“Indimenticabile”: Unforgetable. Faith, Culture & Soccer.
Written by Anthony Falconio for the Stoney Creek News
(Teacher, Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School)
Memories that last a lifetime. New friendships found, and old bonds made stronger. An unforgettable experience, or as they say in Italy: Un'esperienza indimenticabile. All of these old adages were made true for a group of twenty-one student soccer players and four educators from Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School in Stoney Creek (Hamilton) Ontario last month. They began their ten day excursion flying from Toronto to Rome on March 28th, spending Holy Week in the Italian Capital, before venturing south to Sicily. While in Sicily the group was centered in Racalmuto (a twin city of Hamilton), where for a week they trained, played a series of games with local Sicilian soccer team Libertas Racalmuto and most importantly experienced the homegrown culture of the island.
The idea to bring a soccer team from Cardinal Newman to Racalmuto started in 2016, when Hamilton and Racalmuto celebrated the 30th anniversary of their city twinning. The event marked a commitment to maintain the strong cultural connection between the two communities who are literally worlds away. Hamilton has a well documented connection with the city with an estimated twenty-five thousand Hamiltonians having ‘Racalmutese’ ancestry.
One of those Hamiltonians, Anthony Macaluso, (Vice-Principal and soccer coach at Cardinal Newman) had the opportunity to oversee the venture from the beginning to its fruition. Macaluso explained, “As Festitalia chair I had a chance to travel to Racalmuto in 2016 with Mayor Eisenberger and other local delegates from Hamilton. We made a commitment with their local government to renew the connection between our communities. Part of that began with the Leonardo Sciascia statue project in 2017.”
Leonardo Sciascia was an influential writer, playwright and novelist who was born in Racalmuto. An identical statue of him that exists in Racalmuto, was erected last year outside of Hamilton banquet and event center, Liuna Station. The event center is situated parallel to Murray Street, which is also officially known as “Corso Racalmuto”; honouring the strong relationship of the Racalmutese community that thrived in this area of the city. “We honoured the past with the Sciascia project, the next step was to make a connection for the future and we thought the soccer and culture exchange was a great way to do this,” commented Macaluso.
Cardinal Newman has a proud history when it comes to high-school soccer in Ontario. The school has won five OFSAA provincial championships, the most recent coming from the Senior Girls Soccer team in 2016. The Senior Boys head coach, Gerry Moretuzzo who was one of the teachers to accompany the group explained how the trip exceeded his expectations in every way. “First and foremost, it was an amazing chance for the students and staff to experience Holy Week in Rome. As a Catholic school it provided a really unique opportunity for our students to deepen their faith” Moretuzzo went on to explain, “As for the soccer, I was pretty impressed with the technical skill of the Sicilian side. Our players matched up against them well. We played our second match on a sand field, which is very common in southern Italy, so it was definitely an obstacle that we had to adapt to during the game.”
Coaches and players from both sides, shared meals and had a chance to bond together in between games. The students from both cities were able to communicate with each other mixing English and Italian. Like most teens they were also quick to share social media contacts and compare playlists on their iPods. It was a very warm welcome for the Cardinal Newman group. They were officially acknowledged in the city by the mayor of Racalmuto in a ceremony at the city hall. The Newman players even received local jerseys with their names and numbers on the back.
While in Italy the group was able to tour the traditional sites in Rome including the Vatican and Colosseum. Highlights of the trip continued with visits to Sicilian cities, Palermo, Taormina, Agrigento and Siracusa where the students saw the famed Teatro Massimo opera house, Mondello beach and Roman ruins. Interestingly one of the favourite day trips and standout learning experiences for the students was a visit to the local salt mine in Racalmuto. When asked about his visit to the salt mine, grade ten Newman student Luca Bertolo called it a surreal experience. “Being five kilometers below sea level and knowing that there was only one way in and out of the mine definitely caught my attention,” explained Bertolo, “it was amazing to see this massive facility in such a small town.”
The group capped off the trip in a fitting way, taking in a professional soccer game between two Serie B sides (Italy’s second soccer division), US Citta di Palermo and Pescara at the Stadio Renzo Barbera. The President of Palermo soccer Giovani Giammarva even joined the Cardinal Newman team for dinner the night of the match. It was an important acknowledgement of not just Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School, but of Canadian soccer as a whole.
Both the school and the city of Racalmuto hope to build upon this trip, with aspirations of further exchange in the years to come. Leonardo Sciascia once said “All of Sicily is a dimension of the imagination,” for a group of students and staff from Cardinal Newman, that dimension is now part of an unforgettable memory.
NB: Staff who accompanied the students on the trip included, Anthony Macaluso, Vice-Principal and teachers Gerry Moretuzzo, Guy Venneri and Lido Allega.