Galicia bound…

Today, we met our fellow pilgrims: Cheryl, Lorel, Kathleen, and Paula. We also met Lighia and Samantha (Lighia’s nickname is Marly, and yes, she is the “Marly” in Marly Camino.) They were very warm and welcoming as they started us out on our journey. Our guide, Ignacio, joined us a few minutes later; the poor guy had just flown in from Santiago de Compostela this morning. He had just completed a group and now was heading out with our group, but his spirits were good.

We had a very long drive today, which took us through some of the most dramatic scenery imaginable. When we crossed into Gallicia the mountainous terrain was breathtaking and beautiful. (All the while I kept thinking to myself, ‘Wow, am I glad that I don’t have to walk these mountains.’)

Mountain views on our journey.
Mountain views on our journey.
Some of the stones left at the Crux de Ferro.
Some of the stones left at the Crux de Ferro.
The yellow arrow and shell, that pilgrims use to guide their way to Santiago de Compostela.
The yellow arrow and shell, that pilgrims use to guide their way to Santiago de Compostela.

About two and half hours after departing Madrid, we arrived in the city of Astorga, famous for its chocolates and home to one of the first buildings designed by Gaudi, the Archbishop’s palace. We walked around and viewed the pink granite facade of the Cathedral and then Ignacio showed us an anchoress’ cell with its grilled window facing the street. We ate lunch at the Hotel Gaudi Restaurant where we sampled a number of local delicacies, including octopus.

Kris, shortly before leaving her stone at the foot of the Iron Cross.
Kris, shortly before leaving her stone at the foot of the Iron Cross.

It was in Astorga that we began to see pilgrims walking the Camino. Our guide noted that Astorga was an important stop along the Camino and continues to be so today. As we left the city, our bus passed many pilgrims on foot and on bicycle. We also saw the distinctive yellow arrow and shell symbols which indicate the correct path to take.

Our bus climbed into the foothills of the mountains where we stopped by the Crux de Ferro, the Iron Cross. Pilgrims traditionally leave a stone at the foot of the cross and some recite a prayer as they leave their stone. I found a copy of the prayer used in the film, “The Way,”:

Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage that I lay at the
foot of the cross of the Savior, weigh the balance in favor of my good deeds
some day when the deeds of my life are judged. let it be so.

Many of the stones had writing on them; in some instances notes had been left under the stones. We took a few moments of quiet reflection before continuing our journey.

As we moved into Galicia, Ignacio explained that this region had been first inhabited by Celtic Clans with the Romans expelling them during their time here. The mountains were steep and covered in green and colors of wildflowers. Ignacio said that this is the third most challenging point in walking the Camino as the grades are steep going up and down. We stopped in a tiny village to take a stretch break and there was a small Franciscan Church there. Ignacio said that one of the previous pastors came up with the idea in the 1980s of marking the Camino’s path by painting the yellow arrows and shells along the Camino. A bit later, I met the nephew of the priest who said that he had helped his uncle paint the markers.

We arrived at our lodging, Rectorial Gorian around 8:30 p.m. (Yes, it is an old rectory.) The rectory has been restored by a young couple with two small children; the rooms are comfortable and full of character. Each of us has a private bathroom and the stonework is beautiful.

We sat down to a lovely dinner, prepared by the owners, Xavier and Raquel (Javier is a pastry chef. He made a lovely birthday cake for the three of us who celebrated birthdays in May: Cheryl, Kathleen, and me.)

Ignacio briefed us on how the next day, the first actual day of walking, would proceed. We received our Camino Passports to receive the necessary stamps along the way in order to obtain our certificate or Compostela. He gave us our Marly Camino backpacks and went over their contents (they really do think of everything to make your experience more pleasant and comfortable).

Since we arrived later than planned, we delayed breakfast until 8:30 a.m. tomorrow with a 9:15 or 9:30 start time.

I’m having problems with the software for this blog. The photos won’t go where I want them!

 

Adios Barcelona…Hola Madrid!

Today, we departed Barcelona for Madrid. Tomorrow, we will meet our fellow pilgrim travelers and set out for our first destination together. (We will be driven to our first departure point for walking the Camino, but we won’t be doing any walking tomorrow; it’s a six hour drive to our starting point.)

 

Departing Barcelona meant packing my suitcase–thank goodness for the expansion zipper! By the time I finished re-distributing items between my suitcase and my backpack, it looked like both backpack and suitcase were bursting at the seams, not to mention they were heavier than heavy. My suitcase was so lopsided that it could not stand up unless it was leaning against something. Kris was in slightly better shape than me–remember, she sent some items home by mail–but both of wondered how we would lug these monstrosities onto our train and into the overhead luggage rack.

We did not have to wonder for long. We boarded the train at 11:35 and with a little help from one another we managed to hoist the suitcases in the overhead

I still have a lot to learn about shooting selfies.
I still have a lot to learn about shooting selfies.

bins. (We later discovered that there were floor level storage racks at the end of our railway car. I felt like Laurel and Hardy in their infamous piano moving short film.

We rode on one of the high speed trains that run between Madrid and Barcelona. At one point were were traveling over 189 miles per hour!

View from our train from Barcelona to Madrid.
View from our train from Barcelona to Madrid.

The ride was smooth with that gentle rolling feeling that one has on a train. This feeling rocks you to sleep in your seat, but is murder when you have to stand in the restroom. (I wisely picked a time when we were at a stop, only to have the train begin to accelerate. Makes me wish that I had not given up Yoga.)

We arrived at our hotel in Madrid and I was struck with a confluence of things that have beguiled me about the bathrooms in our two hotels. The room in Madrid is a “smart room,” meaning you have to insert your key card into the a slot by the door to get the lights to work. At no time does the hotel clerk alert you to this, and it only took me 10 minutes to figure this out. [You have to be smart to use the room!] 2) You discover that you have to be a circus contortionist or Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four (he’s the guy who can stretch into any shape) in order to reach the toilet paper. I don’t think that I have ever had to twist my arm into such a crazy shape to reach for the roll. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and kept the spare roll on the bidet cover for easy access. 3) The “sink” in the room in Madrid was one of these kind that resembles an old fashioned wash bowl. Yes, it looks pretty, but is perfectly designed to make the water backsplash EVERYWHERE. 4) The faucet is a modernist work of art, but has no markings to indicate which direction is “hot” or “cold”; I found out the hard way.

After getting settled in our rooms, Kris and I went for a long walk to Plaza Major which is about a mile and a half from our hotel. We then chanced upon the Mercado San Miguel, another one of those indoor markets similar to the ones that we saw in Barcelona.

Mercado San Miguel, Madrid
Mercado San Miguel, Madrid

The difference was that the crowds in this one were more manageable than the ones in Barcelona. While there were stalls selling meat, seafood and cheeses, the vast majority of stalls offered small portions of food: stuffed olives, skewers of fresh mozzarella with various condiments, cones of mixed nuts or smoked sausages, sushi, some types of seafood that I have never seen before, and the list goes on.

An interior view of Mercado San Miguel
An interior view of Mercado San Miguel

They have a modest area for seating, similar to our food courts in our malls, but the atmosphere was more like a wine and food tasting event than an indoor market. I was even able to carry on a modest conversation in Spanish with a Columbian woman who was sitting with her husband and friends next to our table.

After getting turned around for the return walk, we chanced upon a mobile Tourist Information booth with a very friendly young man who gave us good directions home. The adventure continues.

A sampling of some of the food from the Mercado San Miguel.
A sampling of some of the food from the Mercado San Miguel.

 

Ramblin’ on Las Ramblas

This morning Kris wanted to mail a package back home and so we asked at the front desk for directions to the Post Office (the one gentleman who works behind the hotel desk is better than Mapquest and is always very friendly).

Kris, by her own admission, isn’t the best with directions, and when we get to the Cathedral square, she thinks that we need to turn left and I know that I heard the desk clerk say, “to the right.” I also remember that he said that the street number for the Post Office was #1. We proceed down Via Laietana, and after a block and a half, Kris says, “Are you sure we’re going the right way?” “I know that he said to turn right. The street numbers are decreasing, but it’s going to be a few blocks before we get there.” After another block, “I thought he said to ‘Go left?’ ” “No, I heard him say ‘Right,’ and he also said that it was at the end of the street.” The street numbers are still decreasing, a sign in my favor, but I don’t see any sign to indicate a Post Office ahead — they seem to have an aversion to marking things around here. Case in point, we were out walking another time, and an arrow points in one direction for Placa Cataluyna, after a short distance, we come to a sort of fork in the streets, no new street sign–we managed to find it anyway.

Eventually, I notice a series a bronze mail slots with the names, “Madrid,” “Barcelona,” and the Spanish equivalent of “Who Cares.” Ok, the last one didn’t say that, but it makes the story more interesting.

We arrive inside the Casa de los Correos (Sister Rose Vincent would be thrilled to know that I remembered the word for Post Office from her high school Spanish class.) We find a very helpful woman at a counter in the center of the main service area. After three attempts we identify the correct size of box we need, pay for it and assemble it. We go to a service counter with the nicest guy working behind it and he provides great service and patiently fills out the forms for Kris on his computer. 10 minutes later, we are back on Via Laitana.

Let me pause here and say how friendly and helpful the lo

The famous lizard at Parc Guell.
The famous lizard at Parc Guell.

cals have been to us. For example, on Sunday, we spotted a tea store on our walk and stopped in to sample the wares. A very friendly young man answered our questions, explained the differences in their product (they had some delicious samples to taste) and lamented the greed in the world. Everyone we encounter has had a smile on their face and genuinely seems to want to help us.

Kris inside the Santa Catarina market.
Kris inside the Santa Catarina market.

We took in two of the city’s many enclosed markets, Santa Catarina, which is a couple blocks from our hotel and the famous, Saint Joseph market, which is off the wide boulevard, Las Ramblas, infamous for pickpockets and flower stalls. Both markets were HUGE, with the St. Joseph one being the most crowded, and the one where we watched our valuables closely. It would be easy to get lost in the St. Joseph market, but we found our way out to Las Ramblas with all our possessions intact.

We headed up the Via Gracia, to visit Gaudi’s Casa Batllo again. (I didn’t realize that our tour Sunday included the Casa when I made online reservations on Saturday.) Since we visited there fairly early for the Barcelonans, and since I paid the extra Euros for the “Fast Pass” option, we bypassed the line and walked right in.

A divider door/wall with exquisite art glass.
A divider door/wall with exquisite art glass.

Seeing the house for a second time and listening to the recorded guided tour gave us a deeper appreciation for the innovation and the beauty of the home. It also re-familiarized us with some of the less stellar habits of our fellow tourists: 1) stopping to take a photograph or just to stop for no apparent reason [we have gotten good at picking these types out]; 2) if taking a photograph, make sure that you block a stairwell, an exit or entrance and be totally oblivious to your fellow visitors; 3) shove your way through because you just have to be the first and 4) if you are armed with a stroller, you may use it as a battering ram–your baby may receive a traumatic brain injury, but isn’t that cheesy souvenir worth it? I have to say that in both of our guided tour groups we had some very thoughtful and considerate people.

After leaving Casa Batllo with a much heavier backpack than when I entered (I just HAD to visit the Gift Shop) we found a lovely organic restaurant for lunch and then headed to our second tour, which included Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell.

This tour was more of a mixed bag than the one we took on Sunday, which was with a different tour agency. The Sunday tour guide issued us portable headsets so that we could easily listen to his narration, which was entirely in English; the guide yesterday, a very friendly fellow named Guillame, did the tour in both English and Spanish, which made it harder to follow as he would switch back and forth rapidly. He had no sound system and so you had to gather close to hear him. I was disappointed that we did not enter Sagrada Familia, we just walked around the exterior while he explained the two finished porticos and explained how the work would proceed to completion. Another problem was that the sun was glaring behind the Nativity Portico, making it difficult to take photos. The upshot was that we did learn a few more things and had a chance to study the outside of the Basilica in detail.

We then headed to Parc Guell, which was intended to be a housing development, but flopped because it was considered too far from the city center. Gaudi designed a number of areas in the park, which were intended for other uses, but are now gathering spots in the park. His use of broken ceramic tiles or ceramic household items in the creation of the benches, the ceiling adornments and the famous, water-spewing lizard, show that he was into recycling long before it was fashionable.

One of the many ceiling medallions in a concourse at Parc Guell, nto the use of plates in the compostion.
One of the many ceiling medallions in a concourse at Parc Guell, nto the use of plates in the compostion.

When we left the park we took a path that our guide said was shorter than the one we took in, but had a set of steps that were quite challenging. We returned to the bus and decided that when our guide was going to stop at Casa Mila, that we would part ways.

With close to eight miles under our belt for the day–Kris has a FitBit that helps us keep track of our mileage and our steps–we returned to the hotel, freshened up, and found a restaurant to eat an early, by Barcelona standards dinner at 8:30 p.m.

Tomorrow, we take the train to Madrid. Hasta luego, Barcelona!

Good Golly, Senor Gaudi

Today was “Gaudi Day” for Kris and myself. I had set up a tour of Casa Batllo (a home that Gaudi renovated and redesigned for a wealthy textile merchant of the time Battlo) and the Basilica of Sagrada Familia (the Basilica of the Holy Family).

Exterior view of Gaudi's masterpiece, the Basilica Sagrada Family -- Basilica of the Holy Family)
Exterior view of Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Basilica Sagrada Family — Basilica of the Holy Family)
One of the carvings on Casa Amatller, the home next door to Casa Battlo.
One of the carvings on Casa Amatller, the home next door to Casa Battlo.

The Basilica draws over 3 million visitors a year and will not be completed until 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

Rooftop, Casa Battlo
Rooftop, Casa Battlo

Kris and I met the tour group in the Placa Catalunya, a 15 minute walk from our hotel. The tour was scheduled to start at 9:00 a.m. and the streets were practically deserted. We recalled what our our driver from the airport had told us yesterday abo

The "balcony" of Casa Battlo; note that the windows have a three dimensional depth to them.
The “balcony” of Casa Battlo; note that the windows have a three dimensional depth to them.

ut how the city likes to keep late hours. Tourists

and the workers who cater to them, seem to be the only people out and about at this time of the day.)

Our first stop was Casa Batllo, which sits next door to a very beautiful house, Casa Amatller, owned by a major chocolate manufacturer, Antoni Amatller, of the early twentieth century. This house, designed by one of Gaudi’s contemporaries, Joseph Puig, is exquisitely decorated with many stone reliefs and carvings. Casa Batllo was a home that Gaudi was called upon the renovate by the owners, and he delivered a home that served as an elaborate metaphor of the city’s patron saint, St. George. The guide pointed out that the roof was intended to look like the back of a dragon. The interior walls are decorated in a pattern reminiscent of a reptile.

Casa Battlo, the roof is a metaphor of a dragon's back. Note the cross on the top of the turret.
Casa Battlo, the roof is a metaphor of a dragon’s back. Note the cross on the top of the turret.

The house is a wonder of decoration and innovation. The family wanted a balcony and Gaudi adapted one of the rooms on the front of the house to serve as a quasi balcony by opening the windows. The use of colored, ceramic tile and the repetition of natural forms in the house made it a delight to visit.

Detail of the Nativity Facade of Sagrada Familia
Detail of the Nativity Facade of Sagrada Familia

After a good hour and a half at Casa Battlo, we proceeded to Gaudi’s masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, which is still under construction. (The nave of the Basilica was only completed in 2010 and dedicated by Pope Benedict.) When I first saw a photo of Sagrada Familia, I was reminded on the kind of structure that you would put in an aquarium for the fish to swim in and out of. The symbolism of the basilica, both within and without rivals the symbolism and decoration of the great Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Two of the three porticos are finished: The Nativity Portico and the Passion Portico; the last portico, the Portico of Glory, will serve as the main entrance of the Basilica, and they are just beginning to construct it. (Our guide said that its completion will require the demolition of an apartment building on that side of the street, something that must cause the residents great concern.)

View to the apse of Sagrada Familia
View to the apse of Sagrada Familia

If you thought that the basilica was beautiful on the outside, the interior takes your breath away. The graceful columns that support the weight of the room remind one of exquisite trees that seem to be growing from the floor to the ceiling. The openness and brightness of the space lifts one’s spirits as soon as one enters. The basilica is truly a wonder to behold and a feast for the eye and soul.

View of the ceiling of the nave in Sagrada Familia.
View of the ceiling of the nave in Sagrada Familia.

Our last Gaudi stop was his famous Mila House or La Casa Pedrera (the stone quarry, or, as our tour guide, Danny described it, “The Flintstone Apartment Building.) This building was built as a private residence for the Mila family (though they only occupied what we would call the 2nd Floor apartment.) According to the recorded tour, it was a common practice for wealthy families to build these huge apartment houses, live in one of the apartments, and live off the rent of the tenants. The building still houses many people and businesses.

Casa Mila, "La Pedrera" aka the Flinstones Building
Casa Mila, “La Pedrera” aka the Flinstones Building
The rooftop of Casa Mila with its whimsical chimneys and ventilation shafts.
The rooftop of Casa Mila with its whimsical chimneys and ventilation shafts.

We started our tour on the roof which is a whimsical wonder of curves, chimneys that resemble soldiers in armor and ventilation shafts that remind one of a decoration in icing on a cake. All tours work their way down from the roof which helps the flow of traffic in the building. There is one vacant apartment that is staged to look like an apartment of Gaudi’s day.

Finished with our explorations of some of Gaudi’s more famous buildings, and with feet and legs sore from walking on stone surfaces, Kris and I took a break outside of Cathedral Square, near our hotel. The steps in front of the cathedral attract street musicians, tourists resting on the steps and small children with scooters who use the stone ramp on the left of the cathedral steps as a staging for much fun.

Bienvenidos a Barcelona!

Kris and I stepped off the plane at Barcelona airport yesterday, a little travel weary, neither of us slept much on the flight over, but hey, I watched two movies to pass the time.

We were met at the airport by a great guy who took us directly to our hotel. Kris had arranged for the transfer from the airport to save us tim

View of Cathedral Square in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.
View of Cathedral Square in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.

e and distress. What a great choice. I can’t remember the guy’

Casa Pedrera, note the chimmneys on the top.
Casa Pedrera, note the chimmneys on the top.

s name, but his mother is from the Barcelona region and his father is from Scotland, so his English, which is impeccable, was in a Scottish accent. He gave us great advice about the city, especially what areas are tourist traps. He also pointed out landmarks to us as he drove us to our hotel, the Regencia Colon, which is just a block off the Bari Square in the Gothic portion of the city.

Our rooms were not available so I suggested that we get tickets on one of those city tour buses that you can hop on and hop off and Kris agreed, so off we went. The weather was superb, low 70s, sunny and low humidity, and the bus afforded us a way to get an overview of the city. It also allowed us to fall asleep a few times without attacting too much attention.

After a pleasant lunch, we returned to our hotel where our rooms awaited us. After a few hours we met and walked up to Plaza Catalunya, which is ten minutes from our hotel. It’s one of the hubs of the city. From there we walked up the Pasieg de Gracia to view two of Anton Gaudi’s famous apartment buildings, Casa Batllo and Casa Pedrera. The queues for both places were long, so we just took in the exteriors, which were amazing, and then walked on, though we couldn’t reisist a stop at the Book-Gift Shop at Casa Pedrera.

Casa Batllo Exterior
Casa Batllo Exterior

“I couldn’t be elected Dog Catcher….”

Chapter delegates in session
Chapter delegates in session

Our third day of Chapter continued with proposals, some of which gave birth to some very lively discussions among the friars. Discussions like these can be very intense and challenging to moderate, but Jim Kent, our Minister Provincial, has a gift for making sure that everyone is heard. Some proposals needed to be re-worked and re-submitted to the delegates; one was withdrawn so that more information could be gathered with the intention of a similar proposal being made at an extra-ordinary chapter.

The afternoon brought us to the election of Guardians (local superiors) of the Friaries of the province and the chairmen of the various province commissions. Guardians are nominated by the Minister Provincial, but they must be approved by the Chapter. When a person is elected, the Secretary of the Province, Friar Nicholas Wolfla, asks the person if he is willing to serve as Guardian or

Friars Tim Unser and Wayne Hellmann.
Friars Tim Unser and Wayne Hellmann.

Commission Chairman for the next four years. If the Friar consents, then Jim Kent announces that the friar is duly elected and may take full possession of his office. When a Friar is elected, but is not present, he must be contacted by phone; this can make for some interesting scenarios. In one case, a Friar returned the call to Nick and Nick asked him to be Chairman of the wrong commission; something that the Chapter delegates quickly corrected him. (All this is taking place on speakerphone, so if the NSA was listening, they probably thought, “Who are these crazy people?”)

Friends have asked me if I would ever like to serve in an elected office, such as Definitor, Guardian, Commission Chair, and my standard answer is, “I couldn’t be elected dog catcher [my apologies to those dedicated men and women in animal control].” Well, on Wednesday, my premise was blown to bits as I was proposed to serve as Chairman of the Continuing Formation and Education Commission. Not only was I proposed, but I was elected! This Commission plans province retreats, reviews requests for funding for continuing education or sabbatical opportunities for the Friars, and works with the Minister Provincial and Definitiory to provide opportunities for continuing education and formation among the friars. After my election, the Friar sitting next to me said, “You know, I was wondering who Jim was going to ask to take this Commission over, and when I saw your name, Bob, I thought ‘He’s a good choice.'” Thanks to my brothers for the vote of confidence.

Friar Wayne leading a group through the Chapel construction site.
Friar Wayne leading a group through the Chapel construction site.

After Dinner, Friar Wayne Hellmann gave Friar Paul Clark and myself a tour of the Chapel that is under construction. I asked Wayne if I could video it and he graciously agreed. The video should be appearing on our province website. I have to admit, it was a little dicey folllowing Wayne around the construction site; I had to keep my eyes on the LCD screen  AND be conscious of any spots where i might trip — I came close to a couple of times, but managed to stay upright.

At Evening Prayer, the Guardians of the province were formally installed. Because of the nature of their office, they are required to make a public Profession of Faith, which they did as a group after the reading at Evening Prayer.

Guardians make their Profession of Faith during Evening Prayer
Guardians make their Profession of Faith during Evening Prayer

We meet tomorrow morning to review and hopefully endorse the changes to our Strategic Plan and then all of us will depart home. Fr. Steve and I have a 220 mile drive to the Albuquerque airport awaiting us. Please pray that we arrive in time to make our flights. I wonder if the road construction on CTY 44 will have started?

Some of the new Guardians for the province pose with Friar Jim Kent.
Some of the new Guardians for the province pose with Friar Jim Kent.

 

Chapter…Day 2: A Day of Proposals

Friars Andrew Martinez and Miguel Briseno participate in a chapter discussion.
Friars Andrew Martinez and Miguel Briseno participate in a chapter discussion.

Day 2 of Provincial Chapter opened under overcast skies here in the Mesilla Valley. After Mass, the delegates gathered in the Large Conference Room for a review of the work that had been done the previous day in small groups. After some brief discussion, we returned to those same small groups to formulate responses to the work that the group facilitators had done in identifying common themes and strategies among the groups.

We broke for lunch and in the early afternoon we took up one of the significant tasks of a Provincial Chapter: the consideration of Chapter Proposals.

Friars John and Leo share a light moment after dinner.
Friars John and Leo share a light moment after dinner.

Any Friar, Friary, province commission, the Definitory and/or the Minister Provincial may bring a proposal to the chapter delegates. Proposals can deal with anything that affects the lives of the friars in the province; many of the proposals at this chapter addressed revisions to our province statutes, while others asked for changes around the manner in which provincial chapters are conducted, to a simple name change for a province commission.

Chapter delegates pose in front of the new chapel under construction at Holy Cross Retreat.
Chapter delegates pose in front of the new chapel under construction at Holy Cross Retreat.

Some parts of this session seem a bit tedious, especially when discussion on a topic goes on for a long time, but this is part and parcel of the Chapter process. Issues are discussed openly and frankly with all points of view considered. After sitting through one of these sessions a number of us ask, “Why would anyone WANT to do this?” It’s the work that we are mandated to do and we have to respect the individual friars or groups of friars who took the time to formulate a proposal and present it to the Chapter delegates for consideration.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Las Cruces diocese, offering his homily at Mass.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Las Cruces diocese, offering his homily at Mass.

Bishop Oscar Cantu, the bishop of the Las Cruces diocese, served as the celebrant for our afternoon Eucharist. We were also joined by several young men who are considering a vocation to religious life. (As a matter of fact, one of the young men has already been accepted into our postulancy program.) While the small chapel was a bit overcrowded, we did our best to make everyone feel included and welcome.

In his homily Bishop Cantu thanked the Friars for their many contributions to building up the church in the diocese but he also encouraged us to look to the future. He spoke of the balance that we all have to maintain between ministry and prayer (it was the Memorial of St. Martha, so the theme was apropos). He shared the story of his time as a pastor in Houston, and how he would often have a newly-ordained priest assigned to his parish. In one instance, the young priest was bright and earnest, but then-pastor Cantu noticed that this young priest would only leave his door open slightly. One day, pastor Cantu knocked and he noticed that the young priest was pouring over his upcoming homily. He gently reminded the young priest that the closed door was sending the wrong signal to people. Yes, it is important to prepare your homily, but it is more important to be available to the people of the parish, and an open door, signals that openness.

Friar Wayne Hellmann explaining the spirituality and theology behind the design of the new chapel at Holy Cross Retreat.
Friar Wayne Hellmann explaining the spirituality and theology behind the design of the new chapel at Holy Cross Retreat.

After Evening Prayer, Friar Wayne Hellmann, a professor of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University gave a tour of the chapel under construction. The shell of the building is up and the interior spaces are defined so as Wayne explained the layout of the new Chapel and the spirituality behind the design choices it was easy to picture what this beautiful space will be like in a few months.

Evenings for the Chapter delegates are free for the most part. Some friars retire to their rooms to read or catch up on correspondence and many gather in the Small Conference Room to play cards, swap stories and relax. These are the moments that lift everyone’s spirits as everyone has a “Do you remember when….?” type of story.  It’s a good time to catch up with one another and to renew the bonds of friendship and fraternity that we share.

Friars Paul Schloemer, Camillus Gott, Bob Baxter, Richard Kaley and Paul Clark share some quality time together.
Friars Paul Schloemer, Camillus Gott, Bob Baxter, Richard Kaley and Paul Clark share some quality time together.

Bienvenidos a Santa Cruz (Welcome to Holy Cross)

Holy Cross Retreat, Mesilla Park, NM, site of the Second Session of the Province Chapter
Holy Cross Retreat, Mesilla Park, NM, site of the Second Session of the Province Chapter

This week, Fr. Steve McMichael and I are attending the second session of our provincial chapter at our Retreat House, Holy Cross Retreat and Spirituality Center, in Mesilla Park, New Mexico. About 25 Friars from our province will be in attendance.

Construction on the new Chapel for Holy Cross Retreat is moving along on schedule. The building should be ready by the end of the year.
Construction on the new Chapel for Holy Cross Retreat is moving along on schedule. The building should be ready by the end of the year.

Chapter is a term used to refer to formal meetings of the Friars. In days past, a chapter of The Rule was read at these gatherings, and the term, “Chapter,” came to connote an official gathering of the Friars. We hold chapters on the local level once a month, but every four years our province elects delegates to attend this important gathering.

During the First Session of Chapter, which was held at Mt. St. Francis Center for Spirituality, the delegates listened to reports from the Minister Provincial, the Province Treasurer, the Chairmen of the various province commissions, and our Development Director. We also heard from the Vicar General of our Order, Fr. Jerzy Norel, and our Assistant General for the the English-speaking friars of North America, Great Britain and Ireland and Australia, Fr. Jude Winkler. Much of our work at this session of Chapter was to review our Strategic Plan in small working groups.

Friars Fred Pasche, Bob Baxter, Paul Clark, Joe West, Randy Kin and John Bamman, one of the four working groups that are tasked with revising our province strategic plan. (I am a part of this group, but I'm taking the picture.)
Friars Fred Pasche, Bob Baxter, Paul Clark, Joe West, Randy Kin and John Bamman, one of the four working groups that are tasked with revising our province strategic plan. (I am a part of this group, but I’m taking the picture.)

At the conclusion of this First Session of the Chapter, Fr. Jim Kent, was installed as Minister Provincial for a second term. He was joined by his new definitory: Fr. John Stowe, Vicar provincial; Nicholas Wolfla, secretary of the province, and Edmund Goldbach, Miguel Briseno, Mark Weaver and Randal Kin, all serving as definitors. (A definitor serves in an advisory capacity to the provincial; they are akin to a board of directors for the province.

As we gather in New Mexico, a state where the Friars first came to do ministry in the 1930s, many of us were anxious to see the new Friary residence for the Friars and the construction progress of the new Chapel for the Retreat Center.

Friar John Stowe, Vicar Provincial, presides at the opening Mass of the Holy Spirit on Monday. The large painting behind the crucifix is called a retablo.
Friar John Stowe, Vicar Provincial, presides at the opening Mass of the Holy Spirit on Monday. The large painting behind the crucifix is called a retablo.

Holy Cross Retreat and Spirituality Center is situated in the midst of a large pecan orchard. The property was originally owned by the Monaghan family, who built a 14 room hacienda around a central patio; the adobe used in the construction of the hacienda was manufactured on site.

In 1947 the property was owned by Henry and Beatrice Fountain (Beatrice was the foster daughter of Mrs. Monaghan’s sister, Shirley Thomas; the Monaghans had no children.) In 1954, the Fountains determined that the property was too large for them and they sold most of it to the OFM Friars in 1954. Friars arrived shortly afterwards and began construction on most of the buildings that the retreat center uses today. The first retreat was offered in 1957.

In 1980, the OFM friars gave Holy Cross Retreat to the Conventual Friars of the Custody of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an offshoot of the Province of Our Lady of Consolation. (In the early 1990s, the Custody was suppressed, and the friars of the Southwest were reintegrated into the Province of Our Lady of Consolation.)

Chapter officially began with the Mass of the Holy Spirit in the small chapel. After the Liturgy, the Friar-delegates gathered in the Large Conference Room to begin the Second Session of Provincial Chapter. After some announcements from the local Guardian and Retreat Director, Fr. Tom Smith, the delegates were welcomed by Minister Provincial, Fr. Jim Kent, who outlined the course of the next four, very busy days.

Friar Jim Kent, (2nd from the right), Minister Provincial, gives directions to the Chapter delegates.
Friar Jim Kent, (2nd from the right), Minister Provincial, gives directions to the Chapter delegates.

The first task that we are addressing are suggested revisions to our province’s strategic plan.  This work takes place in small working groups which are scattered throughout the Retreat Center campus. Work in small groups will continue through Tuesday lunch.

We have been blessed with some much-needed rain while we have been here. The cloud formation have been quite dramatic.

A view towards the retreat bedrooms. The corner of the Large Conference Room may be seen in the right corner.
A view towards the retreat bedrooms. The corner of the Large Conference Room may be seen in the right corner.

Remembering Wayne Egan 1937-2014

We had sad news on Friday; Wayne Egan, a long-time friend and volunteer at the Retreat House, passed away unexpectedly in his home in Prior Lake.  image

Wayne’s parents, Margaret and Mark Egan, were great supporters of the Retreat House. They ran a Service Station in Savage and allowed Fr. Urban to errect a large sign advertising the Retreat House on  the Service Station property.

Wayne would help out around the Retreat House in various areas, especially in the winter, when he would faithfully plow the parking lot. No matter the amount of snow, Wayne was always there to make sure that the lot was clear for Friars, staff and retreatants.

Wayne did not like being in the spotlight, but he was a generous and gentle soul. May he rest in peace.

 

Pray-Play Date…a Great Success

On Saturday, May 3rd, we did our first Pray-Play Date for Mothers, Daughters, Grandmothers and Granddaughters. The day was sunny and clear, even it was a bit cool, it still felt wonderful to be able to roam the grounds of the Retreat Center and take in the Spring Awakening.Mom and Daughter

Kris Joseph, Terri Mifek and I did the presentations as shared conferences with each of us contributing. Our chef and kitchen manager Judy Miller, pulled out all the stops; the snacks, the breaks, and the lunch were over the top great.

 

The spirit of the group was so enthusiastic and so warm, that the day flew by. Everyone seemed to be having a great time together. I think that we struck the right balance of free time, with input from the retreat team, and shared time in the family groups. Participants took to their family activity like ducks to water and the sharing in the family groups was quite moving in some cases.

Everyone enjoyed a fabulous feast for lunch.
Everyone enjoyed a fabulous feast for lunch.

The day concluded with an anticipatory Mass for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, with Fr. Jim Van Dorn as the celebrant.

It seemed that the greatest blessing of the day was watching mothers, daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters having time together and enjoying each other. As we near Mother’s Day, our hats are off to all mothers and grandmothers. As I was preparing the Prayer Service for the day I found this quote, “I found a girl who stole my heart. She calls me Mom.” That says it all.

A perfect day for an outdoor chat.
A perfect day for an outdoor chat.

On a personal note, prior to the day, I remembered that I had some lovely table linens that my Mom used to use when she entertained and I asked Judy if she would like to use them for the day. As I saw these linens and a doilies gracing the buffets, I felt that my Mom would have been so happy to know that they were a part of this day. For Kris, Judy, Terri, Jim and myself, our Moms have passed into eternal life, but today, they felt very near to us.