Thoughts from a young theologian

Posts tagged “wyd

Wrapping it all up… in Paris!!!

Sorry for the little break back there again… I got home a few days ago and with a wedding to attend, jet lag, sickness (from all the travel) and post-Europe depression to get over, papers to sign, and school (seminary) starting up in a couple of days, I’ve had my hands tied up just a little bit… It’s soooooo good to be home though and it’s also really nice that I don’t have to be back in the monastery until Friday… That’s basically given me a week to unwind a bit and unpack before repacking my life and moving back to Mission for year two of seminary… Before that, let’s wrap up the trip to Europe by going back to where I started… Paris, the city of lights…

When I first had the idea of visiting Paris a number of years ago, there were two things on top of my list of things to do… The first actually involves a trip an hour outside of the city to the beautiful medieval town of Chartres… My first day in Paris involved the first train out of it… Hehehehehh I even used some of the train time to blog…


Chartres is gorgeous… I’ve always wanted to visit this medieval cathedral for two reasons… First, I wanted to see a very special relic presented to Chartres in 876 by Charles the Bald, Charlemagne’s grandson: the Sancta Camisia… This is the veil worn by the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Christ in Bethlehem… Yes… It’s the actual veil!!! It’s also why the cathedral has been such a major pilgrimage site for centuries…


The other reason I wanted to go see Chartres is tied to the Sancta Camisia… On the night of June 10, 1194, a terrible fire blazed through the town, destroying most of the cathedral… Many of the villagers despaired in fear that the precious relic had also been destroyed… That dismay was turned into a profound joy when 3 days later (yes… that’s 3… coincidence??) the relic was found unharmed… In celebration, the villagers, rich and poor, noble and peasant spent the 30 years rebuilding the cathedral into the grander and more glorious form it possesses today… Numbering in the thousands, these villagers built their cathedral up brick





brick… It amazes me to think that while most cathedrals and basilicas are commissioned by princes and popes, this one that arguably trumps most of them in grandeur and antiquity was built by the people for the people!!! It has stood the test of time and still stands today, relatively in the same state it was close to a thousand years ago… Sure, some of the statues are missing heads and other body parts, but it’s still pretty cool!!!


At first arrival though in Chartres, I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed… I was at first disappointed because most of the cathedral was either sealed off or covered with ugly scaffolding because they were currently renovating the cathedral… I was even worried at first that I might not get to see the holy veil… And to top it all off, the pretty famous English tour guide I was hoping to join was away on vacation… After looking forward to seeing the cathedral all this time, I was a bit sad when I made my way down to the crypt for mass…


My day picked up really well from there though because after mass, I met one of the sacristans of the cathedral… After allowing me to take a look around some of the unseen areas of the cathedral, he invited me to join him and his family at their home for lunch… It was pretty spectacular… Not only did I get to see the veil of Mary, but now, I made a new friend. And after spending the rest of the afternoon checking out the medieval town, I was pretty stoked when I left… I vowed to come back again some day, after all the renovations are done… Maybe before I head out to do the Camino… hint hint… c”,)

The other big thing I wanted to do in Paris, second on my list, took me up to the highest point of the city… Renowned for once being hangout of Picasso, van Gogh, Dali, and Monet, Montemarte is now one of the sketchier parts of Paris… It’s home to the famous cabaret, Moulin Rouge and the red light district of the city… Trust me though, I did not go into that area looking for drugs or prostitutes… High up overlooking, not just all that “stuff” going on around it but also the entire city is the great basilica of the Sacred Heart where, for 125 years, people have been coming day and night in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament… Eucharistic Adoration has always been a huge part of my life ever since I’ve rediscovered my faith a number of years ago and I would jump at the chance to adore in what is perhaps the center of Eucharistic Adoration in the world… During the day, the basilica is always open to pilgrims and tourists who want to spend a few minutes with Jesus but I was more interested in spending the night for the night adoration. I emailed the sisters and was invited to come during one of my nights in Paris…


I arrived via the back entrance and was shown to my quarters for the night… My room was very simple, separated from everyone else by a giant curtain… I was nevertheless, really comfortable… Remember, I had just come from World Youth Day… I could sleep on an anthill… wait.. I had already done that… Hehehe


While getting settled in, I met a young man from a different part of France who was going to adore that night for the first time too… After settling in, we were asked by one of the sisters to come down for a quick orientation and teaching… She taught us how to adore, speaking of the need for a heart to heart conversation with Jesus and being receptive (for lack of a better word) enough to allow Him to work with you… One of the things that really stuck with me was how she insisted that everything we do can become a prayer… She suggested that one way to make even our day a prayer is to begin each day, before even getting out of bed, with a sign of the cross to sanctify the day to God and allow Him to work in our lives… That’s a practice I want to start enforcing in my own life…


The night went pretty smoothly from there… We had mass and a little bit of time for prayer before I turned in for the night…. Then, riiiiiiiiiiing…. At 2:50 am, my alarm clock went off… My favorite time for prayer… 3 am… It’s probably one of the scariest times to head out walking in the night but that’s also why I love this time the most… Anytime I get to adore at night, I ALWAYS choose 3 am… One of the first times I did this, during the eucharistic congress in Quebec city a few years ago, I woke up at 3 to the sound of thunder and lightning… It was super stormy and I had to walk through a dark monastery all alone towards the little, dimly lit church which was thankfully attached to the monastery… Ever since then, I’ve always LOVED 3 am and that night was no exception… The only problem… By that point, I had been through close to a dozen cities, walked tons of miles and got very little sleep… So what happened during my adoration night? I don’t know… I don’t remember… I kinda dozed off a little bit during it… :S Sigh… God still loves me… Hehehe St. Therese of Liseaux once said “I ought to be distressed at sleeping during my prayers and acts of thanksgiving. Well, I am not distressed. I think little children please their parents as much when they sleep as when they are awake.” Sigh… I love the Little Flower…



Other than that, there’s not much more to report to you guys on Paris… I did the whole tourist thing in a couple of days… I visited the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arche de Triomphe, Notre Dame cathedral and tons of other places… I even ate ONE escargot… I also managed to see the little church where Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré to commission her to create the Miraculous Medal… All of these were pretty cool things to see but I think at this point, I was already pretty exhausted and was ready to head home…





The trip home was pretty uneventful but was made more interesting by the little attempt I made to bring back my big stick (the one I got from Montserrat) back to Canada… That was pretty interesting… I worried a bit in Paris when they attached the baggage tag onto an easily removable piece of string we used to tie up the flag and I watched with glee as they loaded it onto the plane in Montreal…. I was pretty pleased to get it back all the way to Vancouver… That’s all for today… Thanks for following my travels!!! God bless!!!




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.




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…


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!!!



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…



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!!!


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…


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!!!




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!!!



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…


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…




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…


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…

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!!!




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…


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…


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…


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…


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…


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.”


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!!!