Thoughts from a young theologian

Archive for August, 2011

Back to Barcelona!!

Okay, now I’m writing on a train from one of the oldest and most grand cathedrals in Europe… I’m really scrapping for as much free time as I can to write these quick updates. As soon as I told the monks back in the abbey at home that I was stopping for a few days in Paris before heading back, they didn’t tell me to visit the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame cathedral and not even the benedictine monks at Solesmes, the monastery where they got their own gregorian chant hymn books from… No… Their first thought was “You’ve got to drop by Chartres!!!”

Before jumping into Chartres though, I have to tell you about the stop we made in Barcelona… For me, it felt like I was backtracking a bit because my first stop in Spain was in Barcelona… Often, while seeing places I’ve been to along with the group, like the Sagrada Familia, I remembered my friends and missed them… It was fitting though that it would also be my last stop before leaving this gorgeous country… While there, I visited the areas that I wasn’t able to visit the first time… I’ll just summarize two of my most favorite experiences back in Barcelona…

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One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about Spain, probably partly because I’m a full fledged, proud Filipino, was easily the FOOD… I loved the tapas, the paellas, the bocadillos and the sangrias… Mmmmmmmmmmmmm Alongside my dream of visiting the Holy Land someday, I also always wanted to learn how to cook but until recently have never found the time nor energy to develop this tiny little passion… Well, I saw on an online forum that one of the best things to do in Barcelona was to visit this one little place called Cook & Taste. This place teaches you how to cook typical Spanish cuisine, though it requires half a day of your time… I jumped at the opportunity and haven’t regretted it at all… Our instructor, Anna, was fabulous and extremely patient with us chefs with different degrees of experience… My classmates, most of them from Australia, were pretty cool and, though I was easily the youngest of the group (I guess cooking isn’t that popular a thing to do in an exotic country for other people my age) I was always welcomed by the group… We cooked 4 dishes… For our soup, we made Chupito de Sopa de Tomate al aroma de Idiazabal (Shot of tomato soup flavored with Idiazabal smoked cheese). We also made some seafood paella, tomato bread (apparently a very popular Spanish snack) and the typical Spanish omelet. I learned some interesting techniques for how to flip omelets there too. For desert, we made a yummy Crema Catalana (Catalan Cream) and to melt the sugar, we used (the first time for me) a little blowtorch… That was pretty awesome… C’était magnifique!!!!

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My job there was to cut up the cuttlefish for the paella… a job that I did really really really really slowly (again, I’m super amateur number 1 at this whole thing) and stirring the paella up to make sure none of the rice burned… The meal was ravenous and I loved every bite!!! I honestly think we’ll be able to cook too in heaven.

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During the only free day we had in Barcelona with the group before WYD, I hung out with Luke, the other seminarian and the priests, Fr. Fred and Fr. Alexandre… We had planned to go all the way up to visit the basilica to the Sacred Heart way up in the mountains overlooking Barcelona but we unfortunately didn’t have enough time and the directions the tourist office gave us were too complicated… Instead, we stayed near the Barri Gothic and ate ice cream… Hehehehehehe… Typical…

Well, this time, I had the time and patience to try and make my way up that mountain… I found out why the tourist office’s directions were so complicated… Part of the fun of the mountain is in getting there… You start by taking the metro all the way to the last stop of one of its lines… Then, you transfer over to a trolley (the last operating trolley in the city) to make your way partly up a mountain that you can also climb, if you were bold enough to do so… Finally, you have to take the funicular to get up the rest of the way!!! Complicated eh? I thought so…. Worth it? 100%

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The shrine is one a place called Tibidabo, which is itself significant because it’s a name that comes from two Latin words, tibi and dabo meaning “to you (tibi)” “I will give (dabo)” These are the words of Satan as he took Jesus up a tall mountain to tempt Him by showing Him all the kingdoms of the world… “All these I shall give to You, if You will prostrate yourself and worship me. (Matt 4: 9)” Jesus’ response was firm and swift: “Get away Satan! It is written ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve.” On the mountain of Tibidabo, one can see all of Barcelona and a lot of its surrounding countryside. You can see the mountain, including those of Montserrat and the sea… You can even see the basilica of La Sagrada Familia!!! In addition, on the mountain is a huge amusement park with all sorts of rides and thrills, ALL RIGHT NEXT TO THE BASILICA… It’s almost no wonder the place is called Tibidabo…

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I spent most of my time here in the basilica… I prayed for a bit in the perpetual adoration chapel they have in the crypt before climbing up to the top of the basilica where a giant statue of the Sacred Heart and a magnificent view awaited me… It was tough for me to get all the way up there because on the way, I remembered that I have a huge fear of heights so I clung sooooooo much to the railings all the way up… Worth it? 100%… or at least this time, you can judge for yourself… Here are some photos of the view…

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I’d like to tell you now about all that happened in Chartres but there’s enough that it warrants its own little post… I’ll have that ready for you soon!!! God bless!!!

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Vacationing in Valencia

It’s official… Pilgrimage mode is over… sort of… Now I’m into tourist mode… I’m spending the rest of my week and a bit touring a little bit more of Spain, namely Valencia and Barcelona (the favorite city of my sister) before spending our last few days in Paris and flying back to Vancouver… I’ve already finished my stay both in Valencia and Barcelona and as I’m writing this post, I’m on my way (literally on my plane) to Paris… Let me summarize the highlights of Valencia for you here…

To end off my day in Madrid, my sister and I went to a soccer game in the nearby stadium that featured a game between Spain and the rest of the world… This game was the city’s way of saying thank you and goodbye to all the pilgrims who had come to visit them over the spectacular week of WYD… I think that most people were already exhausted from the final mass and from the whole week in general so the stadium was only half full… But it was still quite an experience.. For someone who comes from the part of the world where hockey rules EVERYTHING, it was a huge treat for me to see European soccer… And you could tell that these players weren’t amateurs either, just by the crisp way that they passed the ball around… I didn’t know any of them though and it wasn’t really announced who we were actually watching… At the end of the game, which the rest of the world won 2-1, they released hundreds of brightly colored balloons into the night sky, officially ending WYD 2011.

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The next day, my sister who was with a separate group (from Vancouver) and I travelled to Valencia, after meeting my brother at the Madrid train station… He had decided not to join us for the World Youth Day events and instead went backpacking throughout Europe with a few friends… We’ll be getting him to Rio for sure in a couple of years…

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Valencia, home of the famed architect, Santiago Calatrava and the birthplace of paella!!! From the get go, we didn’t stop eating… As soon as we got in late at night, we found out that our hotel had a relatively cheap buffet dinner and so we signed up really quickly and had a fantastic meal before bed… The next day, we toured the city of Valencia a little bit… We visited the central market, where we had a late brunch of, you guessed it… paella!!!

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For me though, the highlight of our first day in Valencia was easily the cathedral… The city was apparently home to several saints, including one of my personal favorites, the miracle worker, St. Vincent Ferrer… St. Vincent was soooooo renowned for his many miracles that he was attracting a bit too much attention to himself and his order that his superior asked him to stop working miracles… The story goes that after this, St. Vincent was walking on his way, I think to mass, one day and across the street were some workers working on the facade of a building on top of some scaffolding… One of them lost his footing and started falling to the ground and seeing the priest walking below, he cried out to him for help… The problem is that St. Vincent cannot work miracles and saints are very obedient… So he told the guy to wait up and the construction worker froze in place as he was falling down… St. Vincent then went to see his superior who, stupefied, asked him if he was there now and gave him permission to save him… Sigh… I love saints… This is the pulpit he preached from once…

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Saints aren’t the only thing to be found in this magnificent cathedral… Housed in a little chapel off the entrance of the cathedral is one of the most important relics in Christendom… Legend has it that this particular relic was brought to Spain hundreds of years ago to protect it from the Christian persecutions and was hidden in various monasteries when the Moors invaded Spain before finally remerging and being presented to the Valencia cathedral later on… This relic is none other that the holy grail… yes… the same one Indiana Jones was trying to find. According to legend, this particular grail is the same one used by Christ during the last supper!!!

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The grail has special significance for myself who’s discerning the priesthood because of literally what it means to be a priest… to act in persona Christi… By repeating the same words he said 2000 years ago, “This is my body… This is my blood…” we make present Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and the bread and wine before us are transubstantiated (wow… big word…) into His Body and His Blood!!! The Eucharist we receive today is the same Eucharist He gave His disciples during the Last Supper, the same Eucharist received by the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, and the same Eucharist received by the first disciples during the first masses in the crypts of Rome. It’s the same Christ… These are just a few thoughts that ran through my head as I was praying before the relic…

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The other slightly less major highlight from Valencia happened the next day when we visited one of its most famous sites, the set of buildings designed by Santiago Calatrava that appears most on wish you were here postcards and travel guides… the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias… We spent most of day 2 in Valencia touring this modern complex… We started with the Museo de Las Ciencias, a huge, Science-World like building with enough gadgets and exhibits to entertain children of all ages… My personal favorite, being a biologist, was the chromosome forest that showcased all 23 pairs of human chromosomes, including what genes are found in each and what they do in the most creative way I’ve ever seen… Look at what they did to demonstrate the length of the human intestine, for example!!!

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After the museum of science, my sister and I watched an IMAX movie about the Nile river on the building that looks like an eye, the Hemisfèric before ending our day and essentially our Valencian visit with the aquarium, Oceanogràfic. There, like in any other aquarium we visited, we watched the dolphin show, visited the sharks, rays and other tropical fish by walking through the longest underwater tunnel I’ve ever been in… We also checked out the penguins and walruses before finally calling it a day… It’s nice to just be a tourist!!! c”,) God bless until next time!!!

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Double Mass Effect!! The final two days of WYD Madrid

So as I’m writing this post, I’m currently on a high speed train traveling next to the ocean on the way back to Barcelona… Barcelona was the first stop I made with my group on arriving in Spain but my brother and sister have not yet been to the city so it’s definitely on the agenda… I’ll be giving a quick update on what happened in Valencia next post but for now, I’d like to finish my story on World Youth Day.

After an early Friday night, I got up extremely early on the Saturday morning… By early, I mean 5:00 am… It’s a time I’m kinda already used to from seminary life but I haven’t gotten up this early since the seminary… I got up early because I wanted to be in the metro station by the time the first metro came around at 6 am… Why? To try and get to a very special mass celebrated by Pope Benedict exclusively for seminarians at the Madrid cathedral… I ran into a couple of American and Polish seminarians while in the metro and by the time I got off at Opera, the station closest to the cathedral, I saw many many others… Seminarians are super easy to spot especially since most of them were wearing their cassocks… It was quite a sight to be roaming the darkened, empty streets of Madrid following the dark robed seminarians…

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By the time I got to the gates of the cathedral, a huge surprise awaited me… There were already over a thousand seminarians in line ahead of me… Apparently, everyone thought the exact same thing… In fact, I even ran into some seminarians who had spent the night lining up outside the gate… How they did that is unimaginable because we were told not to bring any bags so they must have slept in or on their cassocks!!! By the time I got into the compound with the cathedral, it was already 8 am, the sun was up and the cathedral was already full… I had to stay on the outside since there was no more room…. I put a couple of stuff down on my seat then made my way to the barrier right in front of the cathedral door to take some pictures… After taking pictures, I decided to stay there… Mass would not be for another 2 & 1/2 hours but right next to the barrier, I had the best spot in the house!!! I was right at the corner!!! To my left was the red carpet leading up the cathedral steps while to my right was the driveway from the gate of the cathedral leading up to the entrance… I waited for a very long time standing up under the hot sun in that area. To pass the time, I met the seminarian next to me who came from a religious order in Mexico and together, we prayed the morning prayers (in Spanish). At the end of the day though, in spite of the heat, the exhaustion from standing up the whole time, and the crowds around me, it was well worth the wait… Pope Benedict riding his pope mobile pulled up the driveway directly in front of me and I was only a few feet away from him… I was close enough to even touch him, though I didn’t because he wasn’t touching anyone…

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He looked a little older, a little weaker and a little more tired than when I saw him last… The papal office must be wearing him down a little bit… He really does need our prayers to keep going…

I sent the rest of the mass in my seat and towards the end of the mass, I made my way back to the barrier (nowhere near as close as I was on the pope’s arrival) and prepared to take a very nice picture of myself “touching” him.. This was the best I could do…

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But nevertheless, I was thrilled to have been able to see him… Please pray for him, dear readers… I can’t stress it enough but he really needs our prayers. I’ve attached the transcript for the homily he gave us on a link below… If you’ve got some time, it’s definitely worth the read…

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20110820_seminaristi-madrid_en.html

After the mass, I met up with Luke, the other seminarian who slept in a little bit and we both made our way back to the school to try and leave with everyone else for the vigil and final mass… We met all of them just as they were getting ready to leave so we all made our way to Cuatro Vientos, the site of the final mass, together.

It must have been the hottest day of the week for the entire city… Cuatro Vientos was the place EVERYBODY was making their way to so the roads to it were absolutely packed with people all carrying their respective country’s flag and trying to stay together… The heat, as I’ve said, reached it’s climax at this point and it took an immense, courageous effort from all the pilgrims to make it to the site… Even the water in our water bottles became hot because of the scorching sun… The residents of the houses and apartments lining the roads started pouring down water on the pilgrims down below… At some point, even the firefighters arrived with their hoses to hose us all down… Yes… It was that hot!!!

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Cuatro Vientos is an old airport that stretches out in the south of Madrid… It is so extensive that it took us close to an hour to walk from the entrance where we came in all the way to the other side of the airport where we were assigned to stay… All the way were floods of thousands of thousands of people… People and flags as far as the eye can see… It was a magnificent sight and one which I would have enjoyed more if it wasn’t for the heat… One. Holy. Catholic. Apostolic. This is my church… and she is beautiful and she is young…

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Along the way, a few people in our group were overcome by the heat and needed to stop for a breath… It wasn’t uncommon to see a small crowd gathering around one person who collapsed on the ground out of sheer exhaustion and until this point, my group of 50 had been spared of that… Now, in the long walk to Cuatro Vientos, we had two people who couldn’t make it all the way… And so we did what any and all other groups did too, we carried them… Carried them in the sense of carrying all their stuff, giving them lots of space, water, love, and care… No one would ever get left behind… We’re all tired… We all lack sleep… We all smell bad… We’re all a little sick. And despite all of that, we’re all moved by a peace and joy that, although not always outwardly expressed is, at least in my opinion, inwardly felt… That is part of the magic that is World Youth Day… It’s not a vacation… It’s a pilgrimage…

By the time we got to our site, we only had a few hours of light left so we picked up our bag lunches and ate our dinner in anticipation of the vigil which was to begin soon… People would be going around a little bit trading various trinkets and things that they had brought along from their home countries… In many ways, WYD is more international than even the Olympics… This I can say confidently, having experienced Vancouver 2010 first hand… Nowhere else can one meet, not the dozen or so superstar athletes from the different countries, but locals from all corners of the globe in one same place… If you want to travel the world but don’t have enough money to do so, why not do the next best thing… Go to a World Youth Day… the one place where thousands from all over the world will be…

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The heat made this World Youth Day especially difficult but the surprises did not stop there… Right before the vigil started, the pilgrims were buffeted by a strong hurricane carrying with it winds and rain… Our group was worried earlier on as we saw the dark clouds and lightning strikes looming ominously close in the distance… So we packed all our stuff… the stuff we just recently unpacked… into large garbage bags to protect our gear from the elements… In the middle of the vigil, the hurricane hit us pretty hard and the pope had to stop for a little bit… Pilgrims flooded into the only shelters available, namely the little chapels set up to house the Blessed Sacrament for prayer and for communion for the mass the next day… Some of these chapels were even destroyed by the winds, the main reason why we didn’t have communion the next day…

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When the winds died down, the pope came back on stage… For an 84 year old man, he is pretty resilient… He exhorted us saying that our faith is stronger than even the winds… I was reminded a lot of the theme of our event throughout the whole thing… Rooted and built up in Christ, firm in the faith… One of the Gospel passages during mass that week came from the parable of the man who built his house on rock versus he who built his house on sand. The winds came and buffeted the house on sand and it tumbled down, while that which was built on rock stayed firm and solid all throughout… Seeing the determination and joy of my fellow pilgrims was enough to sustain me through all the way in spite of what else may come… That night was especially memorable as we all knelt in adoration with our Holy Father before Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament… Then, something very special happened that told me in my heart that all of this was planned… providence…. Immediately after benediction, the skies opened up once more and a very light rain fell on everyone present, as if God Himself was blessing us all from above…

One last surprise awaited us, just for good measure… Our “home” for the evening was already occupied and its current tenants were not very thrilled to see us as they made it evidently clear through the night…

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Yes… We had ants too… There were a couple of holes in the ground that was the entrance to their underground necropolis and any unlucky pilgrim who installed himself directly on top of one of these entrances was in for a bit of a surprise… After a little bit of shuffling around, we finally turned in for the night, exhausted but content and peaceful…

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At the end of every night, there is always a morning… a new day… almost like the resurrection that followed the cross… We awoke to a gorgeous, slightly cooler summer day refreshed and ready for any new challenges that awaited us… After packing our stuff, we got ready for the final mass which was, after the difficult night we had come from, exquisitely beautiful… Though we could not receive communion, we united in spiritual communion with the Holy Father and the magisterium of bishops, archbishops and cardinals around him… In his homily, speaking of the importance of building up a personal relationship with Christ, and in union with the Church, he told us “Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation.”

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I’d like to end this little story of World Youth Day 2011 with something very special that Fr. Alexandre told us in his homily during the last mass when we were all more or less together as a group for the last time… He said, also sticking closely to the theme of WYD of the need to be more strongly rooted and firm in our faith that when God led His people out of Egypt, He also used that experience to strengthen them all… They complained against leaving Egypt where they all had enough to eat, enough to drink, a nice warm place to stay and showers galore (he may have modified that a little bit… Heheheheeheh) God made them grow stronger as a people neither in Egypt, where they came from, nor in the Promised Land where they were going but in the harsh and barren desert that lay between… A pilgrimage is not a journey of luxury and comfort but a road marked with of challenges and difficulties. What you get out of it though is not some fluffy memories, a mind full of information and some petty souvenirs but an experience of none other than God Himself… “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you (Genesis 12: 1) See you in Rio!!!