I was born in Hazleton, Pennsylvania and lived there until I was six years old. Every Sunday I went to church with my father at Saint Gabriel’s. My Nonno and Nonna belonged to this church too. And much later in my life, I found out my great-grandmother Oliva Genetti had also worshiped here for years.
From the perspective of a small child, this was a HUGE church. I was in awe of the sights and sounds around me as we walked up the long, long center aisle to our pew every Sunday morning. We always sat in the same place on the left side of the church. Being only a few feet tall, I was never able to see the front altar. The people who sat in the pews in front of us, towered over me blocking my view. The only thing that I could really see were large speakers mounted on the walls high above everyone’s head.
Now being only a child (and one with a very active imagination) I didn’t yet understand the concept of church. My father told me we went there to talk to God and I believed him. When we sat or knelt in our pew I would hear the voice of a man coming through the speakers. The people around me answered him. Usually he was speaking in a strange and beautiful language (for at that time the mass was still spoken in Latin). Because I was too short to see a priest or even understand that there was an actual man somewhere in the front of the church, I reasoned that it must be God talking to me. And he was speaking a magical language! Are you chuckling yet?
In my mind this made St. Gabriel’s a very special place … a place where I could have a conversation with God and he would answer! When I was about six years old we moved away and my father took us to a much smaller church. It was then that I discovered there was an altar in the front with a man dressed in robes who did all of the talking.
Although I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, I still make it a point to visit Catholic churches when I travel. I might light a candle and sit quietly for a few moments … and listen for the voice of my childhood God.