A young Massachusetts woman is prompted to share her messages from God with the Catholic Church hierarchy in Merullo’s warmhearted addition to his series of unusual religious novels (American Savior, 2008, etc.).
Cynthia Piantedosi attends nursing school and lives quietly with her taciturn, widowed father in Revere, Mass.; the constricted yet nurturing working-class milieu she describes in the novel’s early chapters will be familiar to readers of In Revere, in Those Days (2002). Since she was a child, Cynthia has had “spells,” visions carrying her away from the everyday world. “You are being asked by God to do something,” says Father Alberto, the unconventional priest who becomes her mentor. After his death in a traffic accident, Cynthia grows to believe that God is calling her to be a priest. She’s aware, as the unsympathetic local Monsignor tells her, that this is against church teachings, but Cynthia is impelled by the increasing force of her visions (beautifully depicted by Merullo as experiences of the world’s divine harmony and unity) to press her case all the way to the Vatican in Rome. There, she is accosted at her hotel and then followed on the street by a mysterious man who may have been sent by forces within the Vatican hostile to the changes Cynthia believes are necessary to keep the Catholic Church as a living spiritual force in people’s lives. These thriller elements provide additional narrative energy as Cynthia goes from Rome to Genoa to meet with a reform-minded cardinal, and the denouement is decidedly dramatic. But the real drama here is in the heroine’s relationship with God—and secular-minded readers who think such matters don’t interest them will think again if they give half a chance to Merullo’s loving portrait of a quiet, unassuming woman impelled by faith into deeper engagement with sorrowful, suffering humanity.
A fresh, moving portrait of religion as it could and should be. The cliffhanging finale offers hope that we will see more of Cynthia’s odyssey in future books.