Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Roma: Take Two

Why take two, you might ask?  Because I've already been blessed to have been here this semester!  I was delinquent and didn't post about my first trip (although it's completely drafted and everything!) but I figure this one can take its place.

We left our school campus yesterday afternoon at 3:30, drove 14 hours over the Alps and down into Italy, and arrived just after 6 this morning!  It was a long and tedious drive with very little sleep, but as soon as we pulled into that parking lot, we were out of the buses and running toward the Vatican!  We weren't the first ones in line, but we were far enough up that we knew we'd get decent seats.  We found ourselves next to some seminarians from St. Paul/ Minneapolis, and after praying morning prayer with them, we talked to them for about a half an hour.  Soon, there were tons of people pushing into us from behind, and at one point, we were literally being carried forward by the crowd; I couldn't have stayed still if I had wanted to!

Once through security, a group of about 20 of us discovered that we'd been separated from the main group: they were all up in the very front section, and we were in the back.  Still, after much debating over whether it was worth it to sneak up front, we figured that since we were right next to the barricade, we had a chance of seeing Pope Benedict.

Vatican events are great ways to meet people.  We got to 'talking' (or rather, communicating) with an Italian group standing near us, and even though we spoke very little of each other's language, we were all able to understand rather well.  We ended up praying an Italian/English/Latin rosary with them.  And then, as we hung the Franciscan University Austria Program banner over the side of the barricade, we found out that a woman standing across from us has a brother at Franciscan, and her husband works at a Catholic news company.  She was there with her daughter and two infant sons.

Finally, 10 o'clock arrived and cardinals began making announcments and welcoming hte various groups who were there.  Franciscan got mentioned, as well as my diocese!  At 10:30, we all started craning our necks toward the archway next to St. Peter's, and as the organ music began, Pope Benedict came around the corner in his Pope mobile!
He began weaving his way through the crowds, going up one aisle and down another, and just when we had given up hope that he was coming near us.....
Right next to us!  He stopped to bless two children across the barricade from us, and was literally RIGHT in front of us!  He looked straight at me; needless to say, taking pictures wasn't the very first thing on my mind.  It was one of the most beautiful moments in my life, right up there with receiving first Sacraments and becoming a godmother.  I don't think there was a single person in our group, guys included, whose eyes were dry. (admission: half of us were crying like small children. embarrassment level: zero.  It's the Papa! We're allowed to cry!) (oh, and there's no zoom on the pictures!)

Let's be honest here: after that, not a whole lot mattered.  There was a reading from scripture and the Pope gave an address in Italian, followed by short addresses in 6 or 8 different languages.  And then we were given a Papal blessing that extends to all our family members and loved ones back home.  I didn't know that was possible!  He also blessed any religious articles that we had with us.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up by pizza, gelato, walking, more pizza, and more walking, but we kept going back to that moment, when the Pope was 4 feet away from us, and time seemed to stand still.

Tomorrow, we will be touring part of the city and then watching Papa leave Vatican City before the abdication.  Of course, it will be bittersweet, but to be here, as history unfolds, is incredible in and of itself.

You're all in my prayers!  
(ps: please pray for a friend of mine who is entering a cloistered monastery on March 3rd! thanks!)

Friday, February 22, 2013

you world traveler, you

The amazing thing about living in Austria is that the world is at your fingertips.  Quite literally.  I type in a few names on the train website, click go, and I’m off.

This past weekend, the school organized a trip to Poland for us.  I love it when they do this, because all I need to do is give them money and they plan everything!  What a blessing for us busy students!

After a 10-hour bus ride, we arrived in Poland at 5 am.  We made our way up an extremely icy hill to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa (pronounced chesta-hova).  Because we were there quite early, we were able to be very close for the unveiling of the image.  (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Our Lady of Czestochowa, it is said to have been painted by St. Luke on a table built by Christ!)  Fr. Luke said Mass for us at the altar of the image, and most of us did the traditional walk around the Madonna on our knees.

Then, it was time for the difficult part of the trip- Auschwitz and Birkenau.  We all knew about the concentration camps from school, but visiting is totally different.  To walk the streets that Jews, Christians, and Nazis walked, to enter their barracks, walk their corridors, see their shoes, hair, brushes, suitcases, and dishes- it’s heartbreaking.  I couldn’t help but ask myself, How? Why?  How could this happen, and Why not me?  Being able to pray at St. Maximillian Kolbe’s call was a very small, flickering light in the midst of a tremendous darkness.  At Birkenau, the 150 of us waked the length of the train tracks in complete silence.  All we could hear was out trudging footsteps in the snow.  When we reached the end, we prayed a Divine Mercy chaplet together- once more, a little light in the darkness.

Back on the bus, we gradually started talking again, and eventually arrived in Krakow.  The hotel was lovely, and I enjoyed spending time with Stasia and Elyse, as we were rooming together.  The next morning, we were given a professional tour of the city.  Our tour guide was Catholic, so she gave us a lot of little Catholic “fun facts” :).  She was confirmed by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla!  We had some free time, so we went through the outdoor market and bought some gifts for people ;).  Perogies for lunch with the sisters who came with us, then on to the Divine Mercy Shrine, where St. Faustina received her visions and locutions.  We said the chaplet with the sisters, then heard a presentation by one of the sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, went to the gift shop (see a trend here?!?), and had Mass.  Dinner was on our own, so Stasia and I had hamburgers… don’t judge.  Not quite Polish, but very delicious!  That evening, we went to this fantastic shop for hot chocolate… I literally think they melted a chocolate bar into the cup.  It was super thick and creamy… yum!

On Sunday, we had a Latin Mass at the Cathedral in Krakow, then headed to Wadowice (pronounced va-do-VEE-chey).  Wadowice is Blessed John Paul II’s hometown, only about an hour from Krakow.  It is very small, so there was not tons to do, but we saw his parish where he was Baptized, received First Communion, and Confirmed, and ate “pope cake”!  JPII had a favorite pastry that he always ate when he returned to his home- it’s a thick layer of pudding-creme in between two flaky pastries.  So good!  (After eating it, I was very thirsty (and in need of spending my last zloty (Polish money)) so I went to find some water.  I saw some in a bakery, so I went in and asked for water.  There was only one kind, and she handed it to me and I paid.  When I took a sip outside, I was taken aback- I had forgotten to ask for still water!!  It was sparkling!  I’d actually never had plain sparkling water before; it was quite good and refreshing :P ).

We had another long bus ride back, and arrived home to Gaming about 1:30 am.  Thank goodness Monday was a “recovery day” with no classes.  Just 3 meetings.  Haha.

All in all, it was a really great weekend.  I was able to spend time with some different people and get to know them, see some things that helped me grow both as a person and in my faith, and prepare spiritually for my next trip! (But that’s another blog post in and of itself…)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Well.  I had a post on my trip to Rome just about finished, but then I heard some news this morning.  I figured this was a bit more important…

This morning, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he is stepping down from his place as Supreme Pontiff; he is resigning.  Needless to say, the Church (and the world) were shocked.  And rightly so: this hasn’t happened in 600 years.  I believe in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope has resigned a total of 5 or 6 times.  So it’s a bit of an “unknown”- no one exactly knows how this is all going to work out.

Now, because I’m at a Catholic University, studying in Europe for the semester, this event hits a little closer to home.  After the initial “freak-out-oh-my-gosh-Is-This-Happening?-THIS-IS-HAPPENING!”, we all realized how incredible it is that we are on this side of the ocean, right now.
14 days ago, Grace and I were standing in St. Peter’s Square, listening to a performance at some sort of a youth cultural event, counting down the minutes until we got to see Pope Benedict.  We cheered as loud as anyone when he emerged from the window, and even though we couldn’t understand a word of what he said in the address (except for “Carpe Diem!”), it was thrilling to be there, in front of the Vatican, along with thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We prayed the Angelus in Latin with him, and he gave us a blessing.  I felt ridiculous for crying, but it really couldn’t be helped: he’s our father, Christ’s representative here on earth, and I was meeting him for the first time.  The added bonus was returning to Austria and finding out that we were shown for over 10 seconds of a video on not only Rome Reports, but EWTN.  
Every semester, Franciscan University provides the students an opportunity to go to Rome and Assisi for 10 days.  We will be getting on a bus the same day that Pope Benedict steps down.  We will arrive in Rome on March 2, potentially in the middle of or at the beginning of a conclave.  We could be present for the election of a new Pope.

OK, so here’s the neat part.  The University may not be able to get us into the Vatican Museums; Grace and I went on a private tour of the Museums and saw the Sistine Chapel with less than 100 people inside.  It may be difficult to really see the Basilica while there are so many people there; Grace and I saw that already.  We even saw part of the crypt and had Mass at St. Peter’s tomb… Really, though!  This has to be God’s doing!

In a mere 19 days, I will once again be standing in St. Peter’s Square.  This time, though, I will literally be part of history.  I really can’t wait.

If you are Catholic, please, please pray for our Pope as he finishes his last days as Pontiff.  I can’t imagine the amount of humility he has in order to accept that his health isn’t good enough to adequately lead the Church.  Pray for the Cardinals who are preparing to elect a new leader for us.  (If you are not Catholic, please still pray for our Church!)

May God bless Pope Benedict XVI as he begins this next stage in his life and as he enters a life of prayer for the Church!