Monday, March 31, 2008

Whispering in the Loggia ...

Rocco announces that a new Bishop for Shreveport, LA will be announced tomorrow, suggesting that its new shepherd might have something to do with Dallas ...

[How does he do it???????? Of course, if this is an April Fool's stunt, many many will be upset ... :)]

Nine US diocese currently stand vacant (including Shreveport). He also suggests that in the next few weeks, this backlog might be cleared in anticipation of the arrival of the Chief Shepherd on US soil ...

Perhaps Charleston might make the cut?

Let your voice be heard!

Krista Tippet of the NPR program "Speaking of Faith" is seeking input from Catholics and former Catholics about their faith, in light of the holy Father's upcoming trip.

Go make your voice heard!

[H/t Amy]

Seventh dirtiest city in the world

Bombay. According to a recent Forbes survey, as reported in this Cities Briefing.

As I always say: it's a blessing that I have a less-than-sensitive olfactory sense. It's an advantage in Bombay. :)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

L'Affaire Allam, mission, Islam and Great Commission Christians

A couple of articles related to the above issues:

At Abu Daoud's excellent blog "Islam and Christianity" Sherry Wadell and the author continue their very civil conversation about the baptism of Magdi Allam. This is an excellent article, not just for the civility of the conversation, but for the light it shines on the reality of mission in the Muslim world, especially the question: what is the most effective way of sharing Christ in this context? Sample excerpt:
SW: Abu Daoud: Another factor in this debate that no one has mentioned so far is the huge charism [sic. I think what was meant was "chasm.") in mission experience since the 60's between Catholics and evangelical Protestants. Catholic missionaries, for the most past, jettisoned the proclamation of Christ as the primary focus of mission 40 years while evangelicals revved their engines. (Emphasis added. This is SO true!

AD: And they (The Catholics) were castigated for this by JPII in his encyclical, missio redemptoris, which is about the permanent validity of the church's evangelistic mission to the nations. Wherein he also says that religious dialogue is nice, but it's not the same as mission. The exact position I hold to.

SW: So the two categories that Catholics tend to think of as Catholic are 1) the (understandably) extremely cautious, we-won't-bother-you-by-sharing-Christ-if-you'll-just-leave-us-alone stance of historic Christian minorities in the ME and parts of Asia and 2) the older Christendom model where everyone is assumed to be Catholic and state and cultural norms and church all reinforce one another and the Catholicism fills the public square. The fearful, quiet minority or the big battalion. Egypt and Italy, if you will. (Allam's life bridges both)
But in my experience, Catholics are hardly ever familiar with [option 3] the vastly different evangelical experience of the past 40 years in the Muslim world - where a huge number of creative, pro-active, alternatives to categories 1 & 2 above have been tried. Many have proven fruitless but some have born enormous fruit and given rise to the first Muslim background Christian communities in history. AD, your own ministry would fall into [option 3] I think?
In this piece at ID, Sherry talks about what being a Great Commission Christian might mean in the Muslim world. (She also refers in passing to the story getting a lot of press, about the Vatican "admitting" [admitting? Reluctantly? Or as if it were changing its position? Or finally owning up to something that it was in denial about?] that there are now more Muslims than Catholics in the world. See Thomas Peter's comment on that story here.) Here's the heart of the matter:
It is these evangelizers - almost all of whom are lay - living in Muslim communities, loving their neighbors, teaching school, healing the sick, founding and running businesses, planting thousands of evangelizing small Christian communities in hundreds of different language groups and situations, writing books, making radio broadcasts, building relationships, trust, and credibility with Muslims they actually know personally - who have been used by God to turn the tide. Fr. Zacahrias is one rather loud horn in a vast symphony orchestra - and he isn't even first chair.

Remember that study that Dudley Woodbury did about why Muslims become Christian? Of the 5 primary reasons that 750 MBBs gave - the central theme was love. God's love reflected consistently in the lives of Christians they knew. Being exposed to the love of Christ through the gospels.

Not media, Not TV. Not apologetics. Love. From tens of thousands of expat missionaries and hundreds of thousands of national Christians who are "Great commission" Christians.
Love. God's love, revealed in Christ, enfleshed in the Body of Christ, in the quite lives of countless Christians who live and share this. Mission is about love. Not about acquiring numbers, or about destroying cultures, or even (I don't know if evangelical Protestants would necessarily agree with this formulation) primarily about saving the heathen from hell, but about the love of Christ that compels us to go out and to share and live the Good News.

[The article Sherry refers to is this one that appeared in Christianity Today a little while back: 5 reasons Muslims Convert.]

This is the day of your new birth

A sermon by St. Augustine from the Office of Readings for the Octave of Easter:
I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church's fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed, a new colony of bees, the very flower of our ministry and fruit of our toil, my joy and my crown. It is the words of the Apostle that I address to you: Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires, so that you may be clothed with the life of him whom you have put on in this sacrament. You have all been clothed with Christ by your baptism in him. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Such is the power of this sacrament: it is a sacrament of new life which begins here and now with the forgiveness of all past sins, and will be brought to completion in the resurrection of the dead. You have been buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that, as Christ has risen from the dead, you also may walk in newness of life.

You are walking now by faith, still on pilgrimage in a mortal body away from the Lord; but he to whom your steps are directed is himself the sure and certain way for you: Jesus Christ, who for our sake became man. For all who fear him he has stored up abundant happiness, which he will reveal to those who hope in him, bringing it to completion when we have attained the reality which even now we possess in hope.
This is the octave day of your new birth. Today is fulfilled in you the sign of faith that was prefigured in the Old Testament by the circumcision of the flesh on the eighth day after birth. When the Lord rose from the dead, he put off the mortality of the flesh; his risen body was still the same body, but it was no longer subject to death. By his resurrection he consecrated Sunday, or the Lord's day. Though the third after his passion, this day is the eighth after the Sabbath, and thus also the first day of the week.

And so your own hope of resurrection, though not yet realised, is sure and certain, because you have received the sacrament or sign of this reality, and have been given the pledge of the Spirit. If, then, you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your hearts on heavenly things, not the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A report from Gaza

From Tom Garofalo, who works for CRS (Catholic Relief Services) in the region, over at Catholic Exchange.
In early January, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick insisted on going to Gaza on the very day that President George Bush was visiting President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The situation is always a bit tense when such visits happen, but the Cardinal wanted to go and check in with a local Gaza parish and the projects CRS runs with young people, Christian and Muslim. We met with twenty young people, university students of both sexes, and their message was sad despite their smiles and their thankfulness for our visit. "We have very little hope for change right now," said one young man. "All I really have hope for today is that I'll have electricity when I go home from our meeting, so my mother can have light to cook by and we will have heat at night." Young people need the capacity to hope for so much more.

The Klan

20061118 KKK Ellijay (22)

Well, the Klan is operative in rural northern Georgia. (It is as well in rural South Carolina, so it's not like this is new).

The last time they were seen in these parts was in an anti-immigrant rally in 2006. (That's where the photo is from. I've no idea if the guy who uploaded them was a spectator or a symphathizer ... ). Love the bad Spanish grammar on that sign.

The rural South has changed dramatically over the past decade with a vast influx of Hispanic immigrants (both legal and illegal), highlighting again the broken immigration system of the country. The native population grows resentful, discrimination abounds, the undocumented are harassed or worse, are exploited for their labor, and the only ones who seem to benefit are the businesses who get cheap labor, and get away with violating the law with impunity. (If there is a raid, a business will get slapped with a fine. Big whoop. The unfortunate undocumented workers will have their lives turned upside down and will be sundered from their families, including US citizen children.)

Note to self: if confronted by a Klansman, say "Howdy" in your best Southern accent and burst into a spontaneous rendition of "God Bless America" followed by "Blame Canada."


Pastry Dialogue

... continuing the trend this morning of talking about interreligious dialogue and evangelization, here is a neat piece by CNS's John Thavis on the pastries of the Jewish neighborhood of Rome and their role in dialogue ...

Christianity's growing edge ...

see the list at Intentional Disciples.

In June, one can pray at this historic church in Tarsus, for free

Otherwise, one has to pay a museum entrance fee. The concession is being given by the Turkish government for the Pauline Year, and the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul. (The Tablet.)

Cardinal Schönborn on evangelizing the Jewish people

A fascinating article in this week's Tablet:
Again and again, most recently concerning the revised Good Friday Prayer for the "Old Rite", this question of the "Mission to the Jews" keeps arising. Some theologians today are of the opinion that Christians should give up all attempts to missionise the Jews. Some go even further and think that there is no need to offer the Jews entry into the new covenant in Jesus Christ as God's covenant with the people of Israel was never revoked. The "Old Covenant" is the way to salvation for the Jews and the "New Covenant" the way to salvation for Gentiles, they say. This theory of "Two Ways to Salvation" is, however, rightly seen as incompatible with the Catholic belief in one salvation in Jesus Christ, as Cardinal Avery Dulles pointed out in the Jesuit journal America in October 2002.

The following short article tries - very simply - to consult the New Testament in an attempt to give an answer to the theory of the "Two Ways to Salvation". The article tries to show that according to the New Testament and from the Christian point of view there is only one salvation in Jesus Christ, but two clearly distinguishable ways of proclaiming and accepting this salvation. In this respect it must be made clear that the overture/offer to the Jews to recognise Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah cannot simply be equated with Christ's mandate to evangelise all (heathen) nations and make them his disciples (cf. Matthew 28: 18-20). That is what I have tried to explain below.
An interesting exegesis of passages from the New Testament follows ... the basic point seems to be that way of proclamation to the Jewish people is different. How? Basically, there aren't two ways of salvation, but two ways of receiving salvation.
God's choice of the Jews in his plan for the world - "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29) - calls for particular attention on the part of the Church regarding the way in which the Gospel message is proclaimed to the Jews by her children. The individual conscience must always be respected. Religious liberty requires this of everyone. But the vocation of the Jews requires Christians to recognise the mystery of the specific choice of those to whom belong "the adoption [as children], the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah" (Romans 9:4-5). The fact that the Church has apologised for the diverse forms of compulsion which they have had to suffer throughout the Christian era implies that Christians have now irrevocably renounced all forms of proselytism. This does not mean that Christians for their part have abandoned the mandate to proclaim the Gospel "to the Jews first" which the Apostles received from Christ and which they passed on to the Church. On the other hand, it means that this mandate must be carried out in the most sensitive way, cleansed of all un-Christian motives. Prayer, the offering of life, tokens of unselfish love and above all recognition of Jewish identity should win "the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:47) for the disciples of Jesus so that bearing witness to their faith in Christ, proposed with due respect and humility, may be recognised by them (the Jews) as the fulfilment - and not as a denial - of the promise of which they are the bearers.
Again, the status of Israel is unique. The Church's relationship to the Jewish people is unique, unlike it's relationship with any other group -- they are our "elder brothers" and not just another "religion."

Of course, in the modern West, all religions are deemed to be the same, and any talk about uniqueness is suspect. And this attitude has, it seems, deeply infected Catholics. [This is reflected in the language of the Tablet's introductory summary to Cardinal Schönborn's article: "The revised Good Friday prayer for the evangelisation of the Jews in the Tridentine Rite has reignited the debate about how Catholics should approach the tricky area of "proclamation" to members of other faiths." Tricky? It's only tricky if one thinks that "proclamation" is ... icky! It might be complicated, and nuanced, and requiring prayer and sensitivity, and a respect for human dignity -- but isn't that what all Christian living is about? Why tricky? The leader to the article is also misleading: "Christian-Jewish relations have grown warmer over the years. But should Christians proclaim the Gospel to the Jews? Here a senior cardinal explains that Christ's mandate to evangelise all heathen nations did not refer to the Jews, for whom a second kind of proclamation is in order." At least in my reading, what Cardinal Schönborn says is that the proclamation cannot "simply be equated" to the mandate to evangelize the heathens. There is a difference in mode. The bottom line remains: "Jews and Christians alike need to be redeemed from sin by Jesus Christ."

Evangelizing -- sharing the good news of salvation in Christ -- is not intrinsically disrespectful or arrogant. We really need to learn that.

I wonder what the experience of Catholics and other Christians living in the Holy Land is, with respect to relationship with the Jewish people? I know in the US, the majority of Jews are secular, and, I suspect, deeply resentful of anything resembling Christian evangelism.

Cardinal Schönborn also suggests that though St. Paul writes that there there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ,
However, it does not follow that from then on the difference between Jews and Greeks was abolished in the Church. Even within the Church, St Paul retains a certain diversity of appeal and differentiates between those who "come from circumcision" and those "who come from the Gentiles". This comes out in St Paul's letters in which he distinguishes between - and gives significant priority to - "we [who come from circumcision]" and "you [who come from the Gentiles]".
Thus, within the Church there were "two vocations"
It is in this way that St Paul distinguishes between the two vocations, between those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah who came "from circumcision" and those who converted to Christ and came "from the Gentiles". The difference lies in the way in which they communicate with each other in the Church and impart the same blessing to the world which God conferred on human beings through Jesus Christ, "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy" (Romans 15,8-9).
While this might have been true of the earliest generation, surely it wasn't true soon afterwards? Even if one accepts the sociological analysis offered by Rodney Stark (see this interview with Mike Aquilina in Touchstone), that the mission to the Jews was actually successful (his contention is that diaspora Jews were less tied to markers of Jewish ethnicity, and the abolition of distinctive ethnic markers in Christianity made it very appealing to them. He likens the general mindset of 2nd & 3rd century diaspora Judaism to 19th century Reform Judaism, influenced by the Enlightenment, that also was uncomfortable with ethnic markers, except in the latter case, the shift seems to have been not just to Christianity, but to secular humanism.), the distinctiveness of Jewish Christians seems to have disappeared from the Church early on.

This is not to suggest that such a distinction might not be useful in our own time, which is a lot more sensitive to the heritage and traditions of those who were "first to hear the message of salvation," and also where the sociological realities are very different from the early centuries of the Church.

[It would also be interesting to hear about this from prominent Jewish converts to Catholicism, such as Roy Schoeman ("Salvation is from the Jews"). See also this article in FT on Jewish-Christian dialogue.]

Friday, March 28, 2008

Northwest follows suit in the checked luggage restriction policy

On Coach non-refundable fares (the bulk of travelers), you will soon be able to check in only one bag free. A second bag will cost $25.

Worldperk Elite members can still check-in two bags (three in First Class) free, as will Skyteam Elite members. (well thank goodness!)


And another transition ...

... I just arrived in a new place, in the rural northern Georgia mountains. In the interests of prudence, I wont' be sharing specifics on here. I will have a lot of time to pray and think and reflect and be thankful, over the next few months. :)

All prayers, especially for my vocation, are greatly appreciated.

Christos anesti! Aleithos anesti!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A time to be born, a time to die

From today's Office of Readings.
You were led down to the font of holy baptism just as Christ was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb which is before your eyes. Each of you was asked, "Do you believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?" You made the profession of faith that brings salvation, you were plunged into the water, and three times you rose again. This symbolised the three days Christ spent in the tomb.

As our Saviour spent three days and three nights in the depths of the earth, so your first rising from the water represented the first day and your first immersion represented the first night. At night a man cannot see, but in the day he walks in the light. So when you were immersed in the water it was like night for you and you could not see, but when you rose again it was like coming into broad daylight. In the same instant you died and were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother.

Solomon's phrase in another context is very apposite here. He spoke of a time to give birth, and a time to die. For you, however, it was the reverse: a time to die, and a time to be born, although in fact both events took place at the same time and your birth was simultaneous with your death.

This is something amazing and unheard of! It was not we who actually died, were buried and rose again. We only did these things symbolically, but we have been saved in actual fact. It is Christ who was crucified, who was buried and who rose again, and all this has been attributed to us. We share in his sufferings symbolically and gain salvation in reality. What boundless love for men! Christ's undefiled hands were pierced by the nails; he suffered the pain. I experience no pain, no anguish, yet by the share that I have in his sufferings he freely grants me salvation.

Let no one imagine that baptism consists only in the forgiveness of sins and in the grace of adoption. Our baptism is not like the baptism of John, which conferred only the forgiveness of sins. We know perfectly well that baptism, besides washing away our sins and bringing us the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a symbol of the sufferings of Christ. This is why Paul exclaims: Do you not know that when we were baptised into Christ Jesus we were, by that very action, sharing in his death? By baptism we went with him into the tomb.
From the Jerusalem Catecheses, attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem.
During the Octave of Easter, the Te Deum is to be prayed/sung after the Office of Readings every day.

Here's a video of an FSSP schola chanting this magnificent prayer.

(Can we do away with the organ please? :))

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Something about Divine Mercy Sunday...

... reminded me of a letter I'd written in grad school to the student newspaper. Someone had written a column about Catholicism that suggested that being Catholic was about earning the requisite number of "heaven points" by attending so many Masses, or saying so many prayers, or helping so many old ladies across the street. It was a silly caricature, but one, it seemed, this columnist took seriously. [I don't recall if she was a lapsed Catholic or an evangelical attacking "works righteousness." I suspect it was the former ... ]

Anyway, the following letter from yours truly was duly published. Various conversations recently have reminded me of the fact that so many cradle Catholics seem to grow up with a conception of Catholicism that is only about following the "rules."

(This was written, oh, in the early part of the decade, I'd say. I'd probably elaborate a bit more on how all this ties to the a relationship with Jesus, and His Church, the continuing presence of the Body of Christ, if I were to rewrite it now, but hey ... )

I have to confess that I found X's column “New rules for good Catholics” to be mildly amusing. Caricatures tend to provoke amusement. Like every caricature, it was also a distortion. Let me offer an alternative perspective.

At its heart, Catholicism is a love story. It is the story of a God who is madly, passionately and crazily in love with us, His creation. A God who pursues us relentlessly; who is ready to embrace us and throw a party for us as the prodigal father in the story of the man and his two sons (Luke 15:11-32), not waiting to listen to our litany of faults; who would gladly abandon the ninety-nine good sheep to go in search for the one stray. A God who is involved in the muck and mess of our earthly lives in ways more intimate and wondrous than we dare imagine. A God who so wants our hearts, that there is “nothing in all creation” that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). At its heart there is also a paradox – that true love takes its most powerful and real form in the shape of a man, arms outstretched, cruelly nailed to a cross; that true love trusts ultimately in the God who brings new life out of an ignominious death.

“For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). If we are “made right” in God’s eyes, it’s not because we have earned the requisite number of heavenly brownie points. God is not this old man in the sky, with a long beard, weird and bizarre rules and a mean thunderbolt, who gets his jollies by watching us puny mortals jump through a maze of divine hoops. God is on our side. God is with us, Emmanuel. The Good News is precisely this that a share in God’s very life is available to us through faith, that God loves us as we are, with no strings or conditions, that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Anyone who has been in love, who has experienced love, knows that love calls forth a response. So it is with God’s love – once it penetrates our being, once we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) we are transformed, changed forever. This is what holiness is about – responding to, and cooperating with God’s grace, already at work in our lives. This is where the “rules” ought to fit in – for laying the boundaries and groundwork for our lives as disciples of Christ. Just as there are rules and disciplines in athletic tournaments, so it is in the spiritual life. For Catholics, central to our spiritual lives is the Eucharist and the sacramental life of the Church – Christ’s very tangible, continuing presence in the world.

This is, admittedly, a very idealized picture. I will be the first acknowledge that more often than not that Christians – Catholics – continue to screw up, continue to live our lives as if we could manipulate God, as if we could box the living God into our own categories and limited understandings, and continue, by our sinfulness, to be an obstacle, (
skandalon in Greek) to the spreading of the Good News. We in the church need to ask ourselves to what extent are we responsible for this distorted image of a God of senseless rules and “heaven points?” And to Ms. ----, and the others who might share her views, I can only respond with the invitation Jesus gave his disciples, “Come and see!”

Monday, March 24, 2008

L'affaire Allam

The baptism of Egyptian-born ex-Muslim Italian journalist Magdi Allam by Pope Benedict at the Easter Vigil at St. Peter's on Saturday has become something of a media event.

Today, Mr. Allam wrote a column in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. Zenit has a translation up. It's worth reading.

Lots of folks have commented on the event. I particularly want to draw attention to the excellent and civil conversation between Abu Daoud, a Christian living in the Middle East (who maintains the excellent blog, Islam and Christianity) and Sherry Wadell of Intentional Disciples. [The civility of their discussion is a sorely needed model for conversation and conduct in the blogosphere, even (especially?) in the Catholic blogosphere!]. Sherry raises some issues about the prudence of a such a public gesture (here and here). Abu Daoud disagrees with her.

Apart from the edifying nature of the conversation, it is also extremely helpful to hear in on the conversation of two people who are clearly seasoned missionaries, with a lot of experience of and knowledge about the realities of the Muslim world.

Whatever one's take on it (my initial reaction was, "Yeah! Go B16! Alleluia!"), it's absolutely true that Allam and his family (and the Holy Father!) needs everyone's prayers, as do so many in the Muslim world who are drawn to a life in Christ.

Nun appointed to head Minority Commission in India

Sr. Jessy Kurian, a lawyer before India's Supreme Court has been appointed as a member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions.

I have no idea what kind of teeth this body has. The cynic in me expects this to be simple white-washing, especially as the UPA government looks at calling mid-term elections this year or early next year ...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christos anesti!

Christos anesti ek nekron,
Thanato thanaton patisas.
Kai tois en tois mnemasis
Zoin kharisamenos

From the Holy Father's Urbi and Orbi message (full text at Rocco's)
Dear Christian brothers and sisters in every part of the world, dear men and women whose spirit is sincerely open to the truth, let no heart be closed to the omnipotence of this redeeming love! Jesus Christ died and rose for all; he is our hope – true hope for every human being. Today, just as he did with his disciples in Galilee before returning to the Father, the risen Jesus now sends us everywhere as witnesses of his hope, and he reassures us: I am with you always, all days, until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). Fixing the gaze of our spirit on the glorious wounds of his transfigured body, we can understand the meaning and value of suffering, we can tend the many wounds that continue to disfigure humanity in our own day. In his glorious wounds we recognize the indestructible signs of the infinite mercy of the God of whom the prophet says: it is he who heals the wounds of broken hearts, who defends the weak and proclaims the freedom of slaves, who consoles all the afflicted and bestows upon them the oil of gladness instead of a mourning robe, a song of praise instead of a sorrowful heart (cf. Is 61:1,2,3)

Members of Pakistan's Christian minority at an Easter service. Courtesy BBC.


Saturday, March 22, 2008


Am breaking my Triduum blog silence to ask for your prayers for the repose of the soul of Carmeline D., mother of a very close friend from college. She died yesterday in Bombay, on Good Friday, after a long struggle with colon cancer. I spoke with my friend earlier: the whole family was gathered, as well as neighbors and parishioners, and they prayed with her and sang for her as she passed on into eternity. The funeral will be held on Easter Sunday.

I am very grateful that I got to spend some time with her in Bombay last month.

Christos anesti ek nekron, thanato thanton patisas ... Christ has risen from the dead, and by death has conquered death.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


[Detail of central bronze doors, Duomo, Milan.]

Have a holy and blessed Triduum, y'all.

No blogging till Easter.

in India...

.... it's one long weekend.

Good Friday (which is a national holiday. Indians give themselves holidays for everyone's festivals ... :))

Holi (big Hindu spring festival, involving young folks going around dumping color on each other. Tons of fun. And, in traditional circles, one of the few times the sexes can mix.) which is really celebrated over two days, the second day (Dhuleti) being the fun stuff.

Eid-e-Milad (or Milad an-Nabi), the birthday of the Prophet

and ...

Nowrouz, the Parsi (Zoroastrian) New Year.

All this weekend.

[In addition, the Jewish people celebrate Purim this weekend. Not too many Jews left in India though ...]

Photos from the Vatican Garden Tour

The Vatican Railway Station
Originally uploaded by gashwin

This isn't that well known, and it's relatively easy to apply for tickets. And it's definitely worth it, especially in the kind of great weather that we got a couple of Saturdays ago. The tour lasts about 2 hours, and one gets to wander around large chunks of Vatican City, ordinarily closed off to the public.

Photos are up at Flickr, in their own set.

The beauty of Tenebrae

A "liturgical progressive" makes a case for bringing back Tenebrae. Holy Thursday Tenebrae |

It is an absolutely beautiful service, even though there is no longer any officially prescribed form.

A search for "tenebrae" at the NLM blog gives several links, mainly to parishes holding Tenebrae services at some point during Holy Week, mainly places where the Extraordinary Form is used, but also some Ordinary Form parishes.

Surrogate-mother business booming in India - Health -

More bioethical murkiness. Surrogate-mother business booming in India - Health -

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Passion Narrative according to the Gospel of John

The Passion Narrative according to the Gospel of John [H/t Mike Aquilina] Paraclete Press is making a traditional Gregorian chant of the text of the Passion available for free at their website. It can also be downloaded (with an album of some fantastic chants) from iTunes or eMusic. [The page seems to work better in IE than Firefox.]

What a wonderful way to help meditate and pray as one enters the Triduum.

Incidentally, growing up, there were two pieces of music that were always associated with Christian holy days in our house. On Christmas Day, my dad would play an old scratchy LP of Sir Neville Mariner conducting the London Philharmonic (I forget which orchestra) with selections from Handel's Messiah. And on Good Friday, we'd listen to the Passion according to St. Matthew by Bach. I still try and listen to the entire Matthaüspassion at some point during Lent, if not on Good Friday itself ...

And he wondered why I ended up Christian? :)

Bearing the Silence of God

A Turkish (evangelical) theologian writes powerfully about the Cross and the persecuted Church spread throughout the world.
More Christians are killed than are saved from execution at the last minute. More Christians stay locked in prison, beaten and tortured, than are able to walk free, guided by miraculous escape plans. More Christians suffer lifelong deprivation of their most basic civic and economic rights. More converts from Islam give up their faith than stay Christians, and those who remain in the church struggle with lifelong battles with shame, depression, and isolation, caused by the loss of ties to their families, communities, and nations.

Above all, for the average persecuted Christian, there are unanswered prayers and the absence of peace, strength, courage, and joy. Their humanness in a very earthly plot line finds no place in our modern-day obsession with heroic stories with victorious resolutions.

Fear of physical and emotional damage is manageable when one's ears and heart hear the loving and strengthening voice of God, and the assurance that the global church will be there to embrace you.

For persecuted Christians, suffering turns into affliction when they internalize the horrible feeling that they are alone. When the persecuted Christian begins to believe that most of the global church does not care and will not be there to share his pain, loneliness moves from the physical dimension to an inner anguish.
This reality forces us to take another look at what Paul means in Romans 8:28 by "our good." If our good is a stable, safe, healthy, happy, and reasonably wealthy middle-class life, then logically one can conclude that God really does not work for the good of the largest portion of the global church today.
Read it!

The Via Crucis of the Archbishop of Mosul of the Chaldeans

Sandro Magister uses the tragedy of the killing of Archbishop Rahho to highlight the ongoing developments in dialogue between the Catholic Church and Muslim leaders.
Many Iraqi Muslims have also joined in mourning for archbishop Rahho, who was widely admired, the promoter of joint initiatives between Christians and Muslims, like the "Fraternity of charity and joy" to assist people with handicaps. From the holy city of the Shiites, Karbala, the grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for the capture of the guilty parties, unanimously thought to be members of al Qaeda or other radical Islamist groups.

Christians in Iraq and in other Muslim countries are increasingly surrounded and under attack, and "they are in danger of disappearing," as cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the congregation for the Oriental Churches, warned on March 15. Those who do resist emigrating literally risk their lives in some places.

It is against this dramatic background that dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam is proceeding. An important step was made in this with the meeting that took place in Rome on March 4 and 5 between the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue and a delegation of the 138 Muslim scholars who signed the open letter "A Common Word" addressed to the pope and to other Christian leaders.
An interview with Cardinal Jean Luis Tauran follows.

Rome Photos up

Shroud Copy
Originally uploaded by gashwin

Well, some of the hundreds of photos I took on the trip are up on Flickr in several sets.


Fr. Z sweeps the polls!

What the Prayer Really Does Say sweeps the Catholic Blog Awards!

Of course, the indefatigable Fr. Z blogs the results.

And a huge thanks to the 3 folks who voted for my humble blog-offering! :)

What that link up there does provide is a list of some fantastic Catholic blogs out there.

Go and read. After Holy Week, preferably ... :)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

The joys of jet lag

Back in the US of A.

Somehow Alexandria VA, which is some 150 years old doesn't seem that old having just come in from Italy.

Holy Week in DC, and after that the journey continues ... elsewhere.

Ciao Italia

Am in downtown Amsterdam. Took an early flight out of Milan Malpensa, am checked in for the afternoon flight to Washington (KL0651), so I took the train into the city. Pietro and Giuseppe should be on their way back to Philly and then SC on US Airways out of Malpensa at this time ...

It's cold and gray in Amsterdam. The touristy streets around the Central Station are filled with men unloading and loading beer trucks ... most of the stores aren't open (even though it's nearly 10 am) and it feels like the morning after a frat party.

The picture above was taken at Ravenna. The sign says, "It is forbidden to park bicycles." I miss Italy already ... :)

Pietro: Milan (final travelogue)

Sunday March 16, 2008

Well it is our last day :-(. Several things happened during the end of our train ride to Milan. First, as I sat down, I was stuck next to an Italian teenage girl. That could be alright, however she spent the first forty minutes of the ride sobbing into her phone. I can only imagine what happened, a possible break up or a horrible dinner somewhere. After that, Gashwin and I went to the bar car for a snack and some coffee. While we were there, the train stopped suddenly. Shortly afterwards two of the trenitalia crew ran through the bar car towards the back of the train. I am still not quite sure what happened. It was also interesting to walk through the train. Walking through we saw a group of Chinese students playing cards, only they were playing with a lot of intensity. They didn’t just lay cards, they threw them down and the cards made loud smacking sounds as they hit the table. It was rather amusing.

Our train arrived to Milan about 20 minutes late and afterwards we took the metro to the hotel. For some odd reason the metro station would not let me in. It validated my card but the gate did not open. I didn’t want to pay another euro, so I just hopped the gate. Oh well, I had a ticket, it just didn’t like my ticket. Fortunately we did not need it on the way out so I was fine. We then made it to our hotel, The Hotel Domenichino which is a nice three star hotel. They have free WI-FI!!! It is rather amazing. After getting in and checking e-mail, we just went to bed.

Oh yeah, and Italian metro stations are NOT accessible --- there are stairs everywhere, and a handicapped person would have a very tough time.

Sunday Morning.

We woke up relatively early, in time to get breakfast and make it to the Duomo early for Palm Sunday Mass. We arrived at the cathedral around 9:30AM and the previous Mass was still going on. To pass the time we decided to go on down to the baptistery. It is here that St. Ambrose is believed to have baptized St. Augustine. The ruins are still under the cathedral and one can even see them from the Metro Station. Afterwards we returned upstairs just in time for Mass.

The cathedral in Milan uses the Ambrosian Rite, which is different from the Roman Rite in that the Sign of Peace comes after the Creed instead of the Lord’s Prayer. In addition, only the priests and people in the procession actually carried palms, everyone else was given olive branches to hold. We saw these throughout the day wherever we went. I guess it is just like ashes, showing, oh we went to Mass. I was rather annoyed though that just the regular tourist would take a branch and not stay for Mass. We found olive branches lying around throughout the city.

The Cardinal Archbishop of Milan said Mass following morning prayer. The Mass resembled any other Mass that I have been too with the exception of the Sign of Peace. I was also surprised that they did not read the Passion Gospel today as is done in the States [G's note: it's more a question of Rite than location. The Ambrosian Rite has a different Lectionary]. All in all I enjoyed it though and thought it to be very neat that before Mass the Cardinal processed outside with the cross and palm leaves.

Following Mass we wanted to grab a quick bite to eat and as a result went to a Burger King across the street. It had four levels!!! Gashwin was upset as it had no vegetarian meals; however it does have cheap (for Europe) $7 meals. We enjoyed it and then took off to try and get into S. Maria delle Grazie where the famous Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci can be seen. Unfortunately they had already sold out of tickets for the day so we walked to S. Ambrogio which is nearby. That church was also closed but the sky had cleared up so we returned to the cathedral.

Back at the cathedral Gashwin and Giuseppe decided to take the elevator to the rooftop. I wanted to save 2 euro and thus climbed 160 stairs. It was well worth the price. We were literally on top of the church. There you could see any number of gargoyles. In addition you were right next to life sized statues of saints. We took tons of photos. One disturbing thing to note though – Young people in Italy like to make out anywhere, we have seen people make out in the metro, on trains, in Burger King, but it was just as disturbing to see it on the roof of the cathedral. Anyways enough of that rant.

We climbed off of the cathedral and walked around the piazza for a little bit (outside of the cathedral we saw a small group of evangelicals preaching that “Christ is the only way to salvation.”) and then went back into the church for Vespers. At the start the church was entirely dark. The Cardinal Archbishop then entered in a procession led by one altar server carrying an oil lamp. We then began to sing in Latin, “Lord illuminate my darkness.” As we sang the candles were lit and the lights of the church were slowly brought up. Following the evening prayer, the Holy Eucharist was exposed for a little bit and then returned. The vespers was amazing.

Following Vespers we walked to La Scala and then split ways. Giuseppe and I returned to the hotel while Gashwin returned to S. Ambrogio. We waited on Gashwin and around 8 headed out to dinner. Gashwin spent a good while trying to determine the best way to get to the airport. It will probably cost close to €90 to take a cab in the morning, but there really is no better way (the buses and trains start too late for his flight). In any case we grabbed dinner at the L’Oroscopio, which was a local Greek restaurant. Gashwin and I got individual pizzas, which were each about the size of a large in the States and afterwards returned to the hotel. We finally told the nice concierge that we would take a taxi in the morning and have since returned to our room. Since our concierge was so nice we decided to give him a deck of Carolina cards. It is almost midnight here and we have to be up in four hours, so I am going to say good night. The trip was amazing and I wish you could have been here with us.


Pietro: fun quotes

[Might as well put these in their own post]

Today was a fun day and here are some more funny quotes.

“The world is like a book, he who does not travel only reads a single page.” Saint Augustine, written on the wall of the hostel.

“Wow, these are like butt-hugging chairs.” Gashwin as he got on the bus in Ravenna.
“Where is the trash? It doesn’t matter the whole darn country is a trashcan.” - On the fact that it is impossible to find a trashcan anywhere.

“He is trying to show the shower who is wearing the pants in this relationship.” – Said of Pietro in the shower, as loud noises emanated once he went in.

“Maybe I am at that age when the male biological clock is going off.” Gashwin – As he looks out the window of the train and makes faces at a little bambino.

Pietro: Ravenna

Sabbato March 15, 2008

We are again sitting on a train. This time we are returning to Bologna to switch to Milan. Today was a relatively relaxed day as we woke up in the Hostel around 9am. Gashwin was all ready to go and ran down to have coffee. He wanted a café latte so he pressed the button for latte on a cappuccino machine and it dispensed hot milk. Confused, he left the milk aside and pressed the button for cappuccino instead. At least there was cold milk left for me when I got down for breakfast.

After having breakfast we checked e-mail. The first 10 minutes per person were free but it was 3Euro/hour after that, so no time to blog. Anyways, leaving the hostel we decided to get actual tickets for the bus. Even though we got away with it last night, we decided it wasn’t worth the fifty euro fine per person. It was just our luck as just when we got off the bus, an official came and asked for tickets. Those three euro sure saved us a ton of money.

As we walked down the street we were still conversing about our good fortune when a cranky old lady cursed me out for not paying attention to where I was walking. Apparently the two meter wide walkway was not big enough for us and her bicycle. She literally said “Where is your head?” only in Italian. Of course I didn’t understand, but found it funny enough.

After walking to the tourist office, we found out that we could rent bicycles for free for the day. We definitely took up this offer and got three bicycles. The bicycles were functional, yet their seats would not adjust, and the springs were definitely a bit squishy, and they were obviously not for tall people. We enjoyed them anyway, they had locks attached to them so we could park them anywhere and not worry about them being taken. On our newly acquired bicycles we rode all around the town.

Our first stop was at the Neonian Baptistery next to the Cathedral. The inside contained a fifth century mosaics. At the center was a mosaic of Christ being baptized in the Jordan. Around it were mosaics of each of the apostles. No picture could do the mosaics justice as you can’t really see the work that must have gone into it.

Next we stopped by Dante’s mausoleum, which is a large marble building next to the church of San Francesco. Alongside it was a large pile of dirt. On the initial glance that is all it appears to be, but it was actually used during WWII to bury Dante’s bones in the case of a bombing.

Following Dante’s tomb we stopped at the Arian Baptistery. It is the only surviving Arian building today. The Baptistery is octagonal in shape and is missing its actual pool. The ceiling there is also incredible. Similar to the Neonian Baptistery, the mosaics here depict Christ being baptized. The Arians believed that Christ was human but not divine, thus they rejected the Nicene formula. In the baptistery, Christ’s humanity is portrayed as he is in the nude. The baptistery survived as the orthodox took it over.

Leaving the baptistery we stopped at S. Apollinare Nuovo. This is a VI century church with the name Nuovo as there was already a church named S. Apollinare when the church was built. This is in the more classical form of early churches as it has three square naves. The church further has beautiful mosaics of the three Magi bringing Christ gifts and of Christ between four angels. Once again the mosaics were incredible.

We left the church in search of some food as it was almost 2PM. Entering the Piazza del Popolo we stopped at one café and they took forever to serve us. Gashwin grew impatient so we just left without even getting water. Instead we went to the Restaurant Bella Venezia which was recommended in Fromer’s guide to Italy. It was properly recommended. The food there was awesome. Gashwin and I enjoyed a beef dish which had an amazing sauce, it had an odd name and unfortunately neither of us can remember it. Afterwards we each enjoyed a strawberry shortcake and left feeling really good.

We wanted to go to the Adriatic sea but decided that time would just not allow so instead we rode our bikes to the Rocco di Branca Loene, which is the former ruins of a medieval fort. It was pretty cool and had been transformed into a modern park with benches and toys for kids. On our way back to the tourist center to return our bikes we passed by a nun leaving her convent. It was rather interesting as the side of the convent had been covered in graffiti. Apparently everything in Italy is covered in graffiti. Surprisingly though, across the street was some good American English, “M___ F___.” I guess one can’t escape it no matter where you are.

We returned the bikes and walked back to the station to grab a taxi to get our bags. After reaching the hostel I asked for a bottle of water. All I had was a 20 euro note, which is blue. I gave the lady the money and she went to return 19. Unfortunately she did not have it at the register, but gave me a five euro note (which is smaller and a lighter blue green than the 20 euro note). She went elsewhere to grab the remaining change. Once she returned I counted the coins, (It is odd that one always counts the coins but never looks at the notes) grabbed my bag and ran out to the taxi. They were waiting on me and the meter was running. Once we arrived at the station, I went to pay, looked in my wallet and realized that instead of giving me 2 additional five euro notes, she gave me 2 twenty euro notes and thus overpaid me 30 euro. After sorting the mess out, we called and she told us to mail the money back to her. Oh well, what else can you do, now I am down the change to buy a stamp and envelope.

Since then we have gotten on the train to Bologna and are now somewhere in the countryside surrounded by pink cherry blossoms. Giuseppe is asleep and Gashwin is occasionally helping me with my blog. In any case we still have another 30 minutes to ride before changing trains.

Ciao, Pietro

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Authentic Week

Settimana autentica, the authentic week, or the real week, is how the Ambrosian Liturgy refers to Holy Week. Today, we spent the beginning of Holy Week participating in liturgies in the Ambrosian Rite. Pontifical Mass with Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan, in the Duomo (preceded by chanted Lauds), and solemn Vespers, with Benediction.

Here are a few photos from the day.

Procession with Palms

The Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre turned out in force.

The Cardinal Archbishop

The Gospel being proclaimed from the pulpit.

Media Vita in Morte Sumus

Detail of central doors, Duomo, Milan

A beautiful hymn to meditate on as we start this holiest of weeks.

[Link to full text and mp3 online here.]

In the midst of life, we are in death:
Whom shall we seek as a help,
If not Thee, O Lord,
Who dost rightly grow wrathful for our sins?

Holy God,
Holy Strong One,
Holy and Merciful Saviour,
Do not hand us over to a bitter death.

Our fathers hoped in Thee,
They hoped and Thou didst save them.

Holy God,
Holy Strong One,
Holy and Merciful Saviour,
Do not hand us over to a bitter death.

Our fathers cried out to Thee,
They cried out and were not confounded.

Holy God,
Holy Strong One,
Holy and Merciful Saviour,
Do not hand us over to a bitter death.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

Holy God, etc.

Pietro: Pisa to Ravenna

Ceiling of the presbytery, Basilical of S. Vitale, Ravenna.

Friday March 14 2008 10:30pm

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!! At least they are celebrating it here in Italy today. We woke up early today as we were headed to Ravenna. Giuseppe and I grabbed breakfast at the hotel until Gashwin joined us so that we could pay our bill. The room was only 70 Euro a night and was very close to Paul. Paul in the meanwhile had to go to work so he could not join us to go to the station. We arrived at the station on time and found our train without any problems. We first went to Firenze Rifredi before taking an Intercity train to Bologna where we transferred to a regional train to Ravenna.

Our first train to Firenze was fine, while our second train was ten minutes late. The final train was horrible. We were able to board the train on time and ate a quick tuna sandwich lunch for 2 euro, however the train was incredibly hot. Each section of the train was enclosed and the train was absolutely full. People had to stand in the train. In addition to the stuffy cars, the train also made several stops, most of the time at different stations, but occasionally in the middle of the countryside. It was rather annoying, so to pass time we spoke in a deep Southern draw and made fun of Americanos.

We finally reached Ravenna around 3 and took a taxi to our hostel, Ostello Dante. The hostel is relatively cheap and has individual rooms. It costs 14 euro per night but Internet is 3euro/hour and towels cost an additional euro. I guess that is the price one pays for a cheap night’s stay. The hostel is rather nice and clean so it makes sense to stay here for a short while.

After cleaning ourselves up we left the hostel for the historical center of Ravenna. We rode a bus (without paying) to the train station and then walked to the tourist center where we gained information on Ravenna. There they advised us to first visit the Basilica di S. Vitale where we could buy a pass for 10 euro and then enter each of Ravenna’s five major historical sites. Once we got to the basilica Giuseppe and I were able to get a reduction as students, however Gashwin pulled his seminarian card out and got in for free. The basilica was built during the VI century and contains several amazing mosaics. The mosaics of the churches of Ravenna are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Behind the Basilica is the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, the tomb (and also a church) of the wife of a Roman emperor from the 5th century, which also contains several amazing mosaics and has the one of the first depiction of the Good Shepherd.

As we left the Mausoleum we noted a sign for St. Maria Maggiore, a church with an altar to Nostra Signora di Tumori, Our Lady of Tumors. Gashwin wanted to stop in so we did. It was 4:50PM and I noted that daily Mass started at 5PM so we stayed for Mass. As we entered, there was a small group praying the stations of the cross. Approximately 15 people were present for Mass and according to Gashwin, “I brought down the average age by a decade and a half, you two brought it down by two.” In any case the Mass was beautiful as they also combined Vespers into the liturgy. Surprisingly this was the first Mass in Italian that I have been to. At St. Peter’s we went to the Latin Mass, and daily Mass on Tuesday was in English. Leaving the church, several old ladies stopped us and asked about us. One even mistook me for a seminarian!!!

We were hungry, so after wandering around town for a while we grabbed a slice of pizza at a pizzeria until 7pm. Apparently none of the restaurants open until 7 in Ravenna. Eventually though we found one that was. We ate at Café La Silvia. Gashwin and I enjoyed Tortelli di Salmone while Giuseppe enjoyed a Roman Pizza. Dinner was delightful and afterwards we walked around town. We saw Dante’s tomb which was very well lit at night and then walked to the Duomo of Ravenna (their cathedral). They have a VI century baptistery there as well.

After our walk, Gashwin and I wanted something sweet so we searched for a café. Apparently, all of the restaurants don’t start serving until 7PM and close at 8:30. It took a while, but we finally returned to the station where we stopped at one called Nuovo Mondo next to the station, a gelateria. We enjoyed some chocolate gelato and then went to catch a bus. Just as dinner stops at 8:30, so too do their buses. One must wonder what people do late at night in Ravenna. As a result we returned to the hostel in a taxi and now I am blogging. While I finish writing again, once more both Giuseppe and Gashwin are sleeping. I am on the top bunk so let’s pray that it doesn’t break. We might have one flat Gashwin if it does. Anyways, Buona Notte. [G’s note: You think Pietro would have picked up some Italian spelling by now … I’ve had to go through and clean up his spelling. And not just in Italian! )



Pietro: Pisa

Piazza del Duomo, Pisa

A rare sight in Italy: large family with lots of children. Piazza in S. Gimignano.

Thursday March 13, 2008

After sleeping in until 11AM, Giuseppe and I grabbed breakfast at a small café where I had a brioche crème and a café latte. Afterwards we met Gashwin before walking down to the Duomo of Pisa (the cathedral). At the Piazza di Duomo, one can find the Baptistry, the Cathedral, the cemetery and of course the famous Leaning Tower (really the bell tower – campanile – for the Cathedral). We took the obvious tourist photos of the Leaning Tower and then bought tickets to enter the Duomo. There is a legend that if you are a student and climb to the top of tower then you will not earn your degree. Paul claims that he has lived in Pisa for 16 years and has never climbed to the top.

In addition to the famous Leaning Tower, Pisa also has a large baptistery well known for its echo inside. In addition is a walled cemetery that contains several giant frescos. One of which depicts the last judgment where Christ is selecting those that may enter. The devil is depicted as a large dragon and those in hell are placed into boiling cauldrons. The cemetery is several centuries old, but during WWII was directly hit by a bomb and had to be restored. A large amount of damage had occurred to the frescoes so they are now maintained in a separate room.

In addition to the cemetery and baptistery is the main cathedral. Within the cathedral is a giant brass lamp which is said to have been used by Galileo to determine how a pendulum works (Galileo was born in Pisa). In addition the cathedral has a giant pulpit made of marble that towers over the people. It is well over ten feet tall and accessed using a staircase. After walking around until 1:30 or so we left and grabbed lunch at the Bar Roma. We wanted to go to an Indian restaurant that had a rickshaw outside, but it unfortunately was closed.

At Bar Roma, I ate their Penne all’arrabiata, a spicy tomato pasta sauce. While eating at the restaurant (we ate outside), an old man was riding his bike trying to carry a large number of boxes. He resembled Christopher Lloyd from Back to the Future. He was wearing a white lab coat and had gray frizzy hair. It was rather amusing as we watched him try to navigate down the road. Of course he dropped the boxes, not once but twice. Apparently he was a delivery man for the grocery store across the street, but we really believe that he is a mad scientist who will one day accidently destroy the Leaning Tower. (If this happens, then Paul would be the only lawyer crazy enough to defend him).

Soon enough Paul joined us and unknown to him parked illegally directly in front of the grocery store. Fortunately the old man never tried to leave while we were there. After paying, Paul took us to the town of San Gimingnano, which is also called the Medieval Manhattan for its many ancient towers. San Gimingnano is approximately 80 km from Pisa and took over an hour and a half to get there. Giuseppe and I were stuck in the back seat of Paul’s snazzy new Volvo hatchback, and quite crammed for the entire ride; however it was filled with wonderful views. Both Pisa and San Gimingnano are in Tuscany, which is filled with beautiful rolling hills. More than once we had to make Paul slow down so that we could take some photographs. The drive was amazing and my favorite point on the road was as we passed Volterra which is a large city on the top of a very tall hill. Just before San Gimingnano we passed a prison, which would definitely have some beautiful views.

Entering San Gimingnano is similar to entering a medieval castle as the entire town is walled and there is only one main gate. All of the buildings in the town were stone and were very close together. The walk was filled with beautiful stores that sold everything from sausage to scarves. We walked around the town until sunset and grabbed gelato before leaving. On the return home we saw a pheasant as it crossed the road as well as some mountain sheep. At the top of one of the hills, we stopped and took several pictures of the sunset which was beautiful over the mountains. We then returned to Pisa.

Back in Pisa we stopped at Paolo’s church which was vibrant and alive. The soccer team was out practicing on the fields behind the church while several younger men were preparing dinner. The place reminded me of our Newman Club back home, only a Newman club filled with guys. We waited a good while before Paolo’s priest returned. He was a very warm and young priest. He and Gashwin talked for a bit before we returned to Pisa.

Apparently dinner time in Pisa is close to 10 pm. We walked through the town of Pisa and entered three restaurants before finally settling on Numero Undici. For dinner, Paul’s friend Francis had joined us. Francis works in Pisa but his wife lives in Germany. Every weekend he flies back to Germany to see his wife. He was a very interesting guy who knew a lot about Pisa. He told us that the restaurant was formerly a laundromat that had been converted to a restaurant. The upper floor was removed to add character to the place. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Pisa. Everyone had steak, while Gashwin settled for fish. The restaurant was more of a self service but the food was absolutely delightful. Following dinner we went to the train station to buy our tickets to Ravenna.

On the way to the station, I called my girlfriend who lives in the states. It was nice hearing her voice and a good reminder of the place back home that I get to return to. At the station Paul, Giuseppe and Gashwin went to buy tickets while I stayed on the phone. After 10 minutes or so I found them and they had still not bought the tickets. Apparently the machine was giving trouble, but it was a good thing as when I got there I noted that one of the legs on the journey they were about to buy involved traveling on a bus. No way! Finally we bought our tickets and paid cash. It was relatively cheap and would put us in Ravenna around 2:30pm. Once we were done we Giuseppe and I returned to the Hotel while Gashwin returned to Paul’s. Yet another great day in Italy was done.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pietro: Rome Day 6

Ratzi Lollis!!!

(Incidentally, we arrived in Milan a couple of hours back, and are in a hotel -- a 3 star hotel with free wi-fi! [Insert squeal of delight here ... :)] Pisa and Ravenna were fantastic. Pietro has written daily blogs for the trip, which will slowly get uploaded on here, with photos by yours truly.]

On Wednesday, we had another early morning as we both had to leave the convent as well as get to the Vatican for the Papal Audience. The sisters let us leave our luggage at the convent, while we went to the audience. Gashwin has an amazing ability, thanks to his call, of getting amazing tickets to the audience. We were able to get into the reserved section of the audience. However getting there was amusing. After fighting through a large crowd of yellow cap wearing Italians from St. Francesca, Gashwin and I were able to successfully make it through security. Giuseppe had gotten stuck behind one other person though, and as I grabbed my bag, the guard asked if the bag behind was mine. Apparently he felt that there was a knife inside. Gashwin sent me in to the Paul VI hall to grab seats while he waited on Giuseppe. The knife ended up being a shoe horn.
In the Paul VI hall, we were able to get amazing seats, Row 5 seats 5, 6 and 7 from the center aisle. We were within the area where the Pope could see us if he looked. We got in by 9 am and had amazing seats. During the audience, the Pope spoke in French, English, German, Spanish, Portugese, Polish and Italian. The audience was on St. Cassiodorus who was an early church father that wrote about the Trinity.

(Just made it to Bologna and have made the transition to our train to Ravenna, the train to Bologna was late but made up time so that we caught our train to Ravenna) Following the audience, the Pope greeted the one Cardinal present, and then all the Bishops. Next he met the handicapped before coming to meet those in the special section on the left. As he came down to greet them he was less than 10 feet away. It was amazing!!! We took several amazing photos of the Pope and screamed “Viva Il Papa!!!” After a bit, he left and we returned to the convent.

We checked out of the convent and took a taxi to Roma Termini where we grabbed a Eurostar to Firenze Santa Maria Novella before transiting to a Regional train to Pisa. On our last train, there were a group of Italian teenagers. One of which would not be quiet and talked the entire ride, as Gashwin’s friend Paul would say, he was a “Shatterbox.” Once we arrived in Pisa we waited outside for Gashwin’s friend Paul. Paul was late, so we sat down for a while and watched some loud Americanos. As we left the station, a guy obviously from New York yelled across the station to his three friends getting into a taxi, “NO I asked a guy inside, and he said that we should go this way.” He then held up a bus, and yelled, “Hurry up!!! I’m holding the bus for ya! The bus is leaving.” The Italian driver got upset and left. So 20 minutes later they tried getting a second bus. Once more the New Yorker held the bus up as the driver got up. The New Yorker yelled once more to “Hurry Up!!!” So the two girls traveling with him ran to the bus, and one slipped and fell flat on her butt. It was rather amusing and I am sure many Italians were laughing. Italians are much quieter and don’t yell in public so the New Yorker really stood out.

Finally Paul arrived and took us to our Hotel. Giuseppe and I stayed at the Hotel Astor, while Gashwin stayed directly around the corner at Paul’s house. Paul’s house was very nice, but it was extremely amusing as Gashwin had to sleep in a loft. Seeing Gashwin try to climb up is worth a million euros (more than a million dollars). Paul was worried as he said, “I hope it doesn’t break, the maximum capacity is 200 kilos.” Since Gashwin had already been in Italy for a week and a half, he really had to do laundry, so we all went to a local Laundromat. After putting the clothes in the wash we ordered pizza to be delivered at Paul’s house. We walked around Pisa and then changed out the clothes into the dryer. I was tired so I returned to the Hotel and slept until dinner was ready.

Gashwin woke me up when dinner was ready. My pizza was delicious, having olives, two types of sausage and mushrooms on it. After which I returned to the hotel and immediately fell asleep. While Thursday was a long day, we didn’t do a lot but had a good time.


Pietro: Rome Day 5

The dome of St. Peter's from the roof of the North American College

So we are still waiting for our train to Bologna, but it has not yet been put on the board and is quite likely running late. YAY Trenitalia!!!! So it is now Friday March 14 at 11:30AM and I am finally blogging about Tuesday. I know that I am behind, but oh well, at least it is nice outside.

Tuesday morning was very early. The alarm at the convent is armed between midnight and 6:30AM and we were expected at St. Peter’s Basilica at 7AM for Mass celebrated by Gashwin’s Irish priest friend. Thus we rushed out of the hotel as early as we could. Once we arrived at St. Peter’s, the group we were meeting was already inside. We found them and then had Mass at a side altar over the grave of Pope St. Innocent XI who is placed in a coffin on the right side of the basilica. Following Mass, Giuseppe and I went to get in line for the Vatican Museums. Gashwin, Cristofero and Elisabetta went back to St. John Lateran’s and Holy Cross in Jerusalem.

The line for the Vatican Museums had already extended a half of a block when Giuseppe and I got in at 8:15. The museums open at 8:30AM and the line would probably extend 5 blocks before the end of the day. Entering the museums, one has to go through security before you can even get tickets. Giuseppe and I quickly got our tickets and ran straight towards the Sistine Chapel. After racing through the museum we reached the Sistine Chapel and sat down. Less than 50 people were already in the chapel and there were still seats around.

Giuseppe and I enjoyed the Sistine Chapel while it was relatively empty. For the first 15 minutes it was quiet, then as more people entered it quickly got louder and the guards started trying to quiet the room. I definitely thought that Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” was much better than the ceiling. The Sistine Chapel is decorated so that it displays the major epochs in Christianity. The left wall depicts the time of the Law, when Moses brought the Jews out of Egypt. The right side wall depicts the time of Christ, his birth, baptism and life. Finally the back wall depicts the time immediately following Christ. The ceiling depicts the epoch before the law, such as the creation of light, the heavens, the creation of Adam (The famous picture of God’s finger touching a man), the creation of Eve, and their fall. Finally the “Last Judgment” depicts the end times where some are saved and others are sent to hell. It is interesting to note that Michelangelo depicted some of his friends as going to heaven, and his enemies in hell.

Leaving the Sistine Chapel, Giuseppe wanted to see the Egyptian rooms and the Raphael Rooms. After asking one of the guards where to find the Raphael rooms, he let us through a restricted area and took us to the Egyptian rooms, then showing the way to the Raphael rooms. We found the Egyptian rooms to be rather disappointing, but walked through them twice as we tried to find the Raphael rooms. It is not well marked, so it took a while, but once we found the rooms we walked through leisurely. The Raphael rooms are amazing and very well done. Gashwin’s favorite piece is the “Disputation of the Sacrament,” while I quite liked the “Freedom of Peter from the Prison,” I don’t know why…

We then walked through the Borghese apartments, giving a security guard a good laugh as we asked where they were and he responded, “You are in them.” Then we returned to the Sistene Chapel, where it was now packed tight with over 200 people. The guards were shouting at people to be quiet and yelling at people taking photos.

Giuseppe and I were quite finished and decided to leave. As we walked down the stairway to leave, a group of English speaking people tried to reenter the museum from the exit. Apparently, they did not know that they were leaving the museum and wanted to go back in. At this the guard would not have it and said they could not reenter. The man kept arguing shouting, “Show me one sign that says this is the exit. It is not marked at all!!!” At which the guard pointed to a sign right next to him. In the meanwhile, another man was trying to reenter, claiming that his wife was still inside and he also didn’t realize that he was leaving. The situation was quite hilarious, so Giuseppe and I watched until it settled out. Ultimately the guard let them in.

We exited the museum into St. Peter’s basilica, which was completely packed as the center of the Basilica was being prepared for the Papal audience on Wednesday. Thus we left, and walked around several tourist shops until we met Gashwin, Elisabetta, and Cristofero by the obelisk at 1PM. We met and grabbed lunch with an American seminarian from the Diocese of Charleston. We ate at a pizzeria and then went to the North American College (where American seminarians study), where we got some amazing panoramic views of Rome. The college is on the top of a giant hill and we were able to get onto the roof.

Castel Sant'Angelo and the Tiber

Leaving the North American College, we did some shopping by the Vatican before going to the US Bishop’s office to pick up our Papal Audience tickets, which was near the Trevi Fountain. We never threw any coins into the fountain. This is Gashwin’s eighth trip to Rome and he has never thrown a coin in; thus I think it is a waste of money. We saw the column of Marcus Aurelius (Piazza Colonna) and then returned to the convent where Cristofero and Elisabetta met us for dinner. Once again the dinner was amazing, a four course meal for 15 euro, but afterwards we were tired and went to bed. Yet again, no time to blog, as we had to pack for Pisa in the morning.

Detail of the Column of Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna


Friday, March 14, 2008


The arm of St. Francis Xavier, in the Gesù.

Pietro: Rome Day 4

[Most amazingly, there's a wi-fi connection floating around at Firenze Rifredi station, where we're waiting for our connection to Bologna, on our way to Ravenna. Italy never ceases to surprise!]

Days 4 and 5
Well it is now Wednesday and we have just gotten onto the train to Turino (getting off at Florence, Firenze). I now finally have time to write my blog.
Monday March 10, 2008

This morning Gashwin, Giuseppe, and I slept in. Gashwin had a meeting to go to, while Giuseppe and I had tickets to the Scavi (Excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica). Giuseppe and I left the hotel around 9:30AM while Gashwin continued to use the computer. When we got to the Vatican it was raining very hard and the line to the Museums had already extended to the work gate of the Vatican. Into St. Peter’s itself looked like an hour long line, so Giuseppe and I asked the guard if we could bring our umbrellas into the Scavi. The Swiss Guard told us we would be fine and to return 10 minutes before our tour.

In the meanwhile Giueseppe and I walked around the Vatican and then returned in proper time. We had no troubles at all getting to the Scavi Office and the tour started on time. The Scavi starts at the exit for the Crypt of the popes and descends down into the necropolis. After entering a small door you find yourself within a family tomb. Our guide started by telling us of the different tombs and levels found under St. Peter’s. The basilica is built over an ancient necropolis used by the pagan families of Rome. It is also next to the former site of an ancient circus, in which Peter was crucified upside down.

Following the family to family tomb, the tour guide took us into the actual Necropolis. It looks like a buried town more so than a cemetery. Each of the different Roman familes had a crypt, the largest capable of holding the remains of 150 people. (Wow, the scenery outside this train is amazing, and both Giuseppe and Gaswhin are sleeping and missing it). We walked through the necropolis and noted one early Christian tomb.

The excavations were started following the death of Pope Pius XI who insisted on being buried as close to St. Peter as possible. In order to do so, Pope Pius XII ordered the excavations where a total of 5 men cleared out the necropolis under St. Peter’s. While doing so, the excavators found two brick walls marking the site of St. Peter’s grave. While the excavation was going on, the archeologists found no human remains belonging to a first century man and were rather disappointed. However, a specialist was called in to examine graffiti found on the two brick walls. One of the walls said “Peter is Here” in Latin. They were instructed to open the wall and within found bone fragments of St. Peter.

The bones today are contained within a tiny glass box in the wall and due to the required conditions for conservation, these are only seen by 120 people a day. It was rather amazing. While our tour guide was very informed, unfortunately she did not give us any time to pray there, however we exited into the crypt of the popes and were able to pray in front of Peter’s grave, as well as that of Pope John Paul II. Our tour ended around 12:30PM. As the tour finished the sun started shining on us. We were expected to meet up with Gashwin at the Acton Institute office at 1PM, so we walked there quickly.

We met Kishore, the director of the Rome office of the Acton Institute there and went out for lunch. (Like Gashwin he's also an Indian American convert to Catholcism.) After an excellent lunch, complete with an artichoke (both fried “Jewish” style and Romano) appetizer, a main course (I had an excellent pasta all’amatriciana), and then desert (Tiramisu). Lunch lasted over an hour and a half and afterwards Gashwin, Giuseppe and I wandered to the Capital Hill and saw the Forum from the Capitoline hill. We then wandered to the Mamertine Prison, where according to tradition, both Peter and Paul were kept before their execcution. While we were at the Prison, a rather amusing act had occurred. It was close to closing time and Gashwin was telling Giuseppe and I about the prisoners who had been killed for being enemies of the state and those that were martyred. However, he was talking too loudly and got hushed. Unfortunately as we left the prison it had resumed raining.

Several nights before the trip, Giuseppe had seen that the Museo del Risorgimento (inside the monument to Victorio Emmanuel, or the Wedding Cake) was supposed to have an exhibit sponsored by the Vatican on the Inquisition. We decided to check it out only to find out that they had not even heard of such an exhibit. Leaving all depressed we decided to take a bus and see the Coliseum.

The Coliseum was incredible. We took many pictures of each of us in front of it. At one point I stopped to grab some photos and for some reason decided to look down. Right where I was standing was a little X painted on the pavement with the words “Photo Opportunity.” Being quite amused we continued to walk around until we left for Trastevere. On the way we stopped into the Gesù, the main church of the Jesuits, where St. Ignatius of Loyola is buried, and where the arm of St. Francis Xavier is exposed in a reliquary.

In Trastevere, we met Gashwin’s friend from the Irish College, as well as Cristofero and Elisabetta at La Botticella, a very well hidden but amazing restaurant. La Botticella is run by a very sweet lady who waits on tables, as well does as the cooking. It was amazing. While we were there we had artichoke appetizers as well as a plate of different types of bruschetta. I then had veal and potatoes, Giuseppe had abacchio (lamb) and everyone else had different things. It was delicious and very filling. We then enjoyed different sweets and liquore (limoncello).

One funny thing happened while we were eating there. Giuseppe had decided to go to the bathroom and so he placed his napkin on the table. Also on the table were several lit candles. As we were carrying on our nice conversation, Elisabetta looked down and saw that Giuseppe’s napkin was on fire. In a rush she took the napkin and blew it out, while Cristofero poured some water on it. Once Giuseppe returned, we all gave him a hard time for trying to burn down this amazing restaurant. It didn’t matter though as the chef didn’t care.

That night had already gotten very late, and we didn’t reach our hotel until almost midnight so I did not blog. I am finally finishing this blog on Friday as we wait for our train to Bologne in transit to Ravenna. I will soon start to write about Tuesday through today!!!

Quote for the day: "In Italy, one just gets into the elevator and does not think about how it works. Just press the button and go. Kinda like sausage: you don't want to know what goes in it." Italian elevators are TINY.

Chiara Lubich

I just saw on the morning news here in Pisa that Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Foccolare Movement, died after a long illness.

May she rest in peace.

(Can't find anything on Google news yet, and can't connect to the Foccolare website. Besides, I have a train to catch in a few so I'm outta ...)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Requiem aeternam ...

Body of kidnapped Chaldean archbishop found. (Via Amy)

This is so sickening.

At the Irish College in Rome last week where I was staying, prayers were regularly said for the Archbishop ... one of the priests resident there is from Mosul.

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ciao Roma!

The days are just too full, so that by the time we're back to where we're staying, there's not much energy left for blogs. Pietro is a couple of days behind on his blogging. I've hardly had the time to download photos off the camera!

This morning, we were back at the Papal Audience, with awesome seats again and some fantastic footage of the Holy Father.

Took the train in the afternoon to Pisa, and am writing from my friend's den.

Buona notte tutti!

Monday, March 10, 2008

This is absolutely insane

Caste is the elephant in the room for the Church in India. This is awful.
No time to blog on this more.

Upper caste and Dalit Catholics clash, police shoot and kill.

(H/t Amy Welborn)

Clouds over the Colonnade

Yesterday was a beautiful day, occasionally cloudy, which resulted in some fantastic views at St. Peter's. Today is grey and rainy again. The boys are off to tour the Scavi. I have a meeting for spiritual direction with a priest of the Holy Roman Church.