Every year on Fat Tuesday the seminary community gathers for “International Food Night”, one last celebration before we enter into our Lenten penances and prepare ourselves to more worthily enter into the Paschal mystery in a few short weeks.
This night is all about celebrating the cultures of the men here at the seminary. The men are encouraged to prepare a table and some dishes from their culture. This year we had six different nationalities represented, German, Irish, Vietnamese, Polish, Italian, and Portuguese tables. Being my first year here at Saint John’s I was very happy to get the opportunity to give my brother seminarians a taste of my own Portuguese culture by preparing a few dishes which I have been enjoying since childhood.
Sharing these family recipes with my brother seminarians was a great joy for me as was being able to experience some small part of their own cultures. Breaking bread and sharing a meal is one of the most fundamental human bonding experiences, to eat and drink together is to have unity, is to be a community. This experience is made only stronger by sharing food that engenders feelings of nostalgia and pride. I can say personally, that being able to share foods such as Massa Sovada (Portuguese sweet bread) takes me right back to every Easter morning as a child and how happy I would be when my grandmother would take some out of the oven, or Carne Vinha-d’Alhos (Madeiran marinated pork).
I feel as if I am sitting around the table for Christmas lunch with my whole extended family. Food has the ability to bring you back to places such as these and sharing them makes it, in at least some way, feel like you're sharing those experiences as well. This extremely fundamental human phenomenon speaks to the incarnational aspect of our faith. We as human beings are body and soul and because of that both aspects need to be tended to. Both play a part in our spiritual life. Just as the “smells and bells” of our faith are meant to speak to our scenes and help guide and elevate our minds to heavenly things, so do certain tastes, smells, and sounds automatically bring you back to a time in your life and fill you with nostalgia and peace.
Being able to share these experiences as a community, a community that is made up of people from different backgrounds, cultures, countries, and traditions helps us get to know each other better, it helps us to build a sense of understanding and true fraternity where these apparent differences can, in a way, be a source of unity. While the night certainly helped build that sense of community through a cultural exchange, it also built community by simply being fun! A time to get together, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company before we turn towards the cross and begin our Lenten pilgrimage with a firm hope in the resurrection.
By: Mr. Lucas daCosta
Diocese of Fall River