Posted by: lettersfromrome | October 13, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!!!

Dear Mom,

October 13, 2008

YOUR BIRTHDAY!!!

 

Happy Birthday!  I threw a party with my friends in your honor, although none of us were quite sure how to celebrate a bicentennial.  We drank warm tea, and talked about mothers, you would have loved it.

 

 

 

With Love from Rome,

Your Son

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Posted by: lettersfromrome | October 5, 2008

Silence

Come, let us climb the LORD’S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.

-Isaiah 2:3

 

Dear Mom,

October 5, 2008

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

I just got back from a week long silent retreat.  The retreat took place at a Franciscan house in the small town of Greccio.  Greccio sits in a mountainous area; the city itself is over 2,300 feet above sea level and all around there are trails that can take you even higher.  The weather was cool and it was definitely the coldest I have experienced since arriving in Italy.

 

 

Greccio is probably most famous for the fact that in December of 1223, St. Francis devised the first living nativity or crèche there.  It is a very quiet and secluded place, as well as beautiful.  St. Francis could really pick the best places to stay at.

 

It was nice to be able to get away from everything for a week, to not have to worry about Italian or school or checking e-mail or the schedule or anything, and spend an entire week focusing only on God.

 

We would have two conferences during the day to help us focus our attention and to guide our prayer.  After the conferences I spent most of the day out in the woods hiking until I found a peaceful place to sit and pray.

 

Yesterday was our last day there, and it was also the feast day of St. Francis.  And in honor of St. Francis I decided that I would wake up at five o’clock in the morning and hike to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise.  It just seemed like the type of thing he would approve of.

 

 

It was a lot steeper and more difficult then I thought it was going to be.  Along the way I ran across a white cow in the woods, it had horns and at first I did not know if it was a bull or a cow and it was charging right towards me.  I was slightly nervous until I saw the utters and realized it was not a bull and posed no danger to me.

 

  

 

Later, I came upon a clearing and this long barbed wire fence.  I was walking along side the fence and I came across a hunter with a rather large gun.  I broke my silence to ask him if I could pass through and if he was having any luck.  He saw my camera and asked if I was taking pictures, I told him I was and he allowed me to pass.  He was a very nice man.

 

It had been raining most of the night before and when I reached the top of the mountain there was a thunderous boom.  Shortly after that it started raining again and continued my whole trip back.  I arrived back at 7:45, fifteen minutes late for breakfast, soaking wet and fairly muddy.  No one said anything to me, one of the many benefits of being on a silent retreat.

 

 

Tomorrow is my first day of real school.  Given my lack of knowledge of Italian, I should probably be more nervous then I am.  Be sure to pray that all goes well.

 

Micah 6:8…

What is good has been explained to you,

This is what your Lord asks of you:

only this: to act justly,

to love tenderly

and to walk humbly with your God.

 

With Love from Rome,

Your Son

Posted by: lettersfromrome | September 28, 2008

No more Italian classes

Dear Mom,

September 28, 2008

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

The past week has been a very busy one.  The best part about this last week is the fact that it was the FINAL week of Italian classes.  No more studying Italian, now I will finally get to start studying Theology.

 

After the last day of class, our teacher ate lunch with us and then afterwards we showed her around the school.  We took her up to the roof and showed her our view of Rome.  After that we took her downstairs to the bowling alley that Pope John XXIII gave us.  Then we spent the rest of the afternoon bowling.  It takes Italians a little while to understand the concept of bowling, they tend to want to throw the ball half way down the alley rather then rolling it.

 

This past weekend, all the seminarians from Missouri went out to eat together.  There are five of us, three from Kansas City and two from St. Louis.  It was a great evening; we ate at this little family style restaurant where there were no menu’s they just bring everyone out the same thing.  The food was amazing.  Also, the lady that runs the place is the sweet Italian grandmother type.  At one point during the meal she stopped by to ask us how it was and when we said it was good she gave Adam Haake a big kiss on the side of his face.

 

 

On Tuesday afternoon this week one of the priests on facility took a couple of the students in a van to IKEA.  There are no big stores like this anywhere in Rome, so you have to drive about an hour to find one.  I bought a new comforter for my bed.  It is amazingly comfortable and makes a huge difference over the ones they provide us with.  I am very pleased with it.

 

 

I also received the box of winter cloths you sent.  And to my surprise all of my Christmas presents were also inside the box.  They are still wrapped and sitting on my floor awaiting a tree of some sort.  So far they have been a good topic of conversation as other guys who have come in my room have all noticed them sitting there.

 

I leave in a little bit for a week long silent retreat.  It should be a great week and one that will really help me to get focused on this upcoming semester.  So do not expect to hear from me for the next week.  Do not forget to pray for me while I am on retreat.

 

With Love from Rome,

Your Son

Posted by: lettersfromrome | September 16, 2008

A new big brother

 

Dear Mom,

September 16, 2008, Memorial

Saint Cornelius, pope and martyr, and Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr

 

Things are going well here.  Right now we are still just taking Italian classes every day to prepare for theology school which will begin in a few weeks.  I am excited for actual school to start in October sometime.  My Italian teacher here in Rome says I act like a child and that everything is just a big joke to me; but I am fairly certain that deep down under her scowling face of disapproval she actually loves me and will be sad when she can no longer teach me this beautiful language for four hours every morning.

 

All of the beginning of the school year stuff is falling into place.  I have my formation advisor who I will meet with on a regular basis throughout the school year.  He is a Benedictine and in charge of Liturgy at the college.  I also found out who my new spiritual director will be, he is an older diocesan priest from St. Louis.  He spent a few weeks with the students who were studying in Assisi and I was able to help him in the sacristy some during that time.  He is a very holy man and also has a quirky sense of humor, I think we will get along great and I look forward to meeting with him throughout the year.

 

My diocesan brother Matthew (Angelo’s brother) arrived back to the college on Sunday.  That evening he invited me up to his room and we talked for a few hours while drinking Croatian brandy and wine.  He sounds exactly like Angelo; in fact it is a little scary how similar they are.  He is a funny, down to earth guy.  In fact when he came in my room to talk to me for the first time I had music playing on my computer and the first thing he said to me was, “Oh, Johnny Cash, I see we are going to get along just fine then.”

 

After talking to him for a while and getting some good advice on living life in Rome and what to expect during the school year he then gave me a book to read.  What a great big brother to have here in seminary.

 

 

St. Cornelius,

St. Cyprian,

Pray for us.

 

With Love from Rome,

Your Son

Posted by: lettersfromrome | September 11, 2008

My new Swiss friends

 

Dear Mom,

September 11, 2008

Thursday, Twenty-Third Week of Ordinary Time

 

Theology school does not start for another three weeks or so, but this is the final week of orientation.  The schedule has been fairly busy, with Holy Mass in the morning followed by four and a half hours of Italian classes.  Then in the afternoon there are conferences about different aspects of life at the college.  For the next few weeks we will still have Italian classes for the first part of the day, but it will be nice to have a little more free time in the afternoons.

 

 

On Tuesday I got to hang out at the Swiss Guard Barracks, which was great.  The NAC has a very friendly relationship with the Swiss Guards because we allow them to come to our college and play on our soccer field and basketball court.

 

 

The guys there are great; for the most part they are all young, about twenty to twenty-five years old.  They all serve for a minimum of two years and some will serve longer then that.  All the guys I talked to there seemed to have a real genuine love for the Church.  They could be making a lot more money doing other things, but they choose to sacrifice their time and a lot of their freedom to live away from home to serve and protect the Holy Father.

 

 

I asked one of the guys how I could get one of those uniforms they wear for when I want to walk around the Vatican undisturbed.  All the uniforms are custom made right there in the barracks, and there are something like 150 separate pieces that go into making a single uniform.  Every Swiss Guard gets his own custom uniform, and if they serve for five years or more, then they get to keep it.  But if you want one of their swords, they run about 1,500 Euros. (Christmas present idea!!!)

 

 

The Swiss Guards are all tremendous guys, and I look forward to embarrassing them on the basketball court for the next few years.  I just hope they do not take it personally and not allow me in St. Peters anymore.

 

 

On Wednesday we had a banquet dinner at the Casa Santa Maria, about a half hour walk from the NAC.  It is where the American priests studying in Rome live.  There are currently about 75 priests living there, we got a tour and a talk about the history of the Casa from the Monsignor who is in charge of the house.  It used to be a convent for Dominican sisters and they have some beautiful chapels there.

 

It has been a busy week and things are going well.  I am trying my best with the language and relying heavily on the intercession of my guardian angel that when classes begin I will be able to learn the necessary theology.

 

Today is the 7th anniversary of 9/11.  It is hard to believe that it has been that long, and that I was a junior in high school back in 2001.  One of the priests on staff here is from Brooklyn and was working in a parish a few miles from the towers that morning.  He shared some very moving stories of what it was like to be a priest with all the ciaos that followed that terrible attack; and the strength and faith of many of the widows who lost their spouses as a result.  When I woke up this morning I read this prayer of the Holy Father from his visit to New York earlier this year.

 

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.

Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

–Pope Benedict XVI
Prayer at Ground Zero
New York, 20 April 2008

 

With Love from Rome,

Your Son

Posted by: lettersfromrome | September 8, 2008

Return to Assisi

 

Dear Mom,

September 08, 2008, Feast

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

 

This past weekend we took three days and went to Assisi for a class pilgrimage.  A part of me wished that we were going somewhere new that I had not been before, since I was already pretty familiar with all the sites around Assisi.  But it was really nice to go back and spend a few days there not having to worry about studying Italian but just to pray and spend time with my classmates.

 

 

The priests here gave some really good talks on developing brotherhood.  On Friday we had Mass in the Basilica of St. Francis and it was nice to be able to spend some more time in front of his tomb.  Then on Saturday we went to the hermitage and had an outdoor Mass there.  It is such a beautiful place and the view is amazing, I felt bad for the guys who had not been to Assisi before because it was really hazy and foggy that day for some reason and that made the view not how it normally is.

 

 

But even with the foggy view of below, the hermitage is a beautiful and peaceful place.  I was thinking some this weekend about how amazing it is that 800 years after the life of St. Francis people still flock to this medieval town.  And it is all because of this little poor man who gave up everything to beg for bread and preach about God.

 

 

On Sunday before leaving we had Mass at St. Clare.  Overall I would say it was a very nice trip back to Assisi.  Now we have a few more weeks of studying Italian back in Rome before classes start in October.  Hopefully my Italian will be good enough by then to be able to understand what is going on in my theology classes.  I keep telling my guardian angel that I am here and putting forth the effort and it is going to be his job to make sure I understand it well enough or else I will tell Jesus on him that he is not doing his job.

 

Today is the feast day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I love Marian feast days and this is no exception.  Today we celebrate how the Virgin Mary was born of David’s seed.  Through her the salvation of the world has been revealed to all believers, when the most holy Virgin was born, the whole world was made radiant.  Let us joyfully celebrate the birth of blessed Mary so that she may intercede for us before Jesus Christ the Lord.

 

 

“Who is this that comes forth like the dawn,

as beautiful as the moon, as resplendent as the sun,

as awe-inspiring as bannered troops?”

-Song of Songs 6:10

 

 

Blessed Virgin Mary,

Pray for us.

 

With Love from Rome,
Your Son

Posted by: lettersfromrome | September 3, 2008

Castelgandolfo

  

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom,

September 3, 2008, Memorial

Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

 

The orientation schedule here in Rome keeps us pretty busy, which is nice.  Every morning I wake up about 5:30-6:00 to a nice pot of coffee and relax in my room till morning prayer at 7:00.  That is followed by Mass then breakfast.  Immediately after breakfast we go to Italian class which lasts until 1:00.  Then lunch, which is the main meal of the day and it lasts until about 2:00, and usually right after that we have some conference where they explain some aspect of life at the NAC.  Then in the afternoons you are free to go on excursions around the city.  In late afternoon there is a holy hour followed by evening prayer and after evening prayer there is dinner.  After dinner there are some other meetings and then you have to do your homework before collapsing into a beautiful sleep.

 

On Sunday I got to go to Castelgandolfo, the summer residence of the Holy Father, about 30 km southeast of Rome.  I was literally about fifteen feet from Pope Benedict XVI during the Sunday Angelus.  It was incredible.  I was going to try to listen to see how much of the Italian I knew, but the whole time in my head I was just like, “Holy Father! Holy Father! Holy Father!”  Pope Benedict XVI is such a great priest and a wonderful example.  He has such a warm presence, it was great to just stand there and watch him.

 

After the Angelus Archbishop Burke, the new Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, and another good priestly example, joined us for lunch at La Gardenia.  Probably one of the fanciest places around, the food was phenomenal.  And the whole restaurant sits overlooking this beautiful lake.  You could not really ask for a better way to spend a Sunday morning.

 

 

And if that was not enough, after lunch I was taken on a tour of the Holy Father’s private gardens.  It was one of the most beautiful places you can imagine.  Because Rome is so unbearably hot during the month of August, the Holy Father tends to spend much this month at Castelgandolfo.  During the Second World War, Pope Pius XII hid a few thousand Jewish people here.  They were so grateful that after the war they gave Pius XII a large cross as a gift of thanks, and it remains in the place where they were hid as a sort of memorial.

 

 

Pope John Paul II loved swimming in the pool they have, he use to do it twice a day, and they had to build a roof thing over it to keep the Italian journalists from constantly trying to take pictures of him while he exercised.  There is also this little pond full of fish which belong to the Holy Father.  Every afternoon the Pope goes out there and feeds the fish and sits and prays on this little bench.  I sat on that bench.  John Paul II in the last years of his life enjoyed being wheeled out there to sit.

 

 

Pope Benedict’s older brother, who is also a priest, will spend his summers with his little brother at Castelgandolfo.  Every morning the Holy Father will sit out in the gardens and read the newspaper to his older brother, who is legally blind.

 

 

The gardens are not really open to the public and the whole time I was walking through them I was thinking about how crazy it is I get to do all of this ridiculously incredible stuff.  Yesterday I got to go on another tour of the excavations beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.  And you are walking around under St. Peter’s and all of a sudden you hear, “and these are the bones of St. Peter.”  And all you can do is just drop to your knees and pray.

 

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

-Gospel of St. Matthew 16:13-19

 

I have been really blessed so far with all of the things I have been able to witness and the people I have been surrounded by.  I am doing my best to take in all the experiences and just make it a prayerful time and hopefully everything I experience will be used to bring others closer to Christ one day.

 

Today there was a meeting for people interested in trying out for the school’s choir.  So I went to it.  I can hear you laughing at me now, but I seriously did.  We practiced singing some Gregorian chant stuff and I was pretty lost with all the musical terminology.  I have an individual tryout tomorrow at 4:30, so make sure to pray for me, I will need it.

 

I think it is providential that the first choir practice meeting took place on the feast day of Pope Gregory the Great.  Pope Gregory the Great was a humble and prayerful monk who became the Holy Father in the year 590.  Pope Gregory was a true shepherd who constantly helped the poor and he worked unceasingly instituting liturgical reforms and organizing a great deal of missionary work.

 

 

I read this homily of his on Ezekiel this morning and thought it was really humbling and I could not stop thinking about it:

 

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman.  A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming.  Anyone appointed to be a watchmen for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.

 

How hard it is for me to say this, for by these very words I denounce myself.  I cannot preach with any competence, and yet insofar as I do succeed, still I myself do not live my life according to my own preaching.

 

I do not deny my responsibility; I recognize that I am slothful and negligent, but perhaps the acknowledgment of my fault will win me pardon from my just judge.  Indeed when I was in the monastery I could curb my idle talk and usually be absorbed in my prayers.  Since I assumed the burden of pastoral care, my mind can no longer be collected; it is concerned with so many matters.

 

I am forced to consider the affairs of the Church and of the monasteries.  I must weigh the lives and acts of individuals.  I am responsible for the concerns of our citizens.  I must worry about the invasions of roving bands of barbarians, and beware of the wolves who lie in wait for my flock.  I must become an administrator lest the religious go in want.  I must put up with certain robbers without losing patience and at times I must deal with them in all charity.

 

With my mind divided and torn to pieces by so many problems, how can I meditate or preach wholeheartedly without neglecting the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel?  Moreover, in my position I must often communicate with worldly men.  At times I let my tongue run, for if I am always severe in my judgments, the worldly will avoid me, and I can never attack them as I would.  As a result I often listen patiently to chatter.  And because I too am weak, I find myself drawn little by little into idle conversation, and I begin to talk freely about matters which once I would have avoided.  What once I found tedious I now enjoy.

 

So who am I to be a watchman, for I do not stand on the mountain of action but lie down in the valley of weakness?  Truly the all-powerful Creator and Redeemer of mankind can give me in spite of my weaknesses a higher life and effective speech; because I love him, I do not spare myself in speaking of him.

 

(end of homily)

 

 

I read through this homily again and again throughout the day today.  The humble words of this Holy Father really touched me as I thought about what it would mean to be a priest in the world today.  And how much weaker I am then this great saint.  I hope that the experiences I am receiving and my time in Rome can be one of prayer, and that one day our Lord will be able to work through me despite all my weaknesses.

 

 

St. Peter,

St. Gregory the Great,

Pray for us.

 

With Love from Rome,

Your Son

 

 

Posted by: lettersfromrome | August 31, 2008

Road Trip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom,

August 31, 2008

                        Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

I have arrived safely back in Rome after my month of studying the Italian language in Assisi.  Overall I really enjoyed my time in Assisi, it is a very peaceful place and I will miss being able to walk the streets in the evening.  Six hours a day of nothing but Italian class was a little intense but I am definitely leaving knowing more then when I arrived.  I still have a very long way to go though.  One of my favorite things about the experience of my month there was just being able to get to know some of my classmates from the NAC who were studying with me.  There are some really great guys that go to school here.  Despite how much I enjoyed my time in Assisi, I am very excited to have arrived back in Rome.  It is nice to no longer be living out of a suitcase and to be sitting in my own room again.

 

 

As I reflect back on my time the greatest memory I have from the last month had to be the road trip I took with some of my seminary brothers.  Because of our Blessed Mother’s feast day on August 15th, we had a three day weekend.  We drove over 1,200 kilometers in three days!  It was great, we did not really have a plan other then we knew we wanted to end up in Milan at some point.  The course we ended up taking went like this: Assisi to Florence, Florence to Bologna, Bologna to Milan, Milan to Genoa, Genoa to Pisa, and then from Pisa back to Assisi.  And along the way we drove through some of the most beautiful Italian countryside I have ever seen in my life.  Just so beautiful words would not do it justice; at one point I was upset that I had left my camera in the trunk of the car because everything around me was just so gorgeous.

 

 

We had gotten the car on Thursday night in Perugia and the plan was to leave first thing Friday morning.  I was not sure if we were going to have the opportunity to go to Mass during the day so I woke up and went to Mass before we left.  We all met to hit the road around 8 in the morning.  The first place we visited was Florence (or Firenze as we Italians refer to it as).

 

 

Not all of us had been to Mass yet so we were able to go to Mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo of Florence.  Since I had already been to Mass I walked along the side of the Duomo to find a little area to pray quietly by myself for a while.  I ended up encountering an elderly priest while I was there and asked if he would hear my confession.  He agreed and after my confession he asked me if I was a seminarian.  I told him that I was and then we talked for a little while.  He was celebrating 50 years of being a priest that year, his name is Fr. Alexander.  He was a very joyful and peaceful man.  One of my favorite parts about the Duomo itself is probably the dome which has this huge painting of the Last Judgment on it.

 

We spent a few hours walking around Florence and then ate lunch there before leaving.  Lunch consisted of sandwiches and carrots out of the trunk of our car with bread and meat we had got in Assisi the day before.  We had bought them in bulk so it was interesting cutting it up with just a little pocket knife.  Overall it was a very economical and satisfying meal.

 

From there it was back on the road as we went from Florence to Bologna.  In Bologna I visited the Basilica of San Petronio which is located in the Piazza Maggiore.  It is a really big church; I think the fifth largest in the world actually.  But it felt more like a tourist museum inside rather then a house of God.  I much preferred and spent more of my time in Bologna in the Basilica of San Domenico.

 

The Basilica of San Domenico has the remains of Saint Dominic there.  When St. Dominic was studying to be a priest in Spain the country was struck with a terrible famine.  In reaction to this Dominic gave away all his money and sold everything he owned, including his valuable books.  When one of his companions noticed what he had done Dominic replied, “Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?”  Later, our Blessed Mother entrusted the Rosary to St. Dominic.

 

 

I was able to spend a good amount of time in St. Dominic’s chapel, asking for his intercession.  In the chapel there is the painting of St. Dominic’s Glory by Guido Reni painted in the early 1600’s.  Most of the remains of St. Dominic are in the sarcophagus while his head is preserved in this beautiful gold reliquary at the back of the monument.

 

 

After spending a few hours exploring Bologna we decided to head to Milan in order to get there before dark.  We arrived in Milan that night and went to check into this cheap little hostel.  I am convinced that I am not able to go anywhere without forgetting something important.  I had forgotten to pack a photocopy of my passport, which is necessary to check into a hostel.  I also had emptied out my wallet when I was in Rome and did not have my driver’s license or really any actual form of identification on me (and yes mom, I can hear you screaming at me now). 

 

Apparently having identification is an important thing in Italy, especially when you want to stay in a cheap hostel.  Who knew?  The guy at the desk was telling me that a lot of people in the mafia will travel around and will try and stay in hostels without using their passports to avoid the police.  So the police will frequently stop by checking hostels for who is staying there.  Anyway, the experience taught me a valuable lesson I would like to pass on.

 

 

If you find yourself somewhere in Europe, and forgot every possible form of identification, this is what you do.  You simply get a special slip of paper from the hostel you wish to stay at and then go to the local police station and explain what happened.  The police take one look at you, see you are a stupid American kid who can barely explain your situation in Italian, and is obviously not a member of the mafia.  They then stamp that slip of paper about a hundred times with ten different stamps and presto, you are now able to stay at the desired hostel.

 

 

After checking into the hostel, we went for a walk to explore Milan some.  The weather was so much cooler in Milan then an Assisi, it felt great outside.  So we are just walking through Milan, when all of a sudden we come up on the Duomo di Milano, the second largest Gothic cathedral in the world.  I sat there in the Piazza del Duomo for a little while, just taking it all in.  It was just a surreal feeling and I said to myself, ‘I am in Milan right now.’  The whole thing just did not seem real.

 

I had one of my best nights sleep since arriving in Italy that night, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was so far north and the temperature was much cooler then the heat of Rome and Assisi.

 

 

 

 

We spent all day Saturday in Milan and there was plenty to explore.  Milan is very well known as being one of the world’s capitals for design and fashion.  I like to think that I fit in very well there, wearing my free Life-Teen t-shirt and jeans.  There were a lot of stores there where everything was super expensive; the best way to describe it would be to say that I was very much like Julia Roberts in that movie Pretty Woman.

 

 

I went back to the Duomo and was able to explore it more too.  You are able to go on the roof of it, no joke.  It was incredible.  There are so many marble statues everywhere you look, you could probably spend a week there and still not get through it all.

 

While in Milan I also explored the Castello Sforzesco, a fourteenth century castle which was severely damaged as a result of the allied bombardment of Milan in 1943.  The castle currently houses a museum and several art gallery collections.

 

That afternoon I went back to the Duomo for Mass.  After Mass we all went to dinner at this nice little pizzeria, it was affordable and delicious.  What more could a person ask for?

 

 

We woke up early Sunday morning, checked out of our cozy hostel and hit the road again.  This leg of the trip was Milan to Genoa, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.  Some of the best experiences from the trip happened while in the car.  Great things just tend to happen when you mix Red Bull with gummy bears.  Throughout the entire trip while in the car I had a very important job; I sat in the front seat, which meant I was in charge of both navigation and musical entertainment.  It was a great deal of responsibility, but I was up for the task.

 

 

Now, Italian radio can get old very quickly and when you are spending so many hours in a car and it is important to keep morale up.  So early on in the trip, at one of the truck stops I made one of the best decisions I have made as of yet in my life.  I chose to buy two cheap three CD sets of some of the greatest American music of all time.  Everything from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash, it was all there.

 

At one point we heard a great song and someone wanted to listen to it again.  And then someone else made the genius comment that we should see how many times we can listen to the same song in a row.  As a result we listened to Jeannie C. Riley sing Harper Valley PTA about 45 times before I was threatened with my life.  I am not joking at all, and I think I need to state this again so it is perfectly clear: we listened to the song Harper Valley PTA around 45 times in a row.

 

 

After much singing, and much contemplation on Harper Valley widowed wives, we arrived from Milan to Genoa.  If you are looking at a map of Italy, Genoa is located sort of in the armpit area.  Do not let my description fool you, Genoa is a port city and very beautiful.  When we got to Genoa we went to Mass at the Cathedral of St. Lawrence; yet another amazing church.  After Mass we decided to try out some of Genoa’s famous salami and got some sandwiches which we ate by the pier.

 

After exploring Genoa for a while we decided to head for Pisa.  Pisa is of course famous for that leaning tower.  So we checked out the Leaning Tower of Pisa for a little while.  After that we decided to head to the beach.  The beach in Pisa is different then a normal type of beach, instead of sand they just have a bunch of rocks.  But the water was great and I was able to go swimming for a while.  The beach was an impromptu thing so I went swimming in my jeans.  I think the Italians thought that was a strange thing to do, but I enjoyed the water nonetheless.

 

 

After a few hours swimming and sitting out by the water, we decided to catch a late dinner.  So we walked along the shore and found a nice looking seafood restaurant.  This part of the story is a little embarrassing, but I feel I should share it anyway.  Apparently after all that time studying Italian, I have not learned anything important, because I thought I ordered grilled shrimp with pasta.  That sounds pretty good doesn’t it, a nice big plate of pasta with grilled shrimp mixed in it?  Well you can imagine the look on my face when I was brought out a plate with nothing but four giant crawfish on it.  At least now I know one thing NOT to order next time I am in an Italian seafood restaurant.

 

 

We ended up leaving Pisa fairly late, and the drive from Pisa back to Assisi was a fun one.  We arrived back home in Assisi around one in the morning, so you can imagine how great Italian class was the next day.  But looking back on it all, it was a really great trip; very relaxing and I was able to see so much of Italy and get to know some of my classmates really well.

 

I am back in Rome now for orientation.  It is going well so far and great to be back in Rome.  Today I get to hang out with the Holy Father at Castelgandolfo.  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday if I do say so myself.

 

 

St. Dominic,

Pray for us.

 

With Love from Rome,

Your Son

Posted by: lettersfromrome | August 14, 2008

Great time to be in Assisi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom,

August 14, 2008, Memorial

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr

 

It is a pretty amazing time to be in Assisi.  Monday was the feast of Saint Clare and there was a procession through the streets led by the bishop of Assisi to honor one of the first followers of St. Francis and one of the great saints to come from this small town.  All of the churches were lit up and people were everywhere, it was great.

 

 

When Francis decided to start living his life completely for God he had taken some of his father’s goods and sold them in order to use the money to repair the church of San Damiano.  Francis had been acting a little strange lately, and his father not only wanted his money back, but Francis to renounce his rights as heir to the family’s wealth.  The stage was set with a crowd of curious onlookers in the public square in front of Santa Maria Maggiore, the site of the Episcopal palace in which Francis was summoned to appear.

 

There the bishop told him, “You have scandalized your father.  If you wish to serve God, return to him the money that you possess.  Perhaps it was ill-gotten, and God does not want you to use it for sacred things.  Have confidence, act like a man.  As for San Damiano, God will provide.”

 

Without a word Francis tore off his clothes in hot haste and threw them, one item after another, at his father’s feet.  Now he was as naked as on the day he was born.  Francis gave back not just the money but all his cloths as well, every last thing he owned.  Just as stunned as the crowd, the bishop wept and, taking the young man in his arms, wrapped him in his cope.  Thus the Church took possession of one of her greatest sons.

 

Clare was twelve years old when Francis had this great public conversion.  We can imagine how the pious young girl was struck by the news of the young man who cut his ties with the world, with all its vanities and all its wealth, to follow Christ.

 

As a young girl, Clare was already leading an angelic life.  Beneath the extremely elegant clothes that her family dressed her in, she wore a rough woolen garment like a hair shirt against her skin.  She managed to put aside, and later give to the poor, the delicious meals served at her parents table.  One had to watch her very closely to discover that she spent hours and hours in prayer.

 

 

A few years later, when she was seventeen, she heard the young saint preaching in the cathedral of San Rufino.  Clare was extremely beautiful and came from a wealthy family, but she ran from several marriage requests to follow a life of poverty as a nun under the established guidance of St. Francis.

 

 

On Tuesday the city of Assisi celebrated with a fireworks show.  The place we stay at has one of the best views of the fireworks in the whole city, so we invited our professors over for food and drinks as we watched the fireworks.  It was a really nice evening.  It reminded me of being a kid and every Fourth of July going to the Ozarks and watching the fireworks from the boat on the lake.

 

Today is the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a more recent franciscan saint.  You will have to excuse all the saint stories, but these are the things (other then the Italian language) which have been occupying my mind during this week.

 

St. Maximilian Kolbe is one of my all time favorite saints.  When he was a child, the Blessed Mother appeared to him, and held out two crowns, a white crown of purity, and a red crown of martyrdom.  She asked him if he would accept one of these crowns, the presumptuous little boy confidently replied, “I will take them both.”

 

When he was older, Maximilian Kolbe felt he was being called to be a priest, in 1912 he was sent to study in Rome where he eventually earned two doctorate degrees.  In 1918 he was ordained a priest and the following year returned to his homeland of Poland.

 

When the Second World War broke out, Fr. Kolbe worked tirelessly to provide shelter for any refugees, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution.  He spoke out actively against the evils of the Nazi regime.

 

Then, on the seventh of February, 1941 the German Gestapo arrested him and he was sent to Auschwitz as prisoner number 16670.  During his time at Auschwitz he encouraged everyone, and at night he would sneak around hearing the other prisoner’s confessions.

 

At one point, a man disappeared from Kolbe’s barracks, assuming the prisoner had run away, and wanting to discourage that type of behavior, it was announced that ten men would be selected to be starved to death because of the disappeared man.  The man who disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.

 

The SS commander Karl Fritzsch, walked methodically through the rows of men, torturously picking the ten who would be sent to their deaths.  One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting about his wife and poor children.

 

Confidently, one of the prisoners broke rank, and walked right up to the SS commander, when Karl Fritzsch asked the prisoner what he was doing, he replied, “I wish to take this man’s place.”

 

“And who are you?”

 

The answer was simply, “I am a Catholic priest.”

 

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe’s request was granted.  During his time in Block 13, where he remained to starve to death with the nine other prisoners, he would lead the men in songs and prayer.  After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive.  With a look of peacefulness on his face, he earned his red crown with an injection of carbolic acid.

 

 

Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man who had his place taken by Fr. Kolbe, made it out of Auschwitz alive and was there when the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II canonized St. Maximilian Kolbe on October 10th, 1982.

 

Tomorrow is the feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Mother.  Because of this important Solemnity of the Church, we do not have classes.  And since this year August 15th falls on a Friday, it means we have a three day weekend.  Myself, and seven other seminarians who are studying here have decided to rent two cars and make a road trip to Milan.  Milan is in northern Italy and about a six hour drive from Assisi.

 

On the way we are going to stop in a city named Bologna.  I hear it is an incredibly beautiful city.  The really neat thing about this is on the feast of the Assumption in the year 1222, St. Francis preached to the people of Bologna.  At that time Bologna had a university which was founded in the fifth century by Theodosius and was one of the oldest and most learned universities around.

 

So there was our boy, St. Francis, standing on the steps of the old Romanesque church in the middle of a huge piazza that could hold the entire city’s population.  It seemed as if the whole town had gathered down on the pavement, up at the windows, and even on the roofs.  Everyone, from common people, to noblemen, doctors of law and theology, philosophers, physicians, all were curious to see how the beggar from Assisi would handle himself in such an environment.

 

Francis expressed himself in a such a familiar style that he seemed to be conversing with the crowd, and his language was so clear, his words hit home so squarely that no one, whether cleric or layman, could help but listen to him with avid attention.  The academics looked at one another with astonishment.  As he grew more animated, his phrases were like the beats of a loving heart; it was love speaking out, and each of his listeners imagined he was the only one being addressed.  The man who had spoken was a saint; an Italian crowd knew the real item when it saw it.

 

I am looking forward to the road trip, to driving through the Italian country side.  We do not have much of an agenda or schedule, we just have a vague idea of where we want to go and will enjoy the experience.  Seeing Milan and Bologna are going to be great and like I said before, I am looking forward to the trip.  We are going to wake up early tomorrow morning and go to Mass here in Assisi, then leave right after that.  We picked up the cars this afternoon in Perugia.  Make sure to pray for safe travels for us and know you are in my prayers always.

 

St. Francis,

St. Clare,

St. Maximilian Kolbe,

Pray for us.

 

With Love from Rome,

Your Son

Posted by: lettersfromrome | August 10, 2008

Another Week in Assisi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom,

August 10, 2008

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

I have now spent over two weeks in Assisi studying Italian, during that time I have spent 60 hours in a classroom listening to a nice lady speak nothing but Italian to me, while I just sort of stare blankly back at her.  There is no English during class at all, and you are not allowed to use your dictionary or translate anything.  The school has this method of learning where you are meant to learn the language the same way a child does.  We listen to the teacher and are supposed to start to pick up on the fact that every time she says this word, she points to the table, so that word must mean table.

 

It is a pretty intensive course, we have moved through six chapters in our workbook, which would be normally a little more then a semester worth of work I think.  It is pretty exhausting mentally.  This weekend I went back to Rome to do laundry and pick up a few things.  It was nice to get away for a few days.

 

Football season is starting back up in the States.  I think that is going to be one of the things I will miss the most about being over here.  Not being able to watch the Chiefs play.  I hear that Brett Farve is a Jet now, crazy how things change.

 

I ate lunch today with the Bishop from Pensacola-Tallahassee, who is also the chairman of the ad-hoc committee for the Church of Africa as a part of the International Justice and Peace/Social Development and World Peace department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  He just got back from spending time traveling through Africa and it was very interesting to hear him talk about the Church there.  He compared it to what it must have been like for the Apostles right after Pentecost.  He said there are churches there with five daily Masses and they are all full.  It’s amazing to hear that despite all the hardships and civil wars; that the seminaries there are full and the people are faithful.

 

I am catching a train back to Assisi tonight and then have to do my homework.  I will be studying in Assisi until the 27th of August, then return to Rome for a month of orientation with more Italian classes before actual theology school starts in October.

 

With Love from Rome,

Your Son

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