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The Eels Of The Benedict Option

Enrico is practicing the Benedict Option. Really!

Today I went to the Benedict Option eel factory. No, really, I did.

Eels are plentiful in the Po River delta, on Italy’s northeastern coast. The area around the town of Comacchio is so well-known for eels that Sophia Loren once starred as the title character in The River Lady, an eel-processor in Comacchio:

There’s an old eel processing facility in Comacchio that is used by a Catholic confraternity from Ferrara to run a business helping people who have trouble finding employment elsewhere. They prepare and process eels and anchovies. The confraternity, whose name I now forget, are based in nearby Ferrara, and are close friends of the Tipi Loschi, the Catholic group I profiled in The Benedict Option.  [1] In fact, I first met Enrico, above, in San Benedetto del Tronto.

The Ferrara folks invited me to visit them today to see their work, and to talk about the book. Marco Sermarini, Giorgio Pellei, and other Tipi Loschi drove up the coast for the meeting. We had a lunch of eels, anchovies, and these amazing flash-fried tiny fish, which you eat in a cone. So crispy, crunchy, and salty. Here’s Signor Sermarini, the Doge of L’Opzione Benedetto, demonstrating their deliciousness:

You eat them like French fries. Man, were they good.

I spoke to Ivo Džeba, a Croatian journalist who once interviewed me, and who invited me to come to Zagreb when the book is published there in the coming months. (I’d love to!) He and Marco have become friends, and Ivo was planning to head down to San Benedetto to spend some time with the TL, and do a report.


After lunch, I had a wonderful time with about 40 folks from the local confraternity, plus the guests from the Tipi Loschi. The work they do at the eel factory defies the idea that the Benedict Option is only about turning inward. I learned that they saw a need to help people who, for whatever reason, had trouble finding normal jobs. It is an act of service to them. The confraternity also helps there too. The idea is not to get rich, but to live out the virtue of manual labor, in solidarity with the poor.

Here’s their webpage [2], and a little bit of information about Work & Services, the cooperative (which, by the way, is an official part of Italy’s Slow Food movement):

The social cooperative “Work and Services” arises from the desire to educate on the love for work, through the beauty of reality. The manufacturing of the fishing products of the Comacchio Valleys takes place in the Fires Hall of the Ancient Factory of Marinated, where nowadays as centuries ago, we work the fishes with an old transformation technique – as it has been codified since them on a spit, we roast them in ancient wood-burning chimneys and we wrap them in screen-printed template. we carry this old transformation technique on, as it has been codified since the end of the 1600 in the fishing factories of Comacchio, – and we live this as a chance to welcome the people we meet and remind us that, even in difficult times, life is beautiful.

Here, from their website, is the crew at work in front of the old chimneys in whose hearths they roast the eels:

In our long group conversation, one young man said that he moved to San Benedetto del Tronto to teach physics for a year in the community school, the Scuola Libera G.K. Chesterton [3], which follows the classical model. I can’t remember his name — I met so many new friends today — but his testimony was so moving that I gave him my email address and asked him to be in touch so I could interview him for this blog. He told me (and the group) that before moving to live in the Tipi Loschi community [4], his faith was mostly intellectual. Being part of the community, though, broadened and deepened his Christian commitment, and, he said, changed his life for the better. He has found a much closer relationship with Jesus Christ, thanks to the life he was shown in that community.

Marco Sermarini told us all that since he and the Tipi Loschi appeared in The Benedict Option, they have had visitors from all over showing up, wanting to see how they live out their faith. No wonder! They are such an inspiration — and, as I learned today in Comacchio, they aren’t the only ones in Italy living this way. What a total grace God has given me in my life by bringing me in touch with these good people.

Marco is very well aware of the scandals in the Church, and has strong feelings about them. But he insists that all of us believers keep our eyes on the prize of faith, hope, and charity, and in living out the joy of serving Jesus Christ in community. For Marco and his cheerful Chestertonian comrades, these are not abstractions, but what it means to live.

Don’t forget, everybody: this too is the Church! 

Here I am with the greatest living Italian, today behind the eel factory in hot, humid Comacchio, which, thanks to the love and fidelity of these dear Catholic friends, is a piece of heaven on earth:


8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "The Eels Of The Benedict Option"

#1 Comment By David J. White On September 13, 2018 @ 7:53 pm

and these amazing flash-fried tiny fish, which you eat in a cone.

In the picture they look like smelts.

#2 Comment By Ron Chandonia On September 13, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

I hope you are paying as much attention to the scandal over there as you are to the food. What’s up with the “Farrell dossier” that is supposedly now made public???

[NFR: Not public yet, just threats that it exists, and will be. — RD]

#3 Comment By charles cosimano On September 13, 2018 @ 9:03 pm

You are making me hungry.

#4 Comment By lancelot lamar On September 13, 2018 @ 10:51 pm

My gosh, Sophia Loren as an eel processor! What an amazing poster. So gorgeous.

One imagines that eel plant would have no problem attracting (male) workers no matter what they paid.

[NFR: “Ciao, Giovanni! Signora Loren would like to see your eel now!” — RD]

#5 Comment By TomD On September 13, 2018 @ 11:21 pm

Nice example of the Benedict Option.

What happens to the Benedict Option when the local gays show up and demand rainbow flag and ‘Adam and Steve’ wedding posters go up in the factory windows?

#6 Comment By E.C. On September 14, 2018 @ 12:02 am

This eel processing facility sounds like it runs along the same lines as our church’s thrift store, Deseret Industries or DI. People make donations of whatever extra stuff they have, and employees sort, label, sell, or package for charity whatever is brought. There’s also several factories at which employees make clothes (mostly winter jackets as we live in the frozen North), as well as good quality, cheap furniture and several other items.
Employees tend to be immigrants, those with disabilities, or others who are having difficulty finding work. They get training as they work with an employment specialist towards the goal of finding better jobs or furthering their education.
I like this model because it gives the down-and-out a chance to preserve their dignity by avoiding handouts, while giving them necessary skills to become self-reliant. At the same time, it’s clearly charity towards those who shop there and those who need the work that makes the program successful.

#7 Comment By Rob G On September 15, 2018 @ 11:10 am

Nothing against the charming Sophia but I was always more of a Claudia Cardinale guy. (Although I will readily admit that CC did not age nearly as well as SL did.)

#8 Comment By Blaine On September 15, 2018 @ 3:33 pm

Rod you look so happy in these pictures. Are you sure this isn’t where you are meant to be, working in a Benedict Option community like these? Maybe it’s time. And I’m not poking fun at you – I have the same feelings about my life (whether to leave the Navy a few years shy of retirement). This world sometimes doesn’t make sense, but those places you’re visiting sure seem to.