Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Touring Rome, Day 3: Playing the Pilgrim

Touring Rome, Day 3: Playing the Pilgrim

On Saturday, May 16, we returned to what apparently is pretty normal weather in Rome at this season, namely hot and sunny. Great weather for the photographer!

Rita and David and I had agreed to meet at Bonus Pastor at about 9:15. But the buses were so quick that I was there at 8:45. Since it was Saturday, there was no rush hour traffic to contend with. But I did share the 808 with a lot of young teens on their way to school. The Italians still go to school on Saturday a.m., and I guess they have Wednesday p.m. off.

Our plan for the morning was to bus out to the ancient Appian Way, which Rita was eager to see. Indeed, since we wanted to see the little church called Domine Quo Vadis and the catacombs of St. Callistus, we didn't have any choice but to take the Appian Way because that's where those sites are.

In my very best Italian [laugh here], I asked the bus driver to let us know where to get off for Quo Vadis. He obliged. The Appian Way along here is about 20 feet wide with about 2 feet of right of way or berm on either side, and high walls. Cars come zipping along at good clips. I did say with reference to the Colosseum that the Romans were great engineers, and their roads are still in use, not only in Italy but in many places. Unfortunately they weren't prophets, or they might have made the roads wider!
The two-lane Appian Way across the street from the catacombs of St. Callistus. We're waiting for a bus on that big, wide shoulder at the left!
Well, we managed to cross the road safely and get into the tiny church, which we shared with a small pilgrim group of some sort. As you may remember if you ever saw the mid-1950s film Quo Vadis, or perhaps read the novel, the story is that when Nero's persecution broke out in 67, Peter fled from Rome. Along the Appian Way he encountered Jesus walking toward the city. He asked him, "Lord, where are you going?" (Domine, quo vadis? in Latin). Jesus replied something like, "To Rome, to be with my people and be crucified in your place." So Peter relented, turned around, and was arrested and condemned. (It's believed he was crucified in the Circus of Nero adjacent to the Vatican Hill, and it's historically certain that he was then buried in the nearby public cemetery on the slope of the hill, where his tomb eventually became a secret place of Christian pilgrimage and, after Constantine legalized Christianity he built the 1st basilica in Peter's honor over the tomb.) Where Jesus stood, there in the road, a stone was imprinted with his footprints, and that stone is preserved in the center aisle of this little church called Domine Quo Vadis (see photo below). That's the story and, as the Italians say, Si non è vero, è ben trovato ("If it isn't true, it sure sounds good").

At the left of the sanctuary in the church is a fresco depicting the crucifixion of St. Peter--upside down, at his request, because he thought himself unworthy of dying in the same manner as our Lord.

We were happy to see that right across the street from Quo Vadis was the tourist entrance to the St. Callistus Catacombs. We'd been afraid we were going to have to risk a walk along the road for a few hundred yards. So we walked 900 meters (according to the sign) up to the entrance to the catacombs.

Poppies, poppies everywhere! in the fields as you walk up the long visitors' drive from the Appian Way past a couple of Salesian buildings toward the entrance to the catacombs. Rita and David were quite taken with the poppies too and have posted a large photo like this on their blog (

There are several Christian catacombs on the outskirts of Rome because in the 2d, 3d, and 4th centuries they wanted to have their own cemeteries, and they had to be outside the city walls. They're the property of the Holy See today. Of the number that are now open to pilgrims, we chose St. Callistus simply because it's administered by the Salesians and we have 2 communities in residence there, one for students (college level, I believe) and one for the guides and some retired confreres. The mausoleum where our last 4 rectors major are buried (not counting Fr. Chavez, obviously!), as well as other SDBs, is also located there.

The entrance to the Salesian mausoleum at the catacombs of St. Callistus
In my best Italian again, I asked for an American Salesian who's a retired catacombs guide and has stayed on at St. Callistus, and they managed to find him and we spoke briefly. As it turned out, I didn't really need to use Italian because, since it's a very busy place of pilgrimage, there are a lot of confreres and employees who speak English. Anyway, the 3 of us got a good tour as part of a large group of English-speakers, with the history, the theology, the art, etc., well explained.

We bused back into town, had lunch in a back street near the Pantheon, and then said our good-byes and mutual thanks. Rita and David wanted some personal time, quite understandably. So I continued my pilgrimaging by making my way to the only one of the 4 major basilicas that up to this point I'd never visited--for the very good reason that it's not so easy to get to. (I got quite lost trying to find it on foot in my last trip to Rome 4 years ago.) Even this afternoon I didn't grasp the bus route adequately and so had a mile's walk, but at least on the right road, till I got to the basilica of St. Paul, often further specified as "outside the walls," or as the Brits say, "without the walls" (meaning, of course, "not within the city walls," not "lacking walls").
As one approaches the basilica from the city, one comes first to a pretty large park, at the head of which is a strange-looking collection of steel forms--which turned out to be part of a memorial to Italian soldiers killed in Iraq.

Probably the most familiar view of the Pauline basilica is one taken in the cloister in front of the church, with the large statue of Apostle directly in front. I took one of those shots, but opted to use one here shot from an angle.

Parenthesis: the 4 major basilicas are St. Peter's, St. Paul's, St. John Lateran (Rome's cathedral), and St. Mary Major.

St. Paul's is huge, and it's beautiful, and it was certainly very busy this Saturday afternoon. That may have been in part because this is the Year of St. Paul, with special commemorations, ostensibly of the 2000th anniversary of his birth--that's somewhat arbitrarily chosen, for no one knows when he was born, but the event is worth commemorating--and with special indulgences.

Like St. Peter's with reference to its namesake, this basilica is built over the Apostle's tomb, and the bricks of the top of the tomb are visible in an opening in the floor in front of the main altar. I did a lot of photography inside and out, and I prayed for a while in the Blessed Sacrament chapel too--again for all those who've commended themselves to my prayers or whom I've commended to my prayers.
Crowd of pilgrims above the site of St. Paul's tomb

This is what you see when you get down there.

Unlike St. Peter's, St. Paul's is really in classical basilica style and not baroque. When I get photos up, maybe that'll be obvious. It's decorated with a great mosaic in the apse and with mosaics of all the Popes around the upper walls. Above the Popes are paintings (frescoes?) of Paul's life. There are also gigantic statues of Peter and Paul flanking, but a little in front of, the main altar, and some very large statues of some other saints in various far reaches of the church. Otherwise, the nave and side aisles are quite plain.

There were lots and lots of people there, including a TV team that seemed interested in one pilgrim group; I heard a woman being interviewed speaking what I think was American English but I didn't catch much. And there was a really big Italian pilgrim group that processed in led by a bishop (not liturgically vested), with altar boys, cross, candles, etc. (see photo).

Having finished my visit, I caught the 1st bus back into the city that I could, and then 3 more to get back to the Pisana in ample time for Evening Prayer and then supper. This time I had to wait "only" half an hour for the 808 after I got off the 881 at the head of via della Pisana.

The provincial secretaries of Europe had finished their meeting at noon, I guess, and they were gone. The editors (direttori in Italian--so I guess I'm a director too!) of the Salesian Bulletin were starting to arrive, as also were a bunch of province treasurers appointed in the last 4 years or so, who need to get their official orientation for the job (how urgent does that sound?).

And there was morning and evening the 6th day (of my stay in Rome), and on the 7th day (Sunday), I rested.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Touring Rome, Day 2: Mostly Ancient History

Touring Rome, Day 2: Mostly Ancient History
Friday, May 15, was the one cloudy day of my entire stay in Rome (so far, as I write this on the 19th), and we were pestered several times by rain showers. I said an early Mass this time so as to make sure I got the bus at 8:10. On my way down the driveway of the Pisana to the street, I encountered the Rector Major and his vicar out for a stroll together. I find it amazing that the RM recognizes confreres by name immediately, as he did me, without knowing they're going to be around. After all, there are about 16,000 of us! I suppose he doesn't know them all, and in our Interamerica Region we have a certain advantage with him since he was our regional superior for 6 years before he was elected RM. But still.... So we exchanged quick greetings and went our ways.

Your humble blogger with 2 friends--Fr. Pascual Chavez, the Rector Major of the Salesians (9th successor of St. John Bosco), and Don Bosco himself. Photo taken May 18.
Need I say that the bus didn't come at 8:10 this day, but at 8:15. At any rate, being a half hour earlier (than yesterday) made a great difference in the traffic, and we were down by St. Peter's in about 50 minutes. (It helped that the 881 bus stopped right in front of my 808 bus where several riders, including me, had to make the switch.) Rita and David and I had agreed to meet at Piazza Venezia on the steps of the great tomb-monument to King Victor Emanuel II, and I was able quickly to catch the necessary bus and so arrive there at 9:25, well before our agreed-upon 10:00. Thus I had time to go up the steps and learn that the monument is also the tomb of the Italian unknown soldier, say a prayer there, take some photos of both the tomb and the piazza below, and not a few photos of the entire monument.
Monument to Victor Emmanuel, first king of Italy (d. 1878), at south end of Piazza Venezia

Piazza Venezia, from the Victor Emmanuel monument, with tourists waiting on the sidewalk. Palazzo Venezia at the left.

When Rita and David arrived, we passed by another dug-up Roman forum, that of Trajan, and made our way to the church of St. Peter in Chains solely to see Michelangelo's Moses. We also looked at the chains under the main altar which are, supposedly, those in which St. Peter was held prisoner not in Rome but in Jerusalem, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. Shall I say I'm a bit skeptical?

Michelangelo's Moses, one of several treasures in the church of St. Peter in Chains
Then we went down to the Colosseum and over to the "real" Roman Forum with the Arch of Titus, the Via Sacra, the Curia or Senate (where Caesar was assassinated, tho that seems not even to be mentioned), and the ruins of many temples, basilicas (which were meeting places), etc. We went up the Palatine Hill, site of many palaces of the nobles, and now also of gardens, and got some fine views and slightly more refreshing air, and then broke for lunch at a nice little place on a side street.

Looking west on the Via Sacra in the Forum, toward the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus (d. 211). At the right is the Curia or Senate building, where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. In the distance you can see the top of the monument to King Victor Emmanuel II (chariot with winged victory). Some cretin installed some "modern art" amid the ruins (the really white stuff visible on either side of the Via Sacra).

Detail from the triumphal arch of Titus, celebrating his victory in the Jewish War (66-70 A.D.), including the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem.

We hadn't planned to go into the Colosseum, but since it was included in the price of the Forum (despite the protestations of several people in the ticket line ahead of David), in we went, and had a good look around. The Romans really were marvelous engineers and architects. They apparently weren't geologists, however (no surprise--I don't think there were any geologists in ancient times), for they built the Colosseum partly on solid volcanic rock and partly on less stable dirt that seems to have washed down into this valley eons earlier. We've all heard how the arena was raided as a stone quarry in the Middle Ages, and think how awful it was that the Romans did that to build their palaces later. Well, we learned, actually in the 5th century there were a couple of earthquakes bad enuf to have knocked down parts of the Colosseum built on that unstable soil! So that's why those parts became a quarry. Made sense to David and me.
David, Rita, and the Colosseum Under the floor of the Colosseum was a rabbit warren of rooms and corridors for the gladiators, wild animals, and assorted gear for spectacles.
The cross in the Colosseum reminds us that many martyrs shed their blood for Christ here as "entertainment" for the Roman masses (with a small "m").
Allora, as the Romans say, frequently, when they don't know what else to say or want to move on with the conversation...the guide book description of the basilica of St. Clement looked very interesting, and I had vague memories from a 1986 visit to it; so we went there. It was a disappointment again that photography wasn't allowed inside the medieval upper basilica; all I could shoot was the cloister and a little of the outside. And it was a bigger disappointment that the ancient underground basilica cost 5 euros to enter. So we skipped that and went back to Bonus Pastor for some beer and R&R.
At Bonus Pastor, recuperating after a long day of hiking about the ruins of Rome--and using the bus map to plot our next adventure

At 6:15 we went back to the area of the Pantheon and picked out a restaurant up the street. This one was our one disappointment of the whole visit--very good antipasto, but the main courses not so good. Then we continued the nite tour that we'd broken off the evening before, going back to Piazza Montecitorio (that's the one whose name I couldn't remember in the previous post) and Piazza Colonna and the Trevi Fountain, and then zigging and zagging our way up to Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, which are really stunning sights at nite.
The Spanish Steps

Rita and David kept saying that they wanted an early nite and didn't want me getting home so late again. Guess what? We tried to catch a bus that wasn't coming because it didn't run that late, then walked to get one that was running, got it, walked to another that got us across the Tiber (on which they could continue to Bonus Pastor, but I would have to get off and catch the 881). By then it was about 10:00 p.m. again. I got the 881 without any trouble this time, but then had another 45-minute wait at the head of via della Pisana for the 808 and got back to our gate at 1111 via della Pisana at 11:10. So much for early! But it was quite a good day, really, in spite of rain showers and humidity and an abundance of walking.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Touring Rome, Day 1: Mostly Churches

Touring Rome, Day 1: Mostly Churches

Well, still no photos downloaded here in Rome--but hundreds on the camera card now. I shoulda remembered to bring my USB cable! I suppose if that's all I forgot to bring for 10 days abroad, it's not so bad.

Rita and David arrived on time Wednesday evening, and Fr. Pete Sella very kindly took me to Ciampino airport (a dumpy little place) to meet them and then bring them to their pensione, Bonus Pastor (Good Shepherd), which is a short distance from the back wall of Vatican City but quite a healthy walk around to where you can get into St. Peter's Square. Or one can take the bus that stops across the street. (Fare is one euro, good for 75 minutes, however many changes you make--and a couple of time I had to take 4 buses.)

Bonus Pastor is quite a nice place--a hotel, really--and it's "extraterritorial," meaning it belongs to the Vatican, like the major basilicas scattered around Rome. So my Methodist brother-in-law was the Pope's guest for 4 nites.

On Thursday I took 2 buses in from our GHQ, during rush hour, and then walked uphill half a kilometer to Bonus Pastor, which required some 90 minutes all told, to meet Rita and David. Then we walked to St. Peter's and were pleasantly surprised to find the line to get in pretty short (with some sort of security scanning--in truth, not as rigorous as one would have expected if they were going to go thru all the trouble of installing the equipment and the personnel). Inside the basilica we couldn't get near the Pieta' on account of the crowd, but were able to wander around a good deal. It's still a very impressive church, to be sure, even tho I've been there several times before. And Rita and David were impressed (I hope they'll talk about the trip on their blog--eventually I'll figure out how to provide a link here). We made sure to find Don Bosco's statue and take pictures of it, and I passed by the ancient bronze statue of St. Peter beneath it and touched one of his feet in homage and with a prayer, as many other pilgrims were doing--hurried along by one of the guards.

Rita and David
posing in front of
The Glory of Bernini,
which is in the rear
of the basilica (behind
the papal altar)

This, obviously, is the statue
of Don Bosco, a the head of the
nave, just before the papal altar,
and way up high (above St. Peter's

We then went down to the crypt, where many of the Popes are buried and some archeological remnants from the earlier (Constantinian) basilica are displayed. As many of you know, the present basilica dates only from the 16th century; it was for the purpose of building it that Pope Leo X offered indulgences to contributors and riled up Martin Luther. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed there, my guess being that they don't want photographers clogging up the fairly narrow passages. About the only place where people were allowed to stop was in front of the tomb of Pope John Paul II, where a part of the passage was cordoned off for those who wished to pray there; and there were 4 or 5 people doing that. I uttered a quick prayer as I paused, not having gone on the side of the cordoned area, and in any case had to stay with Rita and David. I prayed at Paul VI's tomb too; he was the Pope of my entire seminary training, elected 2 months before I entered the aspirantate and dying less than 3 months after I was ordained, and I have both affection for him and sympathy for him on account of the many, many challenges he had to face during and right after Vatican II.

Your humble blogger in St. Peter's Square.
A Swiss guard giving some directional help
to some tourists.

We had ourselves an expensive lunch just outside the Vatican--there's no shortage of expensive places to eat near any of the major tourist attractions--and then took a bus to within walking distance of Piazza Navona. Unfortunately the church of St. Agnes on the piazza wasn't open yet (still siesta time).

Schoolkids making journal entries while taking a breather at the Fountain of the Moor in Piazza Navona.

So we went on to the Pantheon, which was open and is simply a marvel: the dome is as high as it is wide, and the opening in its center is 9 meters (about 30 feet) across. It was crowded with tourists, of course, and there was also a chamber concert being set up (which we didn't stay for). Among the notable entombed here are the great Raphael and the first two kings of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II and his son Humbert I.

The Pantheon and the square in front of it. Dome of the Pantheon.

Across the street from the Pantheon is the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (St. Mary on top of [the temple of] Minerva). I'd never visited it before, but Rita had it on her list--and that was most fortunate. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous gem of the Baroque period. It's staffed by the Dominicans, and under the main altar is the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, one of the truly great saints of the Middle Ages. In a side aisle is the tomb of Blessed Angelico, aka Fra Angelico, one of the truly great painters of the Middle Ages. I spent some minutes before the Blessed Sacrament there to pray for all those who count on my prayers. Yes, I was a pilgrim as well as a tourist, and Rome is a wonderful city for both activities.

Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena

Nave and altar of Sta. Maria sopra Minerva

We returned to
via Vittorio Emanuele (a main street from the Vatican into the heart of the city) and walked a short distance to the Gesu', or more formally, the church of the Holy Name of Jesus, which is the main church of the whole Jesuit world. St. Ignatius's tomb is there in one side chapel, and a fragment of St. Francis Xavier's right arm is kept there in another side chapel. I prayed for 2 Jesuit friends in particular before St. Ignatius.

A pilgrim family of Indians praying before
the altar of St. Francis Xavier

Trompe d'oeil ceiling of the Gesu'

We went back up via V.E. to an area adjacent to it called Largo Argentina, where there are the ruins of an old Roman forum well below street level. That spot is famous for the cats that hang out there, and we saw about a dozen; no doubt there were many more. Rita was under orders from someone who shall go unnamed to visit the place, and we also took a few photos.

Temple ruins in Largo Argentina

I tought I taw a puddy tat! Two cats sleeping in a little bit of shade among the miscellaneous stones of Largo Argentina.
We retired to Bonus Pastor for some beer and a little rest. Around 5:30 we went out again, 1st to the train and bus station to investigate buses to the airport, and then to have dinner at a nice little outdoor restaurant that we chose, off via V.E. next to the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle. By the time we were finished, it was dark, which was the plan. Rita had marked out a nite tour from Campo di Fiore (where Giordano Bruno was burned in 1600 and the leftists erected a huge statue of him in the 19th century, which is now the rallying point for any leftist rally) thru Piazza Navona, past the Pantheon, up to 2 more piazze--one whose name escapes me at the moment, and piazza Colonna), and to the Trevi Fountain. That's a sight during the day, and a spectacle at nite. David didn't even try to get close enuf thru the mobs to throw in any coins. By then it was late, so we returned to Largo Argentina and to get buses back to our places--Rita and David the one that would take them just about to the front door of Bonus Pastor, and I the first of 3 back to the Pisana (GHQ).

Trevi Fountain crowded--really crowded--with tourists, about 10 p.m.

Two of those tourists

I mistook my first stop and had to make my way back a block or two to the right street for the 881 bus, which came along in about 15 minutes (this was at about 10:00 p.m.), and that dropped me at the start of via della Pisana in about 10 minutes, where I had to wait about 40 minutes for the 808 bus to take me the rest of the way. I got to our front gate just after 11:00.

So Thursday was quite a day! Maybe I should break up this entry by days instead of making a book out of it--especially in view of adding pictures later.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ciao, Amici!

Ciao, Amici!

Saluti dalla citta' eterna! I'm using--fighting with--a borrowed laptop in one of the communications offices at our GHQ in Rome during our post-pranzo recreation/siesta time.

Unfortunately, I can't download photos, at least not yet. The weather has been gorgeous, and the grounds here are gorgeous. They'd certainly enhance this little note. Well, eventually, if not here, then back home.

I arrived Monday morning right on time after a smooth but sleepless flight. After Mass and cleaning up a bit, I greeted some old friends and then set to work in the central archives. I've spent a lot of time since in that quarter, where the staff are very helpful, tho we have a bit of a problem between my poor Italian (speaking it is an entirely different ballgame from reading it) and their non-existent English. It's fascinating to read about the early history of our province in these old letters, reports, and official records--a quite a challenge often with the calligraphy.
My work desk in the archives: dossiers at top left, very old letters at bottom left, my notebook in center, some materials I brought with me at right (including my own book on SDB origins in NYC).
There's another meeting on presently, of the province secretaries from the North Europe Region, 13 of them. They'll finish on Friday, and then on Sunday 2 more groups arrive--perhaps 25 Bulletin editors from around the world, and some new province treasurers who'll be here for a training course. There's a meeting of European Bulletin editors taking place this week in Munich--they wanted a separate meeting.

Only 2 of our general council are in at the moment; my "boss" in the communications department, Fr. Filiberto, is expected this afternoon. The Rector Major will return from Spain on the weekend, and we're going to celebrate his namesday with a big dinner on Sunday evening.

This evening Rita and David are due in from Belgium. Fr. Pete Sella, a former member of our N.R. Province who's now the treasurer of the community here (and who has been a very gracious host--also glad to see an American, I think), will take me to the airport to meet them and bring them to their pensione right outside the Vatican. And we'll make our arrangements for how to meet tomorrow a.m. and start our family sightseeing.

And I'll wind this up and get back to the archives.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2009
Acts 9: 26-31
1 John 3: 18-24
John 15: 1-8

“[Saul] moved about freely with [the apostles] in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9: 28).

We’re all familiar with the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, or St. Paul, on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Perhaps we’re less familiar with what he does immediately after accepting Jesus as the Son of God (9:20) and Messiah (9:22). He starts to preach that message in the synagogs of Damascus, and eventually he has to flee for his life (9:23-25). He comes to Jerusalem, where—despite what happened in Damascus—all the disciples are still afraid of him, as we heard in the reading (9:26). The apostles prove to be a little braver—in contrast to their behavior while Jesus was still in his earthly existence; but now they are filled with the Holy Spirit. So they meet Paul and accept him, and he joins them in preaching the name of Jesus in Jerusalem—to such an extent, with such boldness, that once again his life is endangered, the Greek-speaking Jews plot against his life, and again he has to flee (9:29-30).

The zeal of converts often does fire them up so that they become more enthusiastic about their new faith—and this doesn’t apply only to religious faith—than those born to it. In Paul’s case he’s eager to live up to Jesus’ words that we heard in the gospel: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). He wants to be apostolically fruitful by leading more people to Jesus and to eternal life. As you know, he’ll eventually spend the rest of his life—perhaps another 35 years—doing just that all over the places that today we call Syria, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, and Rome.

Boldly and incessantly preaching Jesus is one way of trying to be fruitful as one of the branches belonging to the true vine (cf. John 15:1). It’s not the only way.

I would say that the very 1st way to be fruitful with the divine life that has been given to us thru Jesus is to pray: to give praise to the Father out of gratitude for his mercy, for his goodness to us in Jesus Christ; and to intercede for the whole world that Jesus came to redeem. Jesus suggests as much when he tells his followers, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” (15:7). So it is that we come together as a community of disciples of Jesus every weekend to praise and thank the Father in our Eucharistic celebration, and to intercede for the world, the living and the dead—in our general intercessions as well as in intercessions that form part of the Eucharistic Prayer.

The 2d way we can be fruitful is by our good works. St. John’s constant refrain in his 1st letter is: “Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. Beloved, we have confidence in God…because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:21-22). This doesn’t mean that our good works earn us salvation; it means that God’s salvation blossoms forth—bears fruit—in good works, in works of love, of truth, of respect, of honesty, of mercy. And, on the contrary, anyone who doesn’t do good works, or who does evil works, is a barren branch that the vinedresser, the Father, will have to cut off the vine and cast into the fire (cf. John 15:1-2,6). The barrenness indicates that there’s just no divine life flowing thru that branch.

The 3d way we can be fruitful is related a little to what Paul did, but it’s low key. The branch can bear fruit by teaching Jesus. The psalm today says, “Let the coming generation be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice he has shown” (22:32). Each of us is responsible to some degree for passing on the story of Jesus, the message of salvation, from our generation to the next generations, to our children and grandchildren. We are responsible for living honestly and truthfully among our neighbors, and if occasion presents, answering their questions about what we believe, about WHOM we believe. “His commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 3:23). It’s so easy to fudge what we really believe, what we know to be right, when we’re afraid it won’t meet the approval of our children or our neighbors. But Paul teaches us to be courageous, and John reminds us that “we know that [God] remains in us from the Spirit he gave us” (3:24).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lobbying the Clergy

Lobbying the Clergy

The archdiocese of New York invited--urgently--all the religious priests and the deacons serving in the archdiocese, and those diocesan priests who missed an earlier meeting on the topic, to go to St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers this afternoon to hear a presentation on two bills before the state legislature.

Both bills deal with the sexual abuse of minors, and both would extend the period during which allegations of abuse could be filed in civil court. That's about where the similarity ends.

One bill, put forward by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey of Queens, has been passed by the Assembly several times but died in the Senate. It would open a window for one year, as California did in 2003, to civil suits by anyone who alleges sexual abuse at any time in the past (ending the statute of limitations for the year, after which a new, longer limit would go into effect) by anyone working in a private entity: a church or synagogue or religious school, a camp, the Boy Scouts, a business, etc.--but not a public entity, such as the public schools or any agency of city or state government. This bill has already passed committee in the Assembly. With Democrats now in control of the Senate, it has a chance to pass in that body, unlike in the past.

The bill is a threat to all private entities and their insurers because it's not fair. Statutes of limitations exist for sound legal reasons, without prejudice to either plaintiff or defendant: people's memories fade or get confused; witnesses die or relocate; evidence gets lost.

The bill's also unfair because it violates the principle of justice of equal treatment under the law. It singles out private institutions--while ignoring where most abuse of children actually takes place (outside of their own families!): the public schools.

It seems that the Markey bill is really aimed at punishing the Catholic Church, not at protecting children or compelling institutions to do a better job of protecting them. The sexual abuse of children is not a Catholic problem or a religious problem. It affects all classes of people.

The Catholic Church, not only in New York State, but across the country, has instituted major reforms in its efforts to protect young people, to offer them a safe environment in which to learn, to play, or to work. If you don't believe that, ask to become a volunteer at a Catholic church, school, camp, or other program! You'll be screened, have a criminal background check carried out on you, be given safe environment training, be supervised, and be required to be updated regularly.

In the last 50 years, about 300 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse of minors in New York State. That averages out to 6 a year. Most of those cases happened 20, 30, 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, in the last 5 years there have been 485 credible accusations against public school personnel in the state. That averages to 97 cases a year, and ongoing.

So just whom is Assemblywoman Markey out to help? Well, besides trial lawyers (big contributors to politicians!) and the public school teachers unions (big contributors to the Democrats!).

I said above that there was a 2nd bill before the state legislature. It was introduced by Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn and would extend the statute of limitations, giving someone alleging that he or she was abused as a minor until age 28 to file a suit--but only for the future, not retroactively. And it would apply across the board, to public as well as private entities. That's fair.

And therefore the New York State Catholic Conference is urging the priests and deacons of the state to back the Lopez bill and oppose the Markey bill, and urge their parishioners, parents, and others to do the same.

You, dear reader, can begin by contacting your state assemblyman and senator in Albany (or at their local offices). If you don't know their names, addresses, or phone numbers, you can start by going to or

Monday, May 4, 2009

Brother Frank Tilton (1926-2009)

Brother Frank Tilton (1926-2009)
One of my jobs is to write obituaries. You know: "somebody has to do it." But it does give one a chance to emphasize what's best about our confreres and to present the attractive face of religious life to the world.
So on my return from hiking on Saturday, I was informed by Fr. Provincial of Bro. Frank Tilton's death overnite, and by supper I'd got a good draft done, further refined on Sunday when I got more input from Fr. Provincial.

Here's the result:
Brother Frank Tilton, S.D.B., died at the Oakland Care Center in Oakland, N.J., on the morning of May 2, 2009. He was 82 years old and belonged to the Salesian community of Don Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, N.J.
A Marine Corps veteran of the landing on Okinawa on April 1, 1945, as well as of other action in the Pacific Theater, Bro. Frank discovered his vocation five years later after he had returned to his home town of Berlin, N.H., where he was born on May 15, 1926, to Frank and Catherine (McGee) Tilton. After returning from the war, he finished high school and worked as a water safety instructor and lifeguard.
Having seen an ad for the Salesians in a Catholic magazine, Frank inquired and was invited to visit the Salesian trade school in Paterson, N.J. He knew right away that this community and way of life was for him. He applied and was accepted as an aspirant for the Salesian brotherhood at Don Bosco Seminary in Newton, N.J. He completed his year of novitiate in 1951-1952 in Newton and made his first profession of religious vows on Sept. 8, 1952.
Bro. Frank’s talents were put right to use as a phys ed teacher at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson. During the next ten years he brought his skills to several Salesian works: the parishes in Birmingham, Ala., the parishes and youth centers in Port Chester, N.Y., and Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y.
He was one of the founders of the Salesian ministry in Birmingham, where he served from 1955 to 1959 and where the civil rights movement made a lasting impact on him, a movement that he supported on behalf of the Salesians’ black parishioners by using segregated “Negro” rest rooms, drinking from “Negro” water fountains, and sitting in back of public buses.
Bro. Frank began a long stint back in Paterson in 1962, teaching phys ed, health, and driver’s ed and coaching various sports—which he regarded as the happiest years of his life. He estimated that he trained about a thousand boys in Paterson to drive. After 20 years he moved on to Don Bosco Tech in Boston, where he taught lifesaving in addition to phys ed for 16 years.
When the Boston school was closed, Bro. Frank transferred in 1998 to Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., to serve as the attendance officer, which still allowed him to interact with young people both in the office and through occasional visits to classes to speak of either his war experiences or his vocation. He continued those services until poor health compelled him to retire in 2007.
During all those years Bro. Frank spent his summers in various camps: Camp Savio in West Milford, N.J. (many of whose alumni became priests or religious), Camp Don Bosco in East Barrington, N.H., and Mary Help of Christians Camp in Tampa, among others. The Salesians’ current provincial, Fr. James Heuser recalls his own first meeting with Bro. Frank at the Camp Savio waterfront: “I was ten years old when I attended Camp Savio in the summer of 1966. Bro. Frank Tilton was one of the first Salesians I met. He was the camp water safety instructor and lifeguard at the lake, and gave me swimming lessons.” Bro. Frank lifeguarded in Tampa almost 20 years, continuing until he was 80. He was famous for keeping the pool in tip-top shape and the campers in good, safe order.
“I’ve been blessed,” Bro. Frank told an interviewer in 2004. “These have been very happy years. I’ve always been able to do what I wanted—help young people in physical education classes, summer camps, boys clubs, coaching.” He believed that his life and the lives of many young men were enriched by his vocation and his own salvation made a little more secure.
Bro. Frank was a Salesian brother for more than 56 years. Unlike most brothers of his generation, he did not teach in a printing, woodworking, or auto mechanics shop. In the words of Fr. Heuser, “He spent his Salesian life primarily among the young in the playground. His ‘shop’ [was] the playground in its various forms: the school gyms where he taught phys ed; the basketball courts, baseball fields and swimming pools where he coached; the camp lakes where he lifeguarded.”
When Bro. Frank suffered a breakdown of his health around the middle of 2007, writes Fr. Heuser, a brother “whose mission for so many years was characterized by physical activity, was rendered immobile…. He bore his illness with great courage, cheerful with visitors, and grateful for any kindness shown him by nurses and staff. To my mind, as a reliable soldier, he somehow accepted that this was his duty now.”
Bro. Frank is survived by a sister, Patricia Sinibaldi, of Gorham, N.H. Two brothers, Robert and Donald, pre-deceased him. A nephew, Fr. Daniel Sinibaldi, is pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Woodsville, N.H. He is also survived by nephews Patrick Sinabaldi, Michael Tilton, and Gary Tilton and niece Donna Moulton.

Funeral Arrangements
The wake and Mass of Christian Burial for Bro. Frank Tilton will take place at Don Bosco Prep H.S., 492 N. Franklin Tpk., Ramsey, N.J. 07446.
Reception of the body in the school chapel: Monday, May 4, 10:00 a.m.
Wake: May 4, 2:00 to 5:00 and 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Rosary 5:00 p.m. Prayer service 8:00 p.m.
Funeral Mass with the student body in the gymnasium: Tuesday, May 5, 9:00 a.m., followed by burial in the Salesian Cemetery, Goshen, N.Y., at 11:00 a.m.

Sunday, May 3, 2009



Friday afternoon, after Fr. Jim Mulloy finished his classes at Salesian HS, he and I took off for an overnite hiking and camping trip in Harriman State Park. Our destination was a very short section of the Appalachian Trail running southwest from Arden Valley Rd., more or less parallel to Seven Lakes Drive and Lake Tiorati, but way up on the ridge of Fingerboard Mt.

We picked ourselves a dreary, drizzly day for this hike, as you can see in the photo above, which I took about halfway between Arden Valley Rd. and the Fingerboard shelter (named for the mountain, obviously), where we planned to spend the nite. You may be able to make out 2 trail blazes on the skinny tree in the middle of the picture: one for the AT and one for Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, which runs along with the AT for this particular mile.
The AT, as many folks know, runs for over 2,200 miles from northern Georgia to central Maine. The RD is much more local, running from Tuxedo Park, just outside Harriman SP on the west, to Jones Point on the Hudson (under the Dunderberg, or Thunder Mt.), a stretch of perhaps 20 miles.

A 45-minute hike brought the shelter into view, very welcome for 3 reasons: 1st, to get out of the drizzle; 2nd, to reassure us that we hadn't bypassed it accidentally (neither of us had been on this trail since October 2004); 3rd, the sooner we got there--and this was about 4 o'clock--the better our odds of being first there, as in "first come, first served," which is the rule on the state park shelters.

The shelter is 350 feet off the AT-RD where a 3rd trail, the Hurst Trail, ends. The photo above shows 2 signs, the lower one with a bunch of AT distances marked on it, and the other gives distances to the shelter, to a spring (.1 mile), and to Seven Lakes Dr. and Lake Tiorati (.5 mile) on the Hurst.
Fingerboard is a cozy little shelter, about 20 feet wide with a solid platform, enuf nails for hanging gear, and 2 inside fireplaces. Here you can see a water bag and poncho, jacket, hat, pants hanging to dry. Someone very thoughtfully left a little stack of dry kindling wood by one fireplace.

We waited till about 6:30 to fix our suppers of freeze-dried backpacking meals. Fr. Jim had chili, and I had honey mustard chicken. I made the better choice, judging from his remarks later. He also had hot tea, while I drank Crystal Lite. And I got a nice fire going with that kindling wood and other wood that I'd rounded up. (As usual, Fr. Jim fetched water and I fetched wood.)

About an hour after Fr. Jim and I arrived at the shelter, another hiker came along. We invited him to join us. Sometimes people will be glad to do that, and sometimes they'll prefer their own privacy (or be unsure whether to trust you). This fellow, named Andy from Vermont, accepted our hospitality and spent the nite. He and Fr. Jim talked a lot about hiking, particularly in New England, where Fr. Jim has lots of experience and I none.

As I said above, the AT and RD run along together for about a mile. On the ridge above Fingerboard shelter they go their separate ways, as you can see in this photo. The red dot in the circle tells the RD hiker to go on straight (continuing southwest), and the AT tells one to bear right (due west).

In the morning (Saturday) we had a little bit of sun. Andy left at the crack of dawn to go about his own pursuits. Fr. Jim and I got up between 6:30 and 7:00, ate breakfast, packed up, and hit the trail at 8:15. With the sun out, or at least without drizzle and mist, we could make out Lake Tiorati far below (about 300 feet elevation and a half-mile hike). You can see it in the picture below, and on the tree behind Fr. Jim you can easily make out the blazes for the AT (6" white rectangle) and the RD (red dot in white circle).

We got back to the school community's minivan at Lake Tiorati at 9:00 and were home a little after 10:00 a.m. Too bad we didn't have more time just to hang out at Fingerboard!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Risks of Missionary Life

Risks of Missionary Life

Some months ago--probably in mid-February--I e-mailed some of my family and friends with requests for prayers for a Salesian missionary who'd been very seriously injured in an assault at the school where he was working far out in the "bush" of Papua New Guinea.

Finally we've had some news on his gradual recovery. It comes from the news service of our SDB region for East Asia and Oceania:
austraLasia #2404
Taking risks in mission life
MANILA: 1 May 2009 -- There are times when mission life can be unpredictable. Fr. Anthony Nguyen Ngoc Dung is a Vietnamese Salesian who shares snippets of what happened in his near-death experience after being physically attacked by a student in Don Bosco Vanimo in early February.
His Salesian vocation began when he was still 18 years old, amid a young and suffering Church in Vietnam. He entered the aspirantate in 1996 and the novitiate in 1997. On August 15, 1998, he made his first profession. The then-Bro. Anthony spent his first year as a practical trainee in Vietnam in 2001-2002.

He came to the Philippines on March 16, 2002, as part of the exchange program between Vietnam and the Philippines. He was assigned to Don Bosco Canlubang, where he organized the school soccer club, winning friends among the youths through sports. Bro. Anthony had his first taste of the missions when he was sent to Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, from May 2003 to 2004. It was finally in August 1, 2008, that he was ordained to the priesthood. In his love for the missions, Fr. Anthony spent his first year of priesthood back in Vanimo.

Fr. Anthony recalls the attack on February 12, 2009. It was at 6:30 p.m. during supper time with the boarders. The boy, a grade 12 student-boarder, approached him at the dining area while everyone was having their meal. He received the boy with a smile, but he was greeted by being struck with a bush knife straight to the right shoulder, opening a deep wound. The laceration hit vital parts of the large veins in his arms, causing heavy bleeding. The boy kept swinging the bush knife as Fr. Anthony tried to ward off the attacks. He used his right arm to repel the knife, but his fingers, too, were cut in the process. The boy lunged the knife straight at his abdomen as a final blow where it finally could have been Fr. Anthony’s last. He lay almost dead on the floor. Somehow, during the commotion, some of the boys got the courage to stop their fellow boarder from the ruthless attack.
Fr. Anthony underwent several operations and blood transfusions when he was brought to the Philippines for medical treatment. He continually thanks God for his near-death experience. It was a moment of blessing for him when others might think of it otherwise. Through it, he sees what is truly essential in life. Fr. Anthony has no bitterness for the boy. He was asked by the diocesan bishop what his last words were as he was given up for dead after the attack. Fr. Anthony with all conviction said, “Do not punish the boy. I forgive him before he even asks forgiveness. I, love him more now.”