I don’t generally use my column inches to deliver an invitation to dinner, but there’s a first time for everything, so here it is: If you’re anywhere near Orange County, California, on Friday, Oct. 14, you should drop whatever you’re doing and make your way to Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove that evening to share in great company and great food, all in service to an even greater cause.
Tickets can be purchased here. If you’re not going to be in the area, you can still follow the event via livestream on the Crux site.
That night, CNN Hero Chef Sir Bruno Serato, owner of the local Anaheim Whitehouse restaurant, will be preparing delectable plates of pasta prepared with amatriciana, the legendary Italian sauce born in the small village of Amatrice, which has been a staple of the Catholic kitchen for as long as anyone can remember. In centuries past, popes often relied on Amatrice to supply cookbooks to their personal chefs.
Amatrice was essentially wiped out by a devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake in central Italy, about two hours outside Rome, early in the morning on August 24, leaving 300 dead, thousands injured and displaced, and churches, shrines and other priceless artifacts of Catholic culture damaged or destroyed.
Two days later, I wrote a column for Crux arguing that because generations of bishops, clergy and laity from around the planet have spent time in Rome and fallen in love with amatriciana, Catholics everywhere have a special reason to step up and help the people of Amatrice, Accumoli and other towns struck by the quake.
“This is an impossible question to answer with any precision,” I wrote, “but I found myself wondering how many Vatican decisions have been made, how many papal documents launched, how many bishop’s appointments agreed upon, and how many other important moments in Catholic life have occurred through the years over a plate of amatriciana.”
Quite often when one writes something like that, it’s hard to know what impact it might have, but in this case I didn’t have to wait long.
Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, California, who knows the Roman scene and the allure of amatriciana well from his years studying canon law at the Angelicum and living at the graduate house of the North American College, reached out almost immediately to volunteer to host a fundraising dinner to support relief efforts.
Since 2012, the Diocese of Orange has boasted one of the most striking venues in the Catholic universe to host events: Christ Cathedral, originally the famed “Crystal Cathedral” built by evangelist Robert Schuller, which is the world’s largest glass building and just an amazing site to behold.
From the beginning, Vann and I agreed we wanted this dinner to have a national dimension, so that it wouldn’t just be an Orange County event but could represent a united effort on behalf of the American Catholic community.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is so-sponsoring the evening, and we’ve gotten video messages of support from Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York (the only guy I know whose passion for amatriciana may exceed even my own), Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Wuerl, by the way, actually shot his video in Rieti, Italy, the diocese in which Amatrice and the other effected towns are located, and where Wuerl was making a solidarity visit. He invited Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti to join him, sending along his gratitude to the American church.
Catholic Relief Services is also joining in the effort, and among other things CRS will ensure that all the funds raised Oct. 14 go to Caritas Italia, which is playing the lead role on both immediate humanitarian relief and long-term rebuilding.
Obviously, a romantic attachment to a plate of pasta isn’t the primary reason to get involved.
Instead, it’s the human reality of the suffering being experienced by the people of central Italy, which is a region over the centuries that’s given the Catholic Church more gifts than anyone could possibly calculate – saints and theologians, sanctuaries and churches, devotions and spiritual movements, artists and writers who have shaped the Catholic imagination, visionaries and mystics, and on and on.
Catholicism owes a debt to Amatrice and these other struggling Italian towns it could never repay, but we can begin by responding right now, when they need us most.
Aside from that, Christ Cathedral on Oct. 14 should just be a blast. In addition to Serato’s terrific cuisine, we’ll also have the musical stylings of Maria Elena Infantino, an award-winning international singer and a friend of the chef, who’s agreed to perform gratis.
We’ll also be enjoying vintages supplied by Elysabeth Nugyen, a local wine distributor, and guests will be able to purchase a bottle of fine wine with a special label designed just for the dinner.
I’ll be serving as the Master of Ceremonies, and we’ll hear from several terrific speakers, including Crux’s own Inés San Martín.
In other words, Oct. 14 shapes up as a fantastic evening, all in support of people from whom Catholics everywhere have benefited deeply, across both space and time. Be there if you can, follow it on-line if you can’t, and, whichever it is, try to dig deep and support the cause here.