Tuesday, November 1, 2016

15 degrees North and way out in the Pacific

It's not all sunny skies and paddleboarding in turqoise waters every day around here.  Saipan is tropical, after all, and that means it is also wet.  Very wet.

And I don't mean the occasional light (or heavy) showers that quickly pass, either.  "Tropical" means that sometimes, it dumps rain for hours and hours, and day after day. 


When it really comes down, some of the roads get flooded and the limited amount of sidewalks available soon become irrelevant as giant puddles merge to form small lakes.
It kills me to see folks who depend on bicycles to get them to work or school wrap themselves in ponchos and try to keep moving. Do they pack a change of clothes to bring along, or something? Because I don't see that there is any possible way to protect from a thorough soaking.


The Internet speed tends to drag during the heavy rains, and the pace of life slows down along with it --even more than usual, even.

I suppose it is our version of Autumn.  It's the only time we usually get the urge to curl up with a cup of tea or some soup. But we still keep the fans running and the A/C on the "dry" setting because the humidity indoors, even under sturdy leak-proof ceilings, is harder to fight than ever. Besides, it's still really hot around here.

Tank tops and lightweight shorts and a cup of tea. That's our kind of Fall these days. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Trip to Rome (Pt. 3): Canonization Day

(If you want to start reading from the beginning, go here for Part I and here for Part II.)

Jetlag worked in my favor this trip: I was awake early and already headed out of my hostel in order to get in line by 4am.  

In the wee dark hours of Sept. 4, there was no one else on the streets of Rome.
It was just me and the astronomy van...


others did not bother to get a hotel room for the night.  I actually
saw one guy from the overnight-ing group out jogging at 3:45am.


When the barricades were finally opened, the press of the crowd was intense. There were two search points before entering the Square: one was by hand, and we only got through one at a time. The second used a metal detector and x-ray machines like at an airport. There were a lot of people, and we all had to be funneled into just a few lines so it took quite a long time (understatement). 

The fascinating part was that, although it was still early in the morning and the sun wasn't quite on us yet, people got to grumbling pretty quickly. But not everyone: what I began to notice was that the folks who were most bothered by the elbows and the poking and the shoving seemed to originate from places on the globe where being in confined places, uncomfortable and on insufficient sleep is not a common everyday occurrence. I can't say that I heard a single Filipino or Indian even squawk about it, but even the New Yorkers did! 

Inconvenience, discomfort, long and disorderly lines, standing with no possibility of resting your feet for an absurdly long amount of time--maybe it's no biggie when it is already part of the lifestyle. 
I don't have any great moral conclusions to draw from this except to say that I suspect perhaps there is something stamina-building about regular and consistent exposure to administrative inefficiency and physical inconveniences.


One day later, back again in the Square, a few rows further back
from where I was the day before
The gentleman in the photo below was 110 years old, according to his daughter who had accompanied him. Born in 1906, according to her. If that's true, I figured that he was most likely the most senior attendee by several decades, and by the way he would have been 4 years older than Mother Teresa herself.



I was early enough to grab a seat, on the center aisle right up close to several folks who had known Mother during her lifetime and who were eager to reminisce.


Like the Tuareg under all their layers out there in the Sahara,
the Swiss Guards didn't even break a sweat
Why, hello there again, Papa Francesco!
The Pope spoke, we had Mass. It was prayerful and solemn but mostly it was a celebration. Appropriately, it not as solemn as the gathering the day before.

Then this happened:


This was the exit line from the Square, where the MC Sisters were directed to meet up with their respective groups. Some of us were inspired to try and spot a familiar face or two in the crowd, and when we made it over there discovered that we weren't the first ones to have had that idea. 

Like so many large human gatherings in this moment in history when the personal camera is such a prized possession, a certain number of "celebrities" often end up being hounded by the paparazzi.

This time, the hounded and sought after were the M.C. Sisters and that just made me smile. 

_____

A few more misc. thoughts to share from the weekend: 

-The entire weekend provided a sort of primer in the spirituality of "Mother" Teresa of Kolkata. The divine image in the face and bodies of the hungry, the sick and the suffering... How service to others, rich and poor alike, is as if directed to Jesus himself, as Mother summarized in her favorite slogan: "You Did It To Me"...The spiritual "darkness" she carried with her while spreading hope to others. 
"Give until it hurts." "Give without counting the cost." Lots of good stuff.

It would have been hard to go home after this event without a strong sense that any small or large sacrifice or deprivation for a cause that demands sacrifice and is worthy of it, is ever wasted. No doubt Mother Teresa would have naturally wondered at times if anything she was doing was making any kind of difference whatsoever; she probably had plenty of opportunities and reasons to become discouraged. The relatively small gathering out there in the Square was evidence of the much greater number of people around the world who took note of the course of her life and came away convinced that she, and her contributions, were well worth celebrating.  

I think this is one of my favorite photos of the trip. (And yes, Sly, I asked
 the mama's permission first.)

-The variety of languages in the presentations and in the liturgies was very extremely cool: Albanian and Bengali were included for prayers and readings, along with Italian, French, Portuguese, English, Spanish and of course, Latin. The Gospel reading during the Canonization Mass was read through twice: once in Italian and a second time in Greek--or rather, I should say that it was chanted by a cantor.  
The universality of this gathering cannot be overstated: folks from the Congo, Brazil and Mexico, Serbia the Czech Republic, Germany and Canada, India and Korea, and Australia, and even that tiny unknown place called Saipan.*

There was energetic enthusiasm from all corners of the Square, but I especially loved seeing the many Indian flags out there. I read a news report that said that Archbishop D'Souza would be in attendance, along with 300 others from Bengal, but I suspect that plenty of folks from other parts of India were also present. 
It was fun to imagine the kind of party that must have been happening back in Kolkata at the Mother House and other places in that proud city.




_______

God help us to live our lives as unselfishly as she did.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us!


(*Although I traveled from Saipan to attend the festivities, I was really there for the people of Gallup,  New Mexico. Especially those served by the St. Joseph Shelter and Soup Kitchen, and the MC Sisters whose work there prevented them from attending and who generously provided me with tickets to all of the events.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Seoul (again) and a Hiking Trip



these lobsters were Yuge!

They like to play this game while we walk around town.  They give directions and warnings ("step up onto the curb in 3..2..1" and "sharp left turn" and so on):




lizard-children



This child was too tired and hungry to do a lizard imitation
(Ah...Everyone fed and energized.)




once we climbed high enough, there were some Fall colors
 The town near the Park did not have much English.  We had to order off the menu by pointing and hoping we would like what was served. It worked out pretty well for us and we enjoyed some delicious dishes.


 







I'm not sure why this was at a food court, but we all
 need inspiration, anywhere and any time of day...right?

This is a sign in a regular ol' subway station in Seoul. (Hello, NYC and Chicago: you can do better, I know you can!)

ps: the "Information" spot they are talking about was an actual
office in this case.  Not a booth but an entire office.

Another great trip to Korea.  We didn't redo the DMZ tour this time, nor did we see any of the cherry blossoms, and there were no baseball games to go to, but we didn't mind!  We always have a great visit, and anyway, we can never get enough of dumplings and kimchi.

What can I say? We are easy to please.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Trip to Rome (Pt 2): Jubilee for Workers and Volunteers of Mercy

(You can read Part I here.)

There were many, many different events on the schedule for the Canonization weekend. A prayer vigil, Adoration, a special dinner for the homeless, Masses, concerts, and so on.

Chairs are set out--check.  Mother Teresa tapestry hung up--check. Go time.

And right in the middle of it all, on Saturday morning, they squeezed in one more big celebration. This one was sort of an excuse to hold Jubilee-within-a-Jubilee, to recognize and encourage the work done by people who devote themselves to acts of mercy (medical workers, volunteers at food pantries or crisis shelters, caregivers for the disabled or the elderly, humanitarian workers of various kinds, etc.).

The entire weekend, with all the various liturgies and processions, was considered by some to be the focal point of the entire Year of Mercy: the canonization of an icon of selfless service of others paired with this particular jubilee, all of it presided by the Pope who can't seem to say enough about the Mercy of God.

Pilgrims walking the designated path from Castel San'Angelo
to St. Peter's,for the Year of Mercy



Going into this trip I knew all of that beforehand, but even so, I was unprepared for just how many really good surprises there would be. Now that it's been several weeks since my return, you'd think I'd be able to keep from gushing in the reporting and re-telling, but I guess you'd be wrong. Fair warning.



On the morning of the Jubilee for Workers, the VIP seats on the inside of the center aisle at St. Peter's Square were very appropriately reserved for a few handpicked guests: the elderly and disabled, many of them wheelchair-bound.


There were tens of thousands present, but the Square was not even close to being full (the really big crowd wasn't expected until the following morning).  I arrived early enough to snag an empty seat just a few chairs in from the center aisle.
Then, all we had to do was wait a couple of hours for the festivities to begin.


It turns out that a program had been prepared for the duration of the wait: musical performances, personal testimonies, and so on. Rescue workers from the recent earthquake in central Italy gave accounts of their mission and brought in one of their trained dogs for public praise. Too bad for me that I can understand just enough Italian to follow the main thread of the story and miss the key points and punchline...(sigh).

Other speakers included a displaced Assyrian Catholic who told his story of evacuation due to the war; he made sure to tell us about his church back home where the local liturgies are still in Aramaic: "the language Jesus spoke," he emphasized. There was a Palestinian Christian who greeted us all in Arabic and then shared a firsthand account of what being a refugee in Italy looks like. One of my favorite musical guests was a young boy (from Tajikistan I think they said, or maybe Turkmenistan...?) who played a kind of xylophone with piano accompaniment.  

It was a big day for the Missionaries of Charity, of course, and about 50 sat down in my vicinity. When it came time for a close-up viewing of il Papa Francesco, my spot was in high demand and I was surrounded on all sides by eager sisters. Well who could blame them: they were some of the very few members of the M.C. community who were able to travel out for the weekend (from other European cities, mostly) and no way were any of us going to deny them their moment! 

Lucky for me, I am taller than most and can just hold my camera up higher than they can reach:

  

MC hands
This moment was an all-time favorite:


Here, Pope Francis, who had been zipping around the Square in his "mobile" stopped so an elderly MC Sister could drape a garland of flowers around his neck. She is Sister Clare and she joined Mother Teresa back in the '50's when she was first starting out into the slums of Calcutta after leaving the convent of Loreto. I was told by my seat-neighbors that Sister Clare along with Sr. Francesca (who was also seated along the center aisle) are among only three surviving sisters from the original group of ten who were the first to profess vows as Missionaries of Charity, way back when the order was just founded. You bet they were on the short list for seats of honor! This encounter between the Pope and Sr. Claire was the image of choice for the event reports later on (though the angle is somewhat better than what I was able to capture).

______

Let me rewind for just a second to try to give a sense of what it was like out there in that Square, for hours upon hours in the scorching heat and sun. There we all were, thousands and thousands of us sitting and waiting for several hours, and feeling like it was worth every minute. The sense of hope within the testimonies of those up on stage, the music, and the conversation with our seat-neighbors all heightened the energy of the crowd. In the few words of whichever common language we shared with our close neighbors, we managed to exchange personal stories or to tell about what brought us to be there on that day. So many folks who had traveled so far, so hard work and fight for survival and love. It was a great party.

And then, if it were even possible, we all got even more worked up, as the scheduled pre-program wrapped up and there was silence from the front of the Square for the first time in a couple of hours. The crowd started buzzing, standing up to stretch our necks to see from which corner of the Square the guest of honor would first appear. People were falling all over themselves, climbing up on the chairs, or getting babies into strategic positions in order to receive personal blessings.

Finally, while we kept ourselves from completely trampling each other in our eagerness, the Pope finally arrived. He was driven through the Square, greeting and blessing the people until at last he made his way to the central dais. A few introductory comments from the emcee, some readings, a testimony from Missionary of Charity Sr. Sally (the only surviving sister from the Yemen attack last year*), and it was his turn to speak. 

That's when the mood of the Square completely changed.

This Pope seems to be able to do that. It is hard not to pay attention to what he says, and it is not because he has a strong voice or is a striking person, physically speaking. He spoke quietly, slowly and very soberly. His voice is that of an old man, which is only to be expected, and at first I thought, "He sounds tired."  Maybe he was, but I think that it was the startling contrast to all the strong, and mostly young, voices we had been listening to all morning that made me mistake it at first for fatigue.

He talked about the love of God, that is not vague or abstract, but tangible. Love in action is what God gave us in his Son; and that is the example we are called to follow:
It is not worthy of the Church nor of any Christian to "pass by on the other side" and to pretend to have a clean conscience simply because we have said our prayers or because we have been to Mass on Sunday. No. Calvary is always real. 
If there had been any hint of self-congratulatory hype in the celebration, any inwardly directed pats on the back, he reversed them all, and drawing out in their place an attitude of openness, humility and prayer.

It was only later back at my hostel, once I could get online to read the full text and translation of his speech, that I was able to understand his actual words out there in the Square. But while I was out there, overheating in the harsh sunshine and straining to catch whatever Italian words I could recognize, I simply knew that Pope Francis had come prepared to meet with us and with a message for all of us out there in that mass of people. I didn't understand how, but I knew that he was accomplishing something exceptional.

It was remarkable. Like so many others, I had come to Rome with fairly clear reasons for being there, and some expectations of what I would get out of it, but then he gathered up all of that anticipation and hope and excitement, and took it even further.  
_____

Here is a full-coverage video of the scene, if you want to click through to get some impressions.  I don't show up in the background while he is embracing Sr. Clare, but I promise I was there, only a few feet away!  Sr. Sally's story is in there, too, at around 2:15:00.




*Sister Sally's statement begins in the above video at 2:14:30 and is in English.