Jude: A Pilgrimage to the Saint of Last Resort

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9780060682743: Jude: A Pilgrimage to the Saint of Last Resort

"Anything but high profile by nature, Jude's persona, his essence, occupies the quiet end of a saintly spectrum that includes Paul, the dynamic and even over bearing preacher; Peter, the swashbuckling sailor who lost his nerve at the crucial moment; and St. Teresa of Avila, the mystical yet outspoken intellectual. Jude is the workmanlike spiritual mechanic, the one who does his job and moves on. Approaching him takes no energy and is as secret as shouting in a cave for help."

The patron of desperate cases, Saint Jude is known as much for his miraculous powers of healing and rescue as for the obscurity of his history. A most beloved and enigmatic apostle, Jude remains -- even more now than in his own time -- the ecumenical figure of hope.

In this riveting investigation of faith and legend, award-winning journalist Liz Trotta follows the footsteps of the New Testament's most elusive saint through Italy, Turkey, the lands of Old Armenia, and the United States in search of the shadowy origins, history, and sacred sites of Jude Thaddeus. A modern-day pilgrimage, Jude is filled with rich historical lore, insightful reportage, poignant anecdotes, and personal reflections.

As though guided by Jude himself, Trotta encounters an extraordinary number of meaningful coincidences -- synchronicities which are the very heart of the Jude experience. In every city, at every turn, her sleuthing seems led by an invisible hand, drawing her down narrow alleyways, towards rarely seen relics, to conversations with miracle-seeking people with AIDS. Each experience an added tile, this portrait of Jude emerges as a beautifully rendered mosaic, filled with colorful history, strange artifacts, and stories of the miraculous powers of faith.

"Jude is on call, right down to the softest prayer, the smallest hope. Once lost himself -- on the map and in history -- he is found among those lost who, accepting their solitariness, take refuge in his invisible presence. From East to West, from the first century to the brink of the twenty-first, his message vibrates in the hallow reaches of the unanchored modern world."

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Review:

What in the world has drawn veteran journalist Liz Trotta (the first American woman to report combat news during the Vietnam War) to tease St. Jude from his obscurity? Synchronicity flavors her quest--a comment made in passing to a friend that the shadowy saint had gone "high profile"--leads to the realization that Trotta herself has operated in his territory all along. Jude is the "the patron of last resorts, lost causes, the impossible, the man to summon as the ship goes down."

Her quest opens in a somewhat Martin Scorsesian mood. Trotta is in Baltimore on a bus bound for the shrine of St. Jude with 40 of Vincenzo Pullara's friends and family members. The members of this shady group sport pinkie rings and Italian last names. Pullara himself has been linked to a shooting of one of the defendants in the notorious Pizza Connection drug-ring case. It seems that his wife's fervent prayers to St. Jude have gotten the authorities to drop the charges. No comment on this strange pairing of divine intervention and criminal behavior follows.

Jude was the least known of the 12 apostles. His story, largely undocumented, would unfold after the Ascension when the apostles faced their trials and tribulations as Christian missionaries. Trotta promises a history, but her focus wavers in the early chapters. "To best explain what Jude is," she writes, "we must consider what he is not." Defining an object by what it is not, an endeavor which continues for many pages, strains the reader's patience. Trotta includes examples of prayers, requests, and petitions as evidence of a Jude resurgence. But the petitions to the saint have an "Are you kidding?" feel: "A State Farm Insurance agent prays for a big promotion in Portland, Oregon--and gets it"; "A Sri Lankan steel fitter injures his back--learning of a little shrine in the mountains of his country, he hires people to carry him there, and soon he can go back to work." They seem depressing examples of faith at the "gimme-gimme" level.

As a long and meandering essay on the nature of faith and the popularity of this shadowy saint, with its digressions into cultural commentary (which is relentlessly unoriginal), it is unfocused. But when Trotta hits the road following in the footsteps of St. Jude through Rome, Edessa, and other parts of Mesopotamia, the narrative strengthens. However good the reporting and alluring the details, though, that first vile taste is never quite erased. Something creepy remains about citing successful real-estate deals and clemency from criminal prosecution as proof of a saint's intervening power. It's as if Trotta, high on Jude, has blinded herself to these dark, disquieting discrepancies. --Hollis Giammatteo

About the Author:

Liz Trotta, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the New York Bureau Chief for The Washington Times. She made history as the first American woman in the United States to report combat news during the Vietnam War. After covering national and international news stories for a quarter of a century, she wrote Fighting for Air: In the Trenches with Television News, an autobiographical account of her pioneering television career.

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