Heather in Rome

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

Saturday, February 25

Acting like a Monkey

Remember back in October when it was the first Girls' Day and I described climbing up the wall into a tree to retrieve the Frisbee? Here, months later, is the picture to show it. To give you an idea of scale, the girl in the pic, Alejandra, is 6' tall. Great fun!

Tuesday, February 21


I have now been to the Emmanuel-famous pilgrimage site in France called Paray-le-Monial. It is a small town where Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary in the 1600's and focused on the image of His Sacred Heart that loved the world so much. I've been hearing about it for 4 1/2 months now so to finally experience this place with the school was a treat. The first two days were a retreat for the four Emmanuel schools and the last two days were part of a youth forum where 700 young people from France and other places came together to praise and learn more about the faith.

It was a good experience. I was hoping for a big encounter with God, but He chose a more subtle path, leading me to deeper prayer in the St. Claude Chapel and a bigger desire than normal to praise. Odds are, when there are 800 people singing the same song, even if it is in French, it is probably going to be easier to get into the praise than normal. So that was good, celebratory. We had a great time of praise, testimony, and adoration on Saturday night and I got to help lead the prayer during that night, which I liked. In the early evening on Saturday, I gave a little testimony, on how this year has transformed us so far in the school, to present the ESM. Other schools sang, danced, or gave a testimony too. It was fun because I would talk and then Carole would translate and people laughed at the funny parts, even before Carole translated. And I'm probably known as the girl from CA: when I said that I was from there people started cheering and then later at meals, people would say, "Are you the girl from CA?" You got to love being a California girl, the Beach Boys made us famous.

The rides to and from Paray were actually quite fun. On the way there, it was a 15 1/2 hour bus ride and on the way back it was only 13 1/2 hours. You would think I got to read a lot or sleep a lot, but actually not. Instead the group talked a lot, played a movie trivia game, prayed the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, sang praise. It was great. I got to talk to people I don't talk to very much during the average school day. Best of all, there seems to be a greater sense of unity between everyone. It's amazing what 29 hours on a bus and 4 days in Paray can do for a community.

Now I'm back in Rome. Sick again. I feel like I've been sick in one way or another since I got back from Christmas vacation. My theory is that not only do I live in very close quarters with 18 people, but my pillow is rock hard so I sleep poorly most of the time. So my body is not getting uninterrupted sleep each night and that makes me more susceptible to the germs that go through the school. I did manage to avoid the stomach flu that went through here a week and a half ago and hit about 7 people. Ughhh, I just want to be better, healthy.

On a happy note, Camp Gray accepted me (www.campgray.com). Now I have to pray about it and let them know by March 3rd. I'll probably say yes, but I want to make sure to think it over. No matter what I do, it won't be easy transitioning out of the ESM.

Monday, February 13

Prayer Request

Hi everyone,
I haven't heard from the environmental camp I interviewed with 2 weeks ago, but I should find out if they offer me a position in a week. It sounds made for me, but I would still like your prayers for my decision if they offer me a position. Just because it sounds really good doesn't mean it is automatically for me.
On the second subject, we head for Paray-Le-Monial in France on Wednesday. When there we have the option of joining the Emmanuel Community if we feel called to do so. I wasn't thinking about it much, even though I really like the community, but then Fr. Thierry talked with me about it. He said I seem to fit in with everything we do here and don't have large qualms about anything so I might be a good fit. I don't have time to explain what joining means, but if you could pray for my discernment of this important spiritual matter.
Now before I sign off, I would like to relay something that was said by Blessed Charles de Foucauld. "Father, I put myself in your hands, Father, I abandon myself to you, I entrust myself to you. Father, do with me as it pleases you. Whatever you do with me, I will thank you for it. Giving thanks for anything, I am ready for anything, I accept all things, give thanks for everything. As long as your will, my God, is done in me, as long as your will is done in all your creatures, in all your children, in all those your heart loves, I ask for nothing else. O God, I put my soul into your hands. I give it to you, O God, with all the love of my heart, because I love you, and because my love requires me to give myself. I put myself unreservedly in your hands. I put myself in your hands with infinite confidence, because you are my Father."

Friday, February 10

Ireland Mission

Now to the Ireland mission. What an intense 10 days! Sometimes I was so tired that by the last weekend I was less agreeable with some changes in the schedule than I would usually be. But even though I was tired, it was a good 10 days.

We spent the first weekend (arrived on a Friday) going door-to-door in teams. Some of you may wonder why we were acting like Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses and at times I did to. It was uncomfortable and challenging, but our purpose was to reach out to those who may be far from God or the Church and make them feel welcome to join any of the mission events. For the most part we were received well. Some people would engage us in conversation about their opinions of the Church and others would take the information and say thank you. Others didn't want the flyers and one lady didn't even open the door. Oh well.

During the week we were in the 4 local Catholic schools. Newbridge is a town of 30,000 people so that's a lot of Catholic schools. I'm not even sure if there is a public school in the area. Most of the time we were in the schools for the whole school day. We would move from class to class at each period. Some sessions were 40 minutes, others were 80. We met all the ages, from kindergarden to the 17/18 year olds. For the little ones we would teach them a song about Jesus that has actions to go along with the words and for the older students one of the team members (there were 4 of us in my team) would give his/her testimony about meeting Jesus and then we would open up the rest of the time for questions about the faith, doctrine, life, etc. It's hard to say how effective the sessions were as far as changing their lives and helping them to accept Jesus in faith. I know the testimonies were very powerful and gave a more personal version of the faith. The questions helped clarify some of the popular misconceptions about Church teaching and gave us the opportunity to talk about God's rules as ways of protecting us from harm and showing us his love.

After the school day and dinner with the host family, we would go back out into the town, either to the pub for pub ministry or to people's home where they would host a get-together with their neighbors and invite us to lead a similar program as in the schools: testimony and discussion. I only did 2 of these so-called Open Houses. One was with a group of young married moms and the other was with 3 high school aged kids. It was intimidating in a way because it is a small group that you don't know and we would be expected to lead the gathering and find a way to have the conversation go deep. It was tough so we prayed a lot to the Holy Spirit for guidance.

The pub ministry was fun. Students from the Newman Center may be surprised because I came across as very much against alcohol last year, but with the school it is used differently. Anyway, 2 times I found myself in a pub for ministry. Basically, with alcoholic beverage in hand, I would approach people and ask if they've heard about the mission. Sometimes we worked in pairs, usually one-on-one, but always in the vicinity of the others. I ended up talking with 3 college guys who varied in faith one night and one guy who has been far from the Church for awhile after a death in the family the other night. That guy was amazing to talk to. Yvonne and I spoke with him for 2 hours and shared about all sorts of things relate to life and faith. It was intense.

The end of the mission was so much fun. The parish hosted a going away party for us missionaries and it resembled a wedding reception, complete with DJ, dance floor, and happy-go-lucky atmosphere. It was great because these people that I live with have become an extended family of brothers and sisters (which is always good and sometimes frustrating) and as we near the half way point in the year, we realize that once we leave the school, it could be a long time before we see each other again. So just like how all the family comes together for a wedding and has a blast (at least in my family), the party was our opportunity to have a rocking reception while we are together.

Ah, I guess that's enough about the mission. I met lots of people, helped plant a lot of seeds that will grow into strong faith with time (at least that is what I believe and pray for). There are more stories, but I'll keep them for when I get home so I have something to share. On a side note, I interviewed last night with a Catholic retreat center/environmental camp in Wisconsin for a volunteer stipend position. I think the interview went well and the place seems to be right up my alley, blending my two passions in life. I should find out around Feb. 20 if they offer me a position. Something to pray about. God's will be done. He hasn't done me wrong yet.

(As a disclaimer: I posted this picture of the Guinness pints almost against my better judgment and probably to the chagrin of my mom, but what is a story of Ireland without Guinness. I just had to include it. If I have scandalized my program, let me say that while alcohol was frequently present during the mission due to wine-drinking host families and pub ministry nights, for the most part it was consumed responsibly and in moderation.)

Saturday, February 4

Christmas Photos

I realized that I didn't say much about Christmas yet. It was amazing. Midnight Mass at St. Peter's sitting behind the altar, many celebrations with good food (courtesy of me and the rest of the cooking team plus some helpers), every Christmas liturgy (there are 4 of them: 8 pm Sat., Midnight, 6 am Sunday, and 10 am Sunday), and more. Since I don't have Newbridge pictures yet, I thought I would appease you with some from Christmas. Hope you like them.
Making Christmas cookies a week before Christmas. We made American, French, German and Polish sweets. I'm improvising with a bar of white chocolate because I didn't find any chips around. Italy can be a difficult place to find the necessary ingredients.

Goofing around at Centro San Lorenzo during our Christmas Eve celebration. There were about 50 of us total who came together for the Vigil Mass and a party. We sang Christmas songs in our native languages and had a great time.

I wasn't quite this close to the Pope at the end of Midnight Mass, but my friends Carole and Alejandra were because they got to read at the Mass. I got a good shot of him on my video camera. The whole time I was at Mass, I just kept thinking, "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be at Midnight Mass at the Vatican." And I could really concentrate when I was praying too, so that was good.

Imagine this: 2-3:30 am, Christmas Day. We come back from Mass and have cookies and hot chocolate. People start playing guitar and singing songs. Others sit around and tell stories. I later call home and am up until 4 am. The Sunrise Mass in the hotel is in 2 1/2 hours. I was a zombie through most of it.

Making Christmas dinner. Chicken parmiggiano, pasta, and more. Yum, yum. I was ready to get out of the kitchen, though, after preparing meals for 30 people for 3 days.

A Christmas skit during our night celebration, featuring Ramzi as a modern Angel Gabriel. He got to drive a Ferrari and talk to God the Father (a take on the Godfather because the mafia has been a reoccuring theme in some of our skits).

Even Santa made an apperance. That's Reggie from San Diego in the suit and Chris from NY as his sidekick.