All over the world next week, the ram's horns of Rosh Hashanah (beginning of the New Year) will call faithful Jews to the Ten Days of Penitence that end with Yom Kippur. No prayers will be more fervent than those from the 80-odd ex-Catholics of San Nicandro, Italy.
The conversion of San Nicandro began almost 20 years ago with dark-eyed, sallow Donato Manduzio. Invalided by shrapnel in World War I, Donato had lain for years on a miserable straw mattress in an attic room. At first he wept bitterly that he could not join in the daily life of his native San Nicandro Garganico (pop. 20,000). But gradually, the sounds of women singing as they carried water in copper vessels on their heads, the cries of the black-hatted mule-drivers, the hammering of cobblers in the tiny, dark shops (Donate had been a cobbler himself) lost their attraction for Donato. He heard them no more, because he was too busy reading the Bible.
Along with the sounds of workaday life, Donato also closed his ears to church bells. Bible study had led him to question the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.