The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More on Our Cruise: One Day in Rome

After our stop at Livorno and our brief excursion to Siena, our cruise ship, the Norwegian Jade, continued south along the Italian coast and arrived at Civitavecchia early Wednesday morning. Diane and I had arranged for seats on a bus that would take us to Rome, drop us off in the city, and pick us up later in the day for the return trip to the ship.
The Italian tall ship, Amerigo Vespucci, in Civitavecchia
There were, however, two problems. First, the bus' schedule would not get us to Rome in time to attend the Pope's Wednesday audience. But we had expected this, and had resigned ourselves to missing it. The other problem was rather minor, although an irritant nonetheless. The folks in charge would not tell us where in Rome we would be dropped off until we actually boarded the bus. Being a bit of a compulsive planner, this bothered me no end.
The twin "Santa Maria" churches of Piazza del Popolo

As it turned out, the bus would take us to Piazza del Popolo, a reasonably central location and a little over a mile walking distance from the Vatican. And so, when we arrived Diane and I strolled to the Tiber, crossed one of the bridges and made our way first toward Borgo Pio, the pedestrian street right outside the Vatican walls. Along the way we encountered a thunderstorm and quickly ducked into a local cafe where we waited out the storm with a cappuccino (for Diane) and an espresso (for me). After finally arriving at Borgo Pio, we found the pleasant restaurant we have enjoyed on previous trips and had a nice, relaxing lunch together. We then stopped by a small shop we have also patronized in the past to buy our granddaughter a First Holy Communion gift. While there I asked about albs and was shown a very nice, extremely light-weight alb at a great price -- perfect for our Florida weather. Of course I bought it and added another item to our ever expanding luggage.
A priest giving and a priest receiving advice on Borgo Pio
Diane and I then made our way to St. Peter's Basilica, successfully negotiated the checkpoints and spent perhaps and hour in that magnificent church. Sadly, this was all we had time for. Later, as we strolled along the Via della Conciliazione, the rain began again, this time in ernest. And so we grabbed a cab and headed back to our gathering spot in front of the church of Santa Maria del Popolo.
Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica

Because of the cab ride we had a little more time than planned, so we stopped by a sidewalk cafe on the piazza (Once again the rain had stopped.) and treated ourselves to a delayed dessert of pastry and coffee. We strolled along one of Rome's great shopping streets, the Via del Corso, and then visited the "twin" churches at the south side of the piazza: Santa Maria di Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli. Finally we  made our way to the north end of the piazza so we could spend some time in one of my favoirte Roman churches, Santa Maria del Popolo. It is a marvelous little church -- little by Roman standards -- with a facade by Bernini and providing a home to a number of spectacular works of art. These include paintings by Pinturicchio and Annibale Carracci, as well as two of Caravaggio's brilliant works: the Conversion of St Paul and the Crucifixion of St Peter. One other piece of art, an unusual, macabre momento mori sort of piece also attracts a lot of attention from visitors. (I've included a photo below.) But in addition to all the art, it's just a neat church. On our last visit Diane and I attended daily Mass there on a few occasions.

A "momento mori" in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo

By this time the young lady from the bus was gathering her flock outside the church and we were forced to leave the Eternal City after a far less than eternal visit.
Shoppers on Via del Corso
Bridge crossing the Tiber
Interior of St. Peter's Basilica
Sanctuary of church of San Carlo del Corso, along the Via del Corso

Diane in St. Peter's Square
A Swiss Guard keeping the Vatican safe from unwanted intruders



Persecution Update

Every so often I provide an update on just a few of the more egregious examples of the ongoing persecution of Christians throughout the world. The following items came to my attention in recent days.

Pakistan. A Christian woman and mother of five, Asia Bibi, 45, was recently sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy. It seems some of her Muslim neighbors in her village accused her of saying unkind things about the "Prophet Muhammad."

Many outside Pakistan, including Pope Benedict XVI, are pleading for clemency, and even some in the Pakistani government are calling for her pardon and release. But Pakistan's President Zardari is under pressure from many influential and hard-line Muslim political groups to allow the execution to take place. Many have even threatened violence in the streets if Bibi is pardoned. Pray for this woman, that true justice be done rather than that poor imitation of justice known as sharia law. Click here to read more.

Pakistani Muslim militants calling for Asia Bibi's execution

Egypt. Egyptian authorities have been cracking down lately on the building of new Christian churches. The Coptic Church seems to be a special target, likely because it represents the largest group of Christians in Egypt.

In a recent incident 156 Copts were arrested and accused of rioting after police stopped the construction of their church, citing improper building permits. During the incident the police shot a 24-year-old Coptic woman, Milad Malak, who subsequently died as a result of her wounds. Many others were wounded. Click here to read more.

Iraq. Christians are being targeted throughout Iraq by Muslim militants who have vowed to rid the country of all Christians. In the latest incident, two Christian brothers were shot and killed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The brothers, Saad and Raad Hannah were working in their auto mechanic shop when gunmen burst in and shot them dead. Local police say they were shot because they were Christian. This incident was similar to another in Mosul last week in which gunman burst into the Christian house and killed two residents in their living room. And a few weeks ago five Christians were murdered in Baghdad in a series of coordinated bombings of Christian homes and neighborhoods. Is it any wonder that Christians are fleeing the country in large numbers? Another question: Why does our government never speak of this when discussing the remarkable progress being made in Iraq? Click here to read more.
Iraqi man grieves at funeral for two slain Christian brothers

The promised persecutions continue...Pray for our brothers and sisters who desire only to live and worship in peace. They are wonderful witnesses of faith and courage in the face of persecution.

God's peace...

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's All God's Fault

It seems to have become fashionable these days to blame others for one's own mistakes. I suppose this is simply a symptom of the highly litigious nature of our society, a society where people now don't hesitate to sue each other at the drop of a hat...or a cup of hot coffee. Did you make a mistake? Just blame someone else and call your local 1-800 law firm. They'll handle the  suit and may even have a few bucks for you once all the legal costs are covered. 

And, of course, thanks to your friendly neighborhood trail lawyer, the cost of doing (and staying in) business has skyrocketed in recent decades driving up the prices of every product and service. One need only glance at the instructions that come with many products to realize how lawsuits have spawned the many absurd warnings that appear. For example, last year I purchased a replacement smoke detector and found this cryptic warning prominently displayed on the instruction sheet: "Do not use the Silence Feature in emergency situations. It will not extinguish a fire." It would appear someone had thought otherwise or this warning would not have been included.. And I'm sure some lawyer made more than a few dollars as a result.

But today I read a story about the ultimate victim, a highly paid (overpaid?) NFL player, Steve Johnson, a wideout for the Buffalo Bills. Now Mr. Johnson didn't sue the person he believes is responsible for his troubles, because that person is really quite un-sueable. You see, this otherwise talented wide receiver inexplicably dropped a perfect pass in the end zone during overtime in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers subsequently marched down the field and kicked the winning field goal. Mr. Johnson was obviously unhappy.
Steve Johnson of the Bills contemplating the offending football
Now one would think the 24-year-old would be upset with himself. But, no! He didn't blame himself for his momentary lapse; he blamed the un-sueable one. He blamed God. That's right, after the game he turned on his iPad and posted the following on Twitter:
I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO...
Since God surely has a sense of humor (He inspired the Book of Jonah, and he recruited the Zebedee boys as Apostles, so we know this to be true.), I expect He's getting a good laugh thanks to Steve Johnson.

But isn't it interesting how the victim mentality, the mentality that automatically rejects any degree of personal responsibility, can so completely distort one's view of reality? Rereading his tweet, I got the sense that Mr Johnson is a wee bit wrapped up in himself. We can only hope that he will indeed learn from this and perhaps better understand why he should praise God 24/7.

Laudamus Domine!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pope Benedict on St. Catherine of Siena

Yesterday I described our recent Mediterranean cruise and our visit to Siena. As I mentioned in that post, we were particularly interested in the city because of its most famous native, St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church and the person largely responsible for returning the papacy to Rome after its long exile in France. And so we visited the Basilica of San Domenico, the church where she worshiped and where some of her relics are kept.

Coincidentally, Pope Benedict XVI, at his recent Wednesday audience, discussed the contributions of St. Catherine. I thought you might like to hear what the Holy Father had to say about this remarkable 14th century woman and saint...





If you would like to view the Holy Father's entire Wednesday audience, follow this link: Audience: 24 Nov 2010

The Most Boring Day In History?

A Cambridge University computer scientist has developed a program, True Knowledge, that among other things has cleverly identified the most boring day in modern history (since 1900) as April 11, 1954. (Here's a link to the story: Computer Identifies the Most Boring Day.)

It seems this researcher, with the unlikely name of William Tunstall-Pedoe, fed a few hundred-million data points to his program which then digested them and spit out the day in question. The program determined that few events of any major or lasting significance occurred on this date. No famous people died. And the only birth of any note was that of a Turkish academic by the name of Abdullah Atalar (see photo at left). My apologies to Professor Atalar, but I assume I am not alone in never having heard of him before today. I do, however, congratulate him on his new-found fame as a person of only limited significance. Anyway, despite Professor Atalar's birth, the program has confirmed April 11, 1954 as deserving of the most boring label.

Of course, the trouble with this program is its equating of fame and the extraordinary with the interesting, and by extension, its presumption that the mundane and the ordinary are boring. Personally, I would think that those millions who were born on April 11, 1954 consider that particular day fairly important. So too those who lost a loved one or were married on that date. Because they were created in God's image, none of these people are inherently unimportant or boring and neither are their lives. There's more than a touch of elitism in such efforts as those pursued by Mr. Tunstall-Pedoe and his colleagues at Cambridge and other universities. Perhaps they simply have too much time on their hands. Perhaps they're simply bored.

Actually, although I can't recall any details about this presumably most boring day, I can place it in some personal context. On April 11, 1954 I was nine years old and a fourth-grader in Miss Helen Dolan's class at Chatsworth Avenue School in Larchmont, New York (photo at left). Now it's important to realize that Miss Dolan was both my third and my fourth grade teacher. The previous June, as third grade ended, she informed us that because she liked us all so much, she had asked the principal if she could remain with us as our fourth-grade teacher. He had agreed that this would be just swell. It's also important to realize that Miss Dolan was my immediate next door neighbor. That's right, her back door was about 20 feet from our back door. She saw and spoke with my mother daily. This was not a good thing for the average nine-year-old boy. It led to all sorts of interesting and unwanted events in my young life. I was not a particularly happy fourth grader, and I was certainly not bored.

Late in the school year -- probably fairly close to the date in question -- after two years with Miss Dolan, I asked my father to send me to St. Augustine School, the local parochial school. Since we didn't live anywhere near the Dominican convent, I figured the nuns wouldn't be as intrusive as the neighborly Miss Dolan. I was also concerned that she just might ask to follow us again and join us in fifth grade. It was then I discovered that my father had planned to send me to St. Augustine School anyway. Great minds...

Looking back on it, then, I don't consider the days of 1954 at all boring, and I'm confident that April 11th was no exception. And so I suggest Cambridge University and Mr. Tunstall-Pedoe reprogram True Knowledge with a few hundred-billion more data points that reflect the lives of those of us who represent the great unwashed. Although our lives might not seem so very interesting to the elites, they are certainly of real interest to those of us who live them. Should they follow my suggestion, I expect no day will turn out to be boring. After all, as the Psalmist has said, "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad" [Ps 118:24]. I expect he meant no particular day, but rather, every single day of our lives.

God's peace...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Quick Look at Siena

On our previous trips to Italy Diane and I had never visited Siena, a little gem of a city in Tuscany. We had certainly wanted to spend some time there and kept telling ourselves, "Maybe next time," but events always conspired against us and Siena never seemed to find its way onto our itinerary. On our recent cruise, however, the ship made a stop in Livorno and among the advertised excursions was a bus ride through the Tuscan countryside, including a tour of little Siena. This, of course, is the major problem with cruises, at least from my perspective. The ship is never in any one port long enough to see anything more than the usual tourist attractions. One barely gets a taste for the places visited, and one certainly doesn't get to know the people. But we wanted to visit Siena, so we bought tickets for the bus trip and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, when we arose that morning it had already started to rain, and by the time we boarded the bus it was raining steadily. It's hard enough to see and appreciate the beautiful Tuscan countryside from a moving bus, but it's virtually impossible when a heavy rain is beating against the windows. The photo below gives you an idea of what we saw as we passed through one tiny village after another...not much. (Actually it's a pretty cool photo.)
Doorway in a Tuscan village, viewed through the rain
And so we suffered through two hours of rain-obscured views. To our surprise and delight, however, as soon as we arrived in Siena the rain stopped. And within a few minutes the heavy overcast dissipated and the sun began to peak through the remaining clouds. The weather got progressively better and we were blessed with beautiful blue skies for much of our visit.
Nun leaving the Basilica Cateriniana di San Domenico
Our first stop was the Basilica of  San Domenico, a beautiful Gothic church dating from the 13th century. Inside are several relics of St. Catherine of Siena, including her head. We discovered this fact on our first visit to Rome some years ago. When we entered Rome's only Gothic church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, we encountered the body of St. Catherine under the high altar. It was then we learned that her head was in her home town of Siena. Since Diane has a particular devotion to the saint, it was important to pay a visit to San Domenico when we arrived in town. Photos of any kind (with or without flash) are not permitted in the basilica, so I can post no photos of the church's interior (or of Catherine's head). Let me say only that the church boasts many beautiful works of art, any one of which would be worth a visit. The basilica also has its own website on which you can view both its interior and exterior. Here's a link to the English version: Basilica Cateriniana di San Domenico. (Check out the "history" page.)
Facade of Siena's Cathedral

We then made our way through a rabbitt warren of medieval alleys that pass for streets in Siena. It's really a city for pedestrians since many of the alleyways are simply too narrow for most vehicles. Eventually we arrived at the Cathedral. Begun in the 12th century, but worked on well into the 14th century, it's one of those Romanesque-Gothic churches that are so pleasing to the eye. It's colorful facade and the mix of white and black marble remind me of the duomo in Orivieto, a walled Umbrian city about an hour north of Rome. We spent quite a while in the cathedral and, naturrally, I took far too many photos.
Enjoying the sunshine in the Piazza del Campo

From the Cathedral we walked to what is Siena's most famous spot, the Piazza Del Campo, a large bowl-like piazza where the Palio horse race is held. It's really quite a beautiful piazza and we spent some time there enjoying a nice lunch along with some excellent Tuscan wine. Other than a few quick stops in some of the local shops, that was all we had time for. We were thankful for the fine weather and hoped to see a little of that Tuscan countryside on our return trip to Livorno. But wouldn't you know it! As soon as we climbed aboard the bus, it began to rain once more and continued until we arrived back at the ship. We shall return.

I've included a few more photos of Siena below...
An alleyway in Siena
Column in the Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral
Inside the dome of the Siena Cathedral
The Palazzo Pubblico on the Piazza del Campo
A true "Euro-Cool" couple -- coffee and cigarettes on the Campo

Thanksgiving at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen

We got only a brief soundbite in the local media the other day, but I suppose it's better than nothing. They edited out my begging for funds as well as the interviews with several of our happy volunteers and wonderful patrons. You can check out the brief video clip below:



Friday, November 26, 2010

Unbidden Thoughts

There I was this afternoon, sitting on my overutilized duff watching college football and letting my underutilized mind completely empty itself when, unbidden, a series of thoughts forced themselves on me. It was actually pretty irritating because I just wanted to veg out and watch these games in which I had absolutely no stake. But these intruding thoughts simply wouldn't go away.

The first of these thoughts originated in a dream I had last night, a rather odd dream in which I was standing in the forum at Pompeii (a place Diane and I visited on our recent trip) engaged in a little Q&A with Socrates. At least I think he was Socrates because he was standing there in a cool robe and asking me question after question that I was apparently unable to answer. Now I'm pretty sure Socrates never spent any time in Pompeii, but dreams are no respecters of historical fact.

We weren't alone. Other people were there too, presumably local Pompeians, witnessing this embarrassing exchange and laughing aloud at my non-answers. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I can't recall any of the questions he asked. In fact, I can recall only one thing that my fanciful Socrates said. At the end of our dialogue he shook his head and grumbled, "Your ignorance is enough to make me drink a cup of hemlock juice." With that I awoke convinced, at least for a moment, that I was personally responsible for the untimely death of Socrates.

As for the deep psychological meaning of this dream, I haven't a clue and really don't want  to know. I experience enough humbling moments in real life. Anyway, recalling this dream today I found myself thinking about Socrates and education. It's been said on many occasions and by many very smart people that the perfect school was Socrates standing in the agora with a couple of students and asking questions to help his students find their way to the truth. If this is true, and based on my own experience I suspect it is, why then do we not imitate it in our systems of education today? Instead it would seem, at least based on the results, educational "professionals" adopt one faddish and ineffective method after another in a never-ending quest for...what? The truth? More tax money? Job security? I think perhaps it's time to get back to the real basics when it comes to education.

Thoughts of Socrates and the ineffectiveness of most of our educational institutions, got me thinking about other cultural issues. The first that came to mind was political correctness, Originating in our institutions of higher learning, PC has become a remarkably successful effort by our cultural elites and their language police to distort the language to conform to their own political views. For example, pro-abortion becomes pro-choice even though those who espouse this position really don't want women to make an informed choice. It is, of course, a tyranny designed to alter the way people both speak and think. It's simply one more manifestation of what Pope Benedict XVI calls the "dictatorship of relativism." In essence political correctness is really just another form of dishonesty since it aims to distort reality for the sake of ideology under the guise of individual or group feelings, To be PC, then, is to be a liar. The ramifications of political correctness are not trivial. Indeed, I really believe that no society can be truly healthy unless its language is pure and reflective of the truth.

Those were a few of my odd thoughts as I watched West Virginia and Nebraska win in lopsided, boring games. Happily the later Auburn-Alabama game was far more exciting.

Pax et bonum...

Monaco: Where the Rich Folks Live

Among the more interesting places we visited on our recent trip was the Principality of Monaco, the tiny  city-state on the shores of the Mediterranean that's been governed (more or less) by the Grimaldi family since the 13th century. With an area of less than a square mile, it's larger than Vatican City, but not by much. Our visit was brief since our cruise ship, the Norwegian Jade, arrived in mid-morning and departed in early evening.
Aboard the Norwegian Jade in the harbor at Monaco

Most Americans, at least those of us who are old enough to remember, are vaguely familiar with Monaco because of American actress Grace Kelly's marriage to the then-reigning Prince Ranier in 1956. The current head of state is the 52-year-old son of Grace and Ranier, Prince Albert II, who is slated to marry South African swimmer Charlene Wittstock next July. As you might have noticed in the supermarket check-out line, the prince has quite a reputation as a playboy and has fathered several children out of wedlock. Perhaps marriage will help him settle down. At 52 it's about time.
Facade of St. Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco

Sanctuary of St. Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco
Among all the countries of the world (with the obvious exception of the Vatican), Monaco almost certainly has highest percentage of foreign-born residents. The figures I have heard vary from 80% to 90%. And virtually all of them are extremely wealthy folks in search of a nice, comfortable tax haven. I say "extremely wealthy" because the going price for real estate in the principality is an outrageously high €50,000 per square meter, making the cost of living in Monaco the highest in the world. Basically, this means a tiny efficiency apartment or condo of a few hundred square feet would cost well over a million dollars. Fortunately, Diane and I are not currently in the market and so we spent our time there purchasing overpriced t-shirts from the souvenir shop owned by the Grimaldi clan. So happy I could add a few euros to the family coffers and help them pay for the upcoming nuptials.
A few of the yachts docked at Monaco

Most of our visit was taken up by a three-hour walking tour conducted by a French guide who, like most of the folks who work in Monaco, commute to the principality from neighboring France or Italy. Certainly no working person can afford to live there. Our guide seemed to enjoy reciting all the superlatives and excesses of which there are many. She especially enjoyed pointing out the yachts of the super-rich that are docked cheek by jowl in the large marina. We also walked along a portion of the course used by the annual Monte Carlo Grand Prix race in which Formula 1 drivers display their skills. I even sat in a bronze version of an old F1 racer so Diane could take a photo (below). I had a lot more trouble climbing out of the thing.

Dana test-driving a bronze Formula 1 car
With the exception of a small, largely ceremonial palace guard, the principality has no military and relies on the French for its national defense. (I have suppressed an obvious comment here in deference to my friends of French ancestry.) But Monaco does have a police force, actually the largest in the world on a per-capita basis; i.e., 515 police officers for a population of 32,000. And there are video surveillance cameras everywhere recording one's every move. I suspect these two factors contribute to the city-state's low crime rate.
A member of the Palace Guard, protecting the realm

We visited Monaco's St. Nicholas Cathedral, built in the 19th century on the site of the original 12th century church. It's a lovely cathedral and, like the principality is relatively small. It's also the church in which Princess Grace and Prince Ranier were married and buried. Below is a photo of Princess Grace's grave.

Princess Grace's Resting Place

Although our guide led us to the casino at Monte Carlo, we decided not to cross the threshold, thereby saving the €10 per person entrance fee. And who knows how much additional cash that decision saved us? We opted instead to stroll around the square in front of the five-star hotels, the Hotel de Paris and the Hotel Metropole, and try to look as if we belonged. Based on the stares we received from the intimidating-looking doormen of these two fine establishments, I'm pretty sure we failed. Just as well. We probably couldn't afford even to enter their lobbies.
Doorman of the Hotel de Paris keeping an eye on the riff-raff
All in all it was an interesting visit, although I have no desire to return. I've included a few more photos below, just to give you a better sense of what Monaco is like.
The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
View of Monaco from the deck of Norwegian Jade
Cliffs and the edge of a rocky beach, Monaco
Fishermen on a Monaco pier. Not everyone's rich.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at the Soup Kitchen

We had a bit of a surprise today at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. On Thanksgiving Day, or for that matter on most holidays, we usually serve fewer meals than on an average day. This, of course, is understandable. Many of our regular guests will spend the holiday with family or will have been invited to dine with friends or neighborhood groups. But this year we experienced almost no decrease at all, and so we had a very busy time of it. Fortunately, we also had a bumper crop of volunteers.

Because so many folks asked to help this Thanksgiving, Diane and I were able to give many of our regular Thursday volunteers the day off to spend with their families. We actually ended up with more than 25 wonderful helpers who spent the day assisting Diane with the cooking, greeting guests, taking orders, serving meals and desserts, pouring drinks, and most importantly, cleaning up at the end of the day. We were all extremely busy from the time we arrived at 6:45 a.m. until we turned out the lights and locked the doors at 2:00 p.m. As I recall the final meal count for the day was approximately 270 meals. That's a lot of turkey!

In addition to turkey, the meal consisted of all the usual tasty Thanksgiving fare. (See the menu at left.) But we couldn't have done it without the good people who helped us in advance of the day. For example, we had a whole corps of cooks who roasted and carved the turkeys ahead of time. Others made cornbread for Diane's special Southern cornbread dressing. And several people baked extra desserts and dropped them off early this morning. And then there were the people who just stopped by and handed us a generous donation, something we're always in need of. We receive no money from the government -- federal, state or local -- and so must rely completely on donations from individuals, businesses, churches, and neighborhood and civic organizations. We are truly blessed to have so many generous donors who always come through for us.


We also had a visit from the local media, including The Villages TV station, WVLG. So...I expect the story will appear on tomorrow's local news show. I'll try to remember to record it so I can post it online for all to see.

All in all, a wonderful day to serve God's people.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sardana -- Dancing at the Monastery in Montserrat

In my last post, earlier today, I included two photos of a Catholic youth group we encountered when visiting the Benedictine Monastery at Montserrat in the hills west of Barcelona. I've included here a video I took of the group dancing in the square adjacent to the monastery. They were joined by many others who just jumped in and danced along with the crowd. I hope you enjoy watching.

Home Again...At Last

Isn't it interesting that the older I get, the more I look forward to returning home from travels? It's not that I didn't enjoy our recent trip to Spain and the week-long cruise we sandwiched in the middle of our visit. Not at all. Diane and I had a wonderful time and found Barcelona to be a remarkable city. But I can't recall a happier return home than this most recent one. Perhaps the series of flight delays, the marathon-like hikes to make our connections, the inexplicably altered seat assignments, the misdirected baggage that arrived two days late, the ever-decreasing legroom of "economy" class seating, the horrendously bad food (bad even for airline cuisine), the incompetent and surly TSA agents, and the fact that we had been awake for 25 hours...perhaps all of this colored my emotional state by the time we arrived at our front door. Yes, as the young Dorothy made clear before her departure from Oz, "There's no place like home." Unlike Dorothy, however, I had neither ruby slippers nor the assistance of a good witch and had to rely on Iberia Airlines for transportation.


Naturally, when I returned home late Thursday night, I returned to a full schedule. Friday evening I spoke to a local neighborhood group about the needs of the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. In exchange for this simple task Diane and I were privileged to join these good people in a tasty dinner catered by a local barbecue restaurant. Then these nice folks handed me a generous check for the soup kitchen and filled the back of my Kia SUV with canned goods and other foodstuffs. We thank God daily for His bounty!

Early Saturday morning five deacons from the parish drove to Orlando to take part in the dedication of St. James Cathedral. The Mass was celebrated by our former bishop, now Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who was joined by our bishop-designate John Noonan along with several other bishops. It was a wonderful event and only the second time I had witnessed the dedication rite of a church. For the deacons of the diocese, however, our trip turned into an all-day affair since lunch was followed by a mandatory three-hour workshop on the plague of human trafficking, particularly as it exists in Florida. It was certainly interesting and valuable, but it made for a long day. And then, when I returned home, I had to glue myself to the keyboard for several hours as I prepared a homily for a Sunday afternoon Mass.

For Diane and me, the next few days will be monopolized by our preparations for the Thanksgiving Day meal at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. As the Thursday cook, Diane is always responsible for preparing and serving the Thanksgiving dinner. As is usual on Thanksgiving, we are blessed with many extra volunteers to help us before, during and after the event. As Diane's husband my task is really quite simple: do whatever she tells me. I find that when I do this and refrain from making any suggestions whatsoever, things go a lot more smoothly.

The other event that will occupy my time is my preparation for the Advent Mission that three of us deacons will conduct on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Fortunately, my talk is scheduled for Wednesday, so I have a few extra days of preparation. I am also blessed to follow two excellent homilists, both seasonal residents here in Florida: Deacon Richard Radford of the Archdiocese of Boston and Deacon Claude Curtin of the Diocese of Rochester. Please keep us in your prayers as we strive to help our parishioners, and ourselves, prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I  will post more about our trip in the days to come, and even include a few (only a few) of the nearly 2,000 digital photos I took. I may even add a few videos.

Let me just say that Europe, the cradle of Christendom, needs our prayers. In large numbers Europeans have turned their backs on Jesus Christ and His Church and unless they turn back to the Way, the Truth and the Life, they run a great risk, a risk of self-destruction. It's a very sad thing to see the majority of this formerly Christian people living as if God doesn't exist. But there are signs of hope, especially among the youth, a generation that appears to be rebelling against the nihilism of its parents, a generation that is searching for and remarkably open to the Truth. One day, early in our visit to Barcelona, we took the train and cable car to the Benedictine Monastery at Montserrat. While there, in the spiritual center of Catalonia, we witnessed a group of Catholic youth, accompanied by several young, enthusiastic priests, processing out of the basilica into the adjoining plaza where they sang and danced in praise of God. It was a wonderful, inspiring sight.
Catholic youth process from Montserrat basilica to the adjacent square

Youthful musicians at Montserrat
Pope Benedict's message to the youth of the world seems to resonate with so many as they experience the tremendous dissatisfactions that result from the material enticements which the world holds up before them. As he told the youth of Malta in April:
"God loves every one of us with a depth and intensity that we can hardly begin to imagine. And he knows us intimately, he knows all our strengths and all our faults. Because he loves us so much, he wants to purify us of our faults and build up our virtues so that we can have life in abundance. When he challenges us because something in our lives is displeasing to him, he is not rejecting us, but he is asking us to change and become more perfect...God rejects no one. And the Church rejects no one. Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and to become more perfect...And so I say to all of you, 'Do not be afraid!'...You may well encounter opposition to the Gospel message. Today’s culture, like every culture, promotes ideas and values that are sometimes at variance with those lived and preached by our Lord Jesus Christ. Often they are presented with great persuasive power, reinforced by the media and by social pressure from groups hostile to the Christian faith. It is easy, when we are young and impressionable, to be swayed by our peers to accept ideas and values that we know are not what the Lord truly wants for us. That is why I say to you: do not be afraid, but rejoice in his love for you; trust him, answer his call to discipleship, and find nourishment and spiritual healing in the sacraments of the Church."
Sometimes, as I look at my own generation, I fear for the salvation of those who have created all sorts of false gods and idols in an attempt to taste the "good life" that the world has promised them. I'm afraid we missed our opportunity to change the world. Perhaps this new generation, this seeking generation full of questions and desiring reasons to hope, will be the ones to evangelize the world. I think, perhaps, they are more attuned to receiving Christ's message of hope and love than we ever were. Pray that it is so.

(Oh, by the way...I didn't post much from Spain for a number of reasons. First, the hotel's WiFi signal simply didn't reach our room during our last four days in Barcelona and I really didn't feel like sitting in the lobby with my netbook when I could be napping in my far more comfortable room. Second, posting from the iPhone was just far too tedious. And third, the cost of internet access aboard ship was prohibitively expensive...at least for my budget.)

God's peace...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pope Benedict in Barcelona

Yesterday, on our first full day in Barcelona, we left town on an early morning train and headed for the hills of Montserrat. What an amazing place -- the spiritual home of Catalonia, a Benedictine monastery tucked in among strange, serrated peaks only an hour west of Barcelona. I have no time to elaborate this morning, since we're about to leave for our cruise ship, but I promise to provide photos and a bit of commentary on a future post. The basilica, however, is beautiful and is the home of the "Black Madonna," the statue attributed to St. Luke. (See the photo at left.) We had a wonderful visit, complete with two cable car rides.

By this morning we were resigned to missing Pope Benedict XVI during his visit. After all, we had no tickets to the venues he would visit and really knew nothing of his schedule. But then, this morning, while on a walk near our hotel, the four of us encountered many small groups of people carrying papal flags and all moving in the same general direction. And so we followed until we came to a main street lined with barricades and manned by hundreds of policemen. We found an English-speaking policeman who told us the pope would drive by in 45 minutes. We waited, along with hundreds of others, and were finally rewarded when Pope Benedict sped by in the famous Pope-mobile. I was able to get one reasonably good photo of him as he passed by (below),

What a blessing to have more or less stumbled on his route this morning. As you can see by the photo below, Diane, Ellen and Walter were caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment. Walter had even located a source of those little papal flags. A wonderful morning!
More soon...


God's peace.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Greetings from Barcelona - 5 Nov

We  arrived in Barcelona today at about 9:30 a.m local time. We than managed to navigate customs, immigration, baggage claim and a scary taxi ride to the hotel all in one hour. Surprisingly, despite the early hour, our room was ready and the lovely young desk clerk was friendly and efficient.

My thanks to our good friend, Deacon Joe Mador, who searched out hotel deals, recommended the Barcelona Confortel Auditori, and then, after I had made the reservations, decided not to join us on the trip. I half-expected a bedbug-ridden dump, the result of a sick practical joke on Joe's part; but I am forced to admit he did well. The room is fine, as is the bathroom. We'll try the breakfast in the morning. Of course, the view from our window could have been better. (See photo at left.)

And we're happy, too, the bed is comfortable, because we slept not a wink on the American Airlines airborne cattle car. For the first time in my life I was envious of the wealthy, at least those with enough money to fly first class. Diane and I both grabbed a long nap after our arrival and then went out for a late lunch at a local cafe with our friends, Ellen and Walter. Unable to communicate with the waitress except at the most basic level, we were forced to point at pictures of the food we wanted. It proved to be a most effective method.
Deacon Walter and Ellen

We are all too tired to see the town tonight, so we will rest up, rise early, and, we hope, make our planned trip to the Benedictine Monastery at Montserrat. As we made our approach to the city this morning, we flew right over the monastery, a marvelous sight that only whetted our appetite for our intended visit. Beautiful weather (sunny, clear and comfortable in the low 70s) is forecast, so we're hoping all goes as planned.

Pax et bonum...