Powerful Gestures

Actress Angelina Jolie steps off a Venetian water taxi in a scene from "The Tourist" starring Jolie and Johnny Depp

Dear Blog Readers —  I have had a difficult couple of weeks for various personal reasons that I am sure all of you would understand, but I will spare you the details, I am sure you all have enough of your own.  Of course, you can imagine that writing blog posts gets quickly shoved aside when more important matters emerge.  There have been several topics which I have been eager to write about which are briefly listed below, however, I would like to write a quick post today on powerful gestures.  This week, as I struggled with some of my own difficulties, I was unexpectedly uplifted by the revelation by Angelina Jolie that she had a double mastectomy.  See her op-ed in the New York Times here: My Medical Choice

Back in 2004, I saw Angelina Jolie at a press conference inside a tent at Circus Maximus in Rome.  She was speaking to the press before a concert organized by Quincy Jones to raise money for children in war zones.  Angelina was young, a single mom of her first child, and was stunningly beautiful– glowing, radiant. As I listened to her, I looked around and saw many of the male photographers I know starring at her in awe. Aside from her beauty,  she was intelligent, articulate and clearly committed to the cause.  She went on to continue her massively successful career, to adopt again and have children of her own and to marry Brad Pitt.  In recent years, while I admired her, I was envious and perhaps a tad hostile towards her.  She was rich, beautiful, too skinny in my opinion, and probably had dozens of Nannies.   Several years ago, a friend of a friend of mine (note readers: this is gossipy chit chat, not journalistic accuracy) worked as a cook for Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and their brood while Jolie was shooting “The Tourist” with Johnny Depp in Venice. The cook told my friend that Angelina Jolie was a wonderful mother– kind, generous and gracious and that her children are well-behaved and polite.  Aarrggh.  That got on my nerves even more — not only is she beautiful, rich, and married to Brad Pitt but she is the perfect mother too.  That is too much for a poor wretch like me to take.

Then this week, as I was struggling with my own difficulties, out pops the news — I first saw it on a tweet– that Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy.  As obvious as it is, it suddenly dawned on me that yes, indeed, bad things can happen to rich, beautiful, powerful, perfect mothers too.  I am not getting any joy out of Jolie’s suffering, but I am grateful that she had the courage to share her story.  It will make a difference to so many women,  and not just those with breast cancer.  THANK YOU ANGELINA!!

Pope Francis kissing tattoo-ed foot at Juvenile Detention Center on Holy Thursday. March 28, 2013. Freeze Frame of Vatican TV video.

Speaking of powerful gestures, in a post on March 28th (see: Francesco Frenzy), I wrote about Pope Francis going to a juvenile detention center in Rome on Holy Thursday and washing the feet of teenage inmates.  This gesture meant a lot to many people.  Below I am copying some letters from inmates in Los Angeles who were impressed by the gesture and wrote to the Pope.  The below notes were provided to me by Father Thomas Rosica.

“Los Angeles County has one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the country. Up to 90% of the county’s juvenile justice youth are Latino or African American, and up to 70% of incarcerated youth nationally are said to have some kind of disability…

When the young boys at the juvenile detention facility in LA heard of Pope Francis’ wish to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison with the young inmates there, many of them expressed their desire to participate from afar and in close solidarity to what the Pope was going to do in another juvenile hall….

…they have written letters to Pope Francis, thanking him for his gesture of love and service, praying for him…describing the sadness of their lives in detention, and asking for prayers to help them endure the darkness and hopelessness of their situations…

Some of these youngsters will spend the rest of their lives in prison….”

LETTERS FROM AN L.A. PRISON

Dear Pope Francis, 
I don’t know if you have ever been to where I live.
 I have grown up in a jungle of gangs and drugs and violence.
 I have seen people killed. I have been hurt. 
We have been victims of violence. 
It is hard to be young and surrounded by darkness.
 Pray for me that one day I will be free 
and be able to help other youth like you do.

Dear Pope Francis,
 I know the same youth feet that you wash 
are like me. 
Drugs have been part of me life for so long.
 We all struggle to be sober. 
But you inspire me and I promise to be sober 
and help others with the cruel addiction of crystal meth.

Dear Pope Francis,
 My many friends are in two different maximum security 
prisons in one of our states 33 state prisons. (Calif.) I am writing to tell you that I feel bad 
that more youth of color are in prison in our state
 than any other place in the world. I am inviting you to come 
here next year to wash our feet, many of who have been sentences to die in prison.
 God bless you.

Dear Pope Francis,
Thank you for washing the feet of youth like us in Italy.
 We also are young and made mistakes. 
Society has given up on us, thank you
 that you have not given up on us.

Dear Pope Francis, 
I think you are a humble man. 
When you read this letter you will have washed the feet of other kids like. 
I am writing this letter because you give me hope.
 I know one day with people like you us kids
 won’t be given sentences that will keep us in prison
 for the rest of our lives. 
I pray for you. Dont forget us.

Dear Pope Francis,
 I am glad you picked the name Francis. When I was little I read about St. Francis. He is a cool saint. He was a man of peace and simplicity. I am praying to you that you pray that we have peace in our gang filled neighborhoods.

Dear Pope Francis,
 Tonight we pray for all victims of violence.
The families of people we have hurt need healing. 
Our families need healing.
 We are all in pain. 
Let us feel Jesus’ healing tonight.

Dear Pope Francis,
 I read that the harshest sentence that a youth
 can receive in Italy is 20 years. I wish this was true here.
 I hope I hear back from you. I have been catholic and glad I am catholic
 because I have a pope like you.
 I will pray for you every day because we need examples of God like you are
 in this violent world.

Dear Pope Francis, 
When Jesus washed the feet of his friends he gave an example of humility. I have been raised to believe that it is only with respect in hurting your enemy that you are a man. Tonight you and Jesus show me something in this washing of the feet something very different. I hope we kids learn from this.

Dear Pope Francis,
 I have never been to Rome. I do not know if it is near Los Angeles
because all my youth I have only known my neighborhood. I hope one 
day I will be given a second chance and receive a blessing from you
and maybe even have my feet washed on Holy Thursday.

Dear Pope Francis, 
I know you have a good family. I am writing this letter to you because I know
that my family is suffering because of me. I know have done some bad things but I am not a bad kid and when last year in our big state we got a new law called SB9 * this made me family happy because this is a beautiful message that we kids deserve a second chance.

Dear Pope Francis, 
From reading I know that us kids are capable of making decisions like older people do. I have seen pictures of brains of kids and adults. I am asking you as Pope to help us and
help other people understand we can change and want to change.

****************

Powerful, moving responses to a powerful gesture on the part of Pope Francis.  My heart goes out to these young boys at the Juvenile Detention Center in Los Angeles who have lived with gang violence, drug addiction and life sentences.  The difficulties they face make mine shrink in comparison.

A final note–Coming soon on Mozzarella Mamma:

As I mentioned above I have a Blog Post to do list, so here are so items I am hoping to get to soon.

1) NUNS 2013 –

Last Monday, the Vatican released a series of statistics on the Catholic church in the world including the following on nuns or as they say “professed women religious`’

“A strong downward trend was observed in data for the professed [women] religious, with a decrease of 10% from 2001 to 2011. The total number of professed religious, that counted 792 thousand units in 2001 is now at just over 713 thousand 10 years later. The decline particularly affects three continents (Europe, America and Oceania), with significant variations (-22% in Europe, -21% in Oceania and -17% in America). In Africa and Asia, however, there has been a sustained increase, more than 28% in the first continent and 18% in the second. Consequently, the fraction of professed religious in Africa and Asia out of the global total increased from 24.4% to about 33%, at the expense of Europe and America, whose dropped respectively by a total of 74% to 66%.
”

I can see a few reasons for not wanting to be a nun. Nuns have (presumably) no sex, no children of their own, little power in the Vatican, they can’t say Mass, some of them have reprimanded by one pope (Benedict XVI) for overreaching and chided by another (Francis) for being “old maids”. They are the foot soldiers of the Catholic Church, doing a lot of the toughest jobs without much recognition. What is in it for a nun in 2013? Why are the numbers increasing in Africa and Asia while dropping so dramatically elsewhere?

Blog readers, this is a story I also want to do for AP Television, so if anyone reading this is a nun, lives in Rome, and would be willing to talk to me on camera about some of these questions, please let me know.

2) BUNGA BUNGA REPERCUSSIONS

Yesterday Karima el-Mahroug the famous “Ruby” who is at the center of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s prostitution-with-a-minor trial took the stand yesterday, revealing more juicy details of the bunga-bunga parties- odd costumes,  envelopes of cash etc.  I have written quite a bit on this bizarre story in various posts (see: Berlusconi’s Babes, Veronica’s Revenge) but the trial is nearing its conclusion in June and I would like to post once more on this unusual court case, some of the female protagonists from Karima to the powerful prosecutor Ilda Boccassini (see: The Italian Tiger Mamma)

3) WORLD MOTHERS REPORT

This week my dear friend Phoebe Natanson from ABC News sent me the Save the Children’s 2013 State of the World’s Mothers report.  On the  list of the best places to be a mother, Italy comes in 17th, the US comes in 30th, Australia 10th, the UK 23rd, and the booby prize goes to the Democratic Republic of Congo where mothers face all sorts of tragedies.  Yet again, the Scandinavian countries take the prize as the best place to be a mother.  I have lots more to say and write on this topic and hopefully that post will be coming soon.

All comments, suggestions, corrections on any of the topics above are most welcome.

*SB-9 Definition

“Senate Bill 9 (also called SB 9) became California law in January 2013. This law gives a second chance to most people who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime and sentenced to life without parole. They can ask the court for a new sentencing hearing. At that hearing, they will have the chance of getting a new sentence with the possibility of parole.” (taken from www.fairsentencingforyouth.org)

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Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

20 Comments

  1. Gwen Thomas
    2013/05/18

    Yes, sometimes the simple gestures can be the most powerful. I am not saying that either Angelina Jolie’s or Pope Frances’ gestures were simple, no doubt at least for the Jolie they were very difficult decisions, but oftentimes it is a simple, throughtful act that touches hearts and helps people. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/20

      Thank you Gwen. Yes, I can’t imagine a double mastectomy or the after-effects can be very easy, so I do admire her courage not only in talking about it publicly but in going ahead with the operation.

      Reply
  2. Alan
    2013/05/18

    . . the fact that she can afford elective surgery and post-op reconstruction is her choice – that she advocates it for all women is a measure of her detachment from reality as is her using her position as a UNICEF ambassador to advocate for war in Syria and the overthrow of the government. That puts the blood of tens of thousands on her hands as a supporter of terrorism.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/20

      Wow Alan, you are the kind of person who I need to have at my dinner table, constantly keeping me on my toes, making me think of all sides of the issues. I find it is a bit of a reach to blame Angelina Jolie for the war in Syria…
      Syria is a sad and important topic and what Angelina Jolie or the rest of the world should be doing is something we should all be thinking about. That is worth a blog post on its own, but since you are physically closer and clearly more informed, I will let you do that post, and then I will comment because there is nothing that I enjoy more than a good debate on foreign policy.

      Reply
  3. Barbara Landi
    2013/05/19

    As a breast cancer survivor myself, I see more significance in hearing that Angelina is also having her ovaries removed. She will have a wonderful reconstruction and indeed look better than before. But with her ovaries gone, she is in instant menopause. Women at high risk for breast cancer are never prescribed HRT, at least in the US. Even though she has no breasts, it is still possible to get breast cancer somewhere else. Maybe she will get HRT in Europe where nobody seems worried about it. Then again I’m no doctor, what do I know?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/20

      Barbara — Thank you so much for this comment and sharing your personal experience. You clearly know much more about breast cancer than I do. I have several friends and acquaintances who are breast cancer survivors and I know that it is not easy. I also had a very close friend who died of breast cancer and it was a horrible experience. She was a young mother and she fought it with everything she could, her courage and determination were astounding. She never gave up. The last time I saw her she was was reduced to skin and bones by all the chemotherapy.
      Interesting that you mentioned that when Jolie gets her ovaries removed she will go into instant menopause. I imagine that could be difficult for a 38-year-old woman who is such a glamourous idol. I am not really sure, but I think hormone replacement therapy is easily available in Italy which is interesting because Italians are much more strict about hormones in animals such as cows. They also often criticize the US for being too lax about giving out different kinds of drugs. For example, I know ritalin is not sold in Italy.
      I really need to learn more of all this and I am glad you provided some useful information.

      Reply
  4. Nancy Rockwell
    2013/05/19

    Once again, a wonderful post. Angelina Jolie has everyone in awe, as she always has had, but now for her courage, and courage in relation to her beauty, which has been her power. Of course she will still be beautiful, but people will look at her differently. But she has the clear vision, for she will be alive, and not in terror of her death every day.
    I laud you for writing about the nuns and drawing them into your posting. The Catholic church is so greatly in their debt, for they give flesh to the proclamation of the kingdom. And yet they are so abused! Francis should be persuadable, I pray for that in him. And I read that they believe his call for ministry to the poor is their door to better life as women religious.
    I have just returned from a week at a national conference for preachers, and one who spoke was a woman about 40, maybe a bit younger or older, attractive, and with tattoos covering her arms and around her clavicle (may be more but those were visible. She wears a clerical shirt with short sleeves, is a Lutheran priest, started her own congregation, called the Community of Saints and Sinners, and has grown it to 250 people in a brief time. I think many trust her because of the tattoos, who would never go near any existing church. So Pope Francis I think hit the right note, and should find ways to include the tattooed often, as this seems to be hugely done among younger adults.
    Much more, and prayers for you –

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/20

      Nancy — How fascinating! That preacher with the tattoos sure sounds interesting. I would love to interview her. My problem with the nun story is I need nuns from Europe, the US, Africa and Asia to speak to me on camera and they need to be in Rome because AP would not pay for me to travel for a story like this. However, there are plenty of nuns in Rome so I think I can make it happen. I agree with you that the Catholic Church is very much in debt to nuns and I hope the hierarchy under Pope Francis will begin to recognize that. I am optimistic.
      I am also optimistic about Angelina Jolie…she will fine and she has been an example for us all.

      Reply
  5. Ciao Chow Linda
    2013/05/20

    So much food for thought here, from Angelina Jolie’s courageous move to Pope Francis to nuns and jailed youth. The new pope is quite an inspiration.
    For a moment, I thought the nun piece was about the bunga bunga parties and some of the women dressing up as nuns, as “Ruby” reported. There is a strange collision there of topics there. Sorry to hear you’re having some challenges in your life, but I hope they get resolved soon. I look forward to reading your pieces on the individual subjects you mentioned.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/20

      Oh gosh, that is so funny that you thought my nun story idea was mixed up with the “ruby” trial. It is just absurd that Berlusconi was having women dress up like that to dance for him.
      As you know from your own experience, writing for a news agency you never know what story you are going to be covering from one day to the next. One day it can be real nuns and the next day it can be bunga bunga parties. I love having so many different subjects to cover, but sometimes I get frustrated with just touching the surface of so many subjects and not really being an expert on any.

      Reply
  6. Carina
    2013/05/20

    I’ve never been a Jolie fan; I think of her as a homewrecker, though of course I know it takes two (I dislike Pitt for the same reason). But I think it was very impressive that she shared her story and wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/20

      I can understand how you feel Carina. As I wrote, I wasn’t a huge Jolie fan either, but I think it was more out of envy. I certainly admire her now.

      Reply
  7. Pauline
    2013/05/21

    Hi Trisha, I hope your days are getting better. The weather seems to be getting nicer here in North America and I hope it’s the same case over in Rome. I love those little snippets of the letters from the youths to Pope Francis. I had no idea his gesture had that much of a profound effect.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/22

      Hi Pauline — Weren’t those responses from the juvenile prisoners incredible? I was so moved. There is so much going on these days at the Vatican we can barely keep up. There was a big hullabaloo on Monday over something Pope Francis had done at the Mass on Sunday. He put his hands on the head of a handicapped man who had a strange reaction, opening his mouth and making weird noises and the Italian Bishops TV said it was an exorcism right there in the piazza. Then the Vatican denied it. Did you see the video? Lots of other stories too. Today is pouring rain in Rome, but we have also had some beautiful summer-like days, so I cannot complain!

      Reply
      • Pauline
        2013/05/23

        Hi Trisha, I received those videos in my inbox this morning, but I promptly deleted them because I thought it was just a hoax! Oh my goodness, I should check them out! What is the official statement from the Vatican on this matter? I’m falling behind on the news from Vatican since you’re my primary source of news (no pressure or anything..teehee!). Nevertheless, I have to admit I enjoy reading the homilies Pope Francis have done in his ministry thus far. They’re short, simple, but they always contain an extremely profound lesson. It’s like he’s trying to bring the entire Church back to her basic teachings. I love it!

        Reply
        • Trisha Thomas
          Trisha Thomas
          2013/05/25

          Hi Pauline, I am sorry that I am not keeping you updated on the Vatican. I am having a hard time keeping up with everything. A lot of end of the school year stuff to do with my kids. Hopefully I will be able to start again soon. Thanks for all your support though.

          Reply
  8. Silvia
    2013/05/26

    Dear Trisha,
    I wonder if you could talk about the frightening phenomenon of violence against women here in Italy ( the so called “femminicidi ) on your blog. If International journalists like you start to talk about it, I suppose pressure could be put on the Italian government to actually DO something seriuos to fight this horrible murder. Today, when I read the news about the fifteen-year-old girl burned alive in Calabria by her 16-year-old boyfriend I felt ashamed of being Italian, ashamed of a goverment who is loosing weeks talking about Imu and who cannot make a simple law to protect Italian women ( we are more than half of the population of this sorry excuse for a country! ). I would suppose that 40 years of jail under The 41- bis regime ( the same used for the heads of mafia ) could make some men think seriously about the possible repercussions of their actions. Ciao and “congratulazioni” for your blog; it is very interesting, even for Italian people. Silvia Marelli.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/27

      Silvia — Thank you so much for your comment. First, I am honored to know that an Italian woman is reading my blog. I will take your advice and do a story on “femminicidi”. It is dreadful, and to be honest, I have been a bit cowardly about the topic, avoiding it because it frightens me. I have a 15 year-old daughter, and an about to be 13-year-old daughter and the past few days I’ve been hiding the papers from them. You are right though, I need to do my part to raise awareness on this horrible situation. Give me some time, I am a bit overwhelmed these days, but I promise you in the next few months I will do it.

      Reply
  9. lega
    2013/05/29

    I grew up in Tripoli, Libya in the 1960’s and most of my education came from Italian nuns.
    I do have to say, based on personal experiences, that these nuns were quite demented. A nun beat me when I was about eight because I spilled ink. (Most of it landed on my white uniform.) Sister Carmen, my piano teacher, always asked if I was menstruating-I had no idea what she was talking about so I always said no. Another nun took me up to her bedroom and completely disrobed in front of me. During the summer, my sister and I were sent to “convent camp” where we prayed after waking up, prayed before and after breakfast, prayed before and after swimming etc. etc. (I should point out that my mother was constantly intervening to protect us. I have always felt, that at least in Libya, many of the women who were nuns where probably coerced into becoming nuns by their families because they were deranged and being sent to a Libyan convent (an alternative to an asylum) was an easy out!

    I still like Pope Francis…he is a breath of fresh air!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/29

      Lega — as horrible as that must have been, your story made me laugh. What a tale! Bunch of loony nuns in Libya!! You really should write a short story about your experiences….those certainly were different times in Libya.

      Reply

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