The patron of desperate causes, Saint Jude is best known for his miraculous powers of healing and rescue, and has become a symbol of hope for children with cancer, people with AIDS, and sailors lost at sea. Yet the history of this apostle remains enigmatic and obscure. In this riveting investigation of faith and legend, award-winning journalist Liz Trotta follows in the footsteps of the New Testament's Jude through Italy, Turkey, the lands of old Armenia, and the United States. Part detective story, part pilgrimage, Jude unravels the mysteries of history's most elusive saint and investigates his lasting attraction for those who still believe in the healing powers of faith.
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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 GiammatteoAbout 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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