Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

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!)

Read Full Post »

I’m not sure how to present this, but let’s give it a shot.

Many, me included, have said for years to not depend on media reports – especially secular media – when it comes to understanding Church matters. This is especially true, and easy to fix, when it comes to statements by Church officials, since the vast majority of the time, their words  – in their homilies or speeches – are available for any of us to read.  Translation issues complicate matters, but the point remains.  We can access this stuff for ourselves, most of the time.

So we come to Pope Francis. (Not the encyclical, which is for later consideration)  Every day, it seems, there’s a new sound byte coming at us, a sound byte that is pounced on, debated, held up for scrutiny.

Today the contested quote regards something the Pope said about weapons manufacturers, a statement, as reported, which has pleased some people and distressed others.

I went to the only source I could find at this point – a transcript at Asia News.  I would encourage you to read it. I don’t know what you will take away from the transcript of this talk or the transcript of the talk he gave to Salesians, but I’m thinking it might clarify things.  Sort of.

It won’t necessarily clarify what the Pope meant by bringing up this subject or Marian devotion or youth unemployment or the Freemasons. But reading the entirety of these talks (not long – just a few paragraphs each), might clarify for you the nature of the discourse being offered in these settings and give you a way to think about..thinking about them.

Perhaps you would disagree, but consider:

  • In these talks, one of which even the National Catholic Reporter described as “rambling,” the Pope is essentially offering his own personal opinions and impressions.  Compare this discourse to the act of teaching, especially in the context of a Catholic pastoral paradigm, which pulls deeply from Scripture and tradition, applying revealed truth to new situations in a systematic way. The teacher’s gifts and opinions naturally impact this act of teaching, but in the Catholic tradition, the teacher, preacher, and yes, pastor, knows that he is subject to something greater, and attempts to communicates that  in the act of teaching.  A pope or bishop’s authority is a teaching authority.
  • If you have ever attempted to teach religion, in any form, even within your own family, you have experienced this and understood this delicate dynamic which requires the continual challenge to teach out of a place of humility. Anyone who has ever attempted this understands that “what I think” is irrelevant to the responsibility at hand.
  • In these talks, Pope Francis talks about weapons manufacturers, wonders why the Allies didn’t bomb Nazi train lines, muses on the reasons for teen suicides, wonders if the Salesians could be teaching kids how to be plumbers, his family background, and Freemasons.
  • He has views on all of it. Everyone can pick and choose pleasing phrases or points of view and then spend the rest of the day arguing about them on Facebook or Twitter.
  • I am not sure that’s a great use of time.
  • Memes like “The Pope’s Five Tips for Happy Family Life” or “Three Ways Pope Francis wants you to start helping the Planet” don’t help, especially when offered by Catholic media.  Because you know what? Pope Francis’ or Pope Benedict’s or Pope Pius’ “tips” for anything …don’t matter.  
  • My small point here is that the details of what he says in these remarks don’t matter as much as the bigger questions they raise about the nature of papal teaching authority, how the office is used, what it means to actually teach the Faith – a good question for all of us engaged in catechesis, yes?

Let us now turn to the wars. I sometimes said that we are in the middle of World War Three, but piecemeal. There is war in Europe. There is war in Africa. There is war in the Orient. There is war in other countries. Can I trust such a world? Can I trust world leaders? When I vote for a candidate, can I trust that he or she will not lead my country to war?

If you trust only people, you have lost. [Laughter and applause] One thought comes to mind: people, CEOs, business people who call themselves Christian and [yet] manufacture weapons. [Applause] This leads to a loss in trust. They call themselves Christian! “As a matter of fact, Father, I don’t make weapons. I just have investments in companies that manufacture weapons. Right! Why? Because of higher earnings.” Being two-faced is so conventional. Doing one thing and saying another. [Applause]. What hypocrisy! Let us see what happened the last century.

There was a great tragedy in Armenia in 1914 and 1915. [Applause] Many, millions died. Where were the great powers of that time? They turned the other way, and were interested in their war, and in those deaths. They [the Armenians] were third class human beings [Applause]. Later, in the 1930s and 1940s [came] the tragedy of the Holocaust. The great powers had photographs of the railway routes that brought the trains to the concentration camps, to Auschwitz, to kill Jews, Christians, Roma, homosexuals . . . Tell me then, why did they not bomb them? [Out of] interests, eh? [Applause]. A little later, in almost the same period, there were concentration camps in Russia. Stalin! How many Christians suffered and were killed? The great powers divided up Europe, like a pie. It took many years before we got some freedom.

It is hypocritical to talk about peace and make weapons, or sell them to the two warring sides. [Applause] I understand when you talk about the loss of trust in life. Even today, I like to say that we are living in a culture of exclusion, because what is not economically useful is excluded; children because either they are not born or are killed before they are born; seniors because they are no longer useful and are left to die, a sort of hidden euthanasia; and now young people when considering that 40 per cent is jobless. This is true exclusion! [Applause]

But why? Because, contrary to God’s will, men and women are not at the centre of the world’s economic system. The mighty buck is. Everything is done for money. [Applause] In Spanish there is a saying, “The little monkey will dance for money.” [Applause]. In this culture of exclusion, can we trust life or does the loss of trust grow? Young people who cannot study, who do not work, who feel ashamed and unworthy because they have no job and earn no living . . . How often do they become addicts or commit suicide? We don’t have clear statistics about suicide among young people. How many times do they go to fight with the terrorists, at least to do something for an ideal? I understand this challenge.  Source

Read Full Post »

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!)

Read Full Post »

— 1 —

Tomorrow’s St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day – check out the entry I wrote on St. Anthony in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here at the Loyola website.  It’s like a free trial!

"amy welborn"

St. Anthony’s Basilica in Padua.  Fall 2012.

— 2 —

Today, youngest son and I took a brief afternoon journey to a small town about 20 miles south of here.  There was an easy walking trail I’d heard about, and we had business on the south end of Birmingham, so we’d do a loop of sorts.

The trail was short and flat and developed, but it ran next to and around a creek, so that was nice. What was even better was that we saw:

  • a beaver working on his dam. From a distance, but no doubt that’s who it was and what he was doing.
  • a rabbit swimming across the creek.

Wait, what?  That’s what we said.  But it was unmistakably, a rabbit, who hopped out of the woods on one side, dove in and swam steadily across to the other. Who knew?

Well, lots of people probably, since it was, I’d assume, a swamp rabbit – the largest rabbit species in the Southeast and, as I remembered later, responsible for dragging Jimmy Carter down even further back in 1979.

"amy welborn"

— 3 —

So there was that, and various small fish and a very large beetle, mimosas, reminders of the grist mill that once stood in the area, and very many bugs. It was a good walk, giving us a chance to see and learn of a few new things.

Before heading back north, we stopped at a new (to us) gourmet popsicle shop called Frios (similar to Birmingham’s own Steel City Pops) – my son had a salted caramel and I had a fantastic spicy pineapple.  The fellow in the shop said, after hearing where we were from, “That’s a long way to come to take a walk.”  I said, not really. It’s a new place, and we like to go new places and see new things.

Like swamp rabbits.

What we would have missed by just sitting around the house….

"amy welborn"

— 4 —

We watched Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman last night.  The ten-year old enjoyed it – especially the scenes with the monkey, not surprisingly.  There’s also a lengthy scene in the “Municipal Plunge” – an indoor swimming pool – which was interesting to me partly because I’m always studying this kind of stuff in movies from an historical perspective – to see how men and women dressed and interacted in such venues almost ninety years ago.  Anyway, in that scene, Keaton must cope with the awkwardness of losing his swimming trunks, and my son remarked, “You know, when they have a swimming pool scene in a movie, that always happens.  Always.” 

(Pro-tip, if you have cable.  About once a month, if I think about it, I go through a couple of weeks’ worth of the Turner Classic Movies schedule, and DVR the heck out of it. At any given time, we have about twenty good movies on tap. I do the same with nature shows.)

— 5 —

I don’t believe related the chipmunk story.

About three days before we left for the Wild West Trip, I awoke one morning to the sounds of scratching on a screen.  I am functionally blind without my contacts, so I couldn’t see across the room to the source of the sound, which kept on coming from the direction of an almost wall-length set of transom windows (50’s house) about over five feet from the floor.  The scratches kept coming.  I thought perhaps a bird was outside, or had started to nest out there..or something. I put in my contacts.

There was a chipmunk sitting on the ledge of the window.

Inside. 

My room.

When my mother was a little younger than I am now, she was bitten by a chipmunk.  We were looking at what would become our family’s own 50’s era home in Knoxville at the time. She peered into a trash can outside, and saw a chipmunk stranded at the bottom.  Why she didn’t just tip the can over and let it out, I’ll never know.  But instead, she reached down to rescue it by hand, and of course the terrified thing bit her.

And didn’t let go.

They had to put a lighted match to its nose to make it release her finger, but done in a way that it could immediately be trapped in some sort of container and taken to the hospital and tested for rabies.

(Which it didn’t have.)

And here I was, forty years later, confronting yet another chipmunk in another mid-century home. At eye level this time, though.

What to do?

First I tried to shoo it into a trash can (wait…..), but it just leapt off the ledge, used my desk chair as a spring board, and then took off out of my room.

I’m almost certain I saw it race into the first open door available, which would have been the hall closet – the boys’ bedroom doors were already closed, so no worries there.

When the boys woke up, I told them about it, and they immediately exchanged meaningful glances, the younger triumphant, the older one huffily abashed.

“I TOLD YOU I SAW A CHIPMUNK!” 

It seems the day before, the younger son had sworn that a chipmunk had jumped out from among a jumble of books on his bedroom floor.  He told his brother, but his brother scoffed and said it must have been a bug or he was seeing things.

So the next thing was to try to get it out.  Since I was sure it was in the closet, we set up an elaborate walled pathway that would lead from the closet to the back patio door.

(We discussed just putting the snake in there for a day, but ultimately decided against it.)

The moment came.  I pushed the door open, we braced ourselves…..

Nothing.

I poked around the closet with a broom handle, pushed blankets aside…nothing. I removed everything from the closet…nothing.

As I said, this was a couple of days before our trip, so since I wasn’t going to spend any more time searching, we just had to trust that it had escaped some other way, and that we wouldn’t return to the stench of death upon our return.

(We didn’t.)

— 6 —

As I wrote earlier, my younger son and I went to Atlanta this past week.  I forgot to post this photo, which is of an art installation on the first floor of the museum, viewed from the winding stairwell. It’s called “Utah Sky,” after the name of the paint color of the sky, and it’s Asian-inspired, but it reminds me of my beloved Mexican oilcloth more than anything.

amy welborn

— 7 —

Current reads:

Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians

The Wapshot Chronicle.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

"amy welborn"

From the roof of the Milan Duomo

"amy welborn"

amywelborn4

On the Duomo roof

First blog post:

We were there for the 150th anniversary of Italian unification

"amy welborn"

Under the duomo – where Ambrose baptized Augustine.

The natural history museum

Day trip to Stresa, on Lago Maggiore

amy-welborn

A Sunday afternoon in Pavia 

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

amy-welborn5

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

amy-welborn2

Gelato at Castle Sforzesco at night

amywelborn

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

Read Full Post »

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.

"amy welborn"

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

"amy welborn"

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: