Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Laurel leaves

The family: Selene, Raniero, Babbo (Dad), Maurilio, Dalila, Mamma
Congratulations to my good friend Maurilio who gradated last week from Sacro Cuore University in Rome with a degree in the Economics of Healthcare. I've come to know the Impagliatelli family pretty well since last summer they hosted me in their home while I was doing some work in a nearby parish.

The whole family came to Rome for Maurilio's graduation. Luckily I was able to join them for the festivities. This was my first graduation I've been to in Italy. The basic idea is the same, but some of the ceremonies surrounding the graduation differ. For example, the newly graduated doesn't wear a cap and gown, but rather wears a laurel crown. And of course, in order to celebrate such a grand occasion in Italy it is necessary to share a meal together. Now this wasn't just any meal. Lunch began around 1:30. By around 4:30 I had to leave to go to my afternoon class at which time the first desert was being served. Now get this, when I called Maurilio after my class was over around 7:00 they were just leaving the restaurant to return to the hotel. Can you imagine a 6 hour long lunch? 

The Aunts and Uncles
After class I went back to their hotel to wish them well and say good bye. I stayed around a for a little bit, of course before saying good bye. As I got to up to go, Maurilio's aunt stopped me and told me I couldn't possibly leave without eating dinner. I laughed and pointed at my belly, "How can I possibly eat dinner after a lunch that lasted all afternoon." But sure enough I stuck around for a few extra minutes to eat dinner, which by the way at this time it was already 9pm. Now you might be thinking that we'd go out to get a quick bite to eat. But no in fact we didn't need to go out. They had literally cooked enough pizza to feed an army and brought it with them from their home in southern Italy to Rome. The pizza was great. But, I had to laugh. Not only had they brought enough pizza for a three day trip, they brought fruit, and drinks, and little cookies, and home-made wine, and even their own supply of olive oil. I said to Maurilio's mom, "Now, you know you can buy food in Rome." She looked at me with total seriousness and said, "Buy food in Rome...Are you crazy? The food is so much better in Puglia." . . . And after a summer there, I can't argue with that.

Boston Marathon

Four years ago I was a Religious Brother for the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in Boston, which is located on Boylston street, the same street the explosions took place yesterday April 15th near the finish of the Boston Marathon. When I was in Boston four years ago I decided to go to the Boston Marathon because that is one of the biggest events in Boston. I was able to get within 50 yards from the finish line and there you were always touching 3-4 people because everyone was so packed near the finish line. My prayers are for all the people who were hurt by the explosions, for their families and for the doctors who are trying their hardest to keep them alive. May Jesus our Divine Physician work through the doctors to bring about healing.

Here are some pictures I took at the Boston Marathon,

      You can see the flags, that is where the first explosion happened.

This is right past the finish line, where the runners get water and then get on the bus to get to their hotel.

Please keep praying for those who have died and who are injured.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


It all started on Tuesday of Holy Week.  Three of us, a Deacon, and two seminarians, flew from Rome to Marsielle France were we rented a car.  We drove from Marseille up to Avignon were there is a Palace in which the Popes lived for some time in the 14th century.  After a night there we drove north east to the Benedictine Monastery of Le Barroux.  To the left is a picture of their chapel on Holy Saturday.  As you can see, the Cross is exposed but the statue or our Lady on the left is still veiled.  We arrived on Wednesday of Holy Week and were able to pray and take meals with the monks.  It was a great way to enter into Easter as they chant and pray so beautifully, but also to fast and prepare for the Feast of Easter.  Click here to get to a short video of the life of the monks there at Le Barroux.  It was an amazing experience.


After Le Barroux we drove up to Ars on pilgrimage to St. Jean Vianney's tomb.  We met Father Joseph Bergida from the Diocese of Arlington, a fifth year priest studying here in Rome.  Since Father Bergida is in his first year of priesthood we were able to set up Mass at the tomb of St. Jean Vianney with his chalice.  I was able to serve the Mass.  In fact, one of the greatest blessings of the trip was the fraternity and unity of the four of us in the prayer of the Church; the Mass and the Divine Office.  I served or sang every day for Father Bergida's Mass at a different shrine or pilgrimage spot.  It was a great blessing.  To the right is a picture of me standing next to St. Jean Vianney's first Mass alb and stole in his old house.
After Ars we made a stop at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere.  A link to the wiki page on this shrine is here.  It was beautiful with many awe inspiring mosaics.  To the right is a picture of a huge statue of our Lady looking over the city of Lyon France which the Basilica stands above.  They purposely made her hands extra large as they are outstretched in intercession for the people.   One interesting side note, the architect and designer of the Basilica, Pierre Bossan, converted to Catholicism because of his interaction with St. Jean Vianney.

ANNECY FRANCE: Our next stop was Annecy were St. Francis de Sales is buried.  It is an absolutely beautiful area in the foothills of the French Alps.  These pictures were taken on the hillside during a picnic stop we made after Mass in the crypt of the Church where St. Francis de Sales is buried.  There are shrines to our Lady all over the place.  

Mount Blanc:
Mont Blanc means "white mountain".  It is a very popular skiing spot and the highest peak in the European Alps at 4,800 meters... over 15,000 ft.

This is a chapel which as you can see is inaccessible due snow covering the road.  

Another Marian shrine in the Mountains in Norther Italy,  Our lady of Oropa.  This was up in the mountains and has been there for hundreds of years.  There are references to it by Pope Innocent III in 1207.  JPII made a stop here during his pontificate.  It was also one of Pier Giorgio Frassati's favorite Marian Shrines to visit.   Here is a link to more information.  


This is a picture of the sanctuary of the shrine in a small mountain village called Santo Stefano d'Aveto.  We stayed in an agritourismo right behind the shrine in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  You are probably asking the same question I did, why is there a shrine to our Lady of Guadalupe in the mountains of norther Italy.  Well, the leading family from the 12th century onward in the northern part of Italy, especially the huge port city of Genoa, was the Doria family.  They had a summer residence (a castle) in this small town (there are still parts of it standing).  In the 16th Century one of the Doria family served in the military and took part in the battle of Lapanto.  Here is an excerpt from Encyclopedia Britanica: "In the 16th century the emergence of the greatest member of the family, Andrea Doria, opened a new period in the history of Genoa and of the Dorias, bringing them once more to the political fore. Giovanni Andrea (1539–1606), Andrea’s grandnephew, was his lieutenant and heir, serving as Genoese admiral against the Turks in the War of Cyprus (1570–71). He took part victoriously in the Battle of Lepanto (1571), which ended the threat of Turkish supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean."  This victory was attributed to our Lady of Guadalupe because an image of her was in the state room of the ship of Giovanni Andrea Doria.  It was given to him by King Phillip II of Spain.  Thus, after the victory, he brought the Image back to his family and people and in this small town of Santo Stefano d'Aveto built a shrine to her and a devotion began.  It has remained ever since.  There is a huge statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the highest peak near the village.  It was a great blessing to be in this small village and experience the kindness of the local people.  It was off season in this ski town, so there was not much open, but, one of the restaurant owners opened just for us.  He and his wife served us.  Wonderful people.
This is me standing in front of Christopher Columbus's house in Genoa.
I was the driver for the entire trip.  I forgot how much I missed getting behind the wheel as you can see in my eyes.

Here is the sweet Kia that we rented.  6 speed manual transmission.  And yes, it was a diesel. 
Here is a picture of the fellowship as we stand on the Italian side of Mount Blanc.  From left to right Deacon Spencer Howe from St. Paul Minnesota, me, Father Joseph Bergida from Arlington Virginia and Michael Hendershott from Knoxville Tennessee.
As always.  I want to thank everyone back home for your support and prayers.  I cannot come close to being able to express how grateful I am for the opportunity to experience the Church and her history in this way and with so many different people and cultures.  I am humbled by the blessings which you all make possible.  Thank you so much for your prayers and know of mine as well.  Happy Easter!!  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Amazing Picture of Divine Mercy

This shows how God works through the Priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  A few days ago I spoke to the students at Immaculate Conception in Traverse City and I said that the Sacraments are truly amazing and they should go to Mass daily and also go to Confession at least once a month and this picture shows just how amazing Confession really is. One of the examples I gave the kids was that of a boy that fell off his bike, the kid was cut up, bleeding and in pain. The kid then went to his mom and his mom comforted him and took him to a doctor to heal his wounds from the accident. The doctor then wrapped up his cuts and gave him an ice pack and said in a week you will be back riding again but next time wear a helmet. Likewise when one sins our Blessed Mother will help us get to Confession and her son Jesus, Our Divine Physician will heal and remove the sin from us with the words of absolution and then the Priest will give some advice like pray the rosary, which is like the doctor saying wear a helmet.

So ....... when was the last time you went to Confession?    

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Holy Week in the Parish

Christ is Risen!

Happy Easter to you all. 
I hope that these past two week, Holy Week and Easter Week, have been grace-filled.

If you will permit me, I want to step back a bit and give a few reflections from my experience of Holy Week. Classes were suspended for Holy Week and Easter Week giving us the opportunity to travel and spend the holiest time of the year with our communities, families and friends. This year I have become close to a parish here in Rome that I often frequent whenever I can on Sundays. The parish is named in honor of a 6th century Roman Noblewomen Saint Galla, who was known for her service to the city's poor and a miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary which she entrusted to the Pope John I. The parish of Saint Galla is outside the city center somewhat near St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls and was built in 1930's to accommodate Rome's expanding population.

Giorgio, A friend of mine from Rome introduced me to the pastor of the parish back in the fall and I found myself welcomed into the community. With Holy Week approaching I was trying to figure out where I should go either to San Giovanni Rotondo where I spent my summer or to some other place in Italy or some monastery. Around that time, my friend came to the NAC for Mass and he asked if I would be willing to help out at the parish during Holy Week. I took him up on the offer and decided to stay in Rome.

Holy Week started out with the Mass of the Lord's Passion on Palm Sunday. The parish has a quaint little garden set apart from the busy street that provided the perfect place to begin the procession. In the garden there were even a few olive trees and palm trees which provided a few of the faithful some extra branches when the supply of olive branches ran low. Luckily the trees were tall enough so as not to lose all their branches. The Masses were packed that morning as people came to have their olive branches blessed. I smiled when Don Paolo assured the people that their branches were indeed blessed even if the holy water didn't reach them. In the afternoon I enjoyed lunch with the family of my friend. They just live across the street from the parish. Then later that evening the children who are to make their First Communion this year put on a little play. It was quite good.

Holy Thursday started  with a delicious lunch with all the priests of the parish, the pastor (Don Paolo) and the associate pastor along with three or four student priests from other countries who lend a hand during the weekend. The lunch was a beautiful time for us to thank the Lord for the gift of priesthood conferred on the apostles that day. I was impressed by how the priests made themselves available to hear confessions that week. I always saw at least two of them in the confessionals during the day while I was setting things up in the church. I asked the young associate pastor if extra hours of confessions made him tired. He replied simply saying "This is why I became a priest." What a great example...

Good Friday was beautiful as well. The liturgy of that day is quite impressive and moving as you all know well. During the adoration of the cross, I was really stuck by the universality of the Cross of Christ. I have such strong memories of holding the cross as an altar server as a boy. Now thousands of miles from home I see that same beautiful gesture of kissing the wood of the cross. It is a good reminder for me that the Cross of Christ is universal. It is for all.  Then I went with Giorgio to the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum led by Pope Francis.

Holy Saturday always seems like such a long day. Maybe it is the anticipation of that evening's vigil. Whatever it is, time seemed to go slowly. I spent the morning cleaning the chapel's at the NAC as part of my house job. We had our rehearsal for the Easter Vigil in the early evening which went smooth. Sometimes I felt like I was more of a burden then a help when it came to serving the Mass. The servers knew exactly what to do and are well trained where as I struggled sometimes just to understand the instructions let alone give any guidance. Fortunately, even though it was obviously all in Italian the Mass is the same. The Vigil was as beautiful as ever. My favorite moment is when during the Gloria I could hear the bells in the bell tower ringing. There is nothing like the sound of bells to announce the Easter Joy. The Vigil lasted until about 1 AM at which point I was exhausted, but so was the young associate pastor who was still kind enough to drive me home so that I didn't have to attempt to use the night buses. So much joy!

Easter morning I slept in and went to the Papal Mass in St. Peter's Square which was spectacular. The sky was so blue with the sun shining. Perfect weather. I also stayed in the square for the Pope's Urbi et Orbi blessing to the city and to the world. Then I went back to the NAC for a big Easter lunch with a few of the other seminarians who were still in Rome.

I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful way to spend Holy Week. It was so good to be in a parish for all the liturgies during Holy Week. As a young altar server, I grew up serving the various liturgies during Holy Week. It is there I really fell in love with the Mass, the mysteries of our faith, and the priesthood. So it was a great blessing to be once again in a parish setting, albeit not the same as being at Holy Family Parish in East Tawas. My thoughts and prayers were focused often on everyone back home and in the diocese. Nonetheless the experience of being in a parish in a different cultural setting is unforgettable and will hopefully prepare me for the future.