The weekend

It was a very full, diverse weekend, and I’m happy I have today off to recuperate (although I have plenty of work to do, plus a Nascar race to watch tonight).

Friday night was Stations of the Cross, of course.  I actually really like Fridays in Lent and look forward to Stations.  I was surprised when I moved down here that Stations weren’t as “popular” as they seem to be at our parish back home.  That’s just what you do on Fridays in Lent, right?  There were only about thirty people this past Friday, and no families.  It was a little sad.  I’ll go back to my usual parish for the rest of Lent (I went to the Cathedral this Friday because there was going to be Adoration afterwards), where there are families — but still not as many as you’d expect.

We taught all day Saturday, which is the norm now that spring has sprung.   It’s that beautiful mix of being exhausting and rewarding all at the same time.

Then Saturday evening Carbon Leaf was in town!  My all-time-favorite band that no one else has ever heard of, it seems.  But maybe that’s for the best– I like the fact that I can see them for $14 at small venues.  And they seem pretty content being who they are — so maybe I should be glad that they’re still relatively unknown, despite being around for quite some time.  My suspicion that they’re more popular on the East Coast was confirmed when I met the boyfriend of a friend of a friend there and he agreed that he heard them on the radio more frequently in Boston than he did here.

It was a good night– my friends Manda and Lori and Julia came along, and we met one of my coworkers there as well.

They did the Nashville Grand Ole Opry “gather around the mic” that they usually do in Nashville, too.

Apparently Barry likes to raise his hand when he sings? Hm.

Then I woke up early on Sunday to see my sister Sister!  Yay!  She was in town visiting with a group of girls from her high school.  So I got to see her at Mass, eat breakfast with them, and return later in the evening for a little coffeehouse/talent show.  We didn’t get to visit a lot, but it was wonderful to just be with her and see her life now that she’s at the high school.  It was definitely a treat– especially considering it’s Lent and they don’t usually visit during this time.  Yay!

In between visits, I took a nap and then headed over to one of the local parishes for the diocesan Rite of Election.  There are four people from Aquinas coming into the Church on Easter, and I’ve been helping Father with RCIA.  It was a moving ceremony — all the catechumens and candidates from across the diocese were present to be recognized by the Bishop and to affirm their commitment to enter this time of purification during Lent.  I think it was powerful for all the catechumens to stand at the foot of the altar with the hundred other catechumens also making the same step.  When you looked out and saw the diversity of the people, the candidates, catechumens, sponsors, godparents, and you thought how each person came here through such a different ways, each with their own journey and struggles and joys … it was really beautiful, and I’m glad our people were able to be a part of it.

On a random note, anyone want to go to the Kentucky Derby with me?  This is the first year I’m not teaching that day.  Unfortunately, tickets in the grandstands are well out of my price range.  But if anyone knows of a donor… haha!


Santa Sabina

(Back in time again! Rome 2011)

After riposo, we decided to head to a different part of the city- the Aventine Hill.  I love the Aventine.  Climbing up it, you leave the hustle and noise and pollution and almost feel like you’re in a different city — it’s a a quiet neighborhood with little vehicular traffic.  We made all the important stops: first the park with one of my favorite views of the city, which happened to be full of PDA-ing couples.  (Pardon me, if you don’t want to enjoy the view of the city but instead want to eat each other’s faces, please step aside so I can enjoy the view.  Thank you.)

When you walk in the park, St. Peter’s seems kind of close:

But it gets farther away the closer you walk.

Crazy optical illusion, huh?  (that top picture is actually courtesy of my sister-in-law from her trip to visit me in 2008. Meg and I had more clouds and more PDAing couples sitting on the wall making out.)

Megan took a picture of me which we later joked would be perfect for my CatholicMatch profile.  (Joked being the key word.)

Then we headed to Santa Sabina, which is right on the other side of the park.  Santa Sabina is a must-visit for my family every time we go to Rome, because it’s the home of the Dominicans.   The Holy Father gave St. Dominic the church in 1222 and they’ve lived there since — including Pope St. Pius V and St. Thomas Aquinas.  More on Santa Sabina in a minute.

After a jaunt down to San Anselmo (where something was going on, so we couldn’t go in the church) and to the keyhole (where we actually had to stand in line to look through it!  If you’re wondering what the keyhole is, check it out here), past San Alessio (where there was a wedding, so we couldn’t go in the church), we headed back down the hill, through the rose garden, and over to Circus Maximus.

It’s fitting that I’m blogging about Santa Sabina on this Ash Wednesday, because Santa Sabina is the station church for Ash Wednesday.  Forty of the oldest churches in Rome are the Lenten stational churches, each one having a different day in Lent.  It’s traditional to make a pilgrimage to the station church of the day– “traditional” as in “this has been happening since the beginning of legalized Christianity.”  In fact, the list of station churches and their days have remained pretty much constant since Pope Leo III (795-816).  To find out more about the station churches, I encourage you to visit my JoaninRome blog and click the “station church” tag on the right sidebar; or visit the very fine North American College site which includes information about each of the churches.  The NAC seminarians and priests walk to the station church each morning and celebrate Mass there at 7am.  Some of my fondest Rome memories include these Masses and the little community that made the pilgrimages with the NAC.

(I can’t find a picture of Santa Sabina from my four recent trips to Rome.  I’m embarrassed. Here’s one from Wikipedia.)

Santa Sabina dates back to the 5th century and is the most intact ancient church in Rome.  It is the best place to go if you want to see what many of the stational churches looked like when they were first built.

The Holy Father has Mass at Santa Sabina every Ash Wednesday, preceded by a procession from San Anselmo, which is right up the street.  (This year he did the procession on an awesome golf cart-turned-Popemobile.)

He preached a  fantastic homily — read it here — it’s not long and it’s not hard to understand, so part of me wishes every priest across the country would have just preached this homily (not read it, because then everyone’s brain shuts off– but really preached it.  There’s a difference).

Here’s to a good and fruitful Lent!

Pancake Day

Growing up, we never called today Mardi Gras.  It was always Fat Tuesday.  I don’t remember ever being exposed to king cake or gumbo or purple, gold, & green.  It wasn’t a day to eat beans and rice, it was a day to eat meat, chocolate, and ice cream.  Now I like calling it Shrove Tuesday (named for the fact that you traditionally went to be “shriven” today — aka went to confession).

In Britain, today is known as Pancake Day.  I didn’t know this until visiting my friend Alice in London.  When she realized the group of us were going to be visiting her the week Lent started, she flipped out about “Pancake Day” and how great it was that we were going to be there for Pancake Day.  She later explained that it’s tradition to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday because pancakes would use up all your sugar, fat, flour, and eggs before fasting during Lent.  Of course, their pancakes aren’t like American pancakes – they’re thin like crepes and best eaten with lemon and sugar.

My friend Liza decided we needed pancakes today.  But since I’m not planning on giving up flour and eggs and sugar for Lent, I decided to pre-game our pancake dinner with a more Fat Tuesday-esque treat — Sweet Cece’s.

They even had Thin Mints on the “salad bar” of toppings today.

For dinner, Liza, Maria, and Manda and I headed to Loveless Cafe, which was the only place in town we knew we could get both pancakes and alcohol.  I haven’t decided whether or not I’m giving up alcohol for Lent, but it just seemed like something you should consume on Fat Tuesday.

I splurged (it is Fat Tuesday, after all) and got the bbq and eggs, something I always wanted to get at Loveless but just couldn’t see eating for breakfast.  There was a corncake at the bottom of it all, so that sufficed for my pancake.  I was planning on getting beer to drink… until  I saw that they had moonshine.  That seemed like a much better option for a Tennessee Fat Tuesday.  They had a variety of moonshine drinks, but both Manda and I chose “Harvest Moon” — Moonshine and peach sweet tea.  It was delicious!

See that mini Mason jar? That’s what the moonshine came in, and I got to keep it as a little souvenir.  Adorable.

All in all, a good Shrove Tuesday.

Bring on Lent — I’m ready now!

Three new saints & an insane person- all before lunch

Sunday morning we had tickets to the canonization of three saints, which would occur during Mass with the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Square.  There are different ways to approach Mass with the Holy Father – or any gathering with him, for that matter.  When you’re with a tour group, you follow your leader and you settle for a nice aisle seat towards the back.  You’re limited as to what you can do, since there are a lot of you, and you’d rather at least be close to him once – when he’s driving around the square before Mass.  So you settle for an aisle.  If you’re by yourself, you can position yourself in the security line super early, ward off elbows and people trying to cut in line, and run for it when the security line opens,  trying to get as close as possible to the front.  This approach requires psyching yourself, a large helping of patience, a disregard for personal space, and the sacrament of confession afterwards.

While we were heading home from the concert the night before, Megan and I decided we just weren’t up for this latter approach.  We had been extremely blessed to be very close to the Holy Father that evening, and we weren’t going to get closer the next morning, regardless of how early we woke up.  We could wake up super early, miss breakfast at the hotel, and fight the crowds… or we could sleep in a bit, eat breakfast at 7, hop on a bus, and just see what happened when we got to the Piazza.

We found out at breakfast the next morning that there were pilgrims staying at our hotel.  We had already run into pilgrims for the canonization when we were in Assisi.  Since the saints were unknown to us, it was neat to see pilgrims coming from the dioceses and try to put ourselves in their shoes.  Had they been waiting years and years for this moment?  Had they been praying to the saints for specific intentions?  Did they know someone who had been personally touched by a miracle or an answered prayer?

We later found out that one of the new saints, Father Luigi Guanella, had an American connection — the miracle needed for sainthood had been the cure of a young man from Philadelphia, who had been in a coma after a rollerblading accident.  There was a large pilgrim group from Philadelphia, and I believe the young man, William Glisson Jr., carried up the gifts at Mass.

As Megan and I walked to the bus stop, the birds were acting particularly crazy.  Huge groups of them were swooping around us, and while we had seen them almost every day, that morning they were particularly numerous and particularly crazy.   There were thousands of them, all swooping and squawking.  I don’t want to throw Megan under the bus, but even she was freaking out.  Their noise was deafening and I eventually just took off running — across the bridge, across the island, across the other bridge, and across the street– as far as I could get from the crazy flocks of birds over the Tiber.  Ugh.  I know you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  Thousands of starlings.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.  Seriously, watch this video: and tell me you wouldn’t be freaked out too.

We saw buses of pilgrims passing us by as we walked to the bus stop and waited for the bus, but I kept my competitive spirit in check.  There’s an animal instinct that comes upon you when you find yourself in a crowded line, when you’ve been waiting for a long time, and when there’s even the thought that someone might get in before you.  But I kept reminding myself of the blessings from the night before and wasn’t too bothered by the fact that thousands of people might get into the square before us.

There are generally several entrances into the square for outdoor events such as this one — there is the straight shot up Via Conciliazione, into the square from the east, and the majority of the pilgrims were there.  Buses dropped them off on Via Conciliazione and they walked up and waited in the long queue (aka massive crowd of people).  Since there are no metal detectors there, the security guards posted at those entrances have wands.  I knew we were better off avoiding these entrances.  So we walked around the south side of the colonnade to the same area where we had waited the previous evening.  There were quite a few people waiting at that gate, too, but as we approached and assessed our options, the gates opened… so Megan and I and a few Sisters jumped in Italian-style and joined in the rush.

Don’t judge until you’ve been over there.  It’s a survival tactic, I promise.

After going through security, we followed the crowd into the first section.  We were able to get a spot only a couple seats from the middle aisle, and we were the second to last row of the first section.  Not bad for not waking up early.  It wasn’t the closest I’ve ever been (that would be when I was in the front row of an audience with my parents and godparents), but it was definitely the most room I’ve ever had at a Papal event for the least amount of effort.  The row of chairs behind us wasn’t right behind us — you could have probably fit another row of chairs behind us and that row.  So we didn’t have people breathing down our necks.  The guy next to Megan seemed to be saving a seat for someone who never came — so Megan had an extra seat to the right of us, and then the Indian sister sitting next to me moved over at one point, so I had an extra seat on my left too.  We happened to be sitting behind some seminarians from the North American College and the students studying in Rome from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, too!  (It always helps to have Americans near you because they share your value of personal space.)  I wrote in my journal later “I’ve never been less crowded at a Papal Mass with less stress.”

The stress would come later at Mass, in the form of an insane man and birds.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was cold before Mass.  To make the time pass, I wrote some postcards and we read about the new saints (the Vatican hands out the nicest worship aids at all their liturgies- cute little white books- and these included biographies of the saints in several languages.)

If you know me well, you’ll also know that I was passing the time by watching the Vatican guards.  We saw several of our old friends from the night before, including the guy that was staring at me across the aisle during the concert.  (He had become our favorite because after the Holy Father had walked by, he seemed visibly touched and even had tears in his eyes.)

This other nice man was working our section, but I couldn’t think of a good question to go ask him.

Then I saw his left hand and stopped trying to think of one. (Megan told me that they probably wore wedding rings just to keep weirdos like me away.)

But my friend from the night before wasn’t wearing a ring.  Do you think he remembered me?

why is that girl always taking my picture?

Just so you think I wasn’t only taking pictures of the guards, I was also taking pictures of all of the statues on the top of St. Peter’s.  Here’s St. James for my brother, who likes this statue because he has a little hat strapped to his back.

I also took pictures documenting the cleaning and restoration of the colonnade.  Doesn’t it look so nice?  Especially since they’re painting over that mustard color with white.

As soon as the Holy Father came out, so did the sun!  I’ve learned it’s hard to take pictures of a moving Pope — so I took a video instead.  That way I didn’t even have to look through my camera — I could take it all in and still capture the moment.

(You’ll see an older woman across the middle aisle from us wearing a white baseball cap — she’s the ultimate Pope groupie.  She’s everywhere he is.  I’m pretty sure my friend Trena had a nickname for her.  We saw her at the concert the night before and I remembered Trena telling me about her.  Then, low and behold, she was there the next day!)

Mass was beautiful — I had never been to a canonization before, although I had watched John Paul II’s on television.  There is the reading of the biographies of the saints, the procession with the relics, the litany of the saints– all before the Gloria!

Mass continued as usual.  At some point – maybe during the offertory?- there was some commotion to the right of us.  I looked over in the crowd but didn’t notice anything.  (If you remember, there was a medical emergency the night before at the concert, so I suppose Megan and I were getting used to commotion.) Then I noticed one of the University of St. Thomas guys kept looking over, and I finally noticed what he was looking at–  some guards were emerging on top of the colonnade … because there was a man standing on the edge!

It took a moment to sink in.  There are usually press and guards up on the colonnade, but this man was clearly neither of those, nor was he standing behind the wall  — he was right on the edge, with nothing between him and the ground!

A bald-headed guard that is seen a lot with the Holy Father (later reports said it was the Holy Father’s bodyguard, but that’s the secular press, so who knows who he is) soon emerged and leaned over the wall, clearly trying to talk to the guy down.  But the man seemed content to just stand there.  At one point it looked like he was writing something.  Then he started reading a book.

not my picture, obviously

The photographers on the other side of the colonnade had a hundred lenses pointed at him.  We were distracted.  He had clearly achieved part of his goal.  I tried to ignore him, but it was hard to do.  What if he jumped?  They had cleared the space underneath him, and it didn’t seem like he could hurt anyone but himself.  But it’s hard to tell yourself that in the moment.  If he had a gun, Megan and I would be directly in line of fire.  It may sound dramatic, but I’m pretty sure I said an act of contrition.

He kept reading his book, and then I noticed that it was smoking.  I never thought that it was a Bible, although looking back, I suppose it should have occurred to me right away.  What else would an insane man burn in St. Peter’s Square?  Probably not The Grapes of Wrath.

At Communion time, he yelled something.  Ironically, we found out later that he asked, “Pope, where is your Christ?”  Timing is everything.  He’s on the altar, insane man.

I’m pretty sure the Holy Father had no idea that an insane person was disrupting his Mass.

We all went to Communion as usual — but as if an insane man on the colonnade wasn’t enough distraction and stress, the pigeons and starlings started circling us and swooping down.  I’m sure Megan thought I was going to crawl under my hard gray plastic chair and wither away into the cobblestones.  I almost did.  I put my head down on my lap and prayed that it would soon all be over.

After Communion a bishop appeared and was talking to the man.  He still seemed very content to stand up there, although he no longer had his burning book (we later found out he threw it down into the crowd).  I’m not sure if it was originally planned for the Holy Father to leave via the Popemobile as he came, but it was pretty obvious that he was not going to leave that way with the insane man up there.   At the end of Mass, we looked back up there and the man was being led away by guards.  I guess he climbed back over the wall willingly.  His moment of fame was over.

We felt sorry for the guards — especially for our friends from the night before, who were working the crowd right underneath him.

For video and more of the story: Huffington Post: Man Disrupts Mass; Telegraph UK: Protestor climbs up Apostolic Palace During Pope’s Mass (a little misleading, since I’m not sure he was really protesting anything)

It definitely made for one of the most unusual Masses I’ve ever attended.

After Mass, Megan and I walked as far as the colonnade before we decided we would wait for the crowds to pass — so we stood off to the side in a little niche and let the people stream past us.  Standing next to us was the young boy, priest, and woman who had carried the relics of the saints in procession to the Holy Father!  They were celebrities– everyone wanted their pictures with them.  It was really cute.

I have no idea what their story is, nor will I ever know.  That’s the way Rome life is.  You experience these things and things happen all around you, but the outside world ends up knowing more than you do.

We knew traffic would be crazy, so we decided to walk back, taking our time to leisurely stroll through Trastevere.  We stopped to get pizza (I got sausage and broccoli — it was delicious), then headed back to the house to rest.  It had been quite a morning.


In the meantime

Until I get my next Rome update perfected and posted, check out this article from the WSJ: Social Issues and the Santorum Surge

In Mr. Bell’s telling, social conservatism is both relatively new and uniquely American, and it is a response to aggression, not an initiation of it. The left has had “its center of gravity in social issues” since the French Revolution, he says. “Yes, the left at that time, with people like Robespierre, was interested in overthrowing the monarchy and the French aristocracy. But they were even more vehemently in favor of bringing down institutions like the family and organized religion. In that regard, the left has never changed. . . . I think we’ve had a good illustration of it in the last month or so.”

To the extent that social issues have “come to define” Mr. Santorum’s campaign, it is in substantial part because liberal interviewers like Mr. Gregory have kept pushing them. If Mr. Bell is right, Mr. Santorum should end up benefiting politically, including in November if he is the nominee.

But what about voters who don’t make a high priority of social issues, who aren’t unwilling to vote for a social conservative but might be put off by a candidate who is—or is made to appear—a moralistic busybody? “The key thing along that line is the issue of coercion,” Mr. Bell says. “Who is guilty of coercion? I happen to think it’s the left.” Mr. Obama and his supporters are “going to imply that Santorum wants to impose all the tenets of traditional morality on the American population. He doesn’t. He just doesn’t want the opposite imposed on Middle America.”


For the better part of last week, my commute home has been particularly entertaining, as the Catholic Guy Show has been on location in Rome for the consistory.  Lino (who is usually on during the commute home) has been broadcasting from Vatican Radio and has been joined by Father Dave Dwyer and Brett Sidell from the Busted Halo Show (which usually follows Lino’s show in the evenings). I will be sort of sad to see the normal shows return this week.  They play off each other really well, and I suppose it helps that their subject matter (Rome) is so dear to my heart.

Listening to them really made me miss Rome.  I can’t quite describe how it feels to miss Rome.  Some times I just think to myself, “Ah, Rome.”  But other times — like Friday, listening to the show — it’s so incredibly strong.  It’s like no other “nostalgia” I’ve ever experienced.   It’s not like “Oh, I really enjoyed that family vacation when I was twelve.  Wouldn’t it be nice to go back?”  It’s different– it’s almost like an addiction, I suppose.  I’m not quite sure how else to describe it.   A friend once described his withdrawal from cigarettes by telling me he could see himself outside smoking.  In a weird sort of way, it’s the same thing.  I can see myself there.  I can smell it, taste it.  I can’t imagine life without it.

I suppose I probably sound pretty weird right now.  I wish I could describe it better.  But honestly, I’ve never missed a place as strongly as I miss Rome some days.  The only things that make it better is to feed it — whether it’s checking flight prices (who am I kidding?) or living vicariously through others (which is why I followed the consistory so closely), or to look at pictures and reminisce with someone.

So it’s time to continue my recap of October 2011.

Red Hats

Tomorrow Timothy Dolan will become Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as he is elevated by Pope Benedict and receives his red biretta, his ring, and his titular church.

If it was earlier in the evening or if I didn’t have to be on the road by 5:45 tomorrow morning to teach hungry souls, I would wax eloquently about any number of things, including the acceptance of the possibility of martyrdom each of these men accepts:

“To the praise of God, and the honor of the Apostolic See
receive the red biretta, the sign of the cardinal’s dignity;
and know that you must be willing to conduct yourselves with fortitude
even to the shedding of your blood:
for the growth of the Christian faith,
the peace and tranquility of the People of God,
and the freedom and spread of the Holy Roman Church.”

or the honor bestowed on Cardinal-designate Dolan, who was asked to address the Cardinals and the Holy Father today (full text here, and it’s well-worth a read), or the new design of the rings this year, or the fact that I wish I was in Rome right now because I’ve always wanted to wander around the Apostolic Palace (and you have the opportunity to do so during the consistory, when they open up various rooms of the Palace and each Cardinal greets visitors), or how much I’ve enjoyed the special consistory broadcasts from Vatican Radio on the Catholic Channel with Lino Rulli from the Catholic Guy Show and Father Dave and Brett from the Busted Halo show.

But it’s late, so I just want to say how happy I am that Cardinal-designate Dolan’s titular church is Our Lady of Guadalupe.   If I had time, I would tell you all about titular churches, but instead I direct you to my JoaninRome post when I attended Mass with Cardinal DiNardo when he accepted his titular church, San Eusebio.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is sort of on the outskirts of Rome, near the Cornelia metrostop.  I’m rather surprised it was chosen – I don’t think it’s been a titular before now (although I could be wrong), and I can’t imagine many people have even heard of it.  It’s a wonderful choice for the obvious reason that Our Lady is patroness of the Americas, but I am particularly pleased with the choice because not only have I been there, I have rather fond memories of it.

(That’s not the greatest picture in the world, but I remember snapping it quickly because I felt out of place taking it, given that the church has probably had very few “tourists” snapping pictures.  I felt like I was screaming “I’m a visitor! I’m an American!  Look at me!” when I took it after Mass.)

When I was studying in Rome in 2005 with Christendom, Our Lady of Guadalupe was just down the street from our home at Casa la Salle.   They had an evening Mass that many of us frequented, especially towards the end of the semester when the Lenten station Masses were over and the novelty of riding the bus into the city for an evening Mass had worn off.   It became our little parish, in a sense, and we began to recognize the priests (there was an Irish priest there who heard confessions in English) and began to feel a little at home there.

I had forgotten about the little church (“new” by Rome standards) until I read that Cardinal-designate Dolan had spilled the beans early about his titular church.

I think another pilgrimage is in store.

UPDATE: Please remember to keep these new Cardinals, the Holy Father, and all the leaders of our Church in your prayers.  These won’t be easy days up ahead.

UPDATE 2: Never mind – you can ignore half of this post.  It’s a different church to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Phooey.

(If you’re interested in following the consistory coverage, especially the coverage of Cardinal-designate Dolan and his entourage, I’d highly recommend