Saturday, June 30, 2012

Festival of St. John the Baptist

One of the incredible aspects of life in a small Italian village are the festivals. Each town has a patron or patroness which they honor each year with a festival. I was fortunate enough to be in San Giovanni Rotondo for its festival in honor of St. John the Baptist, whose feast day was last Sunday (6/24). 

The festivities began Friday night with a concert and street dance in the piazza. Saturday night featured some more music in the evening in the piazza. Of course the big day was Sunday. 

Sunday I went to the earliest morning Mass in the parish. For being the early Mass it was still quite festive with the Mass being song by the parish choir. After Mass I joined up with a few friends of my host brother, and we went to the sea. The beach was amazing. I used plenty of sunscreen and I still turned rosy red. My host mom even called me once during the day to be sure that I had reapplied the sun screen and that I had eaten enough food for lunch. 

After a day at the beach, we drove back to San Giovanni Rotondo. I quickly ran home and got cleaned up and dressed to participate in the evening procession with the ancient statue of St. John the Baptist. I went to the mother church of the city with my cassock and surplice and joined in the procession with a few other priests and seminarians from this diocese. It was great meeting a few of the seminarians from this diocese. They're still have exams, but afterwards hopefully I can catch up with some of them. 

The bishop led the procession which included the rosary, readings from scripture, and various hymns. One of my favorite things about the processions I've witnessed these past few weeks in various places throughout Italy is watching the people who line the streets for the procession. For them it is more than a parade or a concert, it is an event that proclaims their faith in God, who is truly present among us. It really is an impressive thing.

Near the end of the procession the seminarian behind me told me there were less people at the end in the piazza then in past years. I asked why and he responded, "The soccer game has begun". And sure enough that evening the Italian team was playing the United Kingdom in the quarter finals. After the procession I ran home to catch a bite to eat and then returned back to the parish. I watched the game with the youth group at the parish. Let's just say soccer is taken very seriously here. When we won literally the whole town came running out into the streets yelling and waving flags. I'm glad we won or I would have been afraid for more life . . . Just kidding. 

The festivities after the big victory continued as everyone made their way to a nearby park which housed the carnival. I went with the youth group and together we watched the fireworks show, which was quite a display. It reminded me of the 4th of July. But I'd have to say that the fireworks that they put together for the feast of St. John the Baptist were more impressive than the fireworks in my hometown. 

After the fireworks I made my way back home and collapsed from exhaustion. It was a long day, but one I will not soon forget. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Summertime in Southern Italy

This summer I'll be living with a host family working at a local parish in a small town in southern Italy called San Giovanni Rotondo. San Giovanni Rotondo is famous around the world as the home of Saint Pio da Pietrelcina.

I moved in and started at the parish more than a week ago (06/19). I had hoped to post earlier, but I've hit the ground running and have been quite busy.

Pray for me this summer as I continue this really unique experience, living and working so close to an incredible saint. But even more, learning to live, pray, laugh, and cry in a different culture all the time sharing the faith and being formed by those around me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Communion with Christ ... Communion with one another.

Last week (June 13th - 17th) I was in Dublin, Ireland for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress (IEC). Luckily, I was able to finish my exams in a timely manner so that I could go to Ireland in time for the congress. This was my first ever International Eucharistic Congress. The last one was held in 2008 in Quebec, Canada. The next one will be in the Philippines. Basically, the IEC is time for Catholic from around the world to gather and be strengthened in their devotion in the Most Blessed Sacrament. IEC includes holy Mass everyday, time for adoration, an Eucharistic procession, various conferences and talks. The event started on Sunday, but I didn't arrive until Wednesday.

At World Youth Day last August in Madrid we went to an Irish catechesis site. There I learned about the IEC. I felt like I should go. The Catholic church in Ireland has been going through a difficult period following revelations of child sexual abuse in the past. I wanted to go to support the Irish church with my prayers and gain on-the-ground experience of Irish Catholicism because really Ireland has sent missionaries to almost every part of the world. I was able to do just that.

A wonderful husband and wife were willing to host me during my visit. I was a bit weary about traveling to such a large event alone. But, right away I began encountering various people I knew from various places. These large events are more like a giant family reunion. How beautiful is that. That when the church gathers to celebrate and proclaim her faith in the Eucharist, it is like a family reunion since it is the Eucharist which unites all of us in communion. I was also blessed to meet many new people. Especially the young, happy, full of hope Irish seminarians. It took me a day or to do find where they were hanging out, but once I did it was a blast. Were able to share stories of seminary life and such things. They all knew Bishop Hebda from his time at there seminary during the recent Apostolic Visitation.

One of the most poignant moments for me was the Eucharistic procession on Wednesday night. What a beautiful public proclamation of our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. In a time when some might be tempted to retreat, it is really a time to go out into the streets proclaiming Jesus Christ. I was also struck by the Irish people, themselves. They're really tough as nails. The major IEC Masses were held outside and sure enough it would always be raining. Yet, the men and women from the WWII generation were not effected by the terrible rain. Pretty impressive. Another important moment for me was when I was able to catch up with Danielle Rose. The last time I saw her in concert I was in high school seven years ago. Her music has been important to me throughout my discernment and time in seminary. 

A photo from the closing Mass. 
It was really a beautiful time. There were moments were I really wondered why I had come all the way to Ireland for the IEC, especially when it was raining. There were also difficult moments when I could see first-hand the state of the church which has been wounded by years of bad theology. I'll remember those experiences when I'm studying theology and I don't feel like it. Good, sound teaching of the faith is indispensable. Needless to say I'm glad I went. 

At the end of the closing Mass, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the more than 70,000 people gathered in a pre-recorded video. I'd like to leave you with a short excerpt
The Eucharist is the worship of the whole Church, but it also requires the full engagement of each individual Christian in the Church’s mission; it contains a call to be the holy people of God, but also one to individual holiness; it is to be celebrated with great joy and simplicity, but also as worthily and reverently as possible; it invites us to repent of our sins, but also to forgive our brothers and sisters; it binds us together in the Spirit, but it also commands us in the same Spirit to bring the good news of salvation to others. - Pope Benedict XVI 17-June-2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Congratulations!

Congratulations to Fr. Peter Wigton the newest priest for the Diocese of Gaylord. 

Let us give thanks to the Lord for blessing our diocese with vocations to the priesthood. 

Fr. Peter has been a role model for me ever since I joined seminary. He was always there for me as an older brother. Now he is a priest! Praise God

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eucharistic Processions (Part III)

Santa Christina - Site of the Miracle
After lunch in Orvieto we went to the very site of the Eucharistic Miracle in Bolsena. Bolsena is situated on a large volcanic lake about 20km from Orvieto. The panorama is stunning.

We joined the community of Bolsena for their Corpus Christi Mass and Eucharistic Procession. In Bolsena the procession followed the same format as the two previous processions I've participated in this past week, but with a special flare. Most of the 2+ hour procession was lined by a mosaic of flower. The millions of tiny flower petals were arranged along the route of the procession so that the priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament would walk over the flowers. I have a feeling the tradition began simply by throwing flower petals in front of the Eucharist as it passed by and developed into full mosaic art. The work was breathtaking. The amazing thing is that the whole town must have helped do the work because it must have to be done in one or maybe two days so that the petals don't wilt or blow away. The other amazing thing was the sweet fragrance of the millions of petals laid out beautifully as a pathway for Our Lord in the Eucharist. Hopefully a few of the pictures I was able to snap give you an idea of the scene.
I must confess after finishing the second procession I was pretty tired. It was 8:30 PM by the time procession found its way back to the church after beginning at 6:00 PM. Indeed God was praised.

In all Corpus Christi Sunday 2012 was an unforgettable experience. Eucharistic processions are not unique to Rome,Orvieto and Bolsena. Granted they are special in those places, but all over the world Catholics go to the streets with Our Lord in the Eucharist to proclaim our faith in his Real Presence just as He promised:
"and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mt 28:20)



Monday, June 11, 2012

Eucharistic Processions (Part II)

5:30 AM bus departure comes early on a fresh June Sunday morning. Thirty seminarians boarded a bus leaving the North American College for a nearby town in Umbria called Orvieto. Though the Vatican celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi on Thursday the rest of Italy celebrates it on Sunday. Orvieto, an Italian city atop a hill, is where the tradition of Eucharistic processions began. 

A little history first: In 1263 a priest was celebrating Mass in Bolsena, a nearby village. He had personal doubts about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. During Mass the host he had just consecrated bled onto the corporal (a linen cloth used to catch any particles of the Blessed Sacrament). The corporal was taken in procession to Orvieto where it is kept in the cathedral. The Pope at the time spent significant time in Orvieto since Rome was in disrepair and would have been made aware of this wonderful miracle. He began the feast of Corpus Chrisiti the next year 1264. St. Thomas Aquinas was also in Orvieto at the time. Pope Urban comissioned him to compose the hymns and the prayers for the Mass and procession. I'm sure you've heard Tantum Ergo before. Well it was written by St. Thomas for this feast in Orvieto. Once a year for 749 years the Blessed Sacrament is processed through the streets of Orvieto.
Look close - Under the crucifix on the altar is the Miracle.
It was a great honor to be able to participate in this year's celebration. The bishop of Orvieto has traditionally asked the seminarians at the North American to come to Orvieto for the feast day. 


The procession took the same form as the procession in Rome on Thursday. But here there was a more Medieval flare with many of the locals dressed up in their traditional garb. The streets were lined by thousands of people kneeling as the monstrance passed by them. So beautiful. One moment was especially moving. A young mom with her little boy standing next to her whispered to her son while pointing down the street. I was close enough to hear her say: "Ecco Gesù viene. Look Jesus is coming." The little boy straitened up and with the help of his mom made the sign of the cross. Then he watched and waited to see Jesus in the streets of his town. This little scene was repeated over and over as mothers and fathers passed on the faith to their children.

After the procession the diocese hosted us, and we ate a delicious lunch. We had some time to walk around and relish the moment before we boarded the bus for Bolsena.  (To be continued)

Eucharistic Processions (Part I)

 On Thursday evening the Holy Father celebrated the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) in front of his cathedral, St. John Lateran. It was a perfect day for an outdoor Mass. The sun was setting and there was a pleasant breeze. 


As usual the Pope's homily was fantastic. The main theme of his homily was to re-emphasize the intrinsic connection between the celebration of Holy Mass with Eucharistic Adoration. There is no incongruence. One part struck me, and I'd like to share it with you all:


"To be all together in prolonged silence before the Lord present in his Sacrament, is one of the most genuine experiences of our being Church, which is accompanied in a complementary way with the celebration of the Eucharist, listening to the Word of God, singing, approaching together the table of the Bread of life. Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go together. To really communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to hear him and to look at him with love. True love and true friendship always live of the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter is lived profoundly, in a personal not a superficial way."  - Homily of Pope Benedict XVI 'Corpus Christi' 2012 [Translation by ZENIT]


After Mass there was a procession with the Blessed Sacrament from St. John Lateran to St. Mary Major (about a 25 minute walk). By that time it was already dark so we were given candles to carry in the procession. There were thousands of people in the procession. The processional cross was followed by hundreds of women and men religious, then the seminarians, then the deacons, priests, bishops and cardinals, then the Holy Father on a custom built GMC truck which allowed him to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, and finally thousands of the faithful following behind. They had strung up speakers along the whole route so that we all could listen to scripture readings and sing hymns together the whole way. The people of Rome lined the street to quietly await Jesus's arrival in front of their homes and businesses. I even saw people peering down to the street below from their apartment windows, which they had decorated with banners and bed sheets. The atmosphere was electric with the joy, festivity and prayer of the people gathered to adore Jesus. It just makes sense... if everything we believe about the Eucharist is true then how could we not but follow Jesus through the streets.

I love these diocesan events because now I'm beginning to recognize so many faces. I ran into several different groups of friends and acquaintances before and after Mass. Gathering at Rome's cathedral reminded me of gathering at Gaylord's cathedral for big events. It is like one big family reunion.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Setting Sun

I snapped this photo the other day. The setting sun behind St. Peter's is a good picture for this time of year as we frantically work to finish the academic year..

Final exams have begun. In fact I finish on Saturday, three more exams to go.

But for now back to the books...