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My love is an Italian, and we live continents apart. My love is hard work. My love can be as pig-headed as I. My love argues with as much passion as he dotes. My love makes me weak and crazy and sometimes even sick. My love is too powerful. My love can whisk me away with just one look. My love shows me my future in his eyes. My love won't celebrate Valentine's Day on principle. My love is just what I wanted – and ironically I have Saint Valentine to thank.

As a Catholic, I know to never worship a saint. A saint is to be venerated. I do not pray to saints; I pray with saints. Each saint has a specific task – to watch over the sick or Internet users or gardeners. Valentine is the patron of love, young people, and happy marriages. There may have been more than one Valentine, but all of them seem to have their origins in Italy , the home of my ancestors. Thus begins my search for Valentine. It's fitting that the man who protects love in all its forms was an Italian, whose people are full of raw passion and whose country elicits adoration and devotion.

I first started my search for Valentine long before this story assignment. From my bed, I saw my reflection in the mirror. Something inside me told me that I needed to go to Italy and do some soul searching. There, I met many young men, mostly friends of my cousin Fausto. But Antonio was different from anyone I had ever encountered. I first felt the touch of Valentine when Antonio put his hand on my shoulder to guide me out of a crowded pub. A jolt of electricity surged through me. In church the following Sunday, I prayed to the Lord, and He asked for a hand from Valentine to give me a sign that Antonio was the one.

Unfortunately, shortly after that first meeting with Antonio, I seriously injured my knee and was unable to go out with him again. But that didn't stop him from courting me. The last time he visited me before I returned to the States for numerous knee surgeries and years of physical therapy, Antonio looked at me in a way that terrified me, for I knew my whole life was about to change. My prayer had been answered. For the first time, I had truly found Valentine.

He escaped me so many times before. I mistakenly thought we had met – J.C., the Adams , Russ (most regrettable), the sweet doughboy, David, and of course the angel Gabriel – but we hadn't. They were minor flirtations, flavors of the week or month or year – some lasted longer than others. Distractions that confused me. Never a kiss did we share. Only Antonio could bring me to Valentine. If he should ever leave me, I can be certain that I've witnessed Valentine and that he personally handed me the ticket for the roller coaster that is true love.

Ask anyone and he or she will tell you this is the work of Valentine. This is what he has always done. Not much else is known about Valentine, and, therefore, most of the stories circulating on the Internet and by word of mouth are the product of folklore and legend.

The true origin of Valentine, and how many Saint Valentines there were, remains a mystery, according to Catholic Online. Some say there were as many as three different saints with the name Valentine – all of whom probably lived in Italy at some point. One of the prevailing stories says that the Valentine associated with Feb. 14 was a holy priest in Rome who, along with Saint Marius and his family, helped the martyrs under Claudius II. In fact, many say that Claudius II decided single men made for better soldiers and prohibited marriage among young people. But Valentine continued to perform marriage ceremonies in secret – and was killed when he got caught. Others say that when Claudius II put Valentine in jail, he fell in love with his guard's daughter and wrote her a letter, “From your Valentine,” before he was executed. Still others say Valentine was killed because he would not forsake his love of God.

Some believe that Valentine was executed on Feb. 14, 270 A.D. and, therefore, that became his feast day. But others say that the Christians may have invented that date to supersede the pagan Lupercalia festival, which celebrated fertility and the Roman god Faunus and took place on Feb. 15. Relatively recently, the Catholic Church removed the feast of Saint Valentine from the calendar all together. But those of us in the secular world – and especially the greeting card industry – still celebrate love in Valentine's honor every February.

Most agree that whatever story is true, we can be sure that Valentine existed. There is evidence that a church had been erected in his honor and writings about him have been documented. And I know firsthand that he is real. Our belief in Valentine has to be the same as our belief in love – it must rely on pure instinct and faith.

My love – and yours – is proof Valentine lived. My love – and yours – is hard work. It is hard to find and even harder to keep. It's almost impossible to maintain your sanity under its spell. It has destroyed many – Romeo and Juliet, Marc Antony, the wives of Henry VIII, Britney Spears. Yet, people – since the beginning of time – have sought love. Why? Because when it's good, it's very, very good. It can bring you a sense of security and hope in an uncertain world. It can be enough to plant the seed for a family and can bring you great satisfaction and a fulfilling life in all its many forms. It's just about everyone's dream.

In February, we celebrate love for all its glory. For a moment, we forget the cynics and the damaged. We search for Valentine – and sometime we find him, sometimes we find ourselves, and sometimes we find nothing at all. But the important thing is that we keep looking.

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