Thursday, September 22, 2005

St Anthony of Padua

I am writing this in an internet cafe in Rome. I just popped in for five minutes to check for an urgent e-mail message, and the heavens have opened. So clearly God wants me to stay here a bit longer.

While staying in Venice, I took the half-hour or so trip by train to Padua, and got bus number 8 from the train station to a bus stop around the corner from what they call Basilica del Santo. They started to build it only a few years after St Anthony died.

When you walk in the door, his tomb is about halfway along on the left side. It is extremely ornate, and, we would say, highly decorated. His tomb doubles as an altar, with about six steps leading up to it so Mass can be said there, presumably on special occasions.

Visitors remain on "ground level" and can walk behind. At the back, there is a section of stone wall which is the actual wall of the tomb itself, and pilgrims place their hand(s) on the stone imporing the intercession of the Saint.

But all around the tomb, people have placed written messages, and, especially moving, pictures and photos of people; family, loved ones, maybe even themselves. There were even two photos of cars which clearly had been involved in accidents.

Did the occupants survive and they came to give thanks to St Anthony for saving them, or did they fail to survive and the grieving ones come to implore his help in conducting their souls to God? It doesn't say. We can only speculate.

Lots of pictures of babies, and especially wedding photos.

There is also a 30-minute or so audio/visual exhibition of the life of St Anthony, and a well-stocked souvenir and book shop.

You can also see the tongue of St Anthony in a separate reliquary. There is a confession chapel, similar, though slightly smaller, to the one at Lourdes.

I got Mass at 1700. Overall, I have to say everything is done in good taste.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

In Rome. . .

Yesterday, I arrived in Rome, and in the afternoon I went to the Vatican. The first thing I wanted to do was to get a ticket for the General Audience on Wednesday (success!) and then I went to pay tribute to the late John Paul II.

Just before departure, I finished reading George Weigel's large biography of the man, and it made me realise actually how little I really knew about him. Or at least how much about him and his life and work that I either didn't know, or more accurately, didn't fully understand.

I made my way to the northern side of St Peter's Square and went through a metal detector. Then followed the crowd up the steps, and the path divides into three lines, one for entry to the Basilica, one to queue up for entry to the dome, and the third for the papal tombs.

On my previous visit (in 1998) I remember accessing the papal tombs from inside the Basilica, the staircase to the right of the baldachino. But now I entered through a door in the courtyard to the right of the basilica itself.

Along a corridor, and then out into the tombs area, which now looked familiar. On the right I saw the resting place of Paul VI, next on the left is John Paul I, and then on the right a slightly unusual one, if you'll pardon the expression: Queen Christina of Sweden, who was a convert.

Soon after that, on the right, is the last resting place of Joannes Paulus II, with the dates of his pontificate written on stone beneath his name. The queue was long, but moved quickly, as people briefly crossed themselves or genuflected. About eight feet back from the tomb, was a rope, behind which there were about four or five nuns on their knees. Other laypeople were kneeling as well.

In the corner of my eye, I noticed that the couple in front of me had handed their rosary beads and medals to one of the gentleman staff, and he had placed them on the tombstone, so I took out my own beads and gave them to him, and he did likewise, hoping that when I pray my Rosary, the late Holy Father will be praying with me and for me.

Understandably, the gentlemen on duty were keen to allow the line to move quickly and give as many people as possible a chance to pay homage. A recorded message over the speaker reminds everybody that this is a sacred place, and asks for silence.

Ever gone to a place like this and felt irritated about long queues? Me too (see post below about Venice and St Mark's Basilica). So from now on I will try, in this scenario, to imagine that such people are really my brothers and sisters in Christ, and they are going in to pray for me.

On this occasion, I was actually hoping in advance that the queue would be long, as a tribute to the man.

The beauty really is that this is not just a once-in-a-lifetime event. I know I will have other opportunities to come and visit his last resting place and say thank you.

But is it his last resting place? John XXIII was buried down in that area, but now he has been moved upstairs to the main basilica itself.

I got 1700 Mass at the altar under St Peter's Chair.

Today, visited Santa Maria Maggiore and got 12 noon Mass in St John Lateran. Also visited Santa Susanna, the church run by the American Paulists, which has 1800 weekday Mass which I will probably get some day this week. On Friday, from 1pm, they have a used book sale so I might pick up something good there.

One thing changed since my last visit is the introduction of the faster bus number 40, with fewer stops, from Termini Station to Piazza Pia, which is the square just on the west side of the Tiber at the beginning of Via della Conciliazione.

More Italy to follow. Watch this blog.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The gift of the Priesthood

I caught his eye and he caught mine, though only for a split-second. I could see that he was elderly, I guess at least seventy. The seat beside him was free, and for a moment I was going to sit there; but then I noticed his magnifying glass and his breviary, so I decided to walk on to the rear end of the boat and let him say his Office in privacy.

This was a vaporetto boat, the 1530 service from Burano to Torcello; on Venice's public transport system, this is as far north as you can go. Today fewer than 100 people live on Torcello, but about a thousand years ago, Torcello was in fact the first part of Venice to be settled, and had, at one time, a population of up to 20,000.

Because of its relative remoteness and extremity, I wanted to visit Torcello; but I also intended to go to Mass at 4.30 pm. I assumed this would be in the byzantine Basilica. So the thought crossed my mind that he would be the celebrant.

The Byzantine influence on Venice is clear when you see St Mark's Basilica in the city proper, but also the fact that the Archbishop is not called Archbishop, but Patriarch.

The ferry made its five-minute trip, and arrived at Torcello pier, and I walked along the footpath. There are a few restaurants along the way. Getting to the Basilica took about ten minutes, so I first went into Santa Fosca church, beside the Basilica. Then I quickly went to the entrance of the Basilica, and prepared to pay the entry fee to the Basilica, as well as the Campanile.

I asked the young lady working there "Santa Messe, quatro mezzo" in my poor Italian. But she told me that it would actually be at four, and in Santa Fosca. It was nearly four now, so in I went and sat down. There were about a dozen to fifteen people in Santa Fosca church, mainly tourists, and I felt a bit embarrassed that the priest would come and say Mass to a possible one-person congregation. Then I saw him, with his bag in hand, as he went into a door to the right of the altar.

A young man came out with an ID around his neck indicating that he clearly worked there, and started to set up the altar, light the candles, and bring out the water and wine. At four, he came out robed in white vestments. I turned around, and saw that there were two ladies in the rear seat. Santa Fosca is quite a small church.

Also at four, the bells of the Basilica campanile began to ring, which would last nearly ten minutes. I could see the priest, with magnifying glass in right hand, often looking up from his lectionary to the door. The thought crossed my mind that he was probably expecting some "tourist" to walk in the front door and take a photo of the ceremony.

The young man served Mass and did the readings, and I tried to do the responses as best I could, either in English or what little Italian I have managed to learn.

When the time came for Holy Communion, I was ready to make my move; the priest consumed the host and drank from the chalice. But he made no move, and no attempt to distribute the Sacrament to the (very small) congregation.

Looking back, my opinion is that with the numbers of tourists who pass in and out, it has probably happened that people who are not Catholics have been receiving Communion. So better safe than sorry.

But it all reminded me of the gift to us of the Priesthood.

Monday, September 12, 2005

La Serenissima

Sorry I haven't posted anything for a while, but things were a bit hectic as I had to get things in Dublin sorted out before going on holidays.

And now, I am typing this in an internet place in the city of Venice, Queen of the Adriatic. Try not to be too jealous.

Spent about twenty minutes queueing up to get into St Mark's Basilica, only to discover afterwards that there's a separate entrance if going to Mass, which is usually celebrated in a side chapel. This entrance is on the north side of the Basilica. Also paid visits to San Salvador, San Giorgio, the Gesuiti, and Mass this evening in SS Apostoli. Mass yesterday evening at the Scalzi church, the one nearest the rail station.

One handy thing: all the churches in Venice have a poster, printed by the Archdiocese, which gives all the Mass times around the city.

Earlier this week, a few nice days in Cortina d'Ampezzo, which has a wonderful Baroque-era church. Worth remembering that, up to Italy's entry into the War in 1915, Cortina was actually in the Austro-Hungarian empire.

More Italy to come. Ciao for now!