Heather in Rome

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. - St. Augustine

Thursday, January 19

Leaving for Ireland

Hi everyone. I still need to write about the last part of my trip and what Christmas was like here (let me just say it was AMAZING!) and what it was like to return to the Domus Aurelia. Unfortunately, I don't have time to get to that becuase we leave tomorrow for Ireland for a 10 day mission. So I write to ask for prayers. We got the schedule yesterday and it will be an intense 10 days, going full steam the entire time. So the 19 of us and our 4 staff members and all the parishioners in Newbridge, Ireland, could use your prayers.

We'll be spending a lot of time in classes in Catholic schools, giving testimonies, performing skits, and leading discussions. You'd think this would be easy, Catholic schools and all, but from what we've been hearing, most of the kids don't know anything about the Catholic Church or God. So it could be a challenge. Besides schools, we will spend time in pubs, people's homes, a shopping center, and in the street going door-to-door. Please pray for us. Thanks!

Saturday, January 14

3 1/2 Days in Grenobe/Noyarey

After leaving Lourdes, I jumped on an overnight train at 9:30 pm and headed towards Grenoble in the southeast of France. I changed trains around 5:30 in the morning in Valence and managed to sleep for the 2 hour train ride to Grenoble. I was excited to see Carole and to hear about the Emmanuel retreat that was held in Paray-Le-Monial, France while I was in Barcelona and Lourdes. I found her in the station and we headed off to Noyarey, the small town where her family lives.

That day was a lazy day. We stopped by a bakery on the way home and got croissants. Later when her dad came home from work for lunch, he brought croissants for me and us too. Yum, yum. If I haven't already said it, French bread is really good. That day we went for a bike ride along the river near her house. It was overcast and the air was brisk, but I could see the Alps and the conversation was fun, talking about when we were children. Back at the house we showed my videotape of the past three months to Carole's family, which was fun for us too because it was the first time we were seeing it. Ah, memories. Later on at dessert we had a traditional French Epiphany cake called the King Cake. I think New Orleans does the same for Mardi Gras. It's a cake that has a ceramic figurine, very small, in the middle and whoever gets the object is the king or queen for the night. It's really fun because the youngest person at the table has to get under the table and name off who gets what slice of cake. This way they don't see who is getting the slice with the figure. Carole's youngest bro got under the table and once the cake was distributed and we started eating, both Carole and I had things in our slices. So we were both queens for the night and shared a crown.

The next day we went into Grenoble, about 30 minutes away, and walked through downtown. We happened to catch a Mass at a church there; it was perfect timing. I shopped a little, picked up a sweater for the colder European weather. That afternoon Carole's two brothers and the two of us played cards. I taught them Spoons, if any of you know it. It's a favorite slumber party card game. That night we went their grandma's house, which was next door, for appetizers. She had been to CA 14 years ago and brought out all the flyers from the amusement parks and Monterey. I could show exactly where I live on a postcard map of CA. It was CA pride night and it was nice to be able to share about my home. For dessert I provided a traditional American sweet courtesy of a Spanish supermarket, Oreos!!! Everyone laughed. Later on we drove into Grenoble again for an Emmanuel prayer group, which was interesting to experience. I thought it was pretty short compared to what we do in the school: praise, a short time of silent prayer, and then a prayer to end the night. I thought, "That's it?" It was so short.

The next day we went to Mass at the local parish because the priest only goes there for Mass every 40 days. The area is so small that he rotates between church buildings. After Mass we went home and got ready to go to the Alps for snowboarding with C.'s two friends from high school. Actually, I was the only snowboarder and I had a pretty lousy performance in my opinion, but I hadn't really gone in two years so what did I expect? Nah, I did okay, but it was obvious that these people had spent a lot of time growing up on the slopes and I hadn't. Towards the end of the afternoon it started snowing. A nice touch. After 4 hours on the slopes, we headed back to the house. This dinner was great because we made crepes. There was an electric griddle that had 6 round indents for the crepes. We all sat around the table and Vincent, Carole's dad, would pour batter onto the griddle and we each were in charge of flipping our crepe and putting cheese and ham or bacon on it. After lots of these, the cheese and meat were put away and the sweet stuff was brought out: Nutella, jelly, coconut, maple syrup. We had lots of those too. It was so good.

The next day was a day to sleep in, pack, and take me to the airport around noon so I could go to London. Looking back over the three and a half days, I know I've left out a lot of the details, special moments, that were there. I thought I could end with some thoughts on the experience. Lots of conversations focused on our different cultures, on trying to learn new words or talking about different customs. It was great to learn, but sometimes I didn't want our nationalities to be the main subject of our interactions. It creates a barrier I think, or maybe it was the language that did it. But that's how it is, I'm noticing, everywhere I go. Our cultures make us different (which is good and special), but sometimes can't we not think about the differences and instead think of each other as humans on the same planet Earth?

Other thoughts. It can be really hard to not understand a language. It's really isolating to be in the midst of people who are talking and to not understand what is being said. It's like you're not there. It was mentally rough sometimes and still is in Rome as more French is being heard in the classroom and dining room. Please pray for this sudden sensitivity I have to this. I don't know if I'm being too sensitive or reasonable. I think reasonable.

Well, I hear everyone having fun in the other room so I think I will go and head out there. Peace all!

Saturday, January 7

3 Days in Lourdes

On the morning of the 30th I caught a bus to Toulouse, France. The ride was 6 1/2 hours and I spent the first part talking to a girl who was traveling home with her boyfriend to visit her family. She was interesting. Definitely the hippy/alternative lifestyle type who had an American father and French mother and spoke lots of languages, including Esperanto (a language created to unite the world that would have no irregulars and be phonetically correct). She was nice and our conversation occupied at least an hour of the trip.

When we arrived in Toulouse, I had to catch a train to Lourdes. Train stations are different than airports in that you can arrive 3 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave and still catch the train. I didn't realize this and ended up missing the train I had a ticket for. I actually wanted to catch the second train anyway to be on time with the woman picking me up in Lourdes so it wasn't a problem. When I arrived in Lourdes, the woman was waiting for me and she took me to St. Therese House, a lodging house for pilgrims run by the Emmanuel Community. I got there in time for dinner and after the dinner was over, the head lady looked at me and asked if I would like to sing a song to end the meal (the EC is big on singing before and after meals. It's really nice). I was the only one who didn't speak French so I started singing the only EC song I know in French. I expected others to join in with me, but only 1 or 2 did. Yikes! I was singing in front of everyone in a language that is not my own. I was initiated into the group right away.

It would be boring to write down my schedule for each day because it was a lot of praying at the basilica, hanging out at the house, and learning some French words. There were many special moments though. The first full day I was there was the 31st and I tagged along with a group of Boston seminarians that were at the Emmanuel house. We went to the basilica and grotto together and the priest said Mass in English in the crypt level of the basilica. I was glad to have English speakers who knew home and they might have been glad to have a female presence for a bit of time. In the afternoon I helped a married couple (Gilles and Christine) set up the dining room for the New Year's Eve festivities and then we moved into the kitchen to prepare dinner. It was so much fun. I learned some words and so did they and we would be talking and then say, "Hold on," and run to the translating dictionary to understand what we were saying to each other. It may sound frustrating, but everyone knew enough English that we could have basic conversations and learn about each other's cultures.

That night there was a big party. Dinner consisted of toasted bread squares topped with cheese or creamed fish (sound gross maybe but it was yummy), followed by salad (prosciutto ham, melon, onion, asparagus, tomato, and lettuce), followed by meat and vegetables (although I can't remember what). After the main course, following the French way, cheese cubes were brought out. I had wondered why more bread was put on the table, not realizing that of course cheese would be next. The key to eating cheese, I was told, is to chew it and right before swallowing, drink some wine. I kept forgetting to drink before swallowing, but when I finally did it, I almost choked. Not my style. After cheese (I was thinking that was the dessert), we had dessert, but I can't remember what that was either. What a meal! It was so great not only because of the French dining experience, but also because I sat next to a couple from Spain and got to speak Spanish with them and also talk more with the French couple from earlier. The environment felt like a family with everyone talking, laughing, and joking with each other.

After the dinner, close to midnight, a bunch of people from the house loaded into cars and went to the Grotto (where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette) for Mass at midnight. I was there and didn't understand a word, what with the language and the rain making noise on umbrellas. Because I didn't understand what was being said, I had an hour to pray and reflect on the past year and the many blessings I was given. All I have to say is God is good. Never did I expect to be where I am in life and it is amazing. I told God He better take me some place cool after staying in Riverside a year longer than planned, but I never thought it would be Rome, Portugal, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, Ireland, etc. What a reward for trusting His call!
After the Mass we all went back to the house and drank hot chocolate and people started dancing. It was crazy in a good way. All the kids were up and celebrating and I could see the love the families shared. It was wonderful to see.

As far as the Shrine goes, it is beautiful. The outside of the basilica has got to be my favorite of all the churches I've seen in my life. I have a postcard of that so I can scan it in a couple days and post it. It is undescribeable. Every time I would walk by I would sigh at the beauty of the church. And it's such a holy place too. For a recap of the story of the appirition, Mary appeared to Bernadette when she was a teenager and told her to wash her face and drink the water in that place. There was no spring so Bernadette started digging and drinking the muddy water that surfaced. Soon a real spring bubbled to life and people are healed when they bath in the waters at Lourdes. There is more to the story, but that is a quick summary. It's a powerful place spiritually.

So for the three days I was there, I walked to the Shrine to pray, took a dip in the cold spring water, hung out with Gilles and Christine and their family at the house, walked through the small town which was pretty shut down for the holidays, and just relaxed. I slept in, went to bed early, ate lots of delicious French bread. I did get tired of the rain though. It rained every single day so my daily outfit included a big snowboarding jacket, poncho, beanie, gloves, and scarf. I don't want to wear that jacket the whole 11 days I'm back in Rome before leaving for Ireland. I've had to wear it too much while on vacation.

I might take a typing break, but Grenoble and hanging with Carole and her family is next.

3 Days in Barcelona

I'm at the end of my 11th day of vacation and using an American keyboard to type (courtesy of my friend Neil from the Newman Center who is studying abroad in Canterbury) so hopefully my vacation summary thus far won't take a long time to write. It will probably be a long time before I get my pictures from vacation (the disadvantage of using film) so sorry that you won't have visuals to go along with my adventures.

I left on the 27th of December for Barcelona. I decided to go there because it was a relatively cheap ticket from Rome and one of the closest destinations of Ryan Air to Lourdes, France. I didn't know anything about Barcelona, but one of the girls from school said I would love it. So I went. All moms will panic, but I went by myself. I traveled solo until the 3rd of January. I wasn't nervous when I planned everything, but the day before leaving I felt very unprepared and nervous. Once I got going though, and started getting to places, I settled into the travel rhythm and got the hang of it.

Barcelona ended up being a wonderful city. It's very Catholic and is full of small brick-laden streets, hidden courtyards, and life. I stayed in the Gothic Quarter near Las Ramblas, the street with a walk mall in the middle, complete with bird and hamster and flower vendors, artists, and lots of people. There's an outdoor market (St. Joseph's) that sells produce, bread, and meat that is always alive with activity. The Cathedral front is covered with scaffolding as it is renovated, but the inside is beautiful. Dark chapels, high ceiling, Mass daily at 7 pm in the front St. Joseph Chapel. The language of the region is Catalan, which is a mixture of Spanish and Italian with some French thrown in, so I didn't understand a lot of the homily most times, but I managed to figure out 5 of the 6 readings for 3 Masses. That was nice because when I went to France, I was clueless.

Besides wandering around the Gothic Quarter, discovering new places tucked away, and going to the cathedral, I visited La Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family Church) and Montserrat. La Sagrada Familia was started by Gaudi in 1882 and still isn't finished. Construction continues and is expected to go for another 50-80 years. The church looks strange from far away, but up close the facades are so complex and detailed with images from Jesus' life. One facade shows image from His life and the opposite facade shows His passion and death. The outside is wonderful and hopefully the inside lives up to the outside when it is completed.

Montserrat is a popular pilgrimage place for the region and it is a Benedictine monastery about an hour train ride out of the city. It is 4000 feet up from the ocean and the vegetation and rock formations look very similar to So Cal on the way to Mtn. High. I went to Mass at the monastery and then walked on a path with statues and paintings of the mysteries of the Rosary to a small chapel. There were few people on this walk so it was good prayer time. I was in the chapel by myself for 20 good minutes, which was a blessing. I also rode a tram to the top of the mountain and walked in the sunshine and back down to the monastery. It was a good day, tiring and cold but peaceful.

So that's Barcelona. Beautiful city, glad I went. Now I look to France, where I went on the 30th of December.