Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lily of the Mohawk

Some of my favorite childhood memories are the trips my family took to Cross Lake in Minnesota to go fishing.  There were meals together, games of shuffleboard, and of course a lot of fishing.  It was also during these trips to an area steeped in the culture and traditions of the First Nations of North America that I first met Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century member of the Mohawk tribe and convert to Christianity. For some reason, I remembered hearing about her and seeing her statue even though I was pretty young at the time.  During one of those trips, I received a prayer card with her picture on it, and it remained in my night stand for many years. I would again encounter Kateri during family vacations in northern Michigan and when I travelled to the Rose Bud Reservation as part of a UD service program.  
Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha (from the web)
This weekend, Kateri once again came into my life…and the lives of many other people around the world.  This morning in St. Peter’s Square Pope Benedict XVI declared her a saint along with six others (including Mother Marianne Cope who worked with the leper community in Hawaii).  The Pope declared them "to be saints and that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”  
The tapestry of St. Kateri that was hung in St. Peter's Square (from the web).
Kateri was born in 1656 to an Algonquin Christian mother and a Mohawk chief near Albany, NY.  When she was four years old, her parents and brother died of smallpox, and Kateri was left scarred from the smallpox lesions she had suffered.  At the age of 20, and against the wishes of her uncle, she was baptized by Jesuit missionaries, and she refused to be married.  As a result, she was ostracized by her family and moved near Montreal and joined a community of Christian Natives.  Here, she was described as having strong Christian fervor and devotion.  She died at the early age of 24, and from then has been hailed as a saint by the Jesuits and many other people.  Today, that conviction is officially recognized by the Church.

While I did not attend the Canonization Mass on Sunday, I did go to a Vigil service held the night before at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.  
At the Vigil with Bro. Les, Bro. Javier, and Fr. Pachi.
It was quite a moving experience for me.  First, there is the “national” connection.  She lived in the present day U.S. and Canada (around Albany, NY and Montreal) and so we sort of claim her as our own – the Basilica was filled with many Canadians and Americans.  I also must say that it was special to celebrate with Fr. Louis, a Canadian Marianist who lives with us in Rome.   
With Fr. Louis.
Second, as I wrote above, I seem to have some sort of connection with Kateri – she just keeps “popping up” in different points of my life.  It's somewhat astonishing to think that I would again encounter this saint in Rome whom I first met as a child.

Furthermore, the vigil began with a traditional “Smudging Ceremony” where sage, sweet grass, cedar, and tobacco are burned like an incense that is then brushed over the people with a feather.  For me, it was quite an expression of an inculturated Church: women in traditional indigenous clothing smudging the diverse congregation in a Roman Basilica with a Cardinal looking on!  
Cardinal Ouellet with an image of Kateri.
The processional.
Finally, the vigil began with a video that chronicled Kateri’s life and the story of the miracle attributed to her.  A few years ago, a boy named Jake from Seattle contracted a flesh-eating virus and was given little hope of survival.  A network of supporters began praying to Kateri, and after a religious Sister (who took the name of Kateri when she entered her order) prayed over Jake with a relic of Kateri, the disease stopped without explanation.  Jake and his family were at the vigil.  It was striking that the young saint who was left with scars on her face would intercede for a young person whose cured disease also left some scars on his face.
A candid picture with Jake.  (There were so many people wanting to meet him, I just found my way behind and Fr. Louis snapped this picture.) 
Evidently, when Jake had been asked earlier about his trip to Rome, he simply said, “It’s pretty cool.”  I will echo his sentiments and say that to be with him and the many other pilgrims who came to celebrate St. Kateri was “pretty cool.”  

St. Kateri, pray for us!


P.S. Now, everyone needs to start praying fervently for the canonization of Fr. Chaminade so that the whole Marianist Family can have this much fun, too!!!!

And just one more picture...
Fr. Louis and I with Cardinal Collins of Toronto.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In the footsteps of Francis...

Last Friday, our community had one last hurrah before the academic year began.  We took a day trip to a few nearby places that figured prominently in the life of St. Francis of Assisi – after all, we are seminarians!  After a few wrong turns and driving through the foggy hills, our first stop was Greccio, a few hours north of Rome.  Francis lived here for some time, and around 1223 had the idea of “reproducing” the first Christmas scene from Bethlehem.  The saint is credited with popularizing the use of crèches.  So, every time you set up your nativity scene under the Christmas tree, you can thank St. Francis.

The Chapel built to commemorate the place where Francis staged his nativity scene.

Looking out to the hillside from the Friary.

Part of the present structure at the Greccio Friary.
Next, we headed to nearby Fontecolombo, named because there is a spring (fonte) where the early Franciscans (colombe) are said to have quenched their spirits.  It was a sort of retreat for Francis.  It is mostly known, though, as the place where Francis wrote the Rule of Life that would eventually be recognized by Pope Honorious III. 
Bro. Joseph at the spring.

The place where Francis probably dictated the Rule to Brother Leo.
As we were visiting these tranquil spots nestled in the mountains there were two things that really struck me.  First, it was quite a powerful experience to walk in the footsteps of Francis and the early Franciscans.  While it is difficult to describe, I found it to be a very special and holy experience to see the personal rooms of Francis and Bonaventure and to be in the chapels where they prayed.  Somehow, it was as if I could feel their spirit and presence in these places even after all these years.

Francis' room in Greccio.  The picture pretty much shows the actual size and how comfortable it would have been.

The small dormitory for the Franciscans at Greccio.  The rooms were evidently very small and very sparse.

A small chapel at Fontecolombo.
Second, while thinking about the first experience, I reflected upon the formative role which the Franciscans played in my early life and in my vocation.  The Friars were the first male religious I ever knew.  I fondly remember them coming to my home parish of St. Henry in Fort Wayne to say mass on Sunday.  I remember them as being simple and humble servants.  As a mass server, I also remember them vesting for mass and always thought it was funny that they put on the hood of their brown habit before putting on the outer vestment.  And of course, even though their presence was limited when I went to Bishop Luers High School, the Franciscan spirit still permeated the school.  It is sort of humbling to think that these simple men (particularly Bro. Ward) must have had some influence on my later religious vocation.  As we celebrated mass in the Chapel at Greccio, I thanked God for the gift of them in my life.  

The "New Church" at Greccio. 
In the Church at Greccio.  While it's difficult to see, at the bottom there are the "two hands" that is common in Franciscan art.  I remember seeing this symbol many times at Bishop Luers.
 Afterwards, we went to the nearby “big city” of Rieti and simply muddled around town.  Among the highlights, we stumbled upon the geographic center of Italy.  Who knew?
"The Center of Italy" in all sorts of languages so everyone knows where they are!

Bro. Javier at the center of Italy.
Here's a few more pictures from the trip.  Enjoy!

The morning fog
The buildings of Greccio built right into the hillside.

At Greccio, there was a Creche collection.  All I could think was "It's nice, but it's not the Marian Library at UD!"  Ha, Ha.

Looking down at Rieti from Fontecolombo.

Bro. Lester with our hero, Francis.

The Cathedral in Rieti.