Remember Angelo

| Liz Kelly | April 23, 2018 | 0 Comments
Angelo Sed

A brass plate memorializing Angelo Sed, a Roman Jew who was murdered in Auschwitz.
COURTESY LIZ KELLY

On a recent trip to Rome, I stayed, for the first time, in the Jewish quarter. I rented a little apartment not far from Teatro Marcello on a charming, crooked cobblestone street — the kind so characteristic of the Eternal City. Brilliant purple bougainvillea cascaded from terracotta planters set against the lovely earthen hues of the stucco buildings. An accordion player claimed a spot below my window, and in the evening he would mosey from restaurant to restaurant entertaining the tourists who sat down to a bowl of pasta, exhausted with the day’s exploring of so many glorious churches. It was a quintessential Roman holiday.

I confess, it took me a few days to notice the engraved brass plate at my door. It was set in the cobblestone at the entrance to my building right under my feet. It read: “Qui Abitava, Angelo Sed, Nato 1905, Arrestato 1.4.44. Deportato, Auschwitz, Assassinato.” That is, a man named Angelo Sed had lived in this building. Born in 1905, he was arrested on April 1, 1944, and shipped to Auschwitz where he was murdered. It turns out, Angelo’s was not the only brass plate; if you bother to look down while walking through the Jewish quarter, you’ll notice that many other brass plates dot the cobblestone: Rosa and Anita Sermoneta, Emma Vivanti, Pacifico Tagliacozzo … and on they go, brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, whole families. And Angelo.

I imagine Signor Sed, just 39 years old, ripped out of a simple, unseen life, sent off on a slow and terrifying train ride to who knows where, greeted by smoke stacks and an inhuman end. I want to think that evil of that magnitude is far from me, something eradicated by peace treaties and democracy, by earnest prayers and fasting, something kept at bay by the sacraments; but it is right where I stand.

I once heard an exorcist remark that sin is much more dangerous to the soul than Satan and his minions. Satan cannot get to your soul without your permission; but sin, that corrosive poison, takes root in the will — that is, my will, my choices. Of course, I must be on guard for Satan and his lies. But far and away, I must be aware of my own sinfulness, my proclivity to want my own way, to do what is easy rather than what is right, to be far too swiftly convinced that “it’s not my problem.”

A random sales email came into my inbox recently, the heading of which read: “The more we evolve, the less we need God.” (Think, “Delete.”) How ironic that Adam and Eve were the first proponents of this philosophy. I might ask those who follow it: Was it Satan who took Angelo to the gas chamber? Or someone far more terrifying — a person, like you or me, misguided certainly, perhaps under duress, but making real and consequential choices about whom to follow, whom to obey, whom to let live and whom to eradicate? It is comfortable to imagine that evil and good are far, far from one another, far from me. But sometimes they live under the same roof, they sleep in the same bed.

Evolution will not save me from the world, the flesh or the devil. I never want to forget that the churches of Rome are built on the blood of the martyrs, and the little brass monuments of the Jewish quarter are ever under my feet.

Father Almighty, I bow to you and no other.

Kelly is the author of six books, including “Jesus Approaches” (Loyola Press, 2017) and the “Jesus Approaches Study Supplement.” She speaks and leads retreats throughout the United States.

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