rome – the canonization!

Three years ago, I was privileged enough to attend the beatification of Pope John Paul II, when he officially became Blessed John Paul II. You can read about that here if you’ll forgive my flowery language from back in the day. It was an absolutely beautiful experience and I look very fondly on my memories of that weekend.

So imagine my delight when it was announced last year that JPII’s canonization was imminent–and very well might happen during my ten months in Germany! Lo and behold, mere weeks before I left for Dresden, it was announced: April 27, Popes John Paul II and John XXIII would become saints! When I heard the news, I immediately harassed Daniel via at least three different modes of communication to convince him to come with me, as we knew he’d be in Europe by then, too! So we made hostel reservations and were relieved the next month when the canonization date was actually confirmed by the Vatican… that was a close one!

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Anyway, here are my thoughts on the canonization this weekend; another memory to cherish for my entire life.

I tried to approach all things canonization the way I had approached the beatification 3 years ago, but right away it was clear that that wouldn’t work. I haven’t seen any official numbers but there were clearly far more people in town this year, I suppose because a canonization is just a little bit of a bigger deal than a beatification, plus there were two saints-to-be instead of just one blessed-to-be last time. I got a tip from Wayne, who had intel from a few priests, that anyone showing up after 9 PM (13 hours before the Mass was scheduled to begin) wouldn’t get into St. Peter’s Square. I didn’t exactly buy that, but I figured 2 AM would maybe be safe. (**Spoiler alert** Then again, Wayne actually ended up in the Square so I guess you can decide whose tactic was more successful.)

So after Daniel’s and my packed day of tourism on Saturday, we went to sleep around 8 and set our alarms for 1:30 AM. We got to the Vatican by 2:30; on the way to the boulevard leading to the Square, we passed several large screens already surrounded by huge groups of pilgrims in sleeping bags and folding chairs. That made me a little nervous about the capacity of the Square, but it appeared that those people just wanted to be by the screens instead of in St. Peter’s (a decision that I would totally understand and envy a few hours later).

We were able to move up pretty far down the boulevard before we really got to the huge mass of people. But then we were stuck in the stand-still that I remembered from last time. At this point it was about 2:45: just over 2 hours to go until the Square would open and we would start slowly advancing towards it. We talked to a few people around us, including one really chatty woman from Indianapolis. We prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet and people-watched. It is fascinating how many people, countries, and cultures are represented when 4-7 million million Catholics come together on one extremely crowded street! There was a guy behind us leading a group from Mexico who had a little speaker and microphone set-up that he was using to lead people in prayer, reminding us that “this isn’t a football game! We came here to pray!” One girl led her neighbors in song and tried to encourage others to teach us songs in their native languages (unsuccessfully, mostly). Daniel and I had brought nourishment in the form of extremely overpriced Cokes and granola bars, which we portioned out throughout the morning. Daniel did better in the self-control arena than I did. I had half-finished my Coke before we even got to the Vatican.

After a few false alarms of loud cheers that we mistook for evidence that they’d opened the Square early (“Pope Francis does what he wants!”), finally we started moving. Now, the moving is a unique experience. I was glad to only have Daniel to keep up with this time because it would be so easy to get separated in a big, or even medium-sized group. Once you start moving, the pressure of at least a few hundred thousand people behind and around you starts guiding you (to put it extremely gently) and you don’t have that much control. We would move in maybe 10-to-50-meter bursts every few minutes. It was SO HOT. It had been raining the night before with some forecasts of showers that day so I had probably over dressed, as had a lot of other people, and man. It was just way too hot. There were a good number of people passing out from exhaustion or dehydration and people would call to the medics to alert them that someone needed help.

The girl at the bottom right expresses my sentiments exactly. 

The heat and crowds probably led to hot tempers, as well. We witnessed at least one almost-fight in the crowd… at one point, we didn’t move for the better part of an hour and I think a lot of us assumed that these were our spots for good, so a big group had spread out to sit down and eat (while the rest of us were crammed together with barely enough space to stand). Meanwhile, a lot of people from the middle of the crowd tried to push through, ostensibly giving up on trying to get into St. Peter’s. It was really hard to accommodate the lines of people trying to push through in the wrong direction considering we barely had room to breathe! So, between the big group of sitting people obscuring people’s mobility and the pushing involved in people making their escape… tempers were… flaring, let’s just say. Which is interesting when the confrontational parties don’t speak the same language and require a translator. Luckily, no one came to blows.

Eventually, after the one really long break, we did continue to slowly advance. We stopped for a while on an elevated platform with a good view of a big screen a few dozen meters outside of the Square and decided that we were pleased with these spots when all of a sudden, a huge space in St. Peter’s must have opened up because we were able to move up a lot further and we ultimately ended up on the steps of the little entranceway into the Square, with a full view of one small screen and a partial view of a big screen! By this point, my feet were throbbing with pain after standing from 2 AM until probably about 8:30 AM, when we ended up in our final spot.

We ended up near the wall there on the left, towards the front... the very brink of St. Peter's Square

We ended up near the wall there on the left, towards the front… the very brink of St. Peter’s Square

Basically, the whole process of attending a big event at the Vatican (or, I would imagine, World Youth Day) is a huge exercise in loving your neighbor, even when you’re tired and cranky and hungry and your feet feel like they are literally going to fall off, and even when your neighbor is pushing you or griping about you pushing them or holding up a huge flag that is blocking your view of the screens. I won’t say I did a perfect job, and for a large portion of the morning I was hugely uncomfortable and in pain and occasionally frustrated. But I tried to keep reminding myself to be charitable and loving and appropriately joyful given the huge blessing of actually being in St. Peter’s in person on such a wonderful occasion!

About an hour before the Mass was scheduled to begin, the choir led the longest Chaplet of Divine Mercy known to man with reflections from the two Popes in several languages. It was a little hard to follow, especially with all the yells from people around us complaining about the huge flags that were blocking people’s visibility and of course the language differences, but I enjoyed reading the English reflection from JPII at least. At 10, they made an announcement about the beginning of the Liturgy and the need for people to stop holding up their flags during the celebration [the stubborn owners of the banner in front of us did not immediately comply leading to more discord in our section], and then it began!

Unlike the beatification Mass, the canonization started with the rite of canonization and the continued into the rest of Mass. We sang through a Litany of Saints in Latin as the priests and bishops processed in (and I decided to apply for the position of Vatican Events Coordinator, because we sang it three times as we waited for the procession to end, even though the square had been open for five whole hours… it’s not as though time had been scarce!!).

Our view of Papa Francisco

Our view of Papa Francisco

When Pope Emeritus Benedict processed in, the joy was tangible! There were lively cheers of “Benedetto!” and he looked so happy! Finally, in came Pope Francis! I have to say, seeing the two of them together, Benedict and Francis (the misunderstood and the even more misunderstood, if I may be so bold), was incredible, and the sight of two popes embracing each other is a rare one in the grand scheme of things.

After Pope Francis began the Mass, the Cardinal Prefect presented him with three petitions for the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII, and then it was official: two new saints!! What a joyful moment.

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The rest of the Mass was beautiful, too, although I was plagued by my hurting feet and odd developments on the room-to-stand front throughout the liturgy. They had passed out booklets of the Mass order (helpful because most of it was in Latin), but I do wish I had had a way to hear an English translation of Pope Francis’ homily, as I had been able to find on the radio last time. Here’s a transcript of the homily.

I had to leave the beatification Mass early to catch my flight, so I had no idea how Communion would work with 800,000 people (according to an article I just Googled)… I didn’t have high hopes that we would get to receive the Eucharist, but figured that would be just fine. But lo and behold, there was an army of priests with yellow and white Vatican umbrellas to bring Jesus out to the masses! It was probably the most intense Communion I’ve experienced, pushing through people and leaning over a railing to receive the Eucharist!

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And then, after a joyful and painful two hours, the Mass came to an end. I know people have endured far worse for the Holy Mass, but I for one was so glad to have even survived the experience. I reminded myself throughout that, if I could just offer up the pain and discomfort, I would be united with Christ in that “suffering” (don’t misunderstand: I’m using the word extremely lightly), but sometimes it was a little hard to keep that in perspective. However, there’s just nothing like singing Alleluia with thousands of your brothers and sisters! We sang the Regina Coeli to end Mass and listened to two Polish sisters behind us start a chant of “Polska! Polska!” I was definitely proud to be Polish this weekend!

I can’t take credit for this amazing shot; this and all the other slightly narrower-shaped photos are Daniel’s

Of course, the next thought after “What a great and wonderful and amazing Mass/experience!” and “We survived!” was “WE NEED TO SIT DOWN NOW” so Daniel and I pushed through the crowd, made it down a cross-street, and immediately collapsed on the curb, saying things like “THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER” and “I’M NEVER GETTING UP.” We’re not dramatic at all, if you’re wondering. We had come up with the somewhat silly plan of going to a Tex-Mex restaurant right outside the Vatican for a well-deserved margarita afterwards, but as we tried to make our way there, we discovered that the middle of the boulevard had been barricaded off because the Pope was about to come through in the Popemobile! Apparently we were the only ones not to have gotten the memo that this was happening, but luckily we showed up in time to see good old Francis pass by!

As we talked over pizza after we had finally escaped the vortex of humanity that was the Vatican at that particular moment, Daniel and I realized that we’d had the same exact thought during Mass: that we would never do that again, as beautiful as the Mass and pilgrimage experience had been. Unless, we decided, the person being canonized was one of our family or friends, or if we were involved in the miracle that provided cause for the beatification/canonization. In either of those cases, I wouldn’t need to stand in St. Peter’s for 11 hours, so that would probably be fine with me!

Don’t mistake this sentiment for us being ungrateful. Color me EXTREMELY grateful and blessed; how many people can say that they were at Saint John Paul II’s beatification and canonization? Not many! I still can’t imagine how I could have ever been so fortunate to be present at one, let alone both, of those amazing events. I am so proud to be a member of the Catholic Church and I am so glad to have been able to see, on these two and countless more occasions, what an amazing force for truth, beauty, courage, and love the Church is.

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St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII, pray for the Church and our world! Praise God for an incredibly amazing weekend.

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roman holiday

My weekend in Rome was defined by strange and, I would say, nearly impossible schedules. My flight arrived at Fiumicino at 11:40 and I arrived by bus in the city center at 1:25, which was certainly not ideal, but it got the job done. Luckily, my friend Wayne had been in Rome for most of the day and he was extremely kind to come meet me at the train station since we were staying at the same hostel. THANK YOU, WAYNE!! You are the best!

After a subpar night of sleep at the world’s sketchiest hostel (not dangerous-sketchy, just strangely-managed-sketchy), I enjoyed a cappuccino and pastry and embarked on a strenuous morning of being lost in Rome. I had to move from one hostel to another, and luckily enough, my destination’s street was too small to be located on my map, so I spent about an hour bouncing from shop to shop asking people to give me directions. Finally, a kind English-speaking woman approached me and asked what I was looking for, because she had seen me walking around for half an hour! She helped me find the hostel and the day was saved.

I dropped off my stuff and then took the metro to the Vatican to do some research for the next day, when Daniel would be joining me. I’d been to Rome before, but Daniel never had, so we basically had a day and a half to see everything. I had heard the Vatican Museum would be a hot ticket due to the canonization crowds, so I wanted to see what our best options would be to make the day go a bit smoother.

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The only way for a cradle Catholic like me to cross the Tiber 😉

Then I grabbed some pizza to eat on the go and walked to the Spanish Steps to meet Wayne and his friends from Schoenstatt. We then walked to the Trevi Fountain and split into two groups for more efficient sight-seeing. My group, which consisted of myself, Wayne, and his friend from Hungary, headed to St. Paul Outside the Walls, my favorite of the Papal Basilicas.

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There was a lively, poppy Mass happening at the time which provided an interesting atmosphere for our visit. I had never known this before, but apparently St. Paul is actually buried in the basilica (how did I miss that last time..?) so we got to pray at his tomb. There’s also a small portion of the chain from St. Paul’s imprisonment in Rome! The one major thing that’s changed since I was last there was the installation of a new Papal portrait:

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Our next destination was the Pantheon, which I had never actually seen before! This time, we only viewed it from the outside, and then headed a few blocks over to a church that was hosting a German Mass and prayer event put on by a Catholic group that started after World Youth Day in Cologne (2005). The Schoenstatt crew had met a girl on the plane who was in charge of music for the Mass and she had invited them. It was really beautiful and super cool to go to a German Mass in Italy!

I then said good-bye to the group and tried to head back to my hostel to maybe get a little bit of sleep before meeting Daniel at the train station at 1 AM. Predictably, I got lost… which was fine, because I got to see Piazza Venezia and a few other parts of town I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to visit otherwise, and I ended up back home within an hour and a half. Plus, I enjoyed some delicious gelato as I walked.

As per MB's request

As per MB’s request

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I did get to sleep for a little over an hour before I got a text from Daniel saying he was on the bus from the airport. So I went and picked him up, still a little delirious from sleep, and informed him (I’m sure he was delighted) that the best way for us to see the Vatican Museum the next day would be to stand in line at 7 and wait for it to open at 9. That gave us a good 4 hours of sleep, the auspicious beginning of a weekend short on sleep but long on everything else that’s good about life.

We sat in line at the museum for 2 hours, which would have been a long time but it was nice to just get the chance to talk to each other face-to-face and take silly pictures together, two activities you can’t do often when you live several countries apart.

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Finally we were admitted. We visited one exhibit of sacred art that I hadn’t seen before; the styles spanned from older, more eastern-looking iconography to Baroque-style paintings of biblical events and saints. Then we saw an exhibit of Popemobiles through the ages, which was awesome! It spanned from the days of horse-drawn carriages (apparently called Berlins?) to the VW Beetle given to JPII by the government of Mexico. It also included the Popemobile that JPII was riding in during his assassination attempt.

Then, we took the “short” route to the Sistine Chapel, all the galleries of which I’d seen before. In all, the exhibits are… decent. There are some antique maps and beautiful tapestries, as well as some very famous (and gorgeous) rooms painted by the likes of Raphael which depict the life of Constantine, the pantheon of classical philosophers, and the “triumph of the Church,” my favorite.

And finally you end up in the Sistine Chapel, which of course is breathtaking and wonderful but altogether it’s just a strange atmosphere. Photography isn’t allowed, and rightly so, and you aren’t allowed to talk, and these rules are very strictly enforced by guards who yell at you, and so it kind of feels like you’re on a field trip and being supervised by grouchy elementary school teachers. Nevertheless, picking out the symbolism and the organization of the Chapel, as well as marveling at the intricacy of Michelangelo’s project, is an experience that totally justifies visiting the Vatican Museum, in my opinion.

However, next came the best surprise of the day–as we left the Sistine Chapel, we followed a big group of people on the way out. I looked around, thought about the layout of Vatican City, and ascertained that the building next to the walkway was St. Peter’s Basilica! And sure enough, we emerged just outside the doors of the world’s most important Catholic church!

Whaaaat!!!

Whaaaat!!!

Now, when I had been doing my research about how to best visit the Vatican Museum, one of the big selling points for the expensive tour groups was that, instead of waiting in line for the Museum and then returning to the Square to wait in line for hours and hours to get into the Basilica, you could just do them all at once! So I realized at this point that we had somehow bypassed a several hour long line to get into St. Peter’s and felt really guilty! We tried to find a way out, but after asking a guard, we realized that the only way out… was to go into the Basilica! That, we had not expected, but it was a welcome surprise!!

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It was gorgeous. I was just slightly shocked to actually be there… because of the wait time to get in, especially on a canonization weekend (I’ve only been in Rome for the beatification and now the canonization), I had always figured I’d just never be able to see St. Peter’s, yet there we were! It was so ornate and just gorgeous. We saw the world’s most recognizable Pietá image, the world’s most famous Holy Spirit stained glass, and we even glimpsed the Blessed Sacrament in a closed-off adoration chapel. For the first of several times that day, we were scolded by security as we sat to pray within sight of the Eucharist through a little window… sorry, but we really weren’t sorry, Vatican guards.

After we finished gawking at the beauty and recovering from the surprise of even being able to see St. Peter’s, we attempted with various levels of success to take “Papal selfies” with the portraits of John Paul and John hanging on the portico and then made our way into the Square.

A very unfortunate self-portrait with now-Saint John XXIII

A very unfortunate self-portrait with now-Saint John XXIII

And a better one with JPII

And a better one with JPII

A uniquely-Vatican City sight

Brothers hanging with Swiss Guards… a uniquely-Vatican City sight

Our next objective was to find somewhere to eat. We found a restaurant on the trusty TripAdvisor app, but when we got there, it was closed… they only served dinner, not lunch! So we ate down the street, instead, both enjoying bruschetta, gnocchi with pork ribs, and house wine before heading to St. Mary Major, the second of three Papal Basilicas we’d see that day. I haven’t been to John Lateran so I can’t say for certain, but I think Mary Major is the smallest of the four. It is ornately decorated with gold, but somehow the interior is very dark… hence the lack of pictures there!

We rounded out our Basilica trifecta for the day at Paul Outside the Walls once again. It’s my favorite and I knew going into the weekend that I wanted to take Daniel there so he could see it, too. It really is beautiful. This time, the tomb of St. Paul was not open for prayer, or so we found out when we and a group of other people were ushered away from the area after trying to kneel around it… again, sorry not sorry!

Before getting scolded again for sitting on the wall....

Before getting scolded again for sitting on the wall….

Finally, we headed to the Colosseum area. I had hyped up the impressive view emerging from the metro station, but unfortunately the most prominent part of the Colosseum is all under construction and covered by scaffolding! Because we didn’t have the time, money, or stamina for more official touring, we just looked around a bit, peering into the Roman Forum through the gate and catching a glimpse of the Piazza Venizia area before heading back to our hostel. Our last objective of the day was to stock up on snacks for the next day before heading to bed before our 1:30 AM wake-up call! We did grab a quick bite to eat at McDonalds… which we didn’t feel bad about because, in Daniel’s words, we were purely eating for sustenance at that point.

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The next morning (if you can call 2 AM – 2 PM “morning”…) was consumed by the Canonization, which you can read about here.

After our brief encounter with Pope Francis and the impossibility of actually getting a margarita due to crowds and geographical circumstance, we instead walked, with thousands of other people, down the same road trying to find a restaurant. This was theoretically an unattainable goal, but somehow we stumbled (literally, given the state of our feet at this point) into a little pizzeria, which had precisely one two-person table left, and ordered the best pizza I think I’ve ever eaten, and of course more house wine.

The restaurant happened to be just a few minutes’ walk from the Pantheon, one of just a few more Roman sites that Daniel hadn’t seen yet! This time, we got to go inside… again, with so many pilgrims straight from the canonization. Everything was just NUTS! The inside of the Pantheon was striking. I won’t say beautiful to avoid word inflation 😉 Definitely rich in history and meaning, and it’s really awesome that it’s now a Catholic church! It’s certainly imposing from the outside…

Massive post-canonization crowds at the Pantheon

Massive post-canonization crowds at the Pantheon

We enjoyed some gelato in the shadow of the monstrous building and contemplated knocking the rest of our “to-do list” out in one fell swoop by seeing the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, but then we realized how incredibly dirty we were, not having showered the night before and having spent so much time in close proximity to so many people! So, we decided that showers and naps would be a more prudent choice! It felt amazing to be clean and off my feet for the first time all day!

After a too-short hour long nap, we wrested ourselves from the hostel and headed for the Spanish Steps. Not exactly a breath-taking site, especially after having attended a 500,000-person Mass in St. Peter’s Square earlier that day, but definitely a “must” for Rome. From there, we strolled over to the Trevi Fountain, tossed in the obligatory coins, and took the obligatory pictures before enjoying one last meal in Rome.

It was cloudy when Daniel and I went, so here is a picture of the Spanish Steps from Friday!

It was cloudy when Daniel and I went, so here is a picture of the Spanish Steps from Friday!

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What a weekend! I can’t believe I was only there for three days when I think of how much I was able to see and do! It was certainly a completely unforgettable experience.

a very sächsisch easter

I already talked a little about my Holy Week. But the awesome thing is that the fun didn’t end there!

Holy Saturday was appropriately low-key. I cleaned my apartment, I ate the rest of my hot cross scone, I cooked in preparation for the next day’s barbecue, I got a little bit of work done (booooo!), and I tried to stay in the anticipatory mindset of the holiday. Then I put on my Easter-iest outfit that could still conceivably include tights and a sweater because it somehow got really cold last week, and went to meet Felicitas and Nathaniel for the Easter Vigil!

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I love the Easter Vigil but I hadn’t actually been for a few years. I had gotten a tip from a friend to get there 45 minutes early, at least, if we wanted a good seat. So we got there around 50 minutes early feeling super on top of it only to find an almost completely full church! We grabbed what seemed to be the last 3-person-sized spot available, in the second-to-last row. So we waited, we saw the light slowly dim outside, we scrutinized our liturgy program for the Vigil and compared the English and German translations of the psalms and responses.

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The Mass itself was beautiful. There’s just nothing better than the lights finally coming on and the bells ringing as you sing the Gloria. Pure joy. When I finally made it home around midnight, I couldn’t fall asleep because I was so hyped up and joyful.

However, it was important that I get to sleep somewhat on time because my Easter Sunday started bright and early! I was meeting my host parents near their house in Bühlau, 40 minutes away, at 8 the next morning, so I did plan on waking up early, but the lovely church on my block had other plans for me… when it decided to ring its bells for a good 20 minutes at 5 AM as opposed to its usual 7! Regardless, I was on my way bright and early. The Brauns picked me up from the bus stop and we headed north of Dresden to see the Osterreiter.

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The Osterreiter (Easter Riders) is an annual parade, of sorts, that happens every Easter in the Sorbian region north of Dresden. The Sorbs are an ethnic minority that live in the area around Bautzen, about an hour from Dresden; they speak a Slavic language, Sorbian, that to me sounds a lot like Polish but I’m sure it’s quite different. The Osterreiter are men from the area who don traditional dress every Easter morning and ride horses along stretches of the region, processing around churches in each town, all the while singing Easter hymns in German and Sorbian.

It was quite a sight to behold!

It was really cool to me to see how this ethnic minority passes its culture down to the younger generation… there were Reiter of all ages, and you could tell which of the younger boys were riding for the first time because they wore special green wreath pins.

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We ended up seeing the Reiter in three different towns… twice on purpose, and once because, as we tried to drive back to Dresden, the road was blocked because the parade was scheduled to come through any minute, so we figured we should go ahead and watch them again!

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It was also really cool being in the Sorbian region because it’s a heavily Catholic area. The Sorbs are Catholic, and nearly all of the houses in each town had yellow and white “Catholic” flags hanging about, or alcoves with statues of Jesus and Mary displayed, or crucifixes or statues of saints along the streets (like I used to see in very-Catholic Baden-Württemburg). It’s crazy the different culture and lifestyle that exists only about half an hour away!

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Besides seeing the Osterreiter, the Brauns and I had a very lovely day. We stopped for a little picnic between watching the parades–Frau Braun had baked an Easter loaf, which was delicious, and we ate fruit and drank juice and tea and it was perfectly lovely (though it would have been smart of me to eat breakfast before leaving).

Herr Braun’s daughter Gaby was with us for the day, too… I think she’s a year or so older than me and I enjoyed talking to her about agriculture (she’s an avid gardener and studies agricultural topics, which is a “fringe” academic interest of mine) and cultural exchange (she’s been an au pair in England and Italy).

We also stopped at the Neschwitz Castle nearby. As far as castles go, it wasn’t incredibly large — which was good for our short little quarter-of-the-day trip. A noble family used to live in the house, and it was undamaged during the war (if I remember correctly). DSC04976DSC04984

On our way back to the car, the “Easter Bunny” hid some chocolate for all of us — so we had a little hunt on the grounds. I came away with a nice stash of chocolate eggs for the week (or however long they last… we’ll see).

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I headed back to my apartment in just enough time to check my e-mail, grab the cole slaw [with bacon] I’d prepared the day before, and meet Flitzi and Nate, again, to head to our Easter barbecue! We were the only ones of our friends who didn’t go home for Easter, so we created our own party and invited a few other international folks Felicitas had met at a DAAD conference last weekend. It was a fun time! We ate a lot, talked a lot (in English, score after a full morning of German conversations) and had a wonderful time! I’m glad that grillen season is here, because the Germans love nothing more than grilling up some bratwurst while drinking beer and I am very much in favor of this pastime.

The only picture from said event... the result of using a plastic fork while grilling

The only picture from said event… the result of using a plastic fork while grilling

On Monday, still a holiday in Germany, the celebrations continued, if you can imagine! Still among our small group of “lonely English speakers,” we had a perfectly lovely Easter brunch. Omelets, English breakfast tea, leftover cake, and sparkling wine from Felicitas’ family’s winery in western Germany… perfection.

Easter is faaaar from over… it’s still the Easter Octave, so technically it’s still Easter Sunday until next week! (Yay Catholicism!) So my Easter will still include a trip to Rome for the double canonization this weekend, and a reunion with Daniel and my friend Wayne! You can bet I’ll be writing about that, too, so stick around! 🙂

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a little Holy Saturday reflection

Things have been a little quiet here the past few weeks… starting up classes [luckily I’m only taking one seminar and one lecture this semester], working hard on my second chapter, and now observing Holy Week.

This Holy Week has been full of little blessings for me.

I was able to go to Confession for the first time since I’ve been in Germany. I’d been scared away by the language aspect of the thing, but it had been a while and with extra Confession times at the Cathedral this week, I figured I’d better go for it. And, as with many “firsts” in German, I walked away surprised at my language ability (and, this time, with a clean soul, in addition!).

I went to Holy Thursday Mass with my friend Anna. Holy Thursday is one of my favorite liturgies of the year and I have to say, I think this one was the most beautiful I’ve ever been to. The bishop presided, and the homilist gave a wonderful reflection about how Jesus longs for us, and especially that he longed to give us the Eucharist, which was the last thing he did before he was arrested.

(This thought was completed the next day, when I realized that the last thing Jesus did in his earthly life was give us his mother. Mary and the Eucharist, two of the greatest sources of life in the Church!)

Of course there was incense, and the joy of the last bells before Easter was especially present because of how often the German church uses bells! It was a shock to hear the clanging of wood at the Consecration instead. [Unfortunately, the church outside my window is Lutheran and the 7 AM wakeup calls are still in effect.]

Good Friday came with perfect gloomy, rainy weather for the occasion. I tried to make Hot Cross Buns in following Good Friday tradition but something went wrong and the dough didn’t rise, so I settled for a slightly misshapen but still tasty cranberry loaf that, for future reference, would do well as scones. The Good Friday liturgy was also beautiful; honestly, it’s encouraging to see a completely packed church, especially with the knowledge that Dresden is a very unreligious city.

The biggest blessing of Holy Week for me came in the form of an e-mail shortly before I went to bed on Friday: news that I had received a fellowship for the 2014-2015 year that will cover all of my graduate school expenses, plus a stipend for travel!

Last year, I found out about my DAAD scholarship on Holy Thursday. Clearly, God sees that I am beyond subtlety, and he knows he has to hammer home the point: “This is a blessing. This is from me. Believe and don’t worry.” 

Two weeks ago, the Gospel reading at Mass was the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. That story jumped right out at me, not because of the main narrative but because of Martha, Lazarus’ sister who was so angry and upset that Jesus arrived too late to save her sick brother.

I identify with Martha every time she’s mentioned in the Bible because I am a planner, a doer, a Type A personality in almost every way. In every situation, I analyze all the possible outcomes, figure out how things could work better, try to micromanage every detail to work in my favor. So, naturally, that’s how I’ve approached many of my big decisions in the past: my college choice, summer jobs, relationships, graduate school… It’s definitely good that I’m detail-minded, but it means that often, I lose sight of the big picture and especially of the fact that ultimately I’m not in control.

The past few weeks, even as I’ve been following my Lenten practice of reading Scripture every day and making little sacrifices here and there, my mind had been racing with this plan and that plan: Where will I live in Wisconsin? [ultimately, that one’s been resolved, too.] What to do after my Master’s? Did I even pick the right program? Should I have applied again this year? Why am I going so far north, so far away from home? What kind of job do I even want? How do I know that I’ve made the right choice about any of this?

I got an e-mail from the graduate advisor at Wisconsin asking whether I’d found funding. But I hadn’t, despite my best efforts. Well, despite a few efforts… were they my best? I’d applied for one award and come away with $1000… good, but definitely not as much as I needed. I’d applied for a TA position, but one that would interfere with an important class. Other than that, I hadn’t given funding much of a thought. So naturally, that led to a whole other chain of worries and questions.

But then, I learned the real reason for my advisor’s inquiry… I had been awarded a fellowship! For the amount of my full tuition and expenses! I hadn’t applied for this; hadn’t submitted the optional interest letter for it. It is simply being awarded to me.

And then, I realized. I’d spent the past two days re-living our Lord’s passion and thinking about what wonderful blessings he’s bestowed on our world, and here he was blessing me in exactly the way I needed. By providing me with a plan, and one that is clearly superior to any that I could have imagined for myself. In my life, that’s how He’s spoken to me most clearly: in the midst of my confusion and doubt about the future, He has illuminated the right path for me, if only I have the courage to wait for it to become visible.

This fellowship is no “raising my brother from the dead,” but it will do for now.

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St. Martha, pray for me (and my future Hot Cross Buns)

springtime musings and scenery

Springtime has come to Germany! I’m resisting so many urges to make “The Producers”-inspired jokes that would not go over well so I’ll refrain from wishing that it remain “winter in Poland and France”…

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anyway…

The signs of spring are everywhere! I finally remembered to bring my camera with me to the library the other day so I could document the Kleinigkeiten before they disappear… the bloom is already mostly off the pretty, formerly-blossoming tree right outside my apartment and I didn’t want to miss any more chances!

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I realized that I haven’t had a real spring in quite some time (probably a side effect of not having had a real winter, either). Spring in Texas comes in approximately mid-January, if there was ever a winter, or fall, to speak of. But real spring, the real season that inspires imagery of new life and rebirth and the joy of experiencing what you’ve been anticipating for so long, is really something.

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This is the closest thing I’ll be seeing to bluebonnets this year, though.

A few disclaimers: Europe had its mildest winter of probably the last century this year, and it seems I was in Spain when spring actually sprang in Dresden because I came back to new flowers and warm weather, so it’s possible I have no idea what I’m talking about.

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But every day when I go outside, I see a few new blooms in the ground and blossoms on the trees. Things change so slowly yet so suddenly at the same time. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, the sun actually waits the evening to set. The nice days are interspersed with colder, more blustery ones, just to keep us on our toes because it’s not like this is summer yet!

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There’s a subtlety to the season. Everything doesn’t bloom at once. The trees are bare and it may take a few weeks for them to burst forth; slowly but surely, the leaves emerge and the flowers bloom. I am reminded to be patient, and my patience is rewarded with such beauty!

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Spring has definitely arrived, and with it, it brings:

Later sunsets, finally, thanks to Daylight Savings Time which came 3 weeks after it did in the US.

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Easter eggs on bushes and trees, because Germans are festive.

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Picnics and cook-outs along the Elbe. Grillen is one of my favorite German pastimes and I’m glad we have such a gorgeous place to enjoy it!

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Adventures in the Sächsische Schweiz! This week, Felicitas and I took the train to Rathen and hiked up to see the Bastei Brücke, this old, amazing bridge built right into the cliffs.

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I’m excited for this new season and the new semester that starts tomorrow! I have a lot of work to do and I do have some travel planned, but right now I’m most excited about soaking in the wonder that surrounds me every day! Happy Spring!

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hanging with the hamburgers

(because that’s what people from Hamburg are called. It gets better; people from Frankfurt are Frankfurters.)

To round out my March of constant travel (excepting one birthday week in Dresden which I still need to write about), I took the bus to Hamburg on Friday to meet my dad, who was just finishing up a fortnight in Europe. He was like a dang college kid taking the train all over Switzerland, Germany, France, and England! I’m glad we got to meet up, because it was really great to spend the weekend together, and neither of us had ever been to Hamburg… we both loved it!

Sailboats and a view from across the Alster

Sailboats and a view from across the Alster to our hotel area

My dad was surprised to learn that Hamburg is actually Germany’s 2nd largest city after Berlin. It’s also one of three city-states (the third being Bremen). I’m just shocked, after having seen how lovely it is, that more Americans don’t choose Hamburg as a main destination in Germany, because let’s face it, Munich isn’t that great. (Unpopular opinion; no shame.)

It took us all weekend to sort of get a geographical feel of the city… it’s just not easy given the 4021 bodies of water. (Not an exact number.) Did you know that there are more bridges in Hamburg than in Venice?

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On Friday night, we set out in search of a delicious seafood meal but it turns out that all the cool places are full on Friday evening! Instead we settled for some meatless Italian and then made our way to the basement of city hall, which apparently houses a bar! It was probably the most historic place I’ve ever imbibed.

Hamburg's famous Rathaus

Hamburg’s famous Rathaus

We took a (loooooong) guided walking tour on Saturday that taught us everything we could have ever wanted to know about Hamburg’s history… its founding by Charlemagne and subsequent Christianization, the importance of its harbor to North Sea trade with England, its membership in the capitalist Hanseatic League, its destruction by fire in the 19th century and firebombing in the 20th century, and its current drawn out and super expensive construction of the world’s best-acoustically-engineered symphony hall…

A monument in the town center memorializing the 40,000 Hamburgers who fought and died in World War I.

A monument in the town center memorializing the 40,000 Hamburgers who fought and died in World War I.

St. Michael's Church, which was destroyed during WWII and is now preserved in its damaged state as a monument.

St. Michael’s Church, which was destroyed during WWII and is now preserved in its damaged state as a monument.

The Chile-Haus, a "brick expressionist" building that looks like a ship and was built by a man who made his fortune trading salt-peter with South America.

The Chile-Haus, a “brick expressionist” building that looks like a ship and was built by a man who made his fortune trading salt-peter from South America.

In the Speicherstadt, the world's largest contiguous warehouse complex

In the Speicherstadt, the world’s largest contiguous warehouse complex

We then took to the harbor, the city’s pride and joy (and paycheck). We dined on the rooftop terrace of the Blockbräu brewery, enjoying the gorgeous view of the harbor. We forewent the hour-long, not-free harbor tour for the 10-minute, free-with-transit-card ferry ride. We wondered where all these people had come from and where they could have possibly been headed.

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Throughout the course of the weekend, we enjoyed several leisurely walks through Hamburg’s biggest and most famous park, Planten un Blomen. Some parts were more scenic than others…

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A huge, imposing, and frighteningly Stalin-esque statue of Bismarck, keeping the peace

A huge, imposing, and frighteningly Stalin-esque statue of Bismarck, keeping the peace

Some of the best scenery, in my opinion, could be found after nightfall on the Alster in Hamburg’s city center. The lights reflecting on the water were just gorgeous. Unfortunately, the lights reflecting on the water were also difficult to capture with my abused little point-and-shoot:

A shot taken during the day

A shot taken during the day

And at night

And at night

On Sunday we took a tour of the Rathaus (town hall), which is a ridiculously large and extravagant building to house the government of a city/state of only 1.8 million people. Miraculously, the building is all original as it was not destroyed at all during the war (even though over 65% of the entire city was wiped out)! Incredible. The rooms that we saw were intricately decorated according to different themes: the Imperial Room honoring Wilhelm II, the Room of the Republics depicting the famous republican city-states that Hamburg strove to emulate; the Phoenix Room symbolizing Hamburg’s rising from the ashes after the Great Fire (and later the Great War[s]). Due to some scheduling/Daylight Savings snafus (probably) we took the German tour and I got to flex my translating muscles to keep Dad clued in.

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We attended an English Mass in a beautiful little outlying neighborhood before heading to Trip Advisor’s #1 recommended attraction, which had also been recommended to us by Grandma Lord, the Miniature Wonderland Model Train Emporium of Super Extravagant and Unnecessary Detail (I may have taken some liberties with the name). You could have spent seven hours in there, but we blazed through in 1.5. It’s three stories of tiny little worlds created with model figures and trains and plains and cars and fire trucks and what have you. They’ve recreated entire cities, states, and “countries” (the US was Cape Canaveral, Las Vegas, Sedona/the Grand Canyon?, Mount Rushmore, and an unidentified Christmasy mountain town. Close enough). The vehicles actually move, the lights change to create day and night, and there’s even an entire operational “airport”. Absolutely ridiculous!

The tiny model of the Miniature Wonderlands building itself as part of the larger Hamburg recreation...

The tiny model of the Miniature Wonderlands building itself as part of the larger Hamburg recreation…

I won't be returning to Neuschwanstein this year, so this was close enough.

I won’t be returning to Neuschwanstein this year, so this was close enough.

After re-charging with some beer and bratwurst (totally stereotypical, ugh), we did the obligatory Reeperbahn/St. Pauli thing and headed to Beatles-Platz, where the boys themselves are immortalized…

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John, Paul, George, Ringo, and another Paul

We did a quick lap around the block in St. Pauli and decided to get out of there ASAP, heading back to our beloved Hafen City neighborhood to enjoy dinner in an old shipping warehouse that’s more slanted than the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

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Overall, I really did love Hamburg! It’s probably claimed a Top 3 spot among my favorite German cities (don’t ask me for my final list, I’m still formulating it) and I have no idea how I’ve lived a cumulative 10 months in Germany in my life and never been before! It has a kind of US-East-Coast vibe with a little London thrown in, but at the same time the whole town is totally relaxed. Our tour guide noted that it’s his favorite city to give tours of because he doesn’t have to compete with the traffic volume-wise. The history of the city is incredible (I couldn’t totally do it justice with my limited blogging patience) and all of the different waterfront environments are just gorgeous! In case you put any stock in my travel recommendations, know that Hamburg gets two big thumbs up (and my dad loved it too so he’ll corroborate).

And now, to hunker down in Dresden (also a Top 3 city, naturally) and get as much research done as I can before my next adventure!