The food kept coming. Waiters brought course after course of sumptuous Italian fare: roasted potatoes, sausage, quiche, lasagna, rice with ham and olives, sautéed greens, fava beans with pecorino cheese, potato salad, hearty bread and plenty of wine. For dessert we delighted in Easter pastries and lemon cream cakes.
It was Labor Day (May Day) in Rome, Italy. Our group of Mennonites and Catholics was being hosted by the Community of Sant’Egidio, an ecumenical movement of lay people scattered throughout the world whose mission is to put the gospel into practice in daily life through prayer, serving the poor and making friends across boundaries.
The community had invited us to join them for a week, experience their life of prayer and service and talk together about our call to peacemaking in the world.
Because of Sant’Egidio’s commitment to their homeless friends and neighbors, we joined them in a park for a celebration on May 1 where we shared a holiday meal with the homeless community. Catered by local restaurants, the festive meal was served with flair on white paper-clad picnic tables, accompanied by smiles and lively banter.
A member of the community sat at each table to make sure everyone was introduced by name and to ensure that we English speakers were included. Among the guests was Francesco, a tall, handsome, gregarious fellow who ate with gusto.
When he needed to earn money, he told us, he captured poisonous vipers, extracted their venom and sold it to an American pharmaceutical company. Though he didn’t have his forked stick along with him that day, he demonstrated how to trap a snake, obtain the venom that would become an antivenin and then release the snake. His work was saving those who might perish from snake bites.
As memorable as Francesco’s snake-hunting exploits was his appreciation of bread and wine. As the afternoon wore on, Francesco continued to tear off chunk after chunk of bread, dip it in his wine and savor every moist bite.
I’ve attended many solemn communion services and a few that were rousing celebrations of Easter life. None, however, approached the ecstasy of Francesco’s Eucharist. On a sunny, spring-scented day, surrounded by homeless friends and new acquaintances, he feasted richly on the bread of life and drank liberally of the cup of joy.
Since that day, I remember Francesco at the communion table. Yes, I continue to remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in the meal Christians share. But in so doing, I want especially to be awake to the scents and taste and texture of the meal. I want to know the gladness of the hungry in being invited to an abundant table. Among those longing for life, I want to experience the miracle of dying and rising on any ordinary day.
Marlene Kropf is retired from teaching at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and from her role as minister of worship and spirituality with Mennonite Church USA. She continues to offer spiritual direction and lives in Port Townsend, Wash., with her husband, Stanley.
No-knead country bread
(similar to what we ate on the day of the picnic in Rome)
1½ cups water
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1¼ cups whole wheat flour
¼ cup whole flax meal
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons active yeast
Stir together all the ingredients (or use a standard mixer) to make a sticky dough.
Continue to work the dough enough to incorporate all flour.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature overnight (or for at least 8 hours). Be sure bowl is large enough to accommodate bread as it rises.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a round. Place in a parchment-lined cast-iron pot, smooth side up; cover with a lid and let rise for an hour.
Slash the loaf in a cross-hatch pattern. Place the lidded pot in a cold oven and set the temperature to 425 F. Bake for 45 minutes; then remove lid and continue for another 5-10 minutes, until loaf is browned and internal temperature reaches about 200.
Remove from oven, turn out on a rack and cool before slicing.