A new gelato shop near Birmingham, Alabama, is making headlines for its customer requirements. Patrons aren’t allowed to bring in cell phones or electronic devices, and they must dress modestly and avoid “profanity or actions which do not fit the norm of Christian behavior.” A sign proclaims: “This place is different. It’s about God, Family and Country.”
The shop, built to resemble a gelateria in Rome, is part of Villaggio Colafrancesco, property that serves as the headquarters of Caritas of Birmingham. The nonprofit ministry, founded by Terry Colafrancesco in 1986, teaches about the visions of Our Lady of Medjugorje. The alleged apparitions, which the Catholic Church has neither authenticated nor rejected, are the subject of much debate.
Gelato Shop Is ‘an Oasis’
Colafrancesco, 69, blames electronic devices for interfering with face-to-face interactions. He aimed to create a family atmosphere conducive to long conversations. “In Italy, you sit down to eat at 7, and at 12 you’re still there, talking,” he tells a reporter. “People are calling it an oasis,” Colafrancesco says of the eponymous village, which features three shops. Customers are “driving here from all over.”
Signage encourages visitors to “be considerate of the work and prayer that created this place.” Religious art appears throughout the 250-acre property, which also serves as home to members of the faith community. They raise livestock, which provides dairy products for the shops.
Reyes Silva, who has lived on the property for 24 years, says customers are “making a connection and talking to each other,” adding, “God will bring the people here.” Another Caritas member and worker says they’ve “already asked people to leave” for violating the posted rules.
But most visitors seem to appreciate the ambiance. In the gelato shop’s guest book, one couple thanks Colafrancesco “for creating such a beautiful place,” adding, “To God be the glory.” In a Reddit thread about the shop’s rules, however, someone writes: “I can’t wait until the first time they deny service to an over the mountain Karen because she’s wearing her [Lululemon] leggings.”
The gelato shop’s definition of modest dress includes no “short dresses or shorts above the knee, tank tops, spandex leggings, exposed shoulders, cleavage showing and back, etc.”
Terry Colafrancesco Spreads the Medjugorje Message
Colafrancesco, an Alabama native, grew up in a strong Italian Catholic family. He ran his own landscaping business until events across the globe intervened.
In 1981, six children and youth started having daily visions of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, a town in Bosnia-Herzegovina (then Yugoslavia). Colafrancesco, who says he had “a life-changing experience” while visiting the town, befriended Marija Pavlovic Lunetti, one of the seers.