Thursday, July 13, 2006

#005 Turin and the Shroud

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist

The next morning, after having stayed in Lourdes for the night, we boarded the bus knowing that before the end of the day, we would be in Italy.

We drove straight through Monaco, and soon arrived in Turin.

There, we visited the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, where the Shroud of Turin is kept. When we arrived at the Cathedral, it quickly became obvious to us that we would be having to wait for quite a long time before being able to see the actual shroud. For one thing, the whole entrance was packed with visitors. And on top of that, before seeing the shroud, we would have the priviledge of walking through a whole explanatory exhibition so that by the time we actually arrived at
the shroud, we would be well informed about it.

The explanatory ehibition was actually quite interesting, in that it helped the visitors (at least myself) be better able to appreciate the shroud. There was even a short presentation that showed how each of the different blows described in the Passion can be seen on the shroud: the broken nose from the blow dealt by the soldier, the blood from the crown of thorns on his head, the wound on his side from the piercing of the lance after his death, the wounds on his wrists and feet from the nails, and even the lacerations on his back from the whipping he received on orders from Pontius Pilate.

It was also quite interesting to note that the image on the shroud itself seems to be a negative. In the picture on the left, the left half is what the shroud looks like to the naked eye (at least the part of the head). However, looking at a
negative of that image, it would almost seem as if one was looking at a photograph. Even more interesting is the fact that even the concept of a negative hadn't been concieved until pretty recently. In fact, it wasn't until the end of the 19th century that a photograph of the shroud was taken and it was discovered that the negative of that photograph revealed what looked very much to be a positive image!

Friday, July 07, 2006

#004 Adventures in Spain (part 2)

The next day, we boarded our bus, and drove to Zaragosa,

where we visited the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. One of the most memorable thing for me about this visit was the pillar. Protected inside this marvelous cathedral, rests a pillar, I believe of stone, on
which the Virgin Mary once appeared. Being there, it was impossible for us not to wait in line with the many other pilgrims who regularly visit the cathedral in order to be able to have a turn kissing the pillar. It was also interesting to note that the pillar had been rotated once already because people's kisses, since they were done on the same spot, had begun to wear a hole into the pillar. The spot on the pillar where we kissed it looked to be a second hole being worn away, but it was nothing compared to the first hole! Who would've thought that kisses could be destructive? Do you Meebo?

After our visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, we boarded our bus and began our trip east, to Rome. However, we would be stopping various times along the way to visit other imprtant religious sites and cities.

The next city we visited was Lourdes in the south of France,

where the Virgin Mary first appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, a poor
young girl while she, her sister, and a friend were gathering dead wood. St. Bernadette Soubirous's own words were, "I
saw a lady dressed in white, she wore a white dress, an equally white veil, a blue belt and a yellow rose on each foot."

Having seen the movie The Song of Bernadette, I was familiar with the story, as well as with the legendary healing abilities of the water from the spring in Lourdes. However, although the other people who were with me were quite interested in collecting some of the water to bring back home, I remember that I was too busy crying my eyes out after having realized just moments before just how full of meaningless activities I had been living my life.

We only stayed in Lourdes that one night, as our goal was to reach Italy by the next day. Do you Meebo?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

#003 Adventures in Spain

When summer roled around, it was time to get to work... but not REAL work, fundraising at my parish. We had already heard that another pilgrimage was being organized for August, this time, to Rome, but as before, the problem immediately became the money. How were we to pay for another trip, so close to the last one?

Our plan (by "us" and "we", I mean the youth in my parish who were interested in going on the trip) became to do as MUCH fundraising as was possible and to hope that somehow, the remainder of the price would appear. The trip, if I remember correctly, cost about $1200, and we were pretty much broke. The remainder of my weekends became centered around the fundraising we were doing, which consisted mainly of selling empanadas (meat-pies) right after most events, including group meetings (of the various groups in our parish), masses, etc. On Sundays, we had the added "pleasure" of being given a free table at the flea market (in the parish basement) where we sold all kinds of items which had been donated to us for this purpose. Our main type of item for selling were clothes. People would donate us so many clothes, that we ended up selling items of clothes for $0.50 each because we were facing two tables full of clothes, piled up to 2-feet high! In the end, I'm not sure how the money showed up, but it must have since all of us who had been planning to go were able to go.

We left for Europe the first weekend of August, but I don't remember exactly which day. Our 12-hour flight landed in Madrid, Spain, but by that time, I was pretty exhausted, especially after not having slept well the night before leaving, as well as not having had any sleep during the flight due to sheer excitement. Do you Meebo? We then took a very small propeller airplane from Madrid to Malaga, where our bus driver would be waiting for us.

From there, we drove to Granada, where a group of brothers from the Neocatechumenal Communities there were waiting for us. When we arrived, we were split up into mostly groups of twos and threes. Each group went to the house of one of the people who had been waiting for us for dinner and to spend the night.

Needless to say, it quickly became obvious to everyone there that I had no clue what I was doing. When we arrived, we sat down for dinner. Now, in my home, when we sit down for dinner, whatever is on the table is what is our main dish. We fill our plates with the different dishes and just eat, sometimes after having said a prayer. Because of this, I was completely unprepared for a little something called "appetizers". When I sat at the table, the family had served whole shrimp, olives, and some other goodies. Being that I was in a foreign country, I assumed that maybe this was what a typical dinner meal consisted of, and so ate my fill of the shrimp and the olives. In my wildest dreams, would I have ever imagined that after the shrimp would come rice and the rest of the main course. So, when they brought out the rice and rest of the meal (which I never found out what it was), I made another giant mistake Do you Meebo? : I excused myself from the meal, saying that I was already full. It would not be long before I would really understand the gravity of my mistakes that day, but, as they say, there's a first time for everything, and that was my first and (hopefully) last time I would be filling myself with appetizers when invited to someone's home.

The last interesting tidbit I remember about staying in this home, was that it was where I finally gave up denying that I needed a shave, and actually tried to shave for the first time in my life. The experience wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but I had rather hoped that my dad would be the one to teach me /show me how to shave, rather than me trying it by myself. I even remember one of the other guys giving me alcohol to use as an alternative to aftershave.

I remember that we slept in Granada only one night, but that did not mean we weren't able to do a bit of sight-seeing. The family took us (I forgot whether it was that same day or the next) to La Alahmbra castle. The castle was the last moorish
stronghold before they were forced out of Spain in 1492. The inside of the castle was VERY elaborate, as the Moorish royalty tended to keep elaborately decorated rooms to impress both visitors and embassadors. Being that this was the first castle I've ever visited, I was extremely excited to see it, as well as fascinated by the sheer number of quotes from the Koran inscribed on the walls in Arabic. And the view of the city of Granada from the castle windows was just breathtaking.

After the exciting visit to the Alahmbra (or maybe the day after), we all met up again and boarded to bus. We drove from Granada to Madrid, where another group of brothers, this time from my catechist's community, were waiting for us to take us to their homes. I went with a slightly different group of boys to the house of a married couple. I don't quite remember if they had any children because by the time we arrived, the children had already gone to bed. We ate dinner, and drank sangria. Do you Meebo? I believe I drank about 2 glassfulls of sangria, because it was not only the first time I was drinking such a sweet alcoholic drink, but also because it just tasted AWESOME! Do you Meebo?

The next morning, our adventure... I mean pilgrimage Do you Meebo? would continue...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

#002 (changes and reactions)
Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, March 26, 2006

The day I felt the vocation to the priesthood was the last day of our pilgrimage in Israel. I was so excited and anxious. My plans for the future had suddenly been turned completely upside-down!

As far as my parents knew, before going to Israel, my plans had been to be an inventor. I've always wanted to be a great inventor/scientist like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison... that's why I'm fascinated by science-fiction. When I see science fiction, I try thinking to myself, "I know this is fiction, but what parts of this fictional theory/innovation are based on real science? what parts are missing to be discovered before this can become a reality?" However, a fascinated by science-fiction I may be, I'm still pragmatic enough to realize that if inventing were my "full-time job", I'd probably starve to death. I consider inventing to be an art-form, inspired and thus also, like musicians and painters, one must "get lucky" in order to "make it big". Therefore, as a "backup" plan, I thought I might go into medicine (so as to earn lots of money) as I find it interesting, and because I'm not the kind of person who'd faint at the sight of blood.

Now, try to imagine my parent's reactions when I come back from a week-long trip, announcing that I feel the vocation to become a priest. :-) ... my parents were definitely shocked, to say the least. When I cam home, I told my mom, and she was extremely happy to hear the news. My dad, on the other hand, told me that he thought I was crazy, that I shouldn't waste my life like that because, according to him, priests are child-molesters who hide under dresses (in reference to the priestly garments). He said I should find myself a girlfriend so that I'd see "what I was really missing" and I'd forget about wanting to become a priest. He also said that even if I did go on and become a priest, that I should definitely lose my virginity prior to that.

For the most part, I was glad that at least my mom supported me (she has always supported me) and hoped that my dad would one day understand. So I returned to school (I was in the tenth grade) so excited about the whole pilgrimage that when asked by a teacher to come to the front of the class and to tell something about my trip, I told them all that I could, as well as that I had felt the call to the priesthood. My class was very interested in the trip, and posed some questions regarding entering the priesthood, but, being that I had barely just felt the calling, I could not really answer most of their questions, as I was pretty clueless about the details myself.

So life went on, but a bit differently. I started to attend a weekly meeting of young men who took part in the Neocatechumenal Way and had felt the calling (it was called the "Vocational Center"). We met three out of every four Sundays. On the first Sunday, we would share our experiences from the week: how God was helping us, what were we confused about (spiritually), what doubts did we have regarding our lives and/or the calling, etc. The following week, we'd sit down together at a table, and "scrutinize" (to examine or observe with great care; inspect critically) the gospel passage of that Sunday for about an hour, and then we'd share how God had enlightened us through the scrutiny of the passage so that we may better understand our current circumstances, our actions/intentions, etc. On the following Sunday, we'd have a Eucharist (aka. mass) where we'd also have the opportunity to share with the others about our current circumstances, what God had been doing with us that week, etc. On the fourth Sunday, we didn't meet, so as to allow us to go to retreats with our Neocatechumenal Communities. (BTW, in case there's been any confusion, each person is part of 1 and only 1 Neocatechumenal Community.)

Then, a very interesting series of circumstances arose, of which I'm not quite sure whether or not I would have done things differently were I given the chance. I met this freshman girl, at my high school. She was friendly, sweet, outgoing, and definitely attractive. The problem that arose was that I could either continue going to the vocational center, which required that I not have a girlfriend, or I could choose to stop going to the vocational center and to ask this girl out on a date. I was faced with a dilemma. The dilemma was even further problematic after a conversation I had with her, in which I asked her what her religion was and she answered that she was Muslim, but wanted to convert to Wicca.

About a few weeks later, I was thinking about this dilemma on my way to a meeting of the vocational center. It was one of the Sundays on which we would be scrutinizing, and I entered into the "scrutazio" with this inner worry, about what I should do, and I asked God to please give me some guidance by way of the scrutazio. Although I've completely forgotten which reading it was that we were scrutinizing that Sunday, I remember clearly that all of a sudden, I dropped what I was doing, and began writing to God in more or less the tone of a letter, and the more I wrote, the more I heard what God was telling me. I guess you can compare it with chatting or IMing someone, but this was done all on paper, and God's answers didn't appear on the page, but rather, I could feel Him talking to me, so I continued writing, asking God what I should do. I remember that somehow, at the end, I just knew that I should not chase after this girl, and after that, whenever I saw her in the hallways, I'd think about how much I liked her, but at the same time, remember that God had revealed that I shouldn't do anything about the fact that I liked her.

It is interesting for me to be writing this, because writing this, I can see things that God has done in my life, times that He has spoken to me, revealed things to me, and that yet, I am still so rebellious against Him, and still often doubt of His desire that I be happy. This particular of my tale, I've long forgotten, and only remembered, because of my trying to detail the events of my life step by step. There have been so many times that I have thought about this girl... wondered "what if"... what if I'd asked her out instead of continuing in the vocational center?... what if I had not cared that she is/was Muslim, but wanted to convert to Wicca?... what if she hadn't suddenly moved away after her freshman year?... what if I'd just asked her for her email address?... what if?... what if?... and yet, writing this, it has helped me realize that it was just "not meant to be"... that I did do the right choice in following what God revealed to me in that scrutazio... and that I should not have continued wondering "what if" for 5 years after the last time I saw her...

Well, to continue with the story, the next big thing I remember happening after this, was my going on the second pilgrimage of my life, just a few short months after coming back from Israel... the pilgrimage to Rome!
#001 Ring, Ring! Hello, it's God calling...
Originally posted on MySpace on Thursday, February 23, 2006

I've decided that it'd be nice to start a series about my experiences going to seminary in Germany and stuff related to that. So, here goes...

Well, it all started a long time ago... (I'm baptised, I went to sunday school, got my first communion, and confirmation) actually, lemme start back in freshman year of high school. When i started freshman year, my parents were getting separated, and i basically thought that church was for "old-people" and didn't want to go because going to my parish, I'd primarily see adults and the elderly, but it was obvious that the youth who were there didn't really want to be there.

However, in my freshman year, i met this girl Denise who was really deeply religious, and catholic, and that got me thinking about whether or not my belief that church was for "old-people" was true. I decided to "give God a chance". Shortly after deciding to give God a chance, summer rolled around and my mom signed me up for some volunteer work at the parish. My parish decided (for the first and last time) to setup a summer day camp for little kids, and they needed my help taking care of the little kids.

So I did the summer camp thing, and after we were done (towards the end of the summer), the summer camp director invited me to join the parish english youth group, seeing as that most of the other volunteers had been members of the english youth group. Since I was still in my "give God a chance" mode, I agreed and started going to the meetings.

At the first meeting, the group discussed that we were trying to fundraise some money to help those of the group who were going to be going on a pilgrimage to Israel the next March. I decided to sign up for the trip, and so I began doing A LOT of fundraising, seeing as how i had no job and only the money that I fundraised would be my source of payment for the trip (my parents couldn't afford paying for my trip).

However, one of the conditions for going to the trip was to attend these adult lectures, aka catechesis, at my parish. I was indifferent, so I agreed to go and started going. The catecheses were pretty interesting and they attracted my attention. Afterward, there was this sort of retreat, and I agreed to continue going to this group, aka a Neocatechumenal Community. I already knew about the Neocatechumenal Communities because my mom had entered one about two years before i entered.

So March 2000 rolls around and we go to Israel for a week-long pilgrimage. I had to ask my high school for permission to miss a whole week of school and everything, but since my teachers could only report positive things about me, the high school gave me permission. The pilgrimage was GREAT! We travelled around on a bus, seeing all these cool places, like the house of St. Peter, ruins of the city of Capernaum, our hostel had a GREAT view of the sea of galilee, etc. on friday the 24th(?) rolls around and we all go to meet the pope for the vigil and the mass the next morning. It was REALLY cool. The pope said some really insightful things in his homily (although i can remember none of them at the moment). Afterwards, after many of the people had left, Kiko Arguello, the initiator of the Neocatechumenal Way came out. He spoke to encourage those listening in their beliefs. Then, he told everybody to sit down and said (in italian), "if any young male (ragazzo), feels that God is calling him to the priesthood, may he stand up, and come forward [to the stage/platform] to receive a blessing." It was interesting, sitting there watching all these guys stand up and go forward to the platform. Meanwhile, i was sitting there (on the ground) thinking, "maybe I'll think about it in a few years". But God had other things in mind.

A few days later, we were having this eucharist at the shrine that was erected on the site of where (supposedly) the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce that Jesus was born... and the gospel was the one where Jesus enters the temple and starts throwing the tables around and whipping people (cool reading, huh? and we always think of Jesus as being peaceful and a pacifist)... and the priest was explaining in the homily that the reading is referring to the fact that we "sell" ourselves so cheaply... looking for a little bit of love... that we sometimes give ourselves away for free to the first person who comes along... ... and it was EXACTLY what was happenning in my life at the moment... I was DESPERATELY looking for a girlfriend... and then... all of a sudden... you know how, when you're thinking to yourself, you start having these conversations with yourself?... well, all of a sudden, I "heard" a voice in my head say something, that I'm sure didn't come from me. The "voice" said:

"If you have the love of Jesus Christ, you don't need the love of a girl."

That touched me SO deeply, that all of a sudden, for that one moment, I felt the presence of God touching me... (this'll sound silly, but) kind of as if God was pointing at me with his finger, but his finger was so big that it was all around me, or rather, I was inside his finger... not that I saw anything of the sort, but that's what it felt like... like when they show in movies that a skylight opens and rays of sunshine illuminate the person (usually accompanied by the sound-effect of an "Haleluya"), except without the sound effect ;-) and the rays of the sun were God's finger... ... that was the most dramatic God-experience I've ever had... i did the ONLY thing i COULD do: CRY MY EYES OUT... I can barely remember the rest of the mass because I just couldn't stop crying... at the end of the mass, the priest asked that anyone who had felt the calling to the priesthood, regardless of whether they had already stood up the few days before or not, to stand up... i stood up.
I've never regretted standing up. I've regretted lots of other things I've done in my life, mistakes I've made, people I've hurt, but NEVER having stood up for the priesthood. ... I mean, don't take me wrong, but that doesn't mean I want to become a priest. I'm still trying to sort out whether I'm ready to abandon myself to God or not, but that's a COMPLETELY different story.