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Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I have published four books with water color artist Ann Engelhart, including the latest, Adventures in Assisi.

The story of our collaboration goes back years – probably to about 2006 or 7, I’m thinking, when we were still living in Fort Wayne.  I received an email from this artist from Long Island who said she’d been reading my blog for a long time and that she, like I, had been profoundly affected by the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.   She had read a dialogue Benedict had held with First Communicants in Rome and thought that the conversation would make a wonderful children’s book.  Would I be interested in working with her on it?

I have to be honest with you and admit that I did procrastinate in answering her first and subsequent emails. I had a lot on my plate, Michael was a baby, we were talking about moving.  But Ann, thank goodness, is persistent!

So, again, while we were still in Indiana, Ann and I began working on the book.  We actually finished a version and I started sending out queries.  I queried every Catholic publisher in the United States, and they all said, “No thanks.”  The reasons varied – the expense of publishing a picture book was the most frequently offered.  I was sort of amazed and – to be honest – couldn’t help but wonder if there was some anti-Benedict sentiment lurking there as well, or at least the sentiment that , “We’re not crazy about "amy welborn"Benedict, we can’t imagine people will buy a book for CHILDREN with Pope BENEDICT at the center.” And maybe even a little bit of “He’ll be dead soon, anyway.”

But..who knows.

Then one day, I had a brainstorm, and wrote to the good folks at the Catholic Truth Society in England. I think the Pope’s visit there had just been announced.  They loved the idea, and I kid you not, they had the book out and in print and available within probably five months.  And they did a beautiful job with the layout and reproduction of the art, with no trouble at all. It was amazing, and I’m still impressed when I look at the book’s interior.

Well, in the meantime, we moved to Alabama, Mike died, and in the midst of that, around Easter of 2009, Ann had the opportunity to present a mock-up of the book to..yup…

"amy welborn"

What she is giving him, in addition the mock up of the entire book, is one of the paintings she did in which she superimposed an old image of Joseph Ratzinger at his First Communion over a contemporary scene of Bavaria.

Here’s the story, as she wrote it to me:

So we arrived at 8am the next morning and showed the paper to the Swiss guard who kept sending us closer and closer to the platform. When we got to the special section a tuxedoed man checked a list and looked us over and then said “Two of you can sit up in the prima fila and kissa da pope”. We were stunned!

The security was very tight and they kept checking their lists to see that everyone was seated in the proper seats. Archbishop Harvey paced back and forth consulting with various people in anticipation of the pope’s arrival. Finally, a helicopter (on route from Castelgandolfo) flew over the crowd and everyone cheered.

The audience was filled with the joy of Easter and was special because it was the day before Benedict’s birthday and near to his anniversary. There was lot’s of flag waving and singing in several languages and German oompah bands. The English speaking pilgrims who had been the most reserved began to sing Happy Birthday and everyone else joined in in English. The pope stood and did his customary open arm wave and bow.
 
Then it was time for greeting the cardinals, then bishops and the prima fila. Governor Bill Richardson was there and was among the first to be greeted.
I was really nervous and had tried to come up with a sentence that would get the point across in as few words as possible. I opened the book to the first page with Benedict hugging the child ( I later regretted that I hadn’t opened it to the page with Jesus walking with the children) and I had the print of his First Communion in my hand.
 
He was talking to a German family with four boys who were next to us. He definitely spent the most time with the children. My husband and I were very surprised at how he took his time with everyone…never giving the sense of being rushed.

So Benedict walked over to me, smiling and I kissed his ring. I didn’t introduce myself or my husband…didn’t say where we were from… or anything. I just kept to my script. ” Your Holiness, these are some prints of some paintings I did based on your catechesis with First Communicants” He took my hand and placed his other hand on the print of his First Communion. He smiled with recognition and paused and then looked at the other page. He didn’t actually say any words, he just made what sounded like an approving “hmm”. It is impossible to know what he was thinking, but I almost got the sense that he was touched and perhaps a bit embarrassed in a very humble way. That… or he was thinking, wow, this girl is really a loser (there I go again).
Then he said to me “Is this your work?” (“verk”, actually), to which I responded “Yes”. Then I said “we wanted to have many people hear your beautiful words.” He again responded with a “hmmm”. He paused to look again then someone took the book from him. Benedict then put his hand towards my husband and said to me “and this is?” I responded with “this is my husband and this is my son pointing back to Mark who was dutifully taking photos all the while. I must say that he waved and really beamed at my son who looked so adorable in his jacket and tie, waving and smiling back at the pope. After that was the best moment… he grasped both of my hands and looked me right in the eyes and said so sincerely “May God bless you”. I was almost taken back with the intensity of the moment. I said “and God bless you too” in return. Then he took my husband’s hand and said the same and he responded with “Happy Birthday Holy Father”. (We had a good laugh over that later).
Then Msgr. Ganswein (who really is quite charming) grabbed my hands and said “these are rosaries from the Holy Father for you and for your son” while smiling very broadly. He then gave my husband a set as well. I thanked him and said “Happy Easter”.
Ann adds a bit in 2014:
It is so funny to read the description of my little meeting with Benedict XVI of several years ago! Perhaps over time I have embellished the events in my mind…or maybe I was being somewhat modest in my description of how things happened…But I think I can honestly say (and my husband and son concur) that Benedict’s reaction was more than a “hmmm”. In fact, I would even say that it was a little gasp. Like, “oh my!” He seemed surprised and definitely laughed when he recognized himself as a little boy. Before saying “God bless you” in a very intense and personal way, he said something else to me, but sadly I couldn’t understand it! I have looked at the video many times and I can’t seem to make it out. But the words were affirming – probably something like “I appreciate what you are doing”, or “carry on with what you are doing” or “you are the finest artist the world has ever known” or “this will become the most important book of our time”. Yeah, probably something like that.

So somewhere between a “hmmm” and an “oh!” I experienced an extraordinary blessing that never would have happened if I hadn’t read about that beautiful conversation that Benedict had with the little children, and Amy hadn’t answered my email. I am enormously grateful for having the opportunity to collaborate on these projects with the great hope that they will help young families on their path to “friendship with Jesus”.

Some more images from the book:
"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"
And that’s it – that’s the beginning, not only of a collaboration, but of a great friendship.

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This coming Sunday, the 87 (!) – year old Pope Emeritus Benedict will attend an event for grandparents – the elderly – in St. Peter’s Square.   It’s a good opportunity to revisit some remarks he made in 2012 when he visited a home for the elderly run by the Community of San’Egidio. 

I come to you as Bishop of Rome, but also as an old man visiting his peers. It would be superfluous to say that I am well acquainted with the difficulties, problems and limitations of this age and I know that for many these difficulties are more acute due to the economic crisis. At times, at a certain age, one may look back nostalgically at the time of our youth when we were fresh and planning for the future. Thus at times our gaze is veiled by sadness, seeing this phase of life as the time of sunset. This morning, addressing all the elderly in spirit, although I am aware of the difficulties that our age entails I would like to tell you with deep conviction: it is beautiful to be old! At every phase of life it is necessary to be able to discover the presence and blessing of the Lord and the riches they bring. We must never let ourselves be imprisoned by sorrow! We have received the gift of longevity. Living is beautiful even at our age, despite some “aches and pains” and a few limitations. In our faces may there always be the joy of feeling loved by God and not sadness.

In the Bible longevity is considered a blessing of God; today this blessing is widespread and must be seen as a gift to appreciate and to make the most of. And yet frequently society dominated by the logic of efficiency and gain does not accept it as such: on the contrary it frequently rejects it, viewing the elderly as non-productive or useless. All too often we hear about the suffering of those who are marginalized, who live far from home or in loneliness. I think there should be greater commitment, starting with families and public institutions, to ensure that the elderly be able to stay in their own homes. The wisdom of life, of which we are bearers, is a great wealth. The quality of a society, I mean of a civilization, is also judged by how it treats elderly people and by the place it gives them in community life. Those who make room for the elderly make room for life! Those who welcome the elderly welcome life!

From the outset the Community of Sant’Egidio has supported so many elderly people on their way, helping them to stay in their own living milieus and opening various “casa-famiglia” in Rome and throughout the world. Through solidarity between the young and the old it has helped people to understand that the Church is effectively a family made up of all the generations, where each person must feel “at home” and where it is not the logic of profit and of possession that prevails but that of giving freely and of love. When life becomes frail, in the years of old age, it never loses its value and its dignity: each one of us, at any stage of life, is wanted and loved by God, each one is important and necessary (cf. Homily for the beginning of the Petrine Ministry, 24 April 2005).

Today’s visit fits into the European Year of Active Aging and of Solidarity between the Generations. And in this very context I would like to reaffirm that the elderly are a value for society, especially for the young. There can be no true human growth and education without fruitful contact with the elderly, because their life itself is like an open book in which the young generations may find precious indications for their journey through life.

Dear friends, at our age we often experience the need of the help of others; and this also happens to the Pope. In the Gospel we read that Jesus told the Apostle Peter: “when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). The Lord was referring to the way in which the Apostle was to witness to his faith to the point of martyrdom, but this sentence makes us think about that fact that the need for help is a condition of the elderly. I would like to ask you to seek in this too a gift of the Lord, because being sustained and accompanied, feeling the affection of others is a grace! This is important in every stage of life: no one can live alone and without help; the human being is relational. And in this case I see, with pleasure, that all those who help and all those who are helped form one family, whose lifeblood is love.

Dear elderly brothers and sisters, the days sometimes seem long and empty, with difficulties, few engagements and few meetings; never feel down at heart: you are a wealth for society, even in suffering and sickness. And this phase of life is also a gift for deepening the relationship with God. The example of Blessed Pope John Paul II was and still is illuminating for everyone. Do not forget that one of the valuable resources you possess is the essential one of prayer: become interceders with God, praying with faith and with constancy. Pray for the Church, and pray for me, for the needs of the world, for the poor, so that there may be no more violence in the world. The prayers of the elderly can protect the world, helping it, perhaps more effectively than collective anxiety. Today I would like to entrust to your prayers the good of the Church and peace in the world. The Pope loves you and relies on all of you! May you feel beloved by God and know how to bring a ray of God’s love to this society of ours, often so individualistic and so efficiency-oriented. And God will always be with you and with all those who support you with their affection and their help.

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Update 12/17:   I’ll do the drawing at 7pm central tonight!

 

All right! Finally a moment of semi-peace, giving me time to get this giveaway started without messing it up. (I hope.  Never done this before.)

Here’s what we’re giving away:

1. A giclee print of one of Ann Kissane Engelhart’s paintings.

and

2. A copy of Bambinelli Sunday signed by both of us.

There will be two winners, obviously.

The winner of the print will receive a 13″ x 13″ fine quality limited edition giclee print of an original watercolor painting by Ann Kissane Engelhart. It will be printed with archival inks on fine German watercolor paper and will be numbered and signed by the artist. The winner will also receive a certificate of authenticity.

(A reminder – many artists do their work on the computer nowadays, but Ann is a watercolorist, and all of the illustrations in our books are originally paintings.  Colors may be tweaked digitally in production, but the original work is all with brushes and paint on paper. The giclee print evokes the original medium.)


The winner may choose a 13″ x 13″ print of the illustration from Bambinelli Sunday, of the famous Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, where our story begins…
naples

Or, they may choose another image from Ann’s portfolio

Some of the images are from our other books, Friendship with Jesus and Be Saints!and some are of other works Ann has done.

How it works:
To enter, just enter a comment below, along with a name and a legitimate email address.  I will be using RandomPicker  to do the “drawing” from the pool of names.

I’ll do the drawing in a week – so Tuesday, December 17.  Sound good?

Please spread the word!

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Thanks to Ann Engelhart, I have this wonderful tutorial for you!  It’s suitable for families and classes of all kinds.

"Make Alessandro's Bambinelli from Bambinelli Sunday"

Please Note: These instructions were designed for a group of children to make Bambinellis in a school, Religious ed program or parish activity, where time is limited. The figures are painted while the clay is still soft. In an ideal world, it is best to let the clay dry for a day before painting.  Have fun and don’t worry about making “perfect” Bambinelli’s. They will all be beautiful!

Ann Kissane Engelhart

 

Supplies:

  • White Air-dry clay (Crayola makes a good one).
  • 2 in. gauze roll
  • 2 oz. bottles of Acrylic paint in assorted flesh tone colors: I used Americanain Flesh tone, Sable Brown and Light Cinnamon. (make sure that you shake them well before using).
  • Black, dark brown and red acrylic paint for features. Optional.
  • Excelsior (wood wool used in packaging) or Spanish Moss. (Both are available in art/craft stores)
  • Gold glitter pipe cleaners
  • Powder blush
  • Small paint brushes
  • Q tips
  • Small round tooth picks and larger 3 inch picks (available at art/craft stores).
  • Tacky glue or Glue Dots
  • Small paper plates and plastic sandwich bags for transportation. Optional

"Bambinelli Sunday Supplies"

Instructions:

 

1   Roll a ball of clay in hands with the diameter slightly larger than a quarter.

2.  Roll ball into a 2 in. cylinder.

3.  Use large pick or popsicle stick to cut it in half lengthwise. Cut one of those pieces in half, leaving 3 pieces of clay.

4.  Roll large piece into 1 ½ in. cylinder, one small piece into a ball for the head, and the remaining piece into a long, thin, 3 inch cylinder for the arms.

5.  Attach head to large cylinder. Pinch clay in the back to make sure that it is secure.

6.  Place the head and body on top of the center of the arms making sure that the arms are slightly below the neck area.

7.  Bring arms to the front and pose them so that they resemble a sleeping baby. Slightly pinch or bend the ends to create hands. Allow the children to experiment with different poses. You can even make your Bambinelli sucking his thumb! It is best to keep the arms close to the body so that they attach to the main portion of clay in order to make the figure more secure and to prevent breakage when the clay dries.

"Bambinelli Sunday"

8.  Use a small toothpick to make features such as fingers, eyes and mouth. Instruct the children to place the eyes halfway down the face for proper proportion. It is best to make small horizontal lines to suggest a sleeping baby, rather than deep, round eyes. Mistakes can be gently smoothed out (with the help of an adult) if the children want to change their first attempts at making a face.

For a simple Bambinelli for young children, continue here:

9.  Cut a piece of 2 in. wide gauze to about 4-5 inches. Fold lengthwise. Place the gauze around the waist and wrap around the body tucking in loose pieces. If the gauze doesn’t stay secure, use a tacky glue or Glue Dots to keep it in place. Fold the bottom under and secure in place.

10.   Invite the child to choose a hue of flesh colored paint. Holding the body on the gauze portion, paint the exposed clay.

"Bambinelli Sunday"

11.   Allow the paint to dry (you can use a hair dryer on a light setting if you are pressed for time). (You might use this time to practice painting eyes; see below).

12.    Using a Q-tip, rub powder blush onto the baby’s cheeks.

13.    It is not necessary to paint the other features, however, if the child is capable, they can use very fine brushes to paint the eyes with dark brown paint. Let the child practice first on scrap paper; draw several circles the size of the head in pencil and encourage them to practice painting the eyes. Remember that the eyes are halfway between the top of the head and the chin. Don’t demand perfection!

14.   To paint the hair use a soft medium sized brush or Q-tip using very little paint to create a dry-brush effect. Lightest skin tones can use the darker tones for the hair, while darkest skin tones can use the dark brown that was used for the eyes. Older children can mix their own color using a combination of hues.

15. Take a small handful of excelsior or Spanish moss to create a nest-like bed for the baby. Make a depression in the center to accommodate the body. Place the Bambinelli inside.

16.   To make halos (which are optional) wrap a pipe cleaner around the round handle of a wooden spoon or dowel. Remove coiled pipe cleaer and cut pieces to create a circle. Insert the loose ends into the nest above the head. Adjust the size for your Bambinelli. You may want to provide a plastic sandwich bag and small paper plate for children to safely transport them home.

17.   The Bambinelli’s will harden in one or 2 days, but they will remain fragile, so they should be handled with care.  For greater protection, they can be removed from the crèche and lightly sprayed with a clear varnish (only if acrylic paints were used).

Remember to bring the Bambinelli to Mass on Sunday for a blessing!

 To make Alessandro’s Bambinelli, follow the diagram and continue after Step 9. (For older or more experienced children)

10.  Give the child a dime sized ball of clay. Make legs by rolling it into a cylinder of about 8 inches, and slightly thicker than the arms.

19.  Gently fold it in half and attach it to the bottom of the body. Create feet by bending the ends. Use a tooth pick to create toes. Slightly bend the knees. Experiment with different poses.

20.   Paint the body and allow it to dry.

21.  Wrap a piece of folded gauze around the waist and gently tuck between the legs. Glue in place.

22. Paint features as above and continue to follow instructions for the simple Bambinelli.

"Bambinelli Sunday"

 

Come back later this afternoon for information on our giveaway! We will be giving away a copy of Bambinelli Sunday signed by both of us, as well as a print of one of Ann’s paintings.

Buy Bambinelli Sunday  on Amazon.

Buy Bambinelli Sunday at the Catholic Company

Buy Bambinelli Sunday at Barnes and Noble

See previous posts on Bambinelli Sunday, including video links. 

 

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Remember, my book Mary and the Christian Life  is available as a free pdf here.

You can also read it on Scribd here. 

Had a fun and very quick trip to Charleston.  Signed books!  Sold books!   Including one to a woman who opened the book, flipped through the pages, and said, “Huh.  I have a nephew named Alessandro.  He lives in Rome.  I guess I’m supposed to get this for him.”

Guess so!

Reminder:  On Monday, I’ll be announcing our giveaway of one of Ann Engelhart’s prints and a signed copy of the book.  But first I have to figure out how to do this giveaway stuff that all the Real Bloggers do.

And, oh this:

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I have, generally, no use for papal prognostication.  Most prognosticators are engaging in wish-fulfillment anyway. Including me, of course.

But…here goes:

Deep breath….

Either Ouellet, Ranjith or Scola.

Name: Gregory or Leo, with more money on Leo.

Watched this tonight.  What a day that was.  Electric. Watching it made me sad (that he resigned) and grateful (for his work, witness and papacy).

Well…onward…Veni Creator Spiritus

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Angelus

Here’s a bit of video from Sunday’s Angelus.  The first is part of the prayer, the second is the Holy Father’s English greeting, and the third is afterwards – one of the three groups from the NeoCatechumenal Way that were singing and dancing in the square afterwards.

The first photo is of the set up – don’t know what the scaffolding is for, but if you look to the left, you can see the big screen with the prayer prompts!

 

Here’s the text of the Holy Father’s remarks. 

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