The nearly full moon on Friday evening, Oct. 14, was visible as it ascended high in the sky between Christ Cathedral and the Tower of Hope on the Christ Cathedral campus. Its light reflected on the more than 500 gathered in the Cultural Center to raise funds for earthquake-stricken Amatrice, Italy. It was the same moon that lit the night sky that evening over the village of Amatrice, devastated by the Aug. 24 6.2-magnitude earthquake, and where most of those who survived are living in tents as the cold weather of the looming winter season begins to arrive. The moon, visible that night in both parts of the world was symbolic of the effort at the earthquake relief event, as those gathered lived the Christian philosophy that says if one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers. It was in that spirit that so many came together to raise funds to provide support, services and resources to the people of Amatrice as they begin to rebuild their lives.
The relief effort was born from a conversation between Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin Vann and John Allen, president of Crux Catholic Media, Inc.
“I read a great column that he wrote in Crux about life in Italy and Pasta Amatriciana, and everything happening around meals,” said Bishop Kevin Vann. They exchanged emails about what could be done to help those suffering, and the result was a national effort to fundraise on their behalf– a cooperative effort of Crux, Catholic Relief Services and the Diocese of Orange.
John Allen, who served as emcee for the evening, said he spent a large part of his life in Italy. He noted the annual Amatriciana Festival that takes place each August, an event he often attended.
“I got to know the people and the place and was utterly in love with it,” Allen told OC Catholic newspaper. “So when I heard an earthquake had struck Italy, and in particular it had wiped out the town of Amatrice, obviously it touched a special place in my heart.”
The next day he wrote a column that challenged readers: If you’ve ever had a plate of Pasta Amatriciana, he wrote, “…you owe these people.”
Hours later, the email from Bishop Vann arrived in his inbox saying that Allen was right, and that the Diocese of Orange would like to host a dinner to fundraise for the cause.
“This is incredibly important to me,” Allen said. “This cause, these people, this place … and it’s not just the food, of course, it’s the fact that central Italy is such a crossroads of Catholic culture. Those people have given inestimable gifts to the Church, century after century, and this is a moment that they need the rest of the Church to step up for them.”
And that’s exactly what occurred on this Friday evening.
Allen said, “From the beginning, even though this is happening in Orange County, we didn’t want to present this as just an Orange County initiative. We wanted this to be the nerve center of a unified American Catholic response. We wanted this to be the American Catholic community responding together.”
That was evident in the video messages sent from cardinals and bishops from across the country. They included: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archdiocese of New York; Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archdiocese of Boston; Archbishop José Gomez, Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington; and Bishop Joseph Kurtz, the Archdiocese of Louisville.
John Allen served as master of ceremonies for the evening. The program included a blessing by Bishop Vann; a welcome message from Fr. Christopher Smith, rector of Christ Cathedral; a first-hand account of the earthquake and the immediate response, told by Inés San Martin, Crux Vatican correspondent; video messages of support from around the country and, to everyone’s delight, a video message from Pope Francis himself, thanking those that supported the earthquake relief effort.
Diocese of Orange Chancellor Shirl Giacomi reported that 550 registered attendees bought tickets to the dinner event, at which Pasta Amatriciana was served, prepared by Bruno Serato of the Anaheim White House. Special Earthquake Relief-labeled wine was available for purchase, provided by Elysabeth Nguyen of Custom Design Wines, LLC. And during the dinner portion of the evening, singer/actress Maria Elena Infantino provided entertainment.
“We finally had to cut it off because we only had so many tables,” Giacomi said. Donations, however, continued to stream in. Single dinner tickets sold for $50 and tables of 10 for $450. A single corporate donation of $25,000 was received from the Orange County Community Foundation, as well as other large gifts, Giacomi said. “Another one I’m particularly pleased with is that the Mater Dei students raised $7,000. That’s great for them, at that age, to start thinking about other people that they can help.”
A strong contingent of Italians supported the event. “We’re part of the Italian Catholic Federation from St. Norbert in Orange,” said Joe DiGrado president of the chapter and who, with his wife Rose, hosted a table at the event. “We have three branches in the Orange County district and we’re here representing them,” he said “We’re really happy to be here and we’re Italian, so it makes sense.”
The event was live streamed on Cruxnow.com, Catholic Relief Services’ website and on the Diocese of Orange website (rcbo.org/earthquake). It will be archived for future viewing in hope that donations will continue.
“The hope is that this is the beginning and not the end,” Allen said.
Editor’s note: To view the video messages from the event and to donate, visit: www.rcbo.org/earthquake