaxation at one of the beautiful sandy beaches. I will also enjoy Cappuccino and Espresso every day, and indulge in some unbelievably delicious gelato – more than once or twice.

 

5 Tips for Organizing a Sicily Trip

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People have contacted me stating they would love to visit Sicily and find relatives. This was in response to my last two blog posts describing how I and seven of my American cousins reunited with our Sicilian family after 100 years in October 2014. I urge anyone who has a desire to visit, to just make it happen. You will never regret it! I returned to Sicily in April, 2015 and I’m planning another trip in August 2016.

Here are five tips I recommend for organizing a trip to Sicily:

#1 Travel with others. Travel with at least one other person. I’m single and did not want go alone so I posted an event on Facebook and seven of my cousins, along with spouses/friends responded. Our group was 15, which was a tad too big but manageable. For smaller groups you could rent a car, but insurance is very expensive, and driving is challenging. People will be out of their comfort zones, which can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety, so take time to rest, eat healthy and hydrate.

#2 Use a reputable tour company. There are many great travel companies, but if you need a custom tour to explore your ancestral town in Sicily, like I did, start with a licensed travel agent and tell them what you need. You can find many local travel resources at bestofsicily.com. Get everything in writing. Also, I found our great ancestral guide (Rosy Bartolotta) through bestofsicily.com. Rosy was the vital key to connecting us with our Sicilian family.

#3 Prepare for the unexpected. Stuff happens. When in a foreign country, adapt to their culture and food as best as you can, and prepare to have your patience tested. Unless you speak Italian, communicating is a challenge. Older Sicilians do not speak English, most speak both Italian and Sicilian. Younger Sicilians know some English. They appreciate when you try speaking Italian, even if it’s not great. Additionally, there’s a good possibility you may NOT find relatives in the town of your ancestors. However, you can still enjoy all the beauty and atmosphere of the town.

# 4 Sicilians are friendly and welcoming. Forget most of what you’ve learned from Hollywood’s portrayal of Sicilians. Sicilians are the warmest and welcoming people. If you are fortunate to find relatives, like I was, they will open their hearts and homes up to you. They will proudly introduce you to their neighbors and friends. You will eat such delicious meals until you feel your stomach will burst! There may be one or two questioning your motives. Most likely they fear you’re there to reclaim property once belonging to your ancestors. Reassure them your only intent is to reconnect with family.

#5 Resist asking too many questions. If you are blessed to find family, avoid cross-examining them about family history. This may put them on guard and wonder why you want to know so much. They will open up and share bits and pieces, but if you’re sitting with pen and paper writing down everything they say, they may distrust your intentions. Later in the evening, when you’re back at the hotel, make notes in your journal so you do not forget details of what they shared.

The ultimate goal for any visit to Sicily should be to relax and absorb the beauty and rich history of Sicily and contemplate the joy it is bringing to your ancestors.

Denise De Marco
MyBellaSicily.com