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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unsolicited advice: maintaining a “Catholic lifestyle” while abroad

This advice was kind of solicited. One of my dear friends who faithfully reads this blog asked me, on behalf of a friend of his, for my thoughts on maintaining a Catholic lifestyle abroad, where one might not have a good community or many friends with similar beliefs and values. (Both he and I have studied abroad before and knew exactly what she was talking about!) This is something I’ve thought about since my first experience abroad 3 years ago, and I was excited to write about it. 

One note: I found as I answered this question that I was speaking specifically to a study abroad experience in Europe, because that’s what I know. If anyone out there has thoughts about experiences in Asia, Africa, or South America, please do let us know!

Studying abroad is a transformative experience, and leaving home to study in another country brings with it many changes: a different city, likely a different language and culture, new friends, a new school, a new living environment… And with all these changes, one aspect of life that can get thrown into disarray is the spiritual. For many of us, our Catholic identity is linked to a particular community, a particular church, or a particular routine, and when those things change, our spiritual growth can suffer if we aren’t proactive. This is one of those times when we, as young Catholics, have to really own our faith.

Being a committed Catholic is not an accident of time or place, and if our faith is to be dynamic and real, it can’t be lived simply through routine or habit. Shaking things up by moving abroad is a real opportunity to be intentional about practicing your faith. I came up with a few lists of concrete actions that young Catholics can take to enrich and nourish their Catholic faith. The lists address two main issues that a young Catholic may encounter while abroad.

Issue One: Pressure to conform to the “study abroad” lifestyle of drunkenness, sex, and general debauchery. 

Many, many, many international students (American or otherwise) use their semester or year abroad as an opportunity to party as much as possible. While I am a huge fun of merriment and alcohol, a lot of the shenanigans that exchange students get up to while abroad don’t exactly conform to our Catholic morality because they lack the virtues of prudence and, most of all, temperance.

If your biggest problem as a Catholic exchange student is the pressure from others to engage in casual sex, excessive drinking, or drug use, I suggest one of 2 basic courses of action, each one challenging in a unique way:

1. If you are hanging out with people who are making you feel compelled to do things you know are wrong, find new friends.

2. Set standards for your own behavior, and challenge yourself to maintain them. I suggest setting a drink limit (or a cost limit!) for a night out, as well as staying away from casual sex and any drug use. Pray for the self-assuredness to be seen as the “strange” one, because you will be, especially if you have been going along with the party scene until now. However, if you’re confident enough in your own morals and decisions, hopefully others will respect them. (If not, see #1.) Be prepared to be appropriately self-deprecating or convicted depending on the situation and your personality. My go-to excuse when avoiding excessive drinking (I’ll admit I used it more when I was under 21) is my “all-encompassing vow of moderation in life.” I’ll have a few drinks and hang around, but that’s it, and I make sure people know it, maybe lightly making fun of myself for it but still standing my ground. This approach is challenging and, if you’re prone to peer pressure, risky.

A gratuitous photo of me drinking wine to demonstrate that it's possible to balance alcohol and class while abroad ;)

A gratuitous photo of me drinking wine to demonstrate that it’s possible to balance alcohol and class while abroad 😉

Issue Two: The struggle to find sources of spiritual growth in a new and maybe less nurturing environment. 

I think this issue may be more in the spirit of the question.

Especially if you are coming from a lively and challenging university ministry at home, it will be a challenge to maintain the same level of “involvement” abroad. Everything about your life is new, and if your spiritual growth gets lost in the shuffle, you may find that this begins to affect your life in other ways, as well. There are two facets to this problem, and I want to discuss both of them, starting with the most important one.

First and foremost, this is a test of your personal relationship with Christ and your discipline in your faith. Don’t be tempted to blame your spiritual failings on anyone but yourself. If it’s important to you, and it seems like it is if you’re wondering about this topic in the first place, take it seriously. As with most spiritual challenges, living abroad is also a huge OPPORTUNITY to grow in your faith. I’ve certainly found that to be the case, and I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve done during my time abroad that have helped me.

1. Spiritual reading. Studying abroad, you will probably have way more “free time” than you do during a normal semester. For me, this meant more time to read, a pleasure I don’t normally get to enjoy while I’m in school. Spiritual reading in particular can actually be a form of prayer. It gives you important things to think about, pray about, and evaluate; you have the time, and you might make some discoveries! Some suggestions for reading that will challenge and nourish you spiritually: 

  • Scripture
  • The lives of the saints: St. Augustine’s Confessions, Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux, The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila, Sigrid Undset’s biography of St. Catherine of Siena
  • Daily reflections of some sort. I’m subscribed to Fr. Robert Barron’s Lenten Reflections and they get sent right to my inbox!
  • Catholic philosophy: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis (Catholic-ish), Jacques Phillippe
  • Catholic blogs: Bad Catholic, Conversion Diaries, and Carrots for Michaelmas are 3 of my favorites. (This recent post from the author of Carrots is fantastic.)
  • And one random suggestion that doesn’t fit in any of the above categories: A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

2. Daily prayer. I will be the first to admit that I fail at this more often than not, whether I’m at home or abroad. However, during Advent I followed this Spiritual Boot Camp (my competitive nature helped me complete it even without any accountability partners, which I normally need). During Lent I am reading two of the Gospels (Mark and Luke, if you’re curious) and finishing the other two during Easter. I have had aspirations of reading a Psalm per day… I’ll find the discipline one of these days! Find a routine that works… maybe 10 minutes at the beginning or end of each day helps you to center your day around God? For short bursts of regular prayer, pick a saint whose feast day is coming up and say their novena. (I use this e-mail service for novenas and love it.) As Catholics we are blessed with so many different types of prayer, so I encourage you to find your favorites and use them!

3. Regular mass attendance. Find a beautiful church to attend Mass at on Sundays (at least!). In Europe, it is much easier to find a truly beautiful church than it is in the US. Let this inspire you to go to mass regularly, even if you go alone. I have encountered some… creative?… liturgy, which seems to be a trade-off with the beautiful churches. If this is going to bother you, I suggest checking out your city’s cathedral for your best bet at a traditional and beautiful service.

3a. Learn the Mass responses in the local language. This will help you immensely to participate in the Mass, even if you don’t always understand the readings or the homily.

3b. Look up and read the day’s readings beforehand so you can comprehend them better during Mass.

4. Other spiritual devotions. Once you’ve found a church or several that you enjoy, see what else they offer (Adoration, weekly Rosary during May or October, etc) and go to those if they interest you. You will likely be one of the only young people there, but that shouldn’t matter if the goal is to fortify your relationship and dialogue with God.

5. Faith-based travel. Go to Rome and pray a rosary in each Papal basilica, or something! (Or get a ticket to a Papal audience!!) Visit a Marian apparition site! In any given city, visit (and pray in) churches that you pass while sightseeing. Experiencing a new and deeply spiritual place, even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of traveling, can be good inspiration if you’re in a dry season.

Procession after mass at St. Paul's Basilica, my favorite of the churches we saw

Procession after Mass at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome, April 2011

A second concern: finding community to encourage you on your journey. 

Ah, the hardest part. You’ve probably already experienced the wonderful challenge of making friends abroad, and this just adds a whole new dimension! Some thoughts:

1. Pray that God will send you the community you need. This sounds like a super holy roller answer, but trust in God’s providence is important in this regard. He will give you what you need, but not always what you want or what you’re used to. His answer might surprise you!

2. Find out if a Catholic community for university students exists at your school or in your city. In Germany, this will either be called the Katholische Hochschulgemeinde (in the west) or the Katholische Studentengemeinde (in the east). I’m not sure about other countries, but something like this probably exists. Go to their meetings, prayer services, masses, dinners, game nights, or whatever it is they offer. In my personal experience (and I in no way speak for everyone or even anyone besides myself), Catholic communities abroad have been wonderful places to meet friendly people, both international and “native”. They offer different activities that are great for getting integrated into everyday life abroad. But they haven’t always been the source of spiritual growth or theological learning that I’ve found in youth groups and student centers in the US. However, if you are working on your own prayer life and spiritual discipline, as discussed above, this doesn’t have to be a huge deal… Maybe you can make a positive change there, or you can at least learn more about the state of the young church in another country!

3. I may be biased because I’m a Schoenstatter (member of the universal Schoenstatt movement), but if you are lucky enough to be in a city with a Schoenstatt shrine or some other Catholic pilgrimage site or spiritual group, check it out. Maybe you’ll meet some nice people.

4. Embrace simple “evangelization.” Don’t be shy mentioning your faith or church when talking to others. This can be hard in Europe because far fewer people are religious than in America, so you might get some funny looks. (Then again, followers of Christ have suffered worse!) I’m not suggesting standing on street corners and telling people about Jesus… It’s as simple as answering honestly when someone asks where you’re going as you’re headed to Mass. When I met my friend Felicitas, she asked how I had tried meeting friends in Dresden. Despite my instinct to downplay the whole religious thing, I said, “Well, I’m Catholic, so I’ve gone by the Catholic center a few times and met some people.” I fully expected her to say “Hmm, well, that’s not really my thing.” but instead, I was met with  “Wow! I’m Catholic, too! Can I come with you sometime?” Now, we attend KSG functions, Mass, and adoration together and it’s a huge blessing!

5. Especially if none of the above have worked, but even if they have: Stay in touch with a friend from home who can be your accountability partner if you’re worried about lapsing in a particular area. Check up on each other: have you been going to Mass? Reading Scripture? Maybe you can agree to pray a novena together or make a “Mass date” for a certain day of the week, since the Eucharist unites the body of Christ around the world every time it’s celebrated!

6. If you are feeling lonely or abandoned because none of your efforts to find community have worked the way you had imagined, Christ is waiting to remind you that He is your truest friend, companion, and confidant. When you are discouraged, He is there to bolster your confidence. When you need someone to listen to your cares, thoughts, and worries, He will. Community is wonderful and the Church is a beautiful gift from God, but no human community can replace your relationship with your Heavenly Father. This is hard to grasp sometimes, especially when you are seeking human companionship and affirmation, which is natural. But the fact that Christ doesn’t stray from your side can be immensely comforting. The companionship you find in Him when all else fails will be the key to your spiritual growth now and for the rest of your life.

A reminder of His love for us on a hike in the Black Forest, Spring 2011

A reminder of His love for us on a hike in the Black Forest, Spring 2011

Did I miss something? If you have thoughts, feel free to comment below… and please, if you think someone you know could benefit from this advice, share it with them!

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"Avila at night"

“Avila at night”

Avila is about halfway between Madrid and Salamanca, and I’m so excited I had the opportunity to go! I can’t say I’m an expert on St. Teresa of Avila, but I’ve recently started learning more about her and reading some of her writings, and after seeing Ávila I’m inspired to learn more!

After arriving in Avila on Sunday, we started the day with Mass at the cathedral, which is pretty much the best way to get into beautiful churches for free! The Mass wasn’t in the main nave, but rather in a side chapel, which was still gorgeous but smaller and probably a bit warmer (it was really cold, especially compared to Portugal the previous day!). It turned out that they were presenting two catechumens who will receive their sacraments at Easter, which was cool.

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**Tangent alert**

Mass was in Spanish, and unlike the previous Sunday, I hadn’t remembered to look at the readings beforehand, so I had low expectations about what I would understand. But, to my surprise, I was willing to make out key words in the 1st reading and the Gospel that clued me into what was going on! The Spanish words for “serpent” and “fruit” are cognates, so I pin-pointed the 1st reading as Genesis right away; everyone in Texas at least knows that “diablo” means “devil,” and my 1 semester of Spanish allowed me to understand “40 days and 40 nights,” so I made an educated guess at the temptation of Jesus in the desert for the Gospel.

I thought about this pleasant surprise as I followed the Mass under my breath in English, and I realized an important skill I’ve developed since living in Germany… the ability to tolerate not understanding everything I hear and to focus more on understanding what I can instead of getting frustrated. I know this probably sounds like small potatoes, but if you understand what I’m talking about, you know that this is a big deal. Not every word is always important, and once you’re okay with understanding only the general gist of things instead of being a perfectionist all the time, getting along in another language is much easier and lower pressure!

**Tangent over**

After Mass we took to the walls! Avila is a medieval city that’s still completely walled, which is actually pretty rare, from what I can tell. So for about 7 Euros with a student discount, we were able to walk about 60% of the city’s perimeter, taking in gorgeous views of the old city inside the walls, the new city outside, and the surrounding countryside. Our walk was narrated by these only-somewhat-functional audio guides:

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What they lacked in functional consistency, they made up for in style.

We were most entertained by a story about a local town hero/saint from the medieval days, who, after his death, was put on the back of a burro that was then charged with deciding on an appropriate burial place for the holy man. It just sounded like such a ridiculous premise that I joked mid-story that the burro probably died once arriving at the place… and it turns out that I was right! History is strange, or at least what we choose to remember of it is.

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Also entertaining was the fact that “Teresa of Avila” narrated about half of the tour… for a 16th-century Spanish nun, she sure spoke impeccable English!

Once we had walked the touristic portion of the wall, we debated between getting lunch and going to see the Carmelite convent where St. Teresa had lived. We decided on lunch (and it ended up being quite the ordeal finding somewhere affordable to eat) and, after a typical, long, filling Spanish lunch, we finally headed to the convent… to find that it was closed for siesta. Spain…

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Luckily, the convent would open soon enough for us to have time to see all the rooms and exhibits and still make it to the bus station in time for our return trip. We took a short little siesta on a plaza bench and enjoyed the beautiful, and by then warmer, weather.

Eventually the church opened back up and we looked around inside. The sanctuary was simple and beautiful. I lit a candle for a family member who’s been in my prayers lately, and then we moved on into the reliquary, where we could see a number of St. Teresa’s relics (first and second class), some of her personal writings, and the document by which Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church.

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Finally, we entered the convent, which has been converted into a St. Teresa museum. We got to see lots of artistic depictions of “La Santa,” some more of her personal effects, and learn about her biography. One fascinating thing I learned about was a particular spiritual gift she received during her lifetime: the transverberation of her heart. This basically means that she received the grace to feel her heart pierced as Jesus’ was; this was part of her Spiritual Marriage with Christ. (As I was just researching this online, I found out that when St. Teresa’s heart was examined after her death, they found an actual puncture wound in it!) There were some really fascinating artistic depictions of this.

No pictures were allowed in the museum, but here’s an example via Google!

Many parts of the exhibit were also dedicated to St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa’s co-founder of the Discalced Carmelites during the Carmelite Reform. I think it’s so fascinating that two great saints and Doctors of the Church were able to have such a close friendship during their lifetimes. It makes me wonder which of my friends will be this generation’s great saints! Pressure’s on, peeps! 

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the grace of home

After our orientation in Köln was over, I headed to Vallendar, the place where Schönstatt was founded 99 years ago this month. Schönstatt is the oldest movement of the Catholic Church, and I got involved in the Austin branch my freshman year of college. You can read about my first visit to the Original Shrine here.

The first Schönstatt sighting on the walk from the train station

The first Schönstatt sighting on the walk from the train station

Vallendar is only about 1 hour south of Köln, so I figured I would use my DAAD-funded train trip across the country to multi-task. Unfortunately, that meant that I missed the October 18 anniversary celebration by only about a week, but I did spend a wonderful ~24 hours enjoying the peace and solitude of such a holy place.

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Buses in Vallendar only run once an hour on Saturdays, so I just walked from the train station to the Schönstatt land. Luckily, I didn’t get lost like I did last time! By the time I reached the land, my feet were really hurting and my luggage felt pretty heavy, but I made it to the Original Shrine. It turned out adoration was going on, which was just a wonderful coincidence!

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One part of the Schönstatt spirituality is the belief that Mary bestows graces on visitors of her shrines. There are three types of graces: the graces of home, inner transformation, and apostolic zeal. I am personally a fan of inner transformation, but this weekend the grace of home was placed on my heart especially.

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The more time I spent in the shrines (there are probably 6 or 7 shrines on the Schönstatt land), the more I felt at peace with my life. I felt a real sense of belonging, and I didn’t want to leave.

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In some cases, I really couldn’t leave; shortly after my arrival at the Shrine of the Ladies of Schönstatt, it started pouring rain, and I just stuck around a little longer until the rain subsided.

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The weekend was very relaxed. I took a nap, I did some reading, I leisurely made my way around to several different shrines and sites on the Schönstatt land. I was only there for about a day, so I took things slowly and didn’t pressure myself to see everything (especially some of the places, like the Fr Kentenich Museum, that I had already seen).

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Of course, I was sure to spend as much time in the Original Shrine as possible. I also climbed up Mount Schönstatt, and made a return visit to the Ladies’ Shrine, which might be my favorite. They have a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux, and it is nestled really beautifully up on a hill among the beautifully-colored fall trees.

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I also made the hike up to the Tabor Shrine, which I think is the special shrine of the youth movement. Because it was also up on a mountain, the view was gorgeous (once it stopped raining and the sky cleared).

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I stayed in Sonnenau, one of the buildings that houses visiting pilgrims. Apparently, there was some sort of children’s event going on, because there were kids everywhere. During meals, I got to eat in a separate little room because I wasn’t part of the children’s group… during each meal, I got to meet some really nice people. At dinner, I got to talk with Sister Anastasia and a visiting woman named Theresia, and the next day at lunch, I ate with a girl who visits every weekend because she works at a hospital in the area. I learned from Sister Anastasia that, even though there isn’t a shrine in Dresden, there is a Schönstatt site out in the Sächsischer Schweiz: a house with an MTA and a sister who lives there. I’ll have to visit sometime!

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By the end of the weekend, I was relaxed and rejuvenated from having spent so much time praying, meditating, and enjoying the amazing feeling, at last, of feeling totally comfortable and at home.

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