St. Joseph Moscatiís journey to Sicily
Antonio Tripodoro s.j.
The beginning of the letter that on December 22nd, 1922 Moscati wrote to Mrs Anita Cerasi, who had lost her second son, shows that Moscati had certainly been to Sicily in 1922. Actually, he writes: "Dear Madam, coming back from Sicily, Iíve found the dreadful news of your sonís death, which has unfortunately come true ". The journey we are going to talk about took place at the end of October of the same year and on the first days of November 1925.
Saint Joseph Moscati
In 1925 Moscatiís fame was widely spread. No wonder that people from everywhere used to come to his surgery or that he was begged for a journey to visit those patients, who were unable to come to Naples (1).
Moscati was persuaded into going to Modica (province of Ragusa) by Dr. Goffredo Anello, who called him there following Mr Antonio Criscione Loreficeís insistence, whose brother Francesco had actually heart troubles. In Modica, he also visited other people, among whom Giuseppina Scala, Don Raffaeleís sister, who was Archpriest of St. Peter main church.
Dr. Anelloís daughter, Rachele, who, when Moscati came, was 11 years old and had always been living in Modica, described to Fr. Alfredo Marranzini what she remembered about that event, underlining Moscatiís simplicity, cordiality and care not to annoy the family who had him as a guest. A relationship of real friendship was actually created.
When Moscati left again, he stopped in Syracuse, where he wrote two letters to his friend doctor of Modica. The second - dated November 2nd, 1925 - is quite long and interesting. It is possible to find there several themes: regret on not having been able to please all the patients, love to our Lord, passion for art, historical memories, classical culture, vivaciousness, conscience of the "mission" of the physician, hurry to come back to the ordinary place of work, themes that blended together reveal us multiples aspects of his rich personality (2).
"Iím going to leave at 15.08 to the continent. The bad weather doesnít permit to walk further on this delightful island, since the clouds have taken away the blue sky. [Ö] After our leave taking at the Station of Modica, in the train I was absorbed in reading an outline of the Sicilian civilization..."
This sentence is noteworthy, because it makes us understand his interest for art and also his desire for visiting the places linked to this civilization, a dream that - as he writes - he had had since he was a boy and that was now becoming true.
"At the station of Noto, I think, I saw a train advancing in the opposite direction. Where? Towards Modica! Hereís a meaningless episode that broke an enchantment in myself. You are a psychologist and so you can understand some ways of feeling. [Ö] A turmoil of regret pervaded me! [Ö].
In the morning, I went to the Masses for dead commemoration in a suggestive temple of Nuns. Then, under a cloudy sky, I went and breathe the ancient classical atmosphere, which has always been my passion.
I saw the Greek theatre, the Amphitheatre, the latomias. What an emotion I felt hearing the Echo and the resonance at Dionysusís ear! When I was a boy, I used to read about this Phenomenon of Syracuse in Physics treaties. I moved, when I read about prisonerís torments, whose trembling discourses were transmitted to his ear through the powerful echo of the place. I was fascinated by the legends and the myths of the land of Syracuse celebrated by Ovid...
An old photo of Modica (Ragusa)
After so many years, those things, which had been at the centre of my dreams and inspiration for learning more and more about the classical culture, were now becoming a fascinating reality. Moreover, all the sweetnesses, belonging my young age, would have tried to trouble me with their memory and to make me repeat with the poet from Catania Felice Romani "...But those days. I canít find them anymore!" If I hadnít strengthen my heart and my soul against the seduction of lost goods, and chosen not to look backward, longing for the future and the future perfection!"
Iím realizing, without knowing it, that Iím boring you with my frequently emerging sentimentalism. However, let me return just for a moment to a sentimental theme, wishing me to come back, not as a physician, but as a friend and a "touriste" to the Sicilian coasts, closed in upon the blue sea and blue sky, and peopled by ruins of ancient civilizations, all symbols of the divine mould received by men from God, and extremely rich of generous hearts. Moreover, among the towns I wouldnít ignore Modica.
My best regards to your lady, to Mr and Mrs Criscione and all the friends, and please, always consider me as a dear friend of yours. Giuseppe Moscati".
Certainly, this letter shows us a Moscati scarcely known, a discovery that finds us unready, but arises interest and amazement. Those who have visited Syracuse can certainly understand his feelings and emotions, which he can now express with few but telling words.
The phrase: "I went and breathe the ancient classical atmosphere, which has always been my passion", shows us not a simply love for the ancient art, but something which has its roots in the most intimate and deepest part of his soul and is now becoming "fascinating reality".
In the quoted part, it is also interesting the reference to Felice Romani, author of poetries, literary critics and librettos of musical works. Moreover, he is the author of the text of "Norma," "Sonnambula" by Vincenzo Bellini and "Elisir d'amore" by Donizetti. Moscati - a music and opera lover - writes, remembering it by heart, a verse from "Sonnambula": "Ö but those daysÖ I canít find them anymore". Once back in Naples, Moscati keeps up a correspondence with his friend and colleague, to whom he addresses four letters. On November 10th, 1925, he wrote:
"It will be for me a pleasure to keep in touch by letters with you. Be sure that I will sometimes bore you with my postcards, which will remind you the other Sicily: Naples!
Itís now time to start my teaching activity again. Even though I like very much being with young people and to do all I can for them, however, I become like them: I long for Sunday holidays, Christmas holiday, etc.
Iím happy for the news you told me, I mean that the Chemist has gained his serenity again. Overall, it is right for him to know that he will never suffer for any serious problem because of his illness, if he will be able to keep his heart strong. For this reason, he will have to make the three monastic vows: poverty (in eating), chastity, obedience (to the doctors). His medicines are the less important thing! He doesnít have to overwork himself, he has to avoid all emotional occasions and of getting angry. [Ö] "
The Greek Theatre of Syracuse
In a letter written on January 30th, 1926, Moscati says:
"I keep the sweetest memory of my stay in the "beautiful Sicily. Even though I missed the enchantment of the blue sky, I had your and all-welcoming peopleís warmth and friendship. I am deeply involved in teaching, so if I take January and February away, what does it remainÖ to university lessons? The other months are less laborious. Students, graduated and I have lessons, conversations. Iím also used to do many controls, autopsies and biopsies. [Ö]
I receive much joy from my students, thatís true, but also many sorrows! I had so long desired that one of my students, one of the best, could be awarded with a Rockfeller scholarship Ö [Ö] He hastily had to come back to his village in Puglia! I go and visit him, but I find him ill suffering from galloping phthisis!!! Life is a sequence of sorrows and illusions!
Iím expecting that tomorrow another student of mine will well expound the results of a research about Hodgkinís disease. Waiting makes me nervous. He will demonstrate the enormous and unexpected frequency of this illness! [Ö]
Therefore, I live of anxieties and longings. But I see, Iím boring you with the confessions of my way of feeling!Ö"
It is noteworthy what he writes in Dr. Goffredo Anelloís letter dated November 29th, 1926, too, when he mentions some "fixed points" in his life:
"I received your wonderful gift from the sweet Sicilian land with great pleasure, itís a symbol of your attachment, which is so dear to me that I return you sincerely. [Ö]
I am at the beginning of University courses. Iím a member of the commissions, so you certainly can understand the increasing working rhythm that is going to come.
However, in my life full of responsibilities and work, I have some fixed points, which are like a sunray in a cloudy sky: my faith, my books, the memory of dearest friends, like you."
On April 12th, 1927, Giuseppe Moscati, as we know, suddenly passed away in his house at via Cisterna dellíOlio, while, like every day, he was preparing his medical visits for the afternoon. But in Modica the memory of San Giuseppe Moscatiís fleeting visit, as Fr. Maranzini has verified, is still alive, and Rachele Anello has kept with extreme reverence Moscatiís photo, sent to her by the Saintís sister, Nina Moscati.
1. Alfredo Marranzini: Giuseppe Moscati, modello del laico cristiano di oggi, Rome, 1989, p.250.
2. Ibidem, pp.252-253.