By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
It may not have been a trattoria on Little Italy’s Mulberry Street, but with a Mediterranean-style garden framing its entrance and an interior décor reminiscent of osterias in Rome, Leonardo’s II Italian restaurant in Lawrenceville seemed just the place for a live broadcast of “All Things Italian.”
The Sept. 22 event was timed to coincide with New York’s annual Feast of San Gennaro, an 11-day extravaganza of faith and food. The Lawrenceville version drew parishioners from around the Trenton Diocese and the state to sample the menu while sharing the ambiance of the live show.
The broadcast was by Ewing-based Domestic Church Media’s Catholic Radio Station, 89.3 FM WFJS, an affiliate of Eternal Word Television Network, and owner Jim Manfredonia expressed hope that it will be the first of many that share the faith, cultures and cuisines of the worldwide Catholic Communion.
“We feel it is important as a local Catholic radio station to go out and do live broadcasts,” Manfredonia said. “We [often] go out and do live broadcasts of Masses. Obviously, this is a little lighter, but it’s a chance to interact with the listeners.”
With Leonardo’s owner Robert Pluta – whom Manfredonia saluted for his love of Catholicism – on board, the tie-in with the Feast of San Gennaro was a natural, Manfredonia said.
Indeed, from the moment the restaurant door opened to reveal a dining room packed with faithful poised to enjoy two hours of programming, it was clear everyone was in for a memorable experience.
The broadcast went on the air in the Route 1 eatery in the regular 4-6 p.m. Friday Live time slot that usually unfolds in the station’s Ewing studio. It was spiced with familiar Italian music, Catholic trivia quizzes and a healthy helping of insights on faith, family and food from Manfredonia, Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, and Gabriella Furmato, the station’s director of community relations.
A telephone interview direct from Italy with a tour guide and weather forecasts by meteorologist Jim Hoffman, who volunteers regularly for the station, rounded out the adventure.
Manfredonia hosted along with Furmato while staff member Amy Maginnis added to the excitement by posting videos on the Internet in real time.
Msgr. Sirianni brought to the Domestic Church table a banquet of information gleaned not only from 23 years as the director of the diocesan Office of Worship, but his years in parish life and his own family background.
His knowledge of the saints came immediately to the fore when he was asked to explain the U.S. origins of the devotion to San Gennaro. Like Catholic feasts and festivals from around the world, he noted, it was brought to America by immigrants anxious to retain their traditions in a new world.
In this case, he explained, the custom arrived in 1926 as a one-day event, highlighted by religious observances including Mass and a procession in honor of the early martyred saint and bishop of Naples. Some of the blood of the saint – whose Roman name was Januarius – was collected by followers, Msgr. Sirianni explained.
“It was placed in a vial, which is kept in a reliquary,” he said. “It is solid but on certain days, it liquifies.” According to pious belief, if the blood liquifies on Sept. 19, the memorial of the saint’s martyrdom, it is “a good omen,” Msgr. Sirianni said.
“It explains [why] the Neapolitans brought the feast over to New York. They carried their food and customs and celebrations and spiritual devotions with them as a way of maintaining a connection to their homeland. You will find this in all immigrant communities,” Msgr. Sirianni said.
Though “outside celebrations” such as processions were suppressed in many European countries during the Reformation, they flourished in Catholic countries and made their way here “from around the world,” he said. “Around the world, the idea of feasts is very important.”
Those at the crowded tables nodded their heads knowingly when the talk shifted to Sundays, the “special day,” as Manfredonia described it, which was devoted to faith, family and food.
On Sunday, they all agreed, dinner was at 3 p.m., signifying its unique nature of bringing the family together in the middle of the day. Msgr. Sirianni, however, noted that as his family owned a restaurant – Sirianni’s Friendly Cafe in the West End section of Long Branch – Sundays after Mass meant that the entire family, including the four sons, worked.
As a matter of faith and of family, though, Msgr. Sirianni said that Sunday is a day “you always look forward to.” This was a lesson he learned early from the Trinitarian priests who presided during his youth at Holy Trinity Parish – now part of Christ the King Parish, Long Branch.
“They explained that Catholics feast at two tables – at the altar in church and at the family altar – the table,” Msgr. Sirianni said.
Manfredonia and Furmato agreed, adding that shared meals are not only important at home, but also in the workplace.
It’s a practice at the apostolate, for the crew to break bread together every day. “We always break for lunch,” Furmato said. “It’s where ideas are exchanged and possibilities are shared and discussed.”