Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Praise God, home has never felt so homelike!

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I have returned. Three weeks without a blog-peep (although the keen of eyes will have noticed I sneaked in now and then to update my BOOKS section). This trip -- which ultimately became a true pilgrimage -- is almost beyond description. It was full of so many encounters, so many insights, so many hardships, so many small (and big) delights, so many miles, so very very much that I'm left mostly just shaking my head at the grandeur of it. I know, that may sound over the top, and believe me, I never intended it to be as rich as it was. But the truth is this trip was and is one of the greatest episodes of my life. Not, mind you, for all the typical reasons (i.e., ceaselessly breathtaking scenery, flawless enchanting ease, perfectly goals fulfilled goals, immense growth, etc.), but for all the right reasons.

I made it home (which I was stunned to find I'd left so clean!) about 1:30 AM last night (Tuesday). I was able to sleep an hour later. My return leg began in Rome about 4 PM Sunday afternoon. All in all, then, by train, plane, bus, taxi and foot, via Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taipei, I was in transit over 50 hours. It was a very taxing return, but actually a fitting end to what I realized on the way to Hong Kong was one of the most active episodes of my life. I'm simply stunned by how transient I have been in the last few weeks. Bus to Taipei, plane to Frankfurt, train to Köln, tram to my first stay, walking all around Köln, buses, subways, trams and walking all over Köln, a night train to Rome, walking all over Rome, train back to Frankfurt, subway to the airport and, finally, the return leg described above.

The journey was not without perils, of course. I have been sick and tired for weeks. I had sore muscles week after week. I had sores break out on my skin. I fell down stairs. I broke my camera. I got lost more than once. I had to wait in seemingly interminable lines just to eat or use the bathroom. I was cold and hot and hungry and thirsty. I had to change plans and miss out on opportunities. I cried. I missed home and sometimes longed for a travel companion. As soon as I got home last night -- exhausted, spent, sore, congested -- I was told very sad news by one of my dearest friends. And yet I do not mention a single one of these perils as a complaint. The perils were part of the very texture of this feast of experience, and I'd ask for (most of!) them again if given the chance to replay it all.

There were also so many good things to cherish. I have been blessed to enjoy more of the world than some people can imagine exists. I have made friends from all over that same vast world. I got to learn Polish and Italian from native speakers. I got to brush up on my German, Spanish and even Chinese. I got to adore the Blessed Sacrament in chapels throughout Köln and Rome. I had the time to read more books than many people read all year. I was privileged to cram into train after bus after train my Catholic siblings from around the globe. I got to see Pope Benedict XVI smiling with such paternal joy from little more than two meters. I was given items of devotion, in acts of generosity, which together have strengthened my faith immensely. I was able to try over a dozen flavors of authentic Italian gelato. I saw the tomb of many popes, including (my) dear John Paul II -- then turned the corner and fell to my knees before the remains of St. Peter. Above all, I saw my pilgrimage punctuated by numerous twists and turns of providence which encouraged and humbled me knowing God was guiding me in a home away from my home away from home.

And now I have been able to return home just before a typhoon hit Taiwan, a typhoon which will cancel school tomorrow, thus giving me one more day to recuperate. I think in sadness of the people of southeastern USA. Only God knows their sorrow adequately. Only he can save from the flood, for only he dared enter it and re-emerge in Christ. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

I of course hope to resume my "blog itinerary" as described in the previous posts below. I'd also like to add more details to my journey tale, specifically in the form of photos, as time permits.

Strange to say, but though I've never met most of you, I miss you. May we all someday be known of each other in the Lord, at that great heavenly wedding banquet. I am so glad to be home; I am so thankful to be at home in the Catholic Church, where I continue await Home as the Bridegroom approaches.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Break the surface, gasp for air!

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Hey peoples!

Very briefly: I am sad to say I am unable to update the blog any time before (and probably not any time during) World Youth Day. Yes, , this also means I won't be able to explain the recent "drama". (Perhaps you'll still still care in a month!?) Either way, just trust me with -- entrust me to -- God. Aside from teaching, I've got a handful of "theens" to deal with before I fly out Wednesday morning.

Even so, let me at least tell you I had a very interesting, refreshing weekend when I took a trip to a monastery in Xin Ying (near Tainan). The whole event was one more head-spinning reason why I love the Catholic Church. It still has me chuckling. (Yes, another promised post-WYD update to keep you twisting in suspense!)

Finally, I want to leave you with my basic agenda:

"Days of Encounter" and volunteer training 12.-13. August in Cologne. It seems I will be assisting people with disabilities, which thrills me!

World Youth Day commences (August 15-21; schedule). Frankly, I have almost no idea what that will entail day by day. It seems my on-site team is already organized and ready to rendezvous in the thereabouts. (News to me!) Austrians, Italians, 'Mer'cans (like me), Canadians, etc. I love it. I have also been invited to a skit in St. Engelbert by a French monk (and friends) I met some months ago at Providence University and was blessed to catch up with (and practice some French with!) at the monastery this weekend. I have no idea how much "free time" or what kinds of transportation I'll have there as a volunteer, but I'm flexible. Of course, one red-hot goal is to pick up a "full Catholic" Bible (maybe also a missal) in German, some of the now-pope's works in German and various other books... in German.

After WYD, I have a few options. My original plan was to visit the eternal city, Rome, but this has some stiff competition from an invitation to Barcelona by a firefighter-priest I met last week (who is not only Fr. Ramon's mentor but also played no small role in the resolution of my "crisis").

Another option is to "hang" at the seminary of the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) in Wigratzbad, Germany. My soul wold love such a retreat, but it may just as easily be a brief visit on the way to and from Rome. (Dirty little secret? I saw the webpage for that FSSP seminary years ago on the web and since then, it has stuck in my brain like a living tattoo. The image of that seminary has always been the icon of "getting away" for me, and in fact was an unexpected key factor in my recent "crisis" [I keep scarequoting it just cuz one man's crisis is another man's, well, not-crisis]. I may just owe it to myself to make a visit!)

Although the allure of being hosted in Barcelona by a local is very potent, the sheer distance of Barcelona on my compressed timeline may cut it out. Add to this the fact that one other desire is to visit the hometown of one of my new favorite (i.e., patron!) saints, Leopoldo of Mandic(i). Cologne, Wigratzbad, Rome, Mandic(i)? Ach, in God's hands.

Lastly, especially since I don't intend on updating FCA while in Europe (but who knows?), I encourage you to keep posted at the official WYD website (as well as with the live feed).

Okay, back under! Oof, I'm tired, but the Lord is my wings. Pray along with me and the patron saints of WYD XX. Amen!