Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Monday, December 20, 2010

MervSue's Hideaway

Our good friends Mervin and Susan Marshall are renting out rooms in their home on the west coast of Barbados as a bed and breakfast to raise funds for a young person from their parish who is hoping to attend World Youth Day in Madrid.

They have two bedroom available, each with one queen-size bed and a stand-alone fan. Guests will have access to a shared kitchen, equipped with refrigerator, hotplate, kettle & toaster, pots & pans, dishes etc.

The cost is $70 a night or $450 for a week, including shuttle service in and out of Speightown, continental breakfast, and a few surprises. This offer is available until June 30, 2011. Mervin and Susan aren't normally in the B&B business.

Ann and I had the joy of staying at MervSue's Hideaway at 22 The Rock, St. Peter's Barbados, on two occasions for two weeks each. But we went there as friends, not paid guests. We know them as fellow Catholics interested in religious communications.

Catholics are a decided minority on the beautiful little (166-square-mile) island, and the Marshalls seem to know just about all of them. They are both very active in their parish and in the diocese.

Mervin hosts a weekly Catholic radio show for young people, Cari-Vibes, on which Ann and I once appeared as guests talking about the concept of vacation as an educational and spiritual journey for Roamin' Catholics.

The always-busy Mervin also has a weekly television program on gardening. It's no surprise, then, that 22 The Rock is beautifully landscaped. It's also close to everying. (In Barbados, everything is close to everything.) Staying there would be a special treat, while helping a good cause at the same time. If you're interested, write to mervsue@hotmail.com or delleous@gmail.com.

Friday, December 10, 2010

R.I.P., Fr. Louis

On this day in 1968, man named Fr. Louis died of accidental electrocution in Bangkok -- 27 years to the day after he entered religious life at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Ky.

He was better known under his birth name, Thomas Merton, the name which appeared on a startling high number of spiritual books over a 20-year period. Most famous among them was The Seven-Storey Mountain, the best-selling story of his own life and conversion published in 1948.

But the name on his tombstone, the same simple cross afforded to all the monks buried there on the abbey grounds, is Fr. Louis Merton. The grave isn't given any special honor or attention, but I found it the first time I visited Gethsemani on retreat about 15 years ago. I have returned to there almost every year since.

During that very first visit, my friend Greg and I also had the rare opportunity to sit in Merton's hermitage and talk for an hour an half with a woman who was staying there while she discerned a possible vocation as a Trappestine nun.

The Merton house, deep into the woods on the Merton property, isn't open to guests. But we had connections. A friend of ours, Fr. David DeVore, was living at the abbey on sabbatical at the time. He took us for a walk in the woods to see the house; the woman staying there saw us and invited us in.

Now Fr. DeVore is himself buried at Gethsemani as well.

In the middle of the last century, Thomas Merton was one of the major figures of the Catholic Church in the United States. His legacy lives on in more than 60 published volumes of his writings that still have power today. But to be at Gethsemani, where he lived just over half of his life and where his body lies, is to connect with Fr. Louis in a special way that is important to me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Saint Who is Santa

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Last night Ann hung our stockings by the chimney with care for St. Nicholas to fill, as seen above. We have been doing this all during our married life. The number of stockings has expanded consistently as we have added children, spouses of children, and grandchildren.

St. Nicholas was bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey in the fourth century. His remains rest in Bari, Italy. Our Byzantine rite Catholic friend Stephanie Moore called our attention to a wonderful website called "St. Nicholas: Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus." Check it out to learn more.

The site includes beautiful icons of the saint. Icons of St. Nicholas are quite popular in the eastern rites and the Orthodox Church. Stephanie's son, Nicholas, owns about a dozen icons of his name saint.

In Stephanie's tradition, children leave their shoes by the door the night before the feast day to be filled with chocolate coins and candy. At the Moore house, the adults also find their shoes filled with adult beverages! This is yet another reason why St. Nicholas should be better known in the west than just another name for Santa Claus.

Monday, November 29, 2010

God's Stained Glass Windows

Ann and I recently celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary -- several times.

The most recent celebration was a wonderful dinner at a great restaurant for the wedding party, their spouses, and our descendants. Even though I was suffering the pain of a kidney stone for about the last hour, it was a delightful occasion.

On the anniversary date itself a couple of weeks earlier, we also celebrated with dinner at a restaurant for just the two of us. Meals of this kind always remind me of the Eucharist, and we celebrated with that, too. The evening before our anniversary we went to Mass and received a blessing from our pastor.

That reminded me of our 30th anniversary, which we spent in Barbados. On the morning of our anniversary, which was a weekday, we attended Mass at St. Francis of Assisi with our two friends who live in Barbados. This is an interesting church for several reasons: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair used to worship there even before he became Catholic, the church was formerly a movie theater, and it sits on a beach.

Plus there's one more distinguishing feature of the church: There are two windows behind the altar that are not stained glass windows. Instead they are clear-pane windows, often left open, through which you can see the beach and the Caribbean beyond.

To me this view of some of God's most beautiful creation as backdrop of Mass is as inspiring as any stained glass window.

Monday, November 22, 2010

St. Cecilia

Today, Nov. 22, in addition to being the anniversary of the deaths of both C.S. Lewis and President John F. Kennedy 47 years ago, is the Feast of St. Cecilia.

She is best known as the patron saint of music. For this reason, the internet reports that the 1970 Simon and Garfunkel song "Cecilia" is really a metaphor about the frustrations of a composer deserted by his Muse, personified by the saint. Whether that's true or not, it is true that Paul Simon's later song "The Coast" makes reference to "the little harbor church of St. Cecilia."

Wherever that church might be, it is certainly not the Roman basilica St. Cecilia in Trastevere that we visited a few weeks ago. We took part in the Sunday vigil Mass there, happily noting that this was a not a museum but an active parish -- there were flowers in the church left over from a wedding.

In my travel diary I noted that the two outstanding features of the church were a magnificent marble altarpiece with a statue of the saint in death (above) and a crypt that had been an early Christian burial vault.

We spent quite a bit of time in the vault after Mass. It was clear that we were amid the ruins of what had once been the home of a wealthy Roman. Only later did we learn that Roman was St. Cecilia herself, beheaded in her home in 230 A.D. A church was erected over the home in the 4th or 5th Century, and rebuilt in the 9th Century.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Feast alert!

Heads up, there's a great feast coming!

On Nov. 18 the Church celebrates the dedication of two of the four major basilicas of Rome, St. Peter's and St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Any tourist can appreciate the beauty and the historical importance of these ancient churches. But to Catholic pilgrims they mean so much more. For recent archeological research has confirmed beyond reasonable doubt what tradition always held: That the Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century erected the predecessors of these churches over the tombs of the apostles for whom they are named.

Anyone -- you need no special pull -- can arrange for what is called a Scavi Tour beneath St. Peter's Basilica to see the bones of the saint. To summarize a long and complicated history, the bones were discovered in the middle of the last century hidden in a box on which had been scratched the simple words "Peter Within." Forensic analysis of the remains produced no reason to disbelieve the label.

The bones of St. Peter lie immediately below the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica. I have seen them twice and found the experience equally emotional both times.

A short subway ride away, at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, a sarcophagus holding the remains of the Apostle to the Gentiles is partially visible just below the main altar. A lighted glass case holds what tradition says are the chains that held St. Paul imprisoned in Rome.

There are also two new features of the basilica dating only to the recent Year of St. Paul -- a special door, like a Holy Year door, and an eternal flame lit by bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict, and the archbishop of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, at the beginning of the Year of St. Paul.

Medallion-shaped paintings of all the popes from St. Peter to Benedict XVI line the walls of the basilica near the top. St. Paul (since above in the statue in front of the basilica) was crucial to the growth of the early Church, but it was founded on St. Peter. How fitting that these saints share a feast day, and so do their churches in Rome.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Mother Church

Earlier this week we celebrated the mother church of Christendom -- and it's not St. Peter's Basilica.

Since the 12th Century, November 9 has been the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran in Rome. Erected by the Emperor Constantine in the early 4th Century and rebuilt many times, San Giovanni Laterano is the pope's cathedral in his capacity as bishop of Rome. (St. Peter's Basilica is not in Rome, of course, but in the Vatican City State.) Until the 14th Century, the attached Lateran Palace was the official residence of the pope.

The universal nature of the Church was brought home as I looked at the wooden confessional boxes around the church. Signs above listed languages of the confessors. For example, one polyglot priest could listen to and absolve sins in English, Italian and Irish Gaelic.

Candlesticks throughout the basilica ended in electric light bulbs instead of candles. Beneath the main alter lies the mortal remains of Pope Martin V, who died in 4131. For some reason, people throw coins and bills at it.

Like many of the great churches, St. John Lateran so is vast that's it's hard to appreciate all its wonders -- one masterpiece piled on top of another. The baldacchino over the papal altar, shown above, is decorated with 14th Century frescoes. Another fresco may be by Giotto.

But the most significant sight to me when we visited last month was the bishop's chair at the far end of the basilica, for that is the chair of Peter.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Holy Face in Lucca

There's a long tradition in Catholic popular piety of venerating statues, often of mysterious origin, that have come to be associated with miracles. Our Lady of Charity, said to be better known in Cuba than Jesus Himself, and the Infant of Prague both date back to the early 17th Century.

The Volto Santo -- Holy Face -- is even older, though not as old as once believed. The statue, housed in a chapel inside the Cathedral of St. Martin in Lucca, Italy, has been a popular destination of European pilgrims since the Middle Ages. The photo above shows the Cathedral, which we visited last month. Photos of the statue by ordinary visitors are, understandably, forbidden.

The Legend of the Volto Santo is long and complicated, but begins with the belief that it was carved by Nicodemus, the Pharisee-disciple of the Lord. Or at least the body was, with the dark Holy Face completed by divine intervention. Art historians today believe the hollow statue, which might have been intended to be a reliquary, was created sometime between the late 11th and early 12th centuries.

Many non-Catholic Christians, particularly in the non-liturgical denominations, tend to see veneration of statues as idolotrous or nearly so. But on the day we visited there was a long line in front of the little chapel that has housed the statue for centuries. To me it's perfectly understandable that as embodied human beings we long to have a physical representation of the divine.

After all, that's why God became one of us.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Cross on the Cathedral

The inside of almost every Catholic church offers a visual feast: statues, paintings, stained glass windows, and more. But in on the way in, most of the time we hurry past some interesting images outside as well.

For example, the main portals of the Pisan-Romanesque Duomo di San Martino (St. Martin Cathedral) in Tuscany's ancient walled city of Lucca, is notable for highly regarded 13th century carvings by the artists Nicola Pisano and Guidetto da Como. (The cathedral itself was begun in 1063.)

On a recent visit there, I also saw a Jerusalem Cross on the outside front wall. This familiar style of cross, made of up one big cross and four smaller ones together representing the wounds of Christ, comes from the shield of Sr. Godfrey de Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade.

Tradition holds that Sir Godfrey founded the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre in 1099. Today the order exists in large part to support the dwindling ranks of Christians in th Holy Land. And the symbol of the order -- which appears on the capes, berets and medals of the knights and ladies -- is the Jerusalem Cross.

So what's it doing on a cathedral in Lucca? According to a small book available at our hotel, which I read but did not buy, there's a connection between the Duomo di San Martino and Holy Land: pilgrimage destinations. Why pilgrams have been coming to San Martino since the Middle Ages is a subject for another time.

What goes on inside churches is the most important. But what's on the outside is sometimes very interesting.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Blessed Emperor

On this All Saints Day, I find myself thinking about a blessed that I never of until last month.

In the back of a church in Vienna, I found a little pamphlet -- available in a multitude of languages -- telling the story of Blessed Emperor Charles, described as "Prince of Peace for a United Europe."

A member of the famous Habsburg family, Charles (Karl in German) was the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire (Charles I) and the last king of Hungary (Charles IV), as well as the last king of Bohemia and of Croatia.

He succeed to the throne in 1916, the middle of World War I, upon the death of his great uncle, the much better known Emperor Franz-Joseph. The was made possible by the assassination two years earlier of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo, which touched off the world war.

A soldier by training, he pursued peace and banned his army's use of poison gas. As a ruler, he was guided by Catholic social justice teaching. But he was not a ruler long. He withdrew from the administration of the state -- not using the word "abdicate" -- on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918.

Weakened by pneumonia and two heart attacks, he died of respiratory failure on April 1, 1922 in exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira with his wife and eight children (the last of them in utero). He was 34 years old.

According to the pamphlet I picked up in Austria, the moto of his life was as he is said to have repeated on his death-bed: "My entire efforts are always in all things to recognize and follow as clearly as possible the will of God even in all its completeness." He died in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

Long viewed as a model Christian ruler, Charles I was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 3, 2004. Two miracles have been recognized through his intercession, one of them involving a Baptist woman from Florida. His feast day is Oct. 21, the date of his marriage to the Empress Zita in 1911.

Jesus said it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. How encouraging that some saints can work even that miracle!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Our Multilingual Church

On a trip to Europe last month, during which we visited many churches, we heard a lot of beautiful music. Some of it was in English, and the context was surprising.

One Sunday morning we participated in Mass at the beautiful Peterskirche -- St. Peter's Church -- in Vienna. While still a large church by most standards, it was not so vast that it was hard to take it in as at St. John Lateran or St. Stephen's.

Near the entrance was a table full of brochures highlighting the history and the architecture of the church in several different languages. Obviously this was a church used to receiving tourists.

At the same time, though, it was a real parish church, populated that Sunday by local residents with lots of small children. Unlike many of the great churches in Europe that tend to be sparsely attended museums, gawked at by visitors for their art and architecture, this was clearly a living house of worship.

Since 1970 the pastoral care of Peterskirche has been entrusted to priests of Opus Dei, so a lighted icon of the personal prelature's founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, graced one of the side chapels. Instead of having extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist at communion time, a second priest came out to help distribute.

Several hours later we came back for a free concert. The choir looked and sounded wonderful. Both the men and the women wore black with accents of red -- red bow ties for the men, red scarves for the women. As we came in late, it took me awhile to realize that they were singing in English: "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," "Oh Happy Day!" and "Kumbaya" were among the songs, sometimes accompanied by clapping.

An American choir? No, it turned that they were German.

The current baroque Peterskirche was consecrated in 1733, but the first of three churches on that site was erected 1600 years ago, when Vienna was still a Roman camp called Vindobona. It is the parish's proud boast that Mass has been offered there every day since.

But I wonder how many times American Negro spirituals have been sung in the church?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

St. Michael, Defend Us in Battle

Maybe we shouldn't have named our second son Michael.

But, then again, maybe we were prescient.

The greatest of all Michaels, as far as I'm concerned, is St. Michael the Archangel, leader of the heavenly legions that vanquish Satan in the Book of Revelations. Is this why our Michael joined the military 13 years ago and has spent more time in war zones than I care to think about?

A couple of weeks ago, in the Italian town of Lucca in Tuscany, we saw a huge winged statue (photo above) of my favorite archangel perched on the pediment of a church called San Michele in Foro. He is shown in triumph over the great dragon, a spear in one hand and a globe with a cross on top in the other.

The church was built over a Roman forum between the 11th and 14th centuries. We bought there a small icon of the archangel.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, calls us to "put on the armor of God" (6:10-18). Traditionally, at confirmation we become soldiers of Christ. Some people today are uncomfortable with these military metaphors but they seem to me appropriate.

The fight against evil in the world is a battle worth waging. How good to know that our commander in the field is a real angel.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cathedrals and Cities

You can't read about the history of the Middle Ages (especially the art history) without reference to the great cathedrals such as Notre Dame and Chartres in France, Canterbury in England, Stefansdom in Vienna, the Duomo of Florence and St. John Lateran, seat of the bishop of Rome.

But cathedrals aren't just for the past, and they aren't just for Europe. They remain important today to American Catholics and American cities. A great example is St. Peter in Chains, the seat of the Archbishop of Cincinnati.

Consecrated in 1845, one architectural authority called it "the handsomest and most monumental of Greek Revival churches." It was magnificently designed by architect Henry Walter, designer of the Ohio State Capital. Nevertheless, by 1938 both St. Peter in Chains and the area around it had badly deteriorated. Archbishop Timothy McNicholas transferred the seat of the bishop some miles away to St. Monica Church as "pro-cathedral."

Another archbishop, Karl J. Alter, made the bold decision in 1951 -- the year after his arrival in Cincinnati -- to renovate St. Peter in Chains. It was a move that helped change the face of Cincinnati, for it touched off an urban revitalization of downtown Cincinnati in the 1950s. With the present transepts, sanctuary, sacristy and rectory added to the building, a newly refurbished St. Peter in Chains resumed its status as a cathedral in 1957.

One of its most distinctive features is a towering mosaic behind the alter depicting Christ bestowing the keys of the kingdom on St. Peter, along with two smaller images of St. Peter imprisoned in Jerusalem and in Rome. The German-made, Byzantine-style mosaic is made of thousands of pieces of Venetian glass.

St. Peter in Chains today is a beehive of activity all year long. A young adult group meets there after Mass once a month. Many parishes hold their confirmations there. Special masses are held there each year for safety workers and for health care workers. Each year the cathedral hosts a "Great Music in a Great Space" concert series that draws people of all religions and no religion. Two years ago the venerable building welcomed a new coadjutor archbishop in a glorious Mass livestreamed on the internet.

The Cathedral Choir is magnificaet, one reason that a new advertising campaign referring to the cathedral's "worship that inspires" is an example of truth in advertising.

As the oldest cathedral west of the Alleghenies still in use as a cathedral, St. Peter has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But it has not been placed on the shelf.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Shrines on the Streeets

Historically Christian Europe (at least the Catholic parts) and Shinto/Buddhist Japan share something interesting in common -- small shrines on or above the streets, as well as in unexpected rural locations.

We first noticed this in Belgium, where shrines to Mary distinguish the corners of many buildilngs. One in Brussels is right above a McDonald's sign.

Austria has them, too.

In Japan, of course, the shrines memorialize Shinto gods rather than Christian saints. But it seems to me that in both cultures these little shrines communicate a sense of the sacred at street-level, the divine in the domestic.

Given the state of religious commitment in Europe today, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to regard these shrines with sadness as largely historical curiosities. We often speak, negatively, of "cultural Catholicism," a faith inherited more than lived. This is not only a Catholic phenomenon.

In Hiroshima some years ago, I asked our Japanese friend what religion he was before he became Catholic. He had to think awhile before responding, "Probably Buddhist." The great majority (about 99%) of Japanese who are not Christians tend to be married in Shinto ceremonies and buried as Buddhists. "I think it is ceremony, not religion," Hiro said.

Shinto is an indigineous religion strongly identified with the Japanese state. Until after World War II, the emperor was considered divine. Christianity, by contrast, is very much seen as a foreign religion. But Japanese Catholics put their own delightful spin on the Church Universal. At the sign of peace during Mass, they bow to each other!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What a Saint Looks Like

Ann and I were close to Pope John Paul II on two occasions -- once in St. Peter's Square and a few years later at his tomb.

In 2004, when we attended one of his audiences, the great Polish pontiff had been on the throne of St. Peter for 25 years and everyone knew that he could not be there much longer. It was, in fact, slightly less than a year before his death.

And yet he still thrilled and inspired. Despite slurring his words so that they were hard to understand, his voice was strong, especially while singing. He spent nearly an hour after the audience greeting individuals and groups. Included was a long line of people in wheel chairs, young and old, and a host of recent brides and grooms.

An enthusiastic Italian woman near us, perhaps in her 30s, yelled enthusiastically, "Viva il Papa! Grazie! Sei grande!" Some much younger American girls chimed in with the familiar, "JP Two, we love you!" They didn't want him to leave.

Eleven months later, April 2, 2005, he went home to God.

On our next trip to the Vatican, in 2008, we began our tour of St. Peter's Basilica downstairs where the tombs of many popes are on display. As we walked along we unexpectedly encountered a group of pilgrim nuns and others praying in front of one of the tombs, many on their knees. There was a great silence, one that was never achieved in the Sistine Chapel despite the repeated pleas for silenzio. More than silence, there was a holy stillness.

Here was the tomb of Pope John Paul II. And I thought to myself, "This is how people proclaim a saint."

Friday, October 8, 2010

Where Knighthood is Still in Flower

If you think knighthood is a thing of the past -- except maybe in jolly old England -- then you don't know the Catholic Church.

We have all kinds of knights in the Church, some not well known. There are the Knights of Malta, the Knights of St. John, the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Peter Claver. And that's not a complete list. They all do wonderful work. I even know a Knight of St. Gregory, which is a rare papal honor (and a really cool uniform).

Recently I had the honor of being invested into the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, which includes knights and ladies on an equal basis. I was knighted by the Grand Master, Cardinal John Foley, seen above flanked by other luminaries of our six-state lieutenancy. To his immediate left is Grand Magisterium member Sir Thomas E. McKiernan of Cincinnati.

According to its mission statement, our Order "(a) fosters in its members the practice of the Christian life; (b) is zealous for the spread of the Christian faith in Palestine; (c) champions the defense of the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, the cradle of our Order."

The Order traces its origins to 1099 and Sir Godfrey de Bouillon, leader of the first crusade. Its symbol, the Jerusalem Cross, was taken from his shield.

In preparing to become a member of the Order, I read a lot about it. One of the stirring statements that I came across was from Edmund Cardinal Szoka, former archbishop of Detroit and former president of the Vatican City State. He wrote:

"Investiture as a Knight or Lady of the Holy Sepulchre is not simply an honor, but a calling. Just as baptism itself brings with it not only the grace of salvation, but also an obligation to live a life of faith, so too joining this fraternal and charitable society entails a commitment of Christian service. Pageantry is not really for its own sake, but to inspire us to action."

I was even more taken by the Scripture passage from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians (6, 10-18) read at the very moving Vigil the night before my investiture. That passage said, in part:

"Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, hold your ground."

Now that's the kind of knight that every Christian can be -- even ladies.

Monday, October 4, 2010

St. Francis in Assisi

On our about this date, churches all over the world are blessing animals in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. Surely he is one of the best known and most beloved of all the saints in the calendar, and not just with Catholics.

Not surprisingly, the saint's hometown of Assisi is a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists. Three years ago we saw a group of Korean Catholics celebrating Mass in a side chapel of the Basilica of St. Francis. Some Baptist friends of ours visited years before we did and were overwhelmed by the holiness of the place.

It is inexpressibly moving to see the church of San Damiano, where Jesus spoke to St. Francis from the Cross, as well as the tombs of St. Francis and St. Clare, the basilicas built in their honor, the basilica of San Rufino where they were both baptized, and the former cattle stall where tradition says St. Francis was born.

We spent several days in Assisi in 2007, but our first visit was three years before that when we took a day trip as part of two weeks in Rome. I wrote down my impressions at the time:

Our last high point of the day was to visit the last resting place of St. Francis.

Some visitors, I know, have found it ironic that this huge basilica adorned with priceless art was named for St. Francis. But I do not find it at all inappropriate. The magnificence of the church honors the glory of God working through the humble Francis. As we saw, he and St. Clare were baptized in huge and beautiful churches.

In every church we have been in, including today, the visitors have been noisy. That was not true at the crypt of St. Francis, however. There we experienced a hushed and holy silence in honor of a man dead almost 800 years now.

It occurred to me, not for the first time, that the values of St. Francis were so different from those of most of us that he must have been crazy -- or we are.

If the life of St. Francis doesn't challenge us to re-examine our own lives, maybe we're missing his point.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Avoiding Disneyland in Pisa

Recently I happened to mention to someone that we flew into the Italian city of Pisa twice because that was the most available airport with our Frequent Flier miles. The person with whom I was talking and another person who joined the conversation agreed sagely that there is nothing in Pisa worth seeing except the famous leaning tower.


It seems to me these folks were victims of what a friend calls the Disneyland approach: You have a checklist of tourist attractions and you go through them without opening yourself to other possibilities. Leaning Tower? Check. What's next on the list?

Any city, town or village is much more than its most famous attraction. The leaning tower, for example, was built as the bell tower for a fantastic Duomo (above), considered one of the finest buildings in Tuscany. The tower, the Duomo and a mammoth Baptistry stand in a place known as the Campo dei Miracoli -- the Field of Miracles.

We visited the Campo two years in a row and found much new to appreciate the second time around.

On our first visit to Pisa, we went to the vigil Mass at a parish called San Antonio. A priest was hearing confessions during Mass. When he stuck his head out of the curtain, he looked like a puppet!

Here are some other things I remember about Pisa, the kind of pleasures you miss if all you expect is Disneyland:

● Pizza with arugula, which Ann ate on our first night in the town a few years ago. She still talks about it.

● The best gelato we've ever tasted. It's sold at the simply but descriptively named La Bottega del Gelato. This is a small shop -- so small there's no place to sit down -- in Piazza Garibaldi.

● Pici with wild boar sauce happily consumed in a stone restaurant called il Campano. I asked a waiter how old the building was. He told me it was built in 1200.

Nothing else to see in Pisa? Only if you don't know how to look.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good St. Wenceslaus

Good King Wenceslaus looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even . . .

The feast of Stephen is, of course, the day after Christmas. Less well known is that Good King Wenceslaus, who was very good indeed, has his own feast day on Sept. 28. Probably the only reason I know that myself is that it's my birthday!

Wenceslaus I was a 10th century Duke of Bohemia, known for charity and kindness. He was martyred on the steps of a church in 935 by his brother, Boleslav I, and the brother's associates. The story of his death is part of the Office of Readings for today in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Revered as the patron saint of the Czech people and the Czech Republic, his feast day is celebrated in that country as a public holiday called Statehood Day. In Prague stands a famous statue of St. Wenceslaus and several other Bohemian patrons on Wenceslaus Square.

The saint's tomb, curiously, lies not in the Czech Republic but at a brewery in Belgium. Actually, the brewery is also a monastery -- the Abbey of Orval. (There are many "abbey beers" in Belgium, but Oval is one of the few that is still brewed in an abbey.) The Belgians were quite proud to show us the elaborate tomb,shown above, on our visit to the Abbey in 1997.

It's nice to recall that even a temporal king can also be a saint.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Universal, but not Identical

"Catholic" means universal, but not identical. Here are some of the experiences that have reminded me the Church is everywhere the same but also different:

● On my first trip to Europe, we participated in an Ascension Thursday Mass in a Brugges, Belgium, convent (shown at right) that had once been a duke's private chapel. The language was Flemish but the familiar order of the Mass made it easy to know when we were at the Gloria, the Lord's prayer, etc.

● One evening at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, while I was on retreat, I took part in a communal recitation of the rosary. The monk in charge, Brother Andre, invited anyone who wished to lead a decade to do so. At one point a Spanish-speaking woman began the Lord's prayer and the Hail Mary in her own language and the rest of us finished it in English.

● A couple of years ago, on a visit to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican we found ourselves at a Mass offered in side chapel. The liturgy itself was in Latin, with the homily in Italian and a few words by the priest at the end in German. The German-speaking choir sang a Negro spiritual in English.

● At the Cathedral in Kyoto, Japan, I was amused but not surprised that Japanese Catholics bow at the sign of peace rather than shaking hands western-style.

● One Saturday night in Milan we went to Mass at Tempio Civico di San Sebastiano according to the Ambrosian rite. Named for St. Ambrose, fourth century bishop of Milan, this is a rite of the Latin Church that is used mostly in that city. It was familiar, but different. The broad outlines are the same but many of the prayers are not and the sign of peace takes place near the beginning instead of after the consecration.

● On the south wall of our living room we have two pieces of art depicting Christ's entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In one, Jesus and the apostles look distinctly Asian. It is a print by the Japanese Catholic artist Sadao Watanabe. The other is an Africa version in which Jesus is black. On the same wall hangs a Asian Madonna-and-child from Korea.

Sometimes the Church is even more universal than its visible boundaries. On my first night in Cuba, I was at a meeting in which a group of Presbyterian women were praying in Spanish. I assumed I wouldn't understand them, so I didn't try very hard. But a Lutheran minister standing next to me said, "That's the Magnificat." How surprising that this prayer so associated with the Mother of the Lord is known by its Latin name in at least some Protestant circles.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Pilgrimage

An Eastern Rite Catholic friend of ours recently wrote that her family has a tradition of going on pilgrimage to a monastery over the Labor Day weekend. What a wonderful way to close out the summer!

Pilgrimage is an ancient spiritual practice. Although any vacation can take on aspects of a pilgrimage if approached with that intention, a pilgrimage is essentially different from a vacation. It means to go to a holy place, often suffering some inconvenience in the process, and be changed by the experience. It doesn't matter whether the place is near or far.

In Rome, there is a 400-year tradition of a pilgrimage to seven important churches. In the jubilee year of 2000, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati sponsored a seven-church pilgrimage on one day, May 21, 2000, in each of the three areas of the archdiocese.

In conjunction with the event, we produced a video in which we interviewed a priest, a rabbi, an imam and an academic expert on Hindu and Buddhist spirituality. One of of our priests was unhappy with this reminder that pilgrimage isn't just a Christian tradition. But I think it's important to recall that, even before God became one of us, human beings have always been infused with a sense that there is something deeply significant about going away and coming back.

And yet, pilgrimage is also distinctively Christian, from travelers to the Holy Land and the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain to the pilgrims to Canterbury telling their stories that make up Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

In a document on "The Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee," the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers called pilgrimage "a paradigm of the whole life of faith" for Christians:

"The departure reveals the decision of the pilgrims to go forward up to the destination and achieve the spiritual objectives of their baptismal vocation; walking leads them to solidarity with their brothers and sisters and to the necessary preparation for the meeting with the Lord."

At their destination, Christians are invited "to listen to the word of God and to sacramental celebration." Their return "reminds them of their mission in the world as witnesses of salvation and of builders of peace."

It was not without meaning that Servant of God Dorothy Day called the column she wrote about her daily life and observations "On Pilgrimage." We are all on pilgrimage until we return to our true home with God.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Charlotte's Prayer

Charlotte Grace Andriacco, our first grandchild, was born on September 17, 2002. She had a gorgeous face and a defective heart.

As she spent the first days of her life recuperating from heart surgery, our friend Pastor Fred Lubs wrote this prayer:

Almighty God, your wisdom abounds in the glory of creation and is beyond our understanding. Your love for us and all creatures is as gentle as a father's and as tender as a mother's. We give you thanks for creating new life. Our hearts are filled with joy and expectation; with wonder, fear and awe. Help us, in these days, to proclaim your greatness and mercy as we ask for your sustaining care for Charlotte Grace; that all who surround her with love and care may grow in wisdom, faith, and grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Although Charlotte unexpectedly died the following month, I do not believe that prayer went unanswered. Those she left behind -- her mommy and daddy and the rest of her loving family -- and the brother and sisters that followed her surely have grown in wisdom, faith and grace these last eight years.

Charlotte's Prayer still hangs on our refrigerator door. Not a day goes by that Nonna and I don't think of her. And I know that now she is praying for us.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

We call him Bishop Bill

We know a number of bishops. One of them is a Lutheran.

On Saturday we were honored to attend the installation of our good friend Rev. Dr. William O. ("Tall Bill") Gafkjen as bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The beautiful service, held at a large Methodist church in Indianapolis, would have seemed familiar to any Roman Catholic. The order of the liturgy closely followed the Mass and many of the prayers, including the Creed, were nearly identical to their Catholic counterparts. Two of the hymns were ones I have heard frequently in our own cathedral and in our seminary. Another, "Taste and See," was written by Catholic composer and former Cincinnatian James E. Moore, Jr.

All of this reminded me that, as Pope Benedict XVI said in 2008, "We must never tire of praying for the unity of Christians!"

Closing out the Week of Christian Unity that year, the Holy Father taught: "We all have the duty to pray and work for the overcoming of every division between Christians, responding to Christ's desire ut unum sint. Prayer, conversion of heart, the reinforcement of the bonds of communion, form the essence of this spiritual movement that we hope will soon lead the disciples of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist together, the manifestation of their full unity."

Meanwhile, congratulations Bishop Bill! May your ministry continue to bear abundant fruit!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Angel in the Ivy

Angels are almost always portrayed as beautiful, but my favorite one isn't.

I'm referring to the almost life-sized concrete fountain that our older son gave Ann as a birthday present some years ago. It sits in an ivy patch by the brick patio in our back yard. I love to sit with her, usually with a beverage or a book or both.

Look at her face in this photo by our son, Sgt. Mike. As Ann was the first to observe, it has strength and character. Isn't that better than beauty?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

America's Catholic roots

It didn't start in 1607.

In grade school that was pounded into my head as the date of the first permanent English settlement in the United States. The date stuck, along with 1620 as the year the Pilgrims landed, but the qualifier "English" didn't. I basically forgot that the English weren't the first Europeans to take up residence on this continent.

Of course I knew that St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest continuously occupied city in what is now the United States, but I just didn't think about it. The Spanish established St. Augustine in 1565. Like Christopher Columbus earlier, they brought the Catholic Church with them.

We recently visited St. Augustine. In addition to being the site of the Fountain of Youth and the original Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, it has the oldest Catholic parish in the United States, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

Mass was first celebrated in the parish on Sept. 8, 1565, the Feast (then a Solemnity) of the Birth of Mary. The present church (pictured here) was started in 1793. Although rebuilt, renovated and added to over the years, the face and the walls of the coquina (a kind of limestone) edifice date back to the building's completion in 1796.

There was a time, which perhaps extended longer than enlightened people would like to believe, when the Catholic Church in the United States was viewed with suspicion as a "foreign" religion and its adherents somehow not quite real Americans. It is perhaps worth recalling on this feast day that the faith's roots on this continent run deep, planted long before the Pilgrims even sighted Plymouth Rock in the distance.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Pause That Refreshes

By Brian Doyle
Guest Blogger

Because of a friend’s generous offer, I now receive his Travel + Leisure Magazine. I know why he has rid himself of it.

It is almost painful to leaf through the pages-popping images of exotic places and people, food and romance, perfection in a bottle and in the form of pillows -- the pages are intoxicating for the homebound and world traveler alike: dreams of places that beg to be tasted, smelled, enveloped, but will more than likely be forlorned.

It becomes difficult to know others are globe-skipping while the fish sticks are burning and the 2-year-old has just emptied yet another grape juice container onto the carpet.

And yet, it reminds me of how artificial travel can be; or at least, perceived.

The “stuff” of travel for me has never been the longing for precision combed beaches, flourishes of rainbows and olfactory hallucinations on a plate, or the luxury of 10,000 count satin sheets adorned by flown-in chocolates from the Garden of Eden.

The “stuff” of travel, for me, has always been spiritual, basic, primal. Good travel, real travel, transforms a person. The “stuff” is made up of pauses, wonder, humility, the oft misunderstood virtue of “the fear of the Lord,” and finality. Ultimately, travel reminds us of our human frailty and beauty at the same time, bound together in a weave so tight that they constitute an inseparable tapestry. We are not home, but a mere passer through.

The authentic traveler asks the question both rhetorically and practically, “Why am I here?” All travel, in the end, is pilgrimage.

When the good Doctor kindly asked me if I would consider being a guest blogger, I first started filing through the cabinet of my brain, thinking back on my time in which I met the saints of Liseux, Dachau, Rome, Calcutta; and some of the sidewalks I’ve crossed in the Serengeti, Capri, Cairo, Cebu. And yet, when I got down to remembering the places, faces, smells and tears, it was the singular experience of pause that came to do just that: give me pause.

Travel is always a privilege, and for all of us, an opportunity to receive pause --quiet, solitudinal, reflectional time and space, even in the midst of chaos and crowded piazzas, that brings one back to the most simple and difficult of truths: that there is a God and I am not He.

So, as I continue to stand along the sidewalk, participating from the sideline in reading these pages that the good Doctor puts to “blog”, I cherish the opportunity to take a few minutes and give pause: pause to travel, pause to pilgrimage, pause to breathe, pause to . . . pause.

Brian Doyle, whose feet are shown above in the Ring of Kerry, Ireland, is associate director of the Stewardship Department of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Opinions expressed here are his own and not those of the Archdiocese.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spirits and Spirituality in Kentucky

James Beauregard Beam, founder of the bourbon company that bears his name, was a Baptist. But his grandson, F. Booker Noe II, for 40 years the legendary master distiller of the same company, was an active Roman Catholic.

We twice stayed in a bed and breakfast on Fourth Street in Bardstown, Ky., right across the street from the handsome home first occupied by Col. Beam and later by his grandson until the latter's death in 2004 at the age of 74. According to our hostess, Col. Beam endowed the Bardstown Baptist Church on the same street. Booker, on the other hand, worshiped regularly at the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral.

This last fact was confirmed for us last week by our guide on a tour of the pro-cathedral, a church worth visiting by anyone who has even a passing interest in American and/or Catholic history.

The former Diocese of Bardstown was created in 1808 at the same time as the dioceses of Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Up to then there had been only one diocese in the United States -- Baltimore. The territory of the Bardstown diocese was vast, far bigger than the other U.S. dioceses, including parts or all of 10 states.

The first Catholic cathedral west of the Allegheny Mountains, St. Joseph was built between 1816 and 1819. Among its treasures are paintings donated by Pope Leo XII and Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies.

Eventually the Diocese of Bardstown was divided into 44 dioceses and archdioceses, beginning with the then-Diocese of Cincinnati in 1821. When the episcopal see in central Kentucky was moved from Bardstown to the fast-growing city of Louisville in 1841, St. Joseph lost its status as the bishop's seat and became a proto-cathedral.

In 2001, however, this great church was elevated to the status of a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II in recognition of its historic importance. Tours are available on a regular basis April through October and by reservation the rest of the year. It's not always open to visitors, though, because sometimes more important things are going on there -- weddings, baptisms, funerals and daily Mass. It's a thriving parish church of almost 5,000 members, not just a historical artifact, which is what took Booker Noe there on a regular basis.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Poet-Priest of the South

The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reminds me that the unofficial “poet laureate of the Confederacy” was a Catholic priest, and we were guests in his house.

On a trip to visit our son, Mike, at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., some years ago, we spent two nights at the Father Ryan House Bed & Breakfast Inn.

The house, built in 1841, was a National Historic Landmark directly looking out on the Gulf. Right in front stood a palm tree with steps build around. Our top-floor room had a great view.

Although the house took its name from Fr. Abram Ryan (1838-1886), once tremendously popular as a poet-priest in southern and Catholic circles, Fr. Ryan apparently lived in Biloxi less than a year.

I was more interested in the house’s present than in its past: The owners of the B&B used the proceeds from the business to fund their medical missionary work in, I believe, Central America. So we had a great stay and supported a great cause.

Sadly, all of the references to the Father Ryan House are in the past tense because it is no more. Hurricane Katrina wiped it out in 2005. Only the palm tree in front was left in one piece. The website lives on, however, with an excellent photographic tour of this once-great house.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

West Should Meet East

Pope John Paul II used to say that the Church needs to breathe with both lungs, east and west. Unfortunately, most Roman Catholics are only dimly aware that there is another lung.

From the time I first learned about the Eastern Rites, probably in high school, I've been fascinated by the idea that there are non-Roman Catholics -- just as Catholic as Latin Rite Catholics with the same faith and the same pope, but with very different liturgies, traditions and approaches. Even the art (icons) and architecture (onion domes) are different.

Among the Eastern Rite churches are the self-governing Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Geez, Maronite, Syrian, Syro-Malabar, and Syro-Alankara churches as well as a number of churches of the Byzantine-Constantinopolitan family.

Despite my interest, the only Eastern liturgies I had attended were a Greek Orthodox wedding and a Maronite Rite funeral until four years ago. Our friend Stephanie Moore had a Byzantine Divine Liturgy offered for my father at a church in Columbus 40 days after his death, an Eastern rite tradition. Some time later we attended another liturgy at Stephanie's own parish, St. Emilian Byzantine Church in Brunswick, Ohio (pictured above in her photo).

Even though I practiced and tried hard, I could never get the right-to-left sign of the cross right. It didn't matter! The smells and the bells, the icon screen and the chants -- the mystery of it all swept me away.

"Too many people think candles are just candles, and incense is just smoke, and icons are just pictures," Stephanie wrote to me recently. "When you begin to understand what they truly represent, the Liturgy takes on a new and holy meaning that transcends us through the ages."

Transcendent it certainly is!

At the beginning of Advent 2011 a new English translation of the Roman Missal, accompanied by a major thrust in liturgical catechesis, should have Roman Catholics thinking a lot more about Latin Rite. This would be a great time for us to learn more about the Eastern Rites as well. The best way to do that is to experience the Divine Liturgy. You won't be sorry you did.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Sistine Chapel in Two Acts

Context is everything. Really.

On my first trip to Rome, in 2004, I sat on a marble bench on one side of the Sistine Chapel and marveled at what Michelangelo had wrought. The tourists were noisy, but not enough to distract me from the wonder of the masterpiece above me -- and something else.

Pope John Paul II was a old and frail. I looked around and realized with tears in my eyes that it could not be long before this sacred space would be the site of a conclave to elect a new pope.

A few days later, as Ann and I were standing outside the Coliseum, I overheard a tourist say, "That's the most impressive thing I've seen in Rome." I was much more impressed by the Sistine Chapel, both the vision of the grand plan and the execution of the individual elements.

By our next visit, four years later, the expected election had taken place and Pope Benedict XVI sat on the Chair of Peter. This time the Chapel was packed with lots of tour groups. The noise level was almost deafening and the guards had to yell "Silenzio!" and "No pictures!" every few minutes. (We obeyed, which is why the photo above by best friend and traveling companion extraordinaire Steve Winter, is not from inside the Sistine Chapel.)

Later on that same trip, we visited the Cenacolo in Milan to see Leonardo's "The Last Supper." The contrast in setting was stunning. Here there was no crowd and no noise. The couple of dozen or so visitors appreciated the genius of Leonardo's work in almost total silence.

Although part of a church, the huge wall on which "The Last Supper" is painted was in a refectory -- a dining room. At one time in its long life, that room housed horses. During World War II, it had no roof and was exposed to the elements. In no way does the Cenacolo have the dignity of the famous chapel in which popes are elected . . . and yet, viewing Leonardo's masterwork there was much more of a spiritual experience for us than our second visit to the Sistine Chapel.

What a difference silence makes in the spiritual life.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Praying for Cuba

When I am saying grace by myself, usually at breakfast and lunch, I always pray for the people of Cuba. This is how that came about:

In April 1998 I took a course in Caribbean theology in Cuba as part of my studies for a Doctor of Ministry degree. That was only a few months after Pope John Paul II had visited the island. Posters displaying his likeness were still common, along with communist slogans as well as ads and T-shirts for such familiar consumer products as Coca-Cola, Reebok, Pepsodent and Jameson's Irish Whisky.

During my time in Cuba my interactions were mostly with Protestant theologians and ministers, but I did get to visit the San Carlos seminary (pictured here) and take part in Mass at the Cathedral in Havana.

The baroque 18th century Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Havana is located on a bustling square filled with hustlers, prostitutes and tourists. In fact, the prostitutes spill over into the Cathedral and approach the tourists; bouncers ask them to leave.

Sunday Mass at the Cathedral was awe-inspiring -- dynamic, moving, spirit-filled and joyful. Ten children were baptized, only one of them an infant. The priest was enthusiastic and animated as he preached (of which I understand not a word). The choir and the music, very Cuban in its beat, were top-notch. A couple of the parishioners, one of them a lector, wore T-shirts with pictures of the pope.

At the end of the Mass the classmate I was with, a Presbyterian minister, and I introduced ourselves to the priest. "Pray for us," he said. "We have a lot of work to do." And he blessed our foreheads with the sign of the cross.

Everywhere I went in Cuba people asked for prayers, but that priest's sincere appeal is the one that I remember best.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

St. Peter's Square

As a city boy, I like city squares.

Ever since I first started working in downtown Cincinnati in 1969 I have regarded Fountain Square as the heart of the city. With great satisfaction, I have watched it undergo two renovations to bring it up to its current glorious state.

But to me no square can match Piazza San Pietro -- St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. The first time I saw it -- after a missed plane, misdirected luggage, and a cab drivers' strike that forced us to walk a memorable distance from the train station to our hotel -- the size of the square and the magnificence of the Bernini colonnades took my breath away. Photos just don't do it justice.

But scope and beauty are not the only attractions for me. I love to look at the Egyptian obelisk at the center of the square and reflect that it was already almost two thousand years old when the Emperor Caligula installed it in his circus in 37 B.C. It has only been at its current location since Pope Sixtus V moved it there in 1586.

If you work in the Vatican and you look at that monument with some frequency, it has to have some impact on your definition of words such words "immediate," "urgent," "timely" and even "important"!

I love to cross the piazza anytime, but especially in the evening with the lights illuminating the two fountains. And I never fail to look up at the Apostolic Palace to see the lights there, the ones burning in the windows of the papal apartments. I find them a comforting sight.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Patron Saint of Television

Today is the feast day of the patron saint of television, who died on this day in 1253.

She is Chiara Offreduccio, daughter of a count and countess, co-founder (with St. Francis) of the Poor Clares, and first abbess of San Damiano -- St. Clare of Assisi.

We have prayed at her tomb in Assisi, located in the church named for her. Also in the Basilica di Santa Chiara is the beautiful and famous San Damiano cross that spoke to St. Francis, telling him: "Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins."

Not far away -- nothing is far away in Assisi -- in the Church of San Ruffino we saw the font where Francis and his friend Clare were baptized. Later, they both abandoned worldly goods to embrace Lady Poverty, dismaying and angering their wealthy families. Their sincere and simple witness soon attracted followers to their mendicant orders, and still does.

So why is a 13th century nun who was cloistered for more than 40 years the patron saint of television, as designated by Pope Pius XII in 1958? It is recorded that when she was unable to join her sisters for midnight Mass at Christmas because of an illness, she was granted a vision of the liturgy on the wall of her room in a different building.

I'm pretty sure that St. Clare isn't as well known as St. Francis, even to Catholics. She should be. Perhaps today more than ever, television could use her prayers.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Giving for Grenada

A life of service is a gift that keeps on giving, sending out ripples of love after the giver has gone home to God.

Fr. Ed Conlon, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, served in pastoral work on the Caribbean island nation of Grenada from 1983 until a few months before his death in 1997 at the age of 77.

Upon his passing, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese commented that the word most often used to describe him was "saintly." Among those he inspired was his nephew, Bishop Dan Conlon of the Diocese of Steubenville, who followed his vocational path.

Members of the Conlon and Kolkmeier families also have been inspired to continue Fr. Ed's work in Grenada. Tonight we attended the annual Fr. Ed Conlon Memorial Benefit Dinner to support the Mary Rose Mission in such projects as the creation of a Catholic radio station, rebuilding the Cathedral destroyed by Hurricane Ivan (it is scheduled to be rededicated Dec. 8), completing churches and operating a nursing home.

The dinner, held on the west side of Cincinnati, each year raises an average of $22,000-$23,000. From the west side to the West Indies -- that's what you call the Church Universal.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Pope at Hiroshima

In Hiroshima, Japan, where the first atomic bomb explosion occurred on Aug. 6, 1945 -- the Feast of the Transfiguration -- the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum stands as part of a 122,100-square-meter peace park.

As you might imagine, the museum contains many touching testimonies to what happened on that day 65 years ago. But the first thing that we noticed when we visited in 1999 was a marble monument displaying words uttered there by Pope John Paul II in 1981:

War is the work of man.
War is destruction of human life.
War is death.
To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future.
To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war.
To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.

It was quite moving to me that the words of the Holy Father were given such prominence in a non-Christian country. Perhaps only later did it hit me that Hiroshima was one of the few cities in Japan with a substantial Catholic population, dating back to the work of Jesuit missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The most important center of Japanese Catholicism, however, was nuked three days after Hiroshima -- the port city of Nagasaki, was founded by Portuguese Catholics in the late 16th century. After the Jesuits were driven out of Japan by persecution, underground Catholics around Nagasaki maintained a form of the faith without priests for more than 250 years until the Japan's ban on Christianity was lifted in the late 19th century.

Today the Catholic Church, though embraced by a small percentage of the population, is safely above ground throughout Japan, attested by churches, schools and universities. A Jesuit friend of ours from Cincinnati has served there for 58 years.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Something New for God

The other day I was present as a new parish came into existence in Cincinnati.

The aptly named Church of the Resurrection -- created by the merger of four predominantly but not exclusively African American parishes -- became a parish and celebrated its first liturgy on Sunday, Aug. 1.

The beautiful church was packed for a joyous two-hour Mass. When the congregation sang "Let Us Go Rejoicing," they sounded like they really meant it.

Processional crosses and banners from the four former parishes proceeded the celebrants into the church. Later, holy water from the four were poured into the font of the new parish and congregants were invited to bless themselves with the united water.

"We are here to do something new for God, with God and with one another," Fr. Dennis Chriszt, C.PP.S., pastor of the Church of the Resurrection wrote in the parish's first bulletin. "Together, we can do more than we could apart. Together, we can do great things, and that is what gives me hope!"

There have been some birth pangs; not everyone was pleased by the location of the new parish. There may be growing pains ahead. But from my position in the balcony, observing the first Mass along with the saints on the stained glass windows, it seemed that the Church of the Resurrection got off to a marvelous, grace-filled start.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From the Sidewalk

Even in this multi-media, digital, high-tech age, everybody still loves a parade. My parish recently had a great one.

To wrap up the celebration of its centennial year, St. William Church in Cincinnati paraded an effigy of our patron saint, St. William of Monte Vergine, around the neighborhood one Sunday a few days after his feast day.

It was a grand affair featuring the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Knights of Columbus, and the joyful noises of the Polished Brass Quintet and the St. William Choir conducted by its legendary choirmaster, Dave Allen. Our pastor, Fr. Andrew Umberg, walked in the parade, smiling and waving.

Ann and I were watching from the sidewalk. At first I was a bit surprised when parishioners were asked to line the streets rather than march. Later it occurred to me that without an audience, there's not much point in a parade. As the 17th century English poet John Milton wrote, "They also serve who only stand and wait."

Similarly, there is a role for the observer who enters into a situation from the outside and reflects upon it. That's what this blog is all about.