Immediately before Easter, a traditional ceremony takes place in Rome. It is known as the benedizione della casa or the benedizione pasquale; the house blessing. This is the time of year when the local parish priest goes from door to door and performs a simple ceremony to bless the house and its occupants. The ceremony is performed for anyone who welcomes the priest into their home.
Late one afternoon during our first spring in Rome, we received a knock on the door. When I opened it, I found a priest waiting to perform the benedizione for us. He was a large man, with a friendly smile and was dressed in long, flowing white robes. Around his neck, he wore a large cross on a golden chain. In one hand he carried an incense burner, an integral part of so many of the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church.
Since neither Pat nor I are of the Roman Catholic faith, I politely declined his kind offer. He readily understood, wished us “auguri,” the traditional Italian greeting for any holiday, and continued on his rounds of the homes and apartment buildings along the Via Eugenio Cisterna.
Several weeks after the invasion of the pipistrelli, broken pipes, less than competent plumbers and a few other breakdowns we had to deal with in recent weeks, Pat announced one evening during dinner that when the priest comes next Easter to offer the house blessing, she will be most happy to welcome him.
Not as convinced as she was, I declined to comment.
“Something has got to help this flat,” she said in exasperation.
When Easter approached, I returned home one evening from a day at the office just in time to watch the neighborhood parish priest leave our apartment building. Again, he was dressed in long white ceremonial robes, the heavy golden cross was around his neck and the incense burner was in one hand. This time he had a following of no less than a dozen young boys and girls. I guessed their ages to be between 12 and 16. They were accompanying him as he went about his rounds of Acilia delivering the benedizione.
I watched the priest climb on an old bicycle. With his robes billowing in the spring breeze and incense burner swinging, he pedaled down the Via Eugenio Cisterna to the next house. The teenagers followed behind on foot.
“You just missed the priest,” said Pat as I walked into our flat.
“I know,” I answered. “I just saw him leave on his bicycle.”