Spring is here! Finally….well almost.

The last week has been quite busy here at the Retreat Center. Due to the lateness of Easter,  Fr. Jim and I had to work  three overnight retreats in a row: The Men’s Holy Week Retreat, (April 18-20)  a Women’s Midweek Retreat (April 22-24) and a Women’s Weekend Retreat (April 25-27). When you work this many retreats in a row, all things seem to blur.  Chris Martin, our Music Minister almost worked two of these three retreats, but had a mishap with her back on the 23rd and is now recuperating. Corrine Kindschy graciously agreed to help with the Men’s Holy Week Retreat, and Debbie Koop worked the Midweek. We will be joined by Kris Joseph and Terri Mifek for the Women’s Weekend, with Jean Thompson and Marc Jaros serving as mu

Easter seems to be a perfect time to come on retreat and even though the numbers of the Men’s Holy Week Retreat and Women’s Midweek were smaller than in past years, both groups had a deep sense of prayer and reverence about them. The fidelity of these good people to  Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center is inspiring.

Water droplets clinking to a tiny branch after a recent rain at the Retreat Center.
Water droplets clinking to a tiny branch after a recent rain at the Retreat Center.

I happened to notice these droplets of water that were clinging to a small branch of a bush outside of the Retreat Chapel as I was tidying up from the Women’s Midweek. The way that these tiny drops of water caught the light, and my eye, as well as the tenacious way that they clung to the tiny branch captivated me. I thought of how often I feel like one of those droplets, barely hanging on, yet in the several minutes that I spent shooting photos of them, none of them departed the tiny branch  The same was true for me; I hung on. I guess that all of us can relate to that.

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This weekend will mark the cannonizations of two men who had a tremendous impact on our Church and on our world. Popes John XXIII and John Paul II will be proclaimed saints and have their names inscribed in the Calendar of Saints by Pope Francis in a special ceremony at St. Peter’s on Sunday, April 27th. (I already have our Friary DVR set to record it.) Our Minister Provincial, and former Director of Franciscan Retreats, Fr. Jim Kent, is in Rome during this time. Fr. Jim is carrying with him 175 Intercession Cards with over 1000 petitions from our donors and supporters. He is also writing about his time in Rome. Visit our province’s website: www.FranciscansUSA.org  a click on “Fr. Jim’s Pilgrimage to Rome,” or try the following link: http://franciscansusa.org/fr-jim-kents-pilgrimage-to-rome

One more weekend to go….hurray for our Saints John XXIII and John Paul II!

One week home

Sorry for the week long silence in the blog, but re-entry into life and ministry here has come at a rapid pace. I actually recovered from the long trip home fairly quickly, unlike Steve, but I had a lot of things needing my attention when I returned.

Our last evening in Rome ended in a lovely dinner at a family-run restaurant not far from our hotel. The food was superb and the family who owned the place were so welcoming and generous that we hated to leave, but with the lethal combination of European Daylight Savings Time kicking in and a 6:55 a.m. flight (which meant that we had to be at the airport by 5:00 am) we had to cut our evening short.

Not so short that we couldn’t stop for one last gelato on the way to the hotel. The poor young man running the place was nearing closing time, but he was friend and gracious as we made our selections and enjoyed the last tastes of this sweet treat. Not long after we finished our orders, he was preparing to close the place down, and asked if we could move so that he could lower the awning. Sister Nancy asked him if he was “rolling up the sidewalk.” He looked a bit confused and she explained to him in Italian what the idiom meant. His face lit up as he laughed and nodded. The poor guy looked like he had had a long day. I noticed that many of the workers in our hotel were present from very early in the morning through late in the evening. My hat is off to them and anyone who provides service to travelers.

Our flights home were relatively uneventful. Two other groups were ahead of us in the Rome airport, but finally made our way through check in and security; Nancy gave each of us a hug and wished us well as we prepared for the first leg of our trip home. (Steve had departed about an hour ahead of us, as he was flying through Amsterdam and we were going through Paris.)

When we arrived at the behemoth that is De Gaul airport in Paris, we de-planed through these tunnels that reminded you of something in a massive hamster exhibit. There were tubes everywhere with people walking to their various destinations. We had to change terminals, but did not have to clear security again and by the time we reached our gate it was nearly time to board.

As the cabin door closed, we noticed that the entertainment system was not working and the head flight attendant announced that she was re-booting it. (I prayed to St. Clare, the patron saint of television to give them some help and within 20 minutes the system was up and running.)

As our plane approached MSP airport, I was stunned to see that much of the snow was gone. I had forgotten what the ground looked like! When the pilot announced that the temperature was in the 50’s I wanted to clap…I think that I actually did.

The line through Customs was unbelievable long and I struck up a conversation with a young couple who were returning to St. Paul after meeting in Barcelona and then weekending in Paris. He had been away in Asia for a month and his wife was naturally happy to have him home. “I bet that you missed him during these last snowfalls.” “Yeah,” she said, “He lucked out this time.”

Since Steve had arrived before me, and since he had left his car with the Friars in Bloomington, he was able to retrieve it and pick me up after I had cleared customs. I said my good-byes to many in our group, so grateful for the opportunity to be with them and get to know them.

No, we're not trying to read what flavors of gelato are available.
No, we’re not trying to read what flavors of gelato are available.

If you have enjoyed reading this, please keep checking as I plan to continue writing in the days and weeks ahead. Thanks for the many kind words. Br Bob


San Pietro, Caravaggio and Fr. Tom C.

Our group poses in front of St. Peter's prior to attending Mass in the crypt.
Our group poses in front of St. Peter’s prior to attending Mass in the crypt.

I apologize for going dark for the last few days, but our time in Rome was jam-packed with little free time. Add to this the wretched Wi-Fi at our hotel, and it made posts very difficult to compose and upload.

Our last day in Rome began EARLY with breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and then a quick walk to St. Peter’s where we had a small chapel reserved in the crypt for Mass. We had to start early because the cut off time for groups having Mass in the crypt of other altars is 9:00 a.m. After getting “shussed” only once during our liturgy, we made our way to the main part of the Basilica for a short tour.

Interior of St. Peter's; view from the altar area to the entrance.
Interior of St. Peter’s; view from the altar area to the entrance.

Nothing can convey the enormity and the grandiosity of this space, all built over the burial site of St. Peter, a simple fisherman, who responded to the Lord’s call, “Follow me.” St. Peter, a man who would deny his Lord, and yet be charged with feeding his sheep; a man who could stick his foot in his mouth one minute and the next confess that Jesus was “the Christ, the son of the living God.” What I took most from my time in St. Peter’s was the understanding that Peter’s greatness derives from his humanness and his weakness. Despite his limitations and his mistakes, he kept picking himself back up and doing his best to serve his Lord.

After our tour of the Basilica, we had the remainder of the afternoon free. I opted to visit Piazza Navona and visit the Chiesa San Luigi, (the Church of St. Louis of France).

Caravaggio's, The Calling of St. Matthew.
Caravaggio’s, The Calling of St. Matthew.

San Luigi is the home to three magnificent paintings by Caravaggio, The Call of St. Matthew, The Inspiration of St. Matthew  and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew.  Unfortunately, I was not the only one who wanted to visit San Luigi this afternoon. The small chapel where the paintings are displayed was quite crowded, but I managed to get a good view of the paintings. The Calling of St. Matthew is a particular favorite of Pope Francis, and Nancy Murzyn used this image as the basis for her retreat conference on one of our Advent Prayer Days in 2013. The painting does take your breath away when you gaze at and marvel at Caravaggio’s mastery of light and color. Suddenly, the whole chapel goes dark. Turns out that you have to pay for the lights to go on — a common practice in a lot of churches with great works of art. As soon as the lights went out, some woman turns, looks at me and points to the coin box. (Why she could not have put her 1 or 2 Euro coin in was a mystery to me. Actually it wasn’t much of a mystery; the lady was a cheapskate and didn’t want to lose her spot by the altar rail.) Being the generous person that I am, I popped a 2 Euro coin in and continued to gaze in wonder; a small price to be amazed and inspired.

I left San Luigi, and made my way to the Tiber on this glorious March day. I

Castel Sant'Angelo.
Castel Sant’Angelo.

passed the Castel Sant’ Angelo, with its large state of the St. Michael on the top. Formerly, the mausoleum of Hadrian, the Castel was once the tallest building in Rome. It also served as a fortress and refuge for the popes, who could access via a special tunnel.

As I walked up one of the countless hills to our hotel in Rome (I was convinced that someone kept adding extra city blocks to the hill every time I walked back up it), I ran into two our fellow pilgrims, Kris Joseph and Barbara Vernes. We stopped for a moment at a small shop to look at some colorful scarves when a voice said, “Keeping the local economy going?” I turned and saw Fr. Tom Czek, of our California province. (We had seen Tom earlier that day at St. Peter’s when he was also there to say Mass for his pilgrimage group. It seems that on all of my three visits to Rome, I have run into someone I guess that all roads do lead to Rome.

Fr. Tom Czek, Barb Vernes. Kris Joseph is right behind Barb.
Fr. Tom Czek, Barb Vernes. Kris Joseph is right behind Barb.