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Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Today is the feast day of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin who lived in the Counter-Reformation period.

His story offers the open-minded an opportunity to learn more about the course and form of the Church throughout the ages and the varied forms that sanctity takes….

The best brief-ish biography I found of this saint is, not surprisingly on a Capuchin site. Here. 

Language scholar, humanist, philosopher, theologian, biblicist, preacher, missionary, professor, international administrator, confidant of Popes, Emperors, Kings and Princes, diplomatic envoy, army chaplain, military strategist and morale builder, polemicist, prolific writer – these are but some of the key skills and professional assets you might find on the CV of Julius Caesar Russo.Few modern multinational corporations would not vie to have this practical academic, influential publicist and versatile polyglot as part of their dream team.

But career chosen by this gifted sixteenth century man involved becoming part of a different kind of dream team, an alternative dream team, namely the ‘troubadours of the King of Heaven’ founded by Saint Francis of Assisi and called ‘the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor’. As part of this band of Brothers and as their servant-leader, he travelled barefoot all over Europe and founded churches and religious houses throughout the Holy Roman Empire. He evangelized and encouraged people. When necessary, corrected them while always inspiring them.  He washed dishes and said Mass humbly. He prayed almost incessantly and he willingly lent a listening ear to his Brothers and to all who turned to him for help. In the end, he would die among strangers, while undertaking a mission of mercy far from his native land. This epitome of a Renaissance man, this multi-talented genius and learned Capuchin Brother was none other than Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, one-time Vicar General of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor.

Beatified by Pope Pius VI in 1783, he was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 1881, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1959 by Blessed Pope John XXIII. At the command of the King of Spain, his body is enshrined in the monastery church of the Discalced Franciscan Sisters at Villafranca del Bierzo in Galicia, Spain.

The basics:

  • Born in Brindisi, Italy and named “Julius Caesar” by his father!
  • Both parents died fairly early, he became associated with the Franciscans and then with their branch the Capuchins.
  • A brilliant student known for his mastery of languages, including Hebrew, a rare feat at that time.
  • An accomplished preacher, who, in the Franciscan model, traveled widely.

Brother Lawrence prepared his preaching through prolonged prayer and penance, meditating for hours on the Gospel before preaching a homily. The following quotation may help to give us an insight into how Brother Lawrence’s studied the scriptures, going beyond the literal meaning to the deeper spiritual meaning. The text also gives us a taste of his style of preaching. “When Christ decided to give sight to a man, blind from birth, he placed mud in the man’s eyes – an action that was much more suited to blinding those who see than giving sight to the blind who could not see! So too the Passion and Death of Christ was more likely to destroy the faith of those who believed that He was the Only-begotten Son of God than to commend faith to non-believers. Christ came into this world to do battle with Satan, to turn the world to faith and the true worship of God. He could have accomplished this by using the weapons of His Might and coming as He will come to judge – in glory and majesty just as he manifested himself in his Transfiguration. Who would not then have believed in Christ? But in order that His Victory might be the more glorious, He willed to fight Satan in our weak flesh. It is as if an unarmed man, right hand bound, were to fight with his left hand alone against a powerful army. If he emerged victorious, his victory would be regarded as all the more glorious. So Christ conquered Satan with the Right Hand of His Divinity bound and used against him only the Left Hand of his weak Humanity.”

Already in 1599, three years prior to his election as General Vicar, Brother Lawrence was sent to Austria and the present-day Czech Republic as a missionary to establish the Order in those lands and help buttress the Catholic faith against the constant onslaught of Protestantism. Taking with him with him twelve other Brothers, some of whom had German roots, he established local Fraternities at Vienna, Prague, and Graz a city of in south-east Austria. When the Brothers arrived in Prague they first lived in a hospital caring for the plague victims and preaching to the locals on Sundays and other Church festivals. Their sermons were effective in touching the hearts of many lukewarm Catholics who returned to the practice of the Faith. But at the same time they also were met with derision, which turned at times to life-threatening violence, from Protestants and hostile lapsed Catholics. The citizens scoffed at their poor dress-sense and the fact they went around in their bare feet. Their long beards too became the subject of mockery. Lutheran soldiers in the Imperial Army would call Brother Lawrence “the Wolf-monk’. On another occasion, a Protestant mob tried to push Brother Lawrence off a bridge in Prague and throw him into the river below. But he was rescued at the last minute by the Papal Nuncio’s nephew who happened to be passing by in the company of some of his friends.

Varied Evangelizing Approaches Adapted to Meet Local Needs
In the lands ruled by the Habsburg Emperors at the time there were Anti-Catholics, Non-Catholics, wavering Catholics and pious Catholics; some lived in thriving cities, others lived in isolated country farmhouses. Different audiences required different evangelizing methods. So Capuchins would use what they called “Apostolic Missions’ to visit the country people in their homes or work places and teach them the basic truths of the faith. In the cities they promoted devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and especially the devotion of ‘Forty Hours Adoration’ as well as setting up penitent confraternities dedicated to honouring the Passion and Death of Christ. Brother Lawrence relished every opportunity to engage Protestant Pastors in lively debate and used his writings to persuasively convince them and their adherents of their mistaken way of thinking. Seeing that this mission band was very successful, a new band of Capuchin missionaries was invited to help out. Blessed Benedict to Urbino was one of this second group of missionaries.As Provincial Vicar of Venice, Brother Lawrence began establishing a chain of Capuchin friaries connecting Venice, Trent, and the Tyrol. With an influx of native vocations, these houses of presence and mission would later mushroom, becoming in time six independent Provinces of the Capuchin Order.

  • He engaged with secular leaders at many levels for many purposes.
  • And then…there is that battle:

In 1601 the large Turkish army invaded the lands of the Holy Roman Emperor and were threatening to overrun the Habsburg-ruled lands before going to Rome to stable their horses in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Pope and Emperor were alarmed and patched together an army to block the Turkish threat. Brother Lawrence’s skills as a diplomat were used to cement together a Christian allied force which also included Protestants. At the Emperor’s request Capuchins served as army chaplains to the soldiers and Lawrence was among those appointed. However the small and badly equipped Imperial forces were no match for the invading Turkish army which with 80,000 men was more than four times larger than the 18,000 Christian soldiers who tried to block them.

At the The Battle of Székesfehérvár in Hungary the hopelessly outnumbered Christian army’s field commanders counselled retreat. but Brother Lawrence would not hear of this. Instead he urged the Imperial Forces on to victory, encouraging the flagging soldiers with his fiery words and personally leading the army into the thick of battle with his cross raised aloft for all to see. “Advance! Advance! Victory is ours!” he shouted over and over again and in the end a revitalized Christian army totally routed the Turks. Even the Lutheran soldiers were impressed by this and Brother Lawrence’s morale-boosting efforts were deemed pivotal in snatching a surprising last minute major victory over the invading Turkish forces.

In this noble and excellent two things are especially outstanding: his apostolic zeal, and his mastery of doctrine. He taught with his word, he instructed with his pen, he fought with both. Not deeming it enough to withdraw into himself, and dedicate himself to prayer and study in the refuge of his monastery, and occupy himself only with domestic matters, he leaped forth as if he could not contain the force of his spirit, wounded with the love of Christ and his brothers. Speaking from many pulpits about Christian dogma, about morals, the divine writings, and the virtues of the denizens of heaven, he spurred Catholics on to devotion, and moved those who had been swallowed up by the filth of their sins to wash away their crimes, and undertake the emendation of their lives. … outside the sacred precincts, when preaching to those who those who lacked the true religion, he defended it wisely and fearlessly; in meetings with Jews and heretics, he stood as the standard-bearer of the Roman church, and persuaded many to renounce and foreswear the opinions of false teaching. …

In the three volumes called “A Sketch of Lutheranism” (Lutheranismi hypotyposis), this defender of the Catholic law, mighty in his great learning, seeks to disabuse the people of the errors which the heretical teachers had spread. Therefore, those who treat of the sacred disciples, and especially those who seek to expound and defend the catholic faith, have in him the means to nourish their minds, to instruct themselves for the defense and persuasion of the truth, and to prepare themselves to work for the salvation of others. If they follow this author who eradicate errors, who made clear what was obscure or doubtful, they may know they walk upon a sure path.

With a fine theological sensitivity, Lawrence of Brindisi also pointed out the Holy Spirit’s action in the believer’s life. He reminds us that the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity illumines and assists us with his gifts in our commitment to live joyously the Gospel message.

“The Holy Spirit”, St Lawrence wrote, “sweetens the yoke of the divine law and lightens its weight, so that we may observe God’s commandments with the greatest of ease and even with pleasure”.

I would like to complete this brief presentation of the life and doctrine of St Lawrence of Brindisi by underlining that the whole of his activity was inspired by great love for Sacred Scripture, which he knew thoroughly and by heart, and by the conviction that listening to and the reception of the word of God produces an inner transformation that leads us to holiness.

“The word of the Lord”, he said, “is a light for the mind and a fire for the will, so that man may know and love God. For the inner man, who lives through the living grace of God’s Spirit, it is bread and water, but bread sweeter than honey and water better than wine or milk…. It is a weapon against a heart stubbornly entrenched in vice. It is a sword against the flesh, the world and the devil, to destroy every sin”.

St Lawrence of Brindisi teaches us to love Sacred Scripture, to increase in familiarity with it, to cultivate daily relations of friendship with the Lord in prayer, so that our every action, our every activity, may have its beginning and its fulfilment in him. This is the source from which to draw so that our Christian witness may be luminous and able to lead the people of our time to God.

The sketch offered here is just that…a sketch.  Go to the Capuchin site I linked above for more, or this one – is also good.

I think the life and proclaimed sanctity of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, even as sketched here, points out the inadequacy of some approaches to the Catholic questions and issues.

It is easy, it seems, to read the Gospels and proclaim:  Engaging with power is bad. War is bad. Simplicity is good. Tolerance is good. Embrace. Mercy. Welcome. 

But read this saint’s story carefully. A man who apparently found it not at contradictory to give himself to Christ, hold up St. Francis of Assisi as the emblematic disciple, devote himself to attempt to convert – not simply dialogue with – non-Christians and non-Catholics, move among the corridors of power, minister to the powerful, and inspire an army to go to battle.

Does that fit with what you’ve been hearing about what a “true Christian” does and doesn’t do?

This is why simplistic, The Gospels – n – Me – n- the Holy Spirit Today – doesn’t work.  It can’t coherently account for the complexity of Catholic history because there’s no systematic thinking brought to the table.  There is certainly plenty of space to talk about the shape of the Church and the vision of sanctity through the centuries, but without principles and systematic thinking, we really have nowhere to go.  Simplistic, idealistic thinking cuts us off from the breadth, depth, complexity and even ambiguity of human history and Christ’s church and saints within that history and offers us only the present moment in however those in authority choose to frame the present moment.

Oh…and slightly off topic, as I was reading, a concise expression of how saints deal with church office and authority came to me.

Saints don’t seek office; they seek mission. 

(And the hard part for most saints happens when the mission comes in the form of an office.)

(If you’d like a quick, interesting read – go to archive.org and check out this short book called The Saints of 1881 written by a British priest, about the saints canonized by Leo XIII that year.  Catholic publishing – always looking to build on current events, even then!)

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Today is his feastday!

First, a General Audience from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from 2011:

It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony’s preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity. At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. “O rich people”, he urged them, “befriend… the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety” (ibid., p. 29).

Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (n. 45).

Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord’s humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.

Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ’s love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning. St Anthony writes: “Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are…. Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).

In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.

Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony. May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satifsfy your intellect” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59).

Secondly, for children, an excerpt from my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

Then one day something happened that was almost as strange as the ship wandering off course. There was a large meeting of Franciscans and Dominicans, but oddly enough, the plans for who would give the sermon at the meeting fell through. There were plenty of fine preachers present, but none of them were prepared.

"amy welborn"Those in charge of the meeting went down the line of friars. “Would you care to give the sermon, Brother? No? What about you, Father? No? Well, what about you, Fr. Anthony—is that your name?”

Slowly, Anthony rose, and just as slowly, he began to speak. The other friars sat up to listen. There was something very special about Anthony. He didn’t use complicated language, but his holiness and love for God shone through his words. He was one of the best preachers they had ever heard!

From that point on, Anthony’s quiet life in the hospital kitchen was over. For the rest of his life, he traveled around Italy and France, preaching sermons in churches and town squares to people who came from miles around.

His listeners heard Anthony speak about how important it is for us to live every day in God’s presence. As a result of his words, hundreds of people changed their lives and bad habits, bringing Jesus back into their hearts.

Next, some photos of the huge Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua from our trip in 2012.

(I’m guessing there were no photos allowed inside…since I don’t have any of the interior)

(Sigh. I loved Padua -it is one of those mid-sized Italian cities that I find tremendously appealing – a vibrant, sophisticated interesting buzz around the carefully, but not fussily maintained medieval core. I could live there. Maybe, someday, I will!)

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A few years back, I had whipped up a graphic using this, one of my favorite Benedict quotes, but I couldn’t find the one I was thinking of.  I did find this one, though, which isn’t super pretty, but seems to me especially appropriate for this, his 88th birthday.

"pope Benedict XVI"

Stay united to one another, help one another to live and to increase in faith and in Christian life to be daring witnesses of the Lord. Be united but not closed. Be humble but not fearful. Be simple but non ingenuous. Be thoughtful but not complicated. Enter into dialogue with all, but be yourselves.

-Meeting with young people in Genoa, 2008.

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There’s a little fare war going on right now from JFK and EWR to Milan.  The fares seem to apply mostly to buying two tickets (sparked by an Emirates sale), but as of this writing, you can still get over there (if you buy 2 tix, as I said) for around 450 apiece for spring travel.

Well worth it.  In fact, I’m tempted.

We were there four years ago, inspired by a similar, even more awesome sale – our tickets from New York to Milan were (wait for it) 250 apiece.  Two hundred and fifty dollars.

So yes, if you are in the NY area and can swing it – try Milan.  It’s not as heavily touristed as other Italian cities, and is a bit more of a challenge to navigate since it is not as compact.  Nor does it have a medieval or renaissance center – in fact there’s hardly any pre-19th century architecture readily seen, mostly because Milan, as the capital of Lombardy, has been the object of invasion and conquest and various other battles since Roman times.

(The Last Supper barely survived Allied bombing in World War II)

So, some photos and blog posts from that great trip.

(This is the apartment where we stayed)

The Duomo, of course.

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From the roof of the Milan Duomo

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On the Duomo roof

First blog post:

We were there for the 150th anniversary of Italian unification

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Under the duomo – where Ambrose baptized Augustine.

The natural history museum

Day trip to Stresa, on Lago Maggiore

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A Sunday afternoon in Pavia 

…and all for probably less than some people spent for a week at Disney World….

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At Castle Sforzesco – see what happens when you buy a cheap umbrella from a street vendor?

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Gelato at Castle Sforzesco at night

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Fantastic Archimboldo exhibit. A complete surprise, and the boys loved it.

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Many thanks to Lisa Hendey for the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite subjects: travel.  You can read the interview here.

There was a question in the interview that I didn’t answer over there:

Have you ever had any travel “disasters?”

I told Lisa that yes, there was something, and it was an incident I’d been intending to blog about since it happened, but I kept forgetting, and then waiting for the right opportunity again, and then forgetting…but now’s my chance!

So..yes.  There has been one real disaster – only one so far, and while what happened wasn’t as bad as being stranded in an airport for three days or suffering an accident or serious illness far from home, it was traumatic enough. And potentially far worse than it was.

So, yes, it was actually one of the worst moments..of..my life. Second worst, I’d say. Yup. That bad. So here you go….

"amy welborn"

In the Pyrenees

Two and a half years ago, the boys and I had the amazing experience of spending three months in Europe.  If you were reading me back then you know that the course of our journey took us to France for two months – we spend most of September in western France, around Montignac, in Lourdes and then Provence, and then October was Paris.

We left Paris in early November, the plan being to spend most of that month in Italy, and then heading back home after Thanksgiving.

"amy welborn"

Doing what they do – run – in Lausanne. In front of the Olympic Museum (which was closed)

After a few days in Lausanne, Switzerland (the only place in Europe I experienced sticker shock – expensive!) , we took the train to Padua, which was the first stage of the Italian segment.  Padua for almost a week, then Assisi for a few days, then finally Rome for two weeks.

It was to be an all-day train ride from Lausanne to Padua, via Milan.  There were several stops, the longest being Milan.

It was a lovely trip, first through the Alps, then to northern Italy, and onto Padua.  We looked out the windows, ate snacks, read, and some of us were probably praying our mother never hauled us to Europe during (American) football season again.

And…here we go!  Padua!  St. Anthony, here we come!

I should mention that of course, we were traveling with all of our luggage.  I’m committed to packing light, and  I had already sent some of our stuff back to the States with a friend from Birmingham who had spent a week with us in Paris, but still…we each had a suitcase, plus a backpack.  And remember, the boys were two years younger then – Michael was seven and Joseph, twelve.  My point being that getting these suitcases in and out of trains without letting gravity pull an overloaded child determined that I CAN DO IT MYSELF under the tracks was…a challenge that required speed, negotiation skills, and balance.

As we pulled into the station, I knew that we would only have a couple of minutes, since trains don’t spend much time at all on these stops. I also didn’t want anyone – especially Michael – to take a tumble as they struggled with luggage.

So I told them, as we gathered near the door, that what I wanted them to do was get off, stand on the platform and take the suitcases as I handed them down to them. Sounds good.

The train stopped.  The door slid open.  The boys got out. I handed one suitcase down.  Check.  I reached for the other.

The doors shut.

There was some sort of green button next to the door.  I pushed it.  Then punched it.

The train started to move.

I punched and started shouting. I tried to will the doors back open.

The train sped up.  As trains do.

And the last thing I saw as we slipped away, doors shut tight, was Joseph on the platform, arms outstretched, trying to run but being held back by someone, crying out, “MOM!”

Even now, thinking about that moment, tears come to my eyes, even though I (and you) know it all turned out fine.

But at that moment, I was as frantic and panicked as I’d ever been in my life.  I raced up and down the train cars, looking for someone – anyone who was in a uniform.  Finally, I found one, but he spoke no English, and neither did his colleague, but it didn’t take long for him to grasp my point:  Bambini – in Padua!

What to do?

The next stop was Mestre, the first Venice station, and so of course, what I would do is just get off (with the damn suitcases), and find a train right back.  I was confident that the boys knew what to do – to stay put, because we had talked about it often in Paris in relation to the Metro, which could be crazy crowded, with plenty of times we were squeezed on at the last minute before the doors shut.

What do you do if you all get on the train, and I don’t?

We get off at the next stop and wait for you.

What do you do if I get on the train, but you get left behind?

We stay where we are and wait for you.

So I knew they’d stay there. Well, that’s comforting. They’ll stay! In Padua! Italy! By themselves!

Finally – finally  – the train employee reached the Padua station by telephone and ascertained that the boys were safe – they had been taken to the police office at the train station and would, of course, wait until my return.

As I said, it was a barely-thirty minute ride to Venice, but those were certainly the longest thirty minutes of my life.  Our trip had gone so well, and had been such a rich experience, but now, every doubt I’d had about me taking these two kids to Europe by myself returned and echoed with added embellishments of guilt about my  carelessness.

As we pulled into Mestre, an older man who, with his wife, had boarded in Milan and had been seated across from us and seen all of it happen, approached  and offered to help me find the return train to Padua.  So grateful, of course I said yes, and together, we pulled those two remaining suitcases out of the train and found the platform for a Padua train that would, thank goodness, be coming in only a matter of minutes.  We got to that platform, I thanked him profusely, but before he left, he glanced around, found a woman of about my age, and explained to her (in Italian) what had happened.  All I could understand was bambini and his dramatic re-enactment of “Mama! Mama!” But that was enough, and he handed me over.

Another excruciating thirty minutes, attempting to converse with the sweet woman who’d been appointed my guardian, when finally I was back in Padua.  Off the train, to the police offices…and there they were.  Mi bambini.

Oh, my.

I am so, so sorry.  So, so sorry. 

The officers were quite kind as they took my information and made copies of our passports.  The boys said that some bystanders had been under the impression that they were supposed to be going to Venice and asked if they wanted to take the next train, but they knew better, and said, “No, our Mom will be coming back. We know it.”

As we got the taxi to our apartment, Michael – who was naturally far more frightened by the experience than Joseph – muttered, “I’m never riding a train again.”

I told him, as nicely as I could that I totally understood, but we certainly weren’t going to be walking to Assisi, and the whole thing was totally my fault and it wasn’t going to happen again.  I promise. I’d learned my lesson, and from now on, we’d do as I finally woke up and observed the Europeans doing – crowding at the train door, luggage in hand, ready to jump out as soon as they open, and not taking any time to gather anything, because there isn’t.  Time.

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The street in Padua where our apartment was located.

We finally got to our apartment, after I’d called the owner from the police offices to tell her that we would be late meeting her.  As we settled in and I told the owner the story of why we were late, she gasped and shook her head and murmured at intervals, “Mama Mia.. Mama Mia.” And I remember thinking amid the remnants of my breathless panic, Huh. They really do say that.

Sometimes I think back on that horrid hour of our lives and think, It really wasn’t that bad.  They were immediately taken care of by the authorities.  It was fine. 

But then I think again…what if someone evil had been there and taken advantage of the situation, and offered…

And I can’t think anymore.  It’s too terrible. I can’t fool myself.  It could have been much, much worse, and thank God and Saint Anthony and all the good people there that it wasn’t.

Coda:

A few days later, we were leaving Padua. Michael had accepted the facts of life and was okay with the train – considering he’d ridden it twice to Venice during our week, that wasn’t surprising.

But our departure and final visit to the Padua station wasn’t drama-free, either.

As we were checking out that day, a big protest parade marched passed our apartment.  The owner shrugged and said, "amy welborn"“Students.  We protested back in our day, now they do.” No big deal.

Right?

Well, it turned out to be sort of a big deal.  The protests built as our taxi made its way to the station, and by the time we arrived it was a mess, for the plaza in front of the station was the final destination of the protest, the police had gathered and the students were approaching.  They’d closed off the front of the station. I looked at the driver, he shrugged helplessly, and so we got out anyway.  With, of course, our suitcases.

A bystander warned us that we should probably get away – “The students are going to start running, probably, and there will be tear gas,” he said.

(There were, in fact, injuries.  The protests were one of the many anti-austerity protests around Europe that fall.  As this news article relates, there were two policeman injured by firecrackers – which we heard.)

But we couldn’t enter the station….the doors were locked, and the police stood guard…or could we?

I watched to see what other people were doing, and it seemed pretty clear to me that there must be a back entrance, for I saw a steady stream heading down a side street away and back towards the station.  I have to wonder why our taxi driver didn’t just  take us there for indeed, as we found out after a ten minute walk, there was a back entrance, and it was open and inside, everything was quiet and calm.

Almost there. Almost.

I set the boys at a table at the doorway of a grocery store in the station and I dashed in to get snacks and drinks.  When I returned five minutes later, their eyes were wide with excitement.

“Mom! We saw someone GET ARRESTED! And it was the same police lady who helped us the other day!”

Ciao, Padua!

"st. Anthony" Padua

Shrine of St. Anthony, Padua

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Seriously – loved Padua, despite a rough beginning and weird end.

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And…from the pontificate of Benedict XVI, selections from the Sunday Angelus addresses of the Fourth Sunday of Advent:

2005:

Let us allow ourselves to be “filled” with St Joseph’s silence! In a world that is often too noisy, that encourages neither recollection nor listening to God’s voice, we are in such deep need of it. During this season of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate inner recollection in order to welcome and cherish Jesus in our own lives.

2006

Let us prepare ourselves, dear friends, to meet Jesus, the Emmanuel, God with us. Born in the poverty of Bethlehem, he wants to be the travelling companion of each one of us on our life’s journey. In this world, from the very moment when he decided to pitch his “tent”, no one is a stranger.

It is true, we are all here in passing, but it is precisely Jesus who makes us feel at home on this earth, sanctified by his presence. He asks us, however, to make it a home in which all are welcome.
The surprising gift of Christmas is exactly this: Jesus came for each one of us and in him we have become brothers.

The corresponding duty is to increasingly overcome preconceptions and prejudices, to break down barriers and eliminate the differences that divide us, or worse, that set individuals and peoples against one another, in order to build together a world of justice and peace.

With these sentiments, dear brothers and sisters, let us live the last hours that separate us from Christmas, preparing ourselves spiritually to welcome the Child Jesus. In the heart of the night he will come for us. It is his desire, however, also to come in us, to dwell in the heart of every one of us.

2007

Nothing is more beautiful, urgent and important than freely offering to men and women, in turn, what we ourselves have freely received from God! Nothing can dispense or relieve us from this burdensome but fascinating commitment. While the joy of Christmas that we already anticipate fills us with hope, it spurs us at the same time to proclaim to everyone God’s presence in our midst.

2008

Beyond its historical dimension, this mystery of salvation also has a cosmic dimension: Christ is the sun of grace who, with his life, “transfigures and enflames the expectant universe” (cf. Liturgy). The Christmas festivity is placed within and linked to the winter solstice when, in the northern hemisphere, the days begin once again to lengthen. In this regard perhaps not everyone knows "amy welborn"that in St Peter’s Square there is also a meridian; in fact, the great obelisk casts its shadow in a line that runs along the paving stones toward the fountain beneath this window and in these days, the shadow is at its longest of the year. This reminds us of the role of astronomy in setting the times of prayer. The Angelus, for example, is recited in the morning, at noon and in the evening, and clocks were regulated by the meridian which in ancient times made it possible to know the “exact midday”.

The fact that the winter solstice occurs exactly today, 21 December, and at this very time, offers me the opportunity to greet all those who will be taking part in various capacities in the initiatives for the World Year of Astronomy, 2009, established on the fourth centenary of Galileo Galilei’s first observations by telescope. Among my Predecessors of venerable memory there were some who studied this science, such as Sylvester II who taught it, Gregory XIII to whom we owe our calendar, and St Pius X who knew how to build sundials. If the heavens, according to the Psalmist’s beautiful words, “are telling the glory of God” (Ps 19[18]: 1), the laws of nature which over the course of centuries many men and women of science have enabled us to understand better are a great incentive to contemplate the works of the Lord with gratitude.

2009

Precisely this aspect of the prophecy, that of messianic peace, leads us naturally to emphasize that the city of Bethlehem is also a symbol of peace, in the Holy Land and in the world. Unfortunately, in our day, it does not represent an attained and stable peace, but rather a peace sought with effort and hope. Yet God is never resigned to this state of affairs, so that this year too, in Bethlehem and throughout the world, the mystery of Christmas will be renewed in the Church. A prophecy of peace for every person which obliges Christians to immerse themselves in the closures, tragedies, that are often unknown and hidden, and in the conflicts of the context in which they live, with the sentiments of Jesus so that they may become everywhere instruments and messengers of peace, to sow love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, joy where there is sadness and truth where there is error, according to the beautiful words of a well-known Franciscan prayer.

Today, as in the times of Jesus, Christmas is not a fairy-tale for children but God’s response to the drama of humanity in search of true peace. “He shall be peace”, says the Prophet referring to the Messiah. It is up to us to open, to fling open wide the doors to welcome him. Let us learn from Mary and Joseph: let us place ourselves with faith at the service of God’s plan. Even if we do not understand it fully, let us entrust ourselves to his wisdom and goodness. Let us seek first of all the Kingdom of God, and Providence will help us. A Happy Christmas to you all!

2010

St Ambrose comments that “Joseph had the amiability and stature of a just man, to make his capacity as a witness worthier” (Exp. Ev. sec. Lucam II, 5: CCL 14,32-33). St Ambrose continues: “He could not have contaminated the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of the Lord, the womb rendered fertile by the mystery” (ibid., II, 6: CCL 14,33). Although he had felt distressed, Joseph “did as the Angel of the Lord commanded him”, certain that he was doing the right thing. And in giving the name of “Jesus” to the Child who rules the entire universe, he placed himself among the throng of humble and faithful servants, similar to the Angels and Prophets, similar to the Martyrs and to the Apostles — as the ancient Eastern hymns sing. In witnessing to Mary’s virginity, to God’s gratuitous action and in safeguarding the Messiah’s earthly life St Joseph announces the miracle of the Lord. Therefore let us venerate the legal father of Jesus (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 532), because the new man is outlined in him, who looks with trust and courage to the future. He does not follow his own plans but entrusts himself without reserve to the infinite mercy of the One who will fulfil the prophecies and open the time of salvation.

2011

The human being who came to life in her womb took Mary’s flesh, but his existence derived totally from God. He is fully man, made of clay — to use the biblical symbol — but comes from on high, from Heaven. The fact that Mary conceived while remaining a virgin is thus essential to the knowledge of Jesus and to our faith, because it testifies that it was God’s initiative and, above all, it reveals who the conceived being was.

As the Gospel says: “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). In this sense, the virginity of Mary and the divinity of Jesus guarantees each other. This is what makes that single question so important that Mary, “greatly troubled”, asks the Angel: “How can this be, since I have no husband?” (Lk 1:34). Mary was very wise in her simplicity. She did not doubt God’s power, but she wanted to better understand his will, in order to conform herself completely to this will. Mary was infinitely overcome by the Mystery, yet she occupied perfectly the place which, in its centre had been assigned to her. Her heart and her mind are fully humble and precisely because of her unique humility, God awaits this young woman’s “yes” in order to carry out his plan. He respects her dignity and her freedom. Mary’s “yes” entailed motherhood and virginity as a whole. She wanted everything in her to glorify God and he wanted the Son, born of her, to be totally a gift of grace.

Dear friends, Mary’s virginity is unique and unrepeatable; but its spiritual meaning concerns every Christian, who is essentially linked to faith. In fact, those who put deep trust in God’s love welcome Jesus and his divine life within them through the action of the Holy Spirit. This is the mystery of Christmas! I hope that you will all experience it with deep joy.

2012

In her greeting to Mary Elizabeth recognizes that God’s promise to humanity is being fulfilled and exclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:42-43). In the Old Testament, the phrase “blessed are you among women” refers both to Jael (Judg 5:24), and to Judith (Jud 13:18), two women warriors who do their utmost to save Israel.

Instead it is used here to describe Mary, a peaceful young woman who is about to bring the Saviour into the world. Thus John’s leap of joy (cf. Lk 1:44) also calls to mind King David’s dancing when he accompanied the entry of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (cf. 1 Chron 15:29. The Ark that contained the Tablets of the Law, the manna and Aaron’s rod (cf. Heb 9:4) was the sign of God’s presence among his People. The unborn John exults with joy before Mary, the Ark of the New Mary-ArkCovenant, who in her womb is carrying Jesus, the Son of God made man.

The scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of the greeting. Wherever there is reciprocal acceptance, listening, making room for another, God is there, as well as the joy that comes from him. At Christmas time let us emulate Mary, visiting all those who are living in hardship, especially the sick, prisoners, the elderly and children. And let us also imitate Elizabeth who welcomes the guest as God himself: without wishing it, we shall never know the Lord, without expecting him we shall not meet him, without looking for him we shall not find him. Let us too go to meet the Lord who comes with the same joy as Mary, who went with haste to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39).

Let us pray that all men and women may seek God, discovering that it is God himself who comes to visit us first. Let us entrust our heart to Mary, Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant, so that she may make it worthy to receive God’s visit in the mystery of his Birth

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I went through the archives of Sunday Angelus talks from John Paull II on through and pulled out what the various Popes have said to the children on this occasion.  You might find a nice quote to share with your own family.  (Missing years are mostly because most of  JPII’s Angelus talks are only available in Italian and Spanish.)

1978

As I bless your little statues, beloved children, I think with serene hope of you, of the immense good that you can do, precisely because you are little, within your family, the school, the Associations, and society itself. Not for nothing did Jesus himself choose you as models for those who wish to have a part in his Kingdom (cf. Mt 18:4; Mk 10: 15).

Take home, with great care, the little statue of the Infant Jesus, also as a sign of the Pope’s love for you and your families. Put it in your Crib with intense faith, with that faith wherewith the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, laid the new-born Jesus in the manger (cf. Lk 2:7). Invite your father, your mother, your brothers and sisters, the whole of your family, to gather round the Crib in these days of the Christmas Novena, to recite together the prayers learned on your mother’s lap, to sing bambinelli blessingthe sweet carols, so charged with human and Christian sentiment.

May the Infant Jesus, present in the Crib of your home, be the concrete sign of a limpid and sincere faith, which will enlighten, guide and direct your life and that of your dear ones.

Then skip ahead…to 1997…

This climate of serenity and joy typical of the Christian Christmas can already be felt today, here in St Peter’s Square, thanks to the Christmas tree and the crib which are being set up. It is all the more evident thanks to the presence of so many Roman boys and girls who, following a beautiful custom, have brought figurines of the Baby Jesus from their own cribs for the Pope to bless.

I address you in particular, dear children. Christmas is the feast of a Child. Therefore it is your feast! You wait for it impatiently and prepare for it with joy, counting the days until 25 December. I gladly bless the figurines of the Christ Child and the cribs you are making at home. I bless you and the children of every part of the world, especially on the American continent, who were frequently recalled by the Synod Fathers. May the Infant Jesus fill each of them with joy, especially those tried by physical suffering or the lack of affection.

1999

One of the popular expressions of the joyful expectation of Christmas is the preparation of cribs in families. In Christian homes these are the days when a suitable corner is chosen for arranging the figurines, leaving room between Mary and Joseph for the Child Jesus. Having in mind all the Christian families arranging their cribs, I very gladly bless you, dear boys and girls of Rome, who have come in large numbers with your Bambinelli. May Christmas, now close at hand, spur you and all believers in every part of the world to prepare a worthy dwelling-place for Christ.

2000

With great joy I also greet you, dear boys and girls, who have come, as you do every year, to have the figurines of the Baby Jesus blessed before you put them in your cribs at home. I hope that as they gather around this wonderful sign of God’s tenderness, every family will find joy and peace, and will experience in simplicity the true spirit of the Christmas holidays.

2002

Dear children and youngsters of Rome, you have come today to add a touch of liveliness in keeping with the tradition of having the Baby Jesus of your cribs blessed by the Pope. I greet you affectionately and thank you because your joy fits in very well with the spirit of joy that is appropriate for the Third Sunday of Advent.

I also think of the cribs that you and your parents and teachers have prepared in your homes and schools. In the manger, between Mary and Joseph, you will place the Baby Jesus you hold in your hands. The crib will become the centre of your classroom and the heart of your families.

Above all, Christmas is a feast of the family because, by being born in a human family, the Son of God chose it as the first community consecrated by his love.

2003

I greet with affection the children of Rome who have come for the traditional blessing of the “Baby Jesus”; and I thank the Roman Centre of After-School Activities which has organized this lovely event. Dear children and boys and girls, when you place the statue of the Baby Jesus in your Nativity scene, say a prayer for me and for all the people who turn to the Pope in their difficulties. Happy Christmas to you all!

2004

The feast of Christmas is approaching and in many places, such as here in St Peter’s Square, the Christmas crib is already being set up. Small or large, simple or elaborate, it is a familiar and most vivid representation of Christmas. The Nativity scene is a feature of our culture and art, but above all it is a sign of faith in God, who in Bethlehem came “and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

2. As I do every year, in a little while I shall bless the Baby Jesus figurines that on the Holy Night will be placed in the Christmas cribs, where St Joseph and Our Lady are already silent witnesses of a sublime mystery. With their loving gaze they invite us to watch and pray in order to welcome the divine Saviour, who comes to bring the joy of Christmas to the world.

Now, moving on to B16:

2005:

The Crib helps us contemplate the mystery of God’s love that was revealed in the poverty and simplicity of the Bethlehem Grotto. St Francis of Assisi was so taken by the mystery of the Incarnation that he wanted to present it anew at Greccio in the living Nativity scene, thus beginning an old, popular tradition that still retains its value for evangelization today.

Indeed, the Crib can help us understand the secret of the true Christmas because it speaks of the humility and merciful goodness of Christ, who “though he was rich he made himself poor” for us (II Cor 8: 9).

His poverty enriches those who embrace it and Christmas brings joy and peace to those who, like bambinelli blessingthe shepherds in Bethlehem, accept the Angel’s words: “Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes” (Lk 2: 12). This is still the sign for us too, men and women of the third millennium. There is no other Christmas.

Soon, as did beloved John Paul II, I too will bless the figurines of the Baby Jesus that the children of Rome will place in the Crib in their homes. With this act of Blessing, I would like to invoke the help of the Lord so that all Christian families will prepare to celebrate the coming Christmas celebrations with faith. May Mary help us enter into the true spirit of Christmas.

2006

The invitation to rejoice is not an alienating message nor a sterile palliative, but on the contrary, it is a salvific prophecy, an appeal for rescue that starts with inner renewal.

To transform the world, God chose a humble young girl from a village in Galilee, Mary of Nazareth, and challenged her with this greeting: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you”. In these words lies the secret of an authentic Christmas. God repeats them to the Church, to each one of us:  Rejoice, the Lord is close! With Mary’s help, let us offer ourselves with humility and courage so that the world may accept Christ, who is the source of true joy.

I address a special greeting to the children, the boys and girls of Rome, who have come with their relatives and teachers for the blessing of the figurines of the Baby Jesus that you will put in their cribs at home, at school and in the oratories. I thank the “Centro Oratori Romani” which has organized this important pilgrimage and I warmly bless all the “Baby Jesuses”. Dear children, pray to Jesus before the crib for your father’s intentions too! I thank you and wish you a Merry Christmas!

2007

Men and women of every age and social condition, happy to dedicate their existence to others, give us the answer with their lives! Was not Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta an unforgettable witness of true Gospel joy in our time? She lived in touch daily with wretchedness, human degradation and death. Her soul knew the trials of the dark night of faith, yet she gave everyone God’s smile. In one of her writings, we read: “We wait impatiently for paradise, where God is, but it is in our power to be in paradise even here on earth and from this moment. Being happy with God means loving like him, helping like him, giving like him, serving like him” (The Joy of Giving to Others, 1987, p. 143). Yes, joy enters the hearts of those who put themselves at the service of the lowly and poor. God abides in those who love like this and their souls rejoice. If, instead, people make an idol of happiness, they lose their way and it is truly hard for them to find the joy of which Jesus speaks. Unfortunately, this is what is proposed by cultures that replace God by individual happiness, mindsets that find their emblematic effect in seeking pleasure at all costs, in spreading drug use as an escape, a refuge in artificial paradises that later prove to be entirely deceptive.

Dear brothers and sisters, one can lose the way even at Christmas, one can exchange the true celebration for one that does not open the heart to Christ’s joy. May the Virgin Mary help all Christians and people in search of God to reach Bethlehem, to encounter the Child who was born for us, for salvation and for the happiness of all humanity.

I would like to greet the children and young people of Rome who have come here in large numbers this year in spite of the cold to receive the blessing of the Christ Child figurines for their cribs. Dear friends, with great affection I wish you and your relatives a good Christmas. And as I thank the Centro Oratori Romani which organizes this beautiful initiative, I urge priests, parents and catechists to collaborate enthusiastically in the Christian education of children. Thanks to you all and a good Sunday!

2008

(This is the prayer featured in the book)

In this light, it gives me real pleasure to renew the beautiful tradition of the Blessing of the Christ Child figurines, the miniature statues of the Baby Jesus to be placed in the manger. I address you in particular, dear boys and girls of Rome, who have come this morning with your Baby Jesus figurines that I now bless. I invite you to join me, following attentively this prayer:

God, our Father
you so loved humankind
that you sent us your only Son Jesus,
born of the Virgin Mary,
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing
these images of Jesus,
who is about to come among us,
may be a sign of your presence and
love in our homes.

Good Father,
give your Blessing to us too,
to our parents, to our families and
to our friends.

Open our hearts,
so that we may be able to
receive Jesus in joy,
always do what he asks
and see him in all those
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus,
your beloved Son
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever.
Amen.

And now let us recite together the prayer of the Angelus Domini, invoking Mary’s intercession so that Jesus, whose birth brings God’s Blessing to mankind, may be lovingly welcomed in all homes, in Rome and throughout the world.

2009

We have now reached the Third Sunday of Advent. Today in the liturgy the Apostle Paul’s invitation rings out: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…. The Lord is at hand!” (Phil 4: 4-5). While Mother Church accompanies us towards Holy Christmas she helps us rediscover the meaning and taste of Christian joy, so different from that of the world. On this Sunday, according to a beautiful tradition, the children of Rome come to have the Pope bless the Baby Jesus figurines that they will put in their cribs. And in fact, I see here in St Peter’s Square a great number of children and young people, together with their parents, teachers and catechists. Dear friends, I greet you all with deep affection and thank you for coming. It gives me great joy to know that the custom of creating a crib scene has been preserved in your families. Yet it is not enough to repeat a traditional gesture, however important it may be. It is necessary to seek to live in the reality of daily life that the crib represents, namely, the love of Christ, his humility, his poverty. This is what St Francis did at Greccio: he recreated a live presentation of the nativity scene in order to contemplate and worship it, but above all to be better able to put into practice the message of the Son of God who for love of us emptied himself completely and made himself a tiny child.

The blessing of the “Bambinelli” [Baby Jesus figurines] as they are called in Rome, reminds us that the crib is a school of life where we can learn the secret of true joy. This does not consist in having many things but in feeling loved by the Lord, in giving oneself as a gift for others and in loving one another. Let us look at the crib. Our Lady and St Joseph do not seem to be a very fortunate family; their first child was born in the midst of great hardship; yet they are full of deep joy, because they love each other, they help each other and, especially, they are certain that God, who made himself present in the little Jesus, is at work in their story. And the shepherds? What did they have to rejoice about? That Newborn Infant was not to change their condition of poverty and marginalization. But faith helped them recognize the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” as a “sign” of the fulfilment of God’s promises for all human beings, “with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2: 12, 14).

This, dear friends, is what true joy consists in: it is feeling that our personal and community existence has been visited and filled by a great mystery, the mystery of God’s love. In order to rejoice we do not need things alone, but love and truth: we need a close God who warms our hearts and responds to our deepest expectations. This God is manifested in Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary. Therefore that “Bambinello” which we place in a stable or a grotto is the centre of all things, the heart of the world. Let us pray that every person, like the Virgin Mary, may accept as the centre of his or her life the God who made himself a Child, the source of true joy.

2013, Pope Francis:

Today my first greeting is for the children of Rome, who have come for the traditional blessing of the “Baby Jesus” figurines organized by the Roman Oratory. Dear children, when you pray before the manger, remember me too, as I remember you. I thank you, and Happy Christmas!

2014  (Hey, when it’s in English, I’ll post it!)

E ora saluto con affetto i bambini venuti per la benedizione dei “Bambinelli”, organizzata dal Centro Oratori Romani. Complimenti! Voi siete stati bravi, siete stati gioiosi qui in piazza, complimenti! E adesso portate il presepio benedetto. Cari bambini, vi ringrazio della vostra presenza e vi auguro buon Natale! Quando pregherete a casa, davanti al vostro presepe, ricordatevi anche di pregare per me, come io mi ricordo di voi. La preghiera è il respiro dell’anima: è importante trovare dei momenti nella giornata per aprire il cuore a Dio, anche con le semplici e brevi preghiere del popolo cristiano. Per questo, oggi ho pensato di fare un regalo a tutti voi che siete qui in piazza, una sorpresa, un regalo: vi darò un piccolo libretto tascabile che raccoglie alcune preghiere, per i vari momenti della giornata e per le diverse situazioni della vita. E’ questo. Alcuni volontari lo distribuiranno. Prendetene uno ciascuno e portatelo sempre con voi, come aiuto a vivere tutta la giornata con Dio. E perché non dimentichiamo quel messaggio tanto bello che voi avete fatto qui con il cartello: “Con Gesù la gioia è di casa”. Un’altra volta: “Con Gesù la gioia è di casa”. Bravi!

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