I was at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson Airport this afternoon to pick up one of our friars from Rome who is coming to Toronto for a couple of months to learn more English. Enzo is from Abruzzo and is beginning his doctoral studies in October at our Order’s pontifical faculty: The Seraphicum. While I was waiting for Enzo to clear customs and immigration, I started to notice the sound of something familiar… something from my childhood; it was Turkish! I glanced up at the arrivals board and noted that the Turkish Airlines flight had just arrived. Glancing around I began to notice the number of young Turkish men and women awaiting guests and loved ones. There was Turkish being spoken all around me. I wanted to engage them and talk… but alas I speak almost no Turkish, except for a few words.
The attraction to things Turkish is a little complicated. Although my family is pretty much all Italian in origin (Sicilian and Genovese) they had lived in Turkey for a couple of generations. Some of them had emigrated from Italy to Malta and then to the Ottomans, and others directly. In what became Turkey, they lived very much as foreigners… even after many years. It’s one of reasons there was eventually a desire to leave and come to Canada where one could finally and truly be at home.
With my father and then later as a friar I have had the chance to visit Italy. There, I reconnected with my ethnic and cultural roots. There was something so profound about the first day I spent in Italy… the smells, the air, the tastes… really feeling like I fit. I was at home. When I went to Turkey on a parish pilgrimage I felt the same way. I remember being on the flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul and as we prepared to land I thought of my parents. They had struggled so much to leave Turkey and to establish themselves in Canada. Here I was now, coming full circle. In Turkey too I found a place so new and yet so familiar. I had another opportunity to visit Turkey, this time with my mother. It was an even more intense experience. This time I even met my mother’s cousin, a Muslim man and his wife and one of his sons. I had a 23-year-old “cousin” who was Muslim. It was almost as freaky as his discovering that he had a “cousin” who not only was Christian, but also a Franciscan Priest! It was a great evening made even better with lots of Raki!
And so I have completed so many circles in my life. This summer I got to visit Sicily and connected with my father’s roots. My mother reminds me that I have yet to go to Genoa, where her father was from. Ok.. so there’s still some excuse for travelling 🙂 But today the most important journey that I wanted to make was to take a few steps in the Arrivals hall and talk to the young Turks. I didn’t. I was too afraid. It was complicated. How do I explain my feelings? I have a desire to connect to something which is not formally mine…a language, culture, the FOOD, but which nonetheless is part of my heritage. If I didn’t know better I would say it was part of my DNA. How strange, eh!
I guess it’s ultimately about being at home. As I stood there it reminded me of an article I read about the difference in Christmas Traditions between North Americans and Italians. Italians, as we did at home, certainly honour family traditions. But for special events they like to try new things, use expensive and elaborate meals. North Americans on the other had tend towards “home cooking”; the turkey, the mashed potatoes etc. For North Americans who are often far from family, the holidays are a time to connect with one’s roots, with mom’s recipes, with home. I feel the same way every time I visit my family in the suburbs of Montréal. It’s more and more difficult to leave my family behind… a place and community where I am at home. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy in my life and ministry. I do love Toronto too. But yet, there is something that pulls us to our roots.
So, it seems to me we have a built-in “homing” device. It speaks to St. Augustine’s notion that our hearts are restless until they rest in God… our true home. We are created in love… the love of the Trinity, which dwells within us and drives us to completion and fulfillment. We yearn to go home to the one who first loved us.