Saturday, April 28, 2007

Last Day to Prepare

My, how fast a week flies by. Now that it's the day before the rest of the 112 Chapter Delegates arrive, things are heating up. Today, there wasn't much of a chance to get any siesta in; I was lucky to be able to sit down to one of the meals. This morning I met with Br. Paulo Petry from Brazil and Br. Ferdinand from India in order to fill them in about what has been done so far. Both of them are part of the liturgy team; the others show up tomorrow. Before I knew it, 90 minutes had gone by, with most of it spent explaining the set-up structure, the resources, the people involved, and so on.

The major resource books that I had put together and was being printed here in Rome arrived at the last minute on Friday afternoon, and so this morning we were able to look at them and begin putting "Leave in the Chapel" labels in. (We know the Brothers; they would be "borrowed" to their rooms before long, and probably still will be.) The books turned out pretty well, actually, and should prove to be a good resource for everyone.

Lots of running around chasing down details for the next couple of hours, with occasional stops in the chapel to see how Roch and Massimo were doing on the infamous "tent" effect. In the midst of this, the school next door had a confirmation going on in the middle of the afternoon, with loud music, hundreds of kids and parents, and various Brothers from the school running around keeping it all organized. The bright side was that they left behind great flower arrangements in the sanctuary area.

At 15:00 there was a meeting of all those involved with Liturgy in the Audiovisual Room (which we have been assigned for our use) and the Preparatory Commission. We spent over an hour going over various things regarding the liturgies and worked out questions that had come up in our preparations. Br. Armin brought out the crafted "staff" for the Chapter, which he had made in the Philippines. It will be used throughout the coming days as evocative of the "Exodus" theme (you know, the tent and all that). The program for the Opening Ceremony and the Opening Liturgy were both endorsed. The only change was a request to have three programs in the three languages instead of trying to do everything on one program. It was a good suggestion, but it did mean that I knew where I would be spending my time for the next 7 hours (I just finished the job). But everything looks good and we're ready to move forward.

Tomorrow, we will have an evening Mass for the Brothers in the JP II room (see picture) where the community celbrates its daily morning Mass. Some of us were worried about the number of Brothers who will show up - and I still am a bit concerned - so we asked if the community would have its regular Sunday Mass as well in the morning, and that change was made. This meant that the Brothers currently here could attend that Mass and less people would be there in the evening. The second effect is that now I've got another Mass to organize, in Italian, for tomorrow evening. But there's lots of help and we should be okay. It's not clear on some of the passed-out information that this is an "accommodation" Mass for those traveling on Sunday. Some told me that they thought that it was the Opening Mass for the Chapter. If more people think that way, we'll be swamped. Oh well, one day at a time.

Oh yes, Br. Lorenzo also told me today that the Superior would like me to prepare a 25-minute prayer service for Friday morning, featuring the Regions of the Institute, with perhaps some video or pictures. With everything else happening between now and then, along with this request, it'll be a wonder if I get any sleep at all. Let's just hope that these last-minute requests won't become a habit.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Getting Closer by the Day

If you go to the Institute website ( you will see a link to a General Chapter and a countdown clock, telling the number of days that are left until the Chapter begins. I don't need a clock to tell me that; the uber-hyper activity here in Rome gives me plenty of signs.

Today was filled with another set of meetings. Thankfully, Massiso, the fix-it guy at the Motherhouse, began working on the "tent" in the Main Chapel, with the help of Paul Wolfing. We will monitor progress. He has to finish tomorrow morning, since the school next door is having a Confirmation Mass in the afternoon in the chapel.

This morning I worked on finalizing the Excell spreadsheet showing all of the liturgical activities, along with their details (who does what when, etc.) plus devising several handouts to the Brothers dealing with various aspects of the upcoming liturgical life. Then I asked Br. Edwin Arteaga to interpret for me as I met with the two sacristans here - Br. Francisco from the Canary Islands (70+ if he's a day) and Br. Vincenzo (Italian and 74 years old) who have "overseen" masses here for years. Neither of them spoke English, and Edwin (a very lively 70 himself, with a great attitude and a wide range of experience in Colombia, Israel, and many other places, speaking about 6 languages fluently) even became flustered as he tried to interpret between Italian, Spanish, and English. At one point, he was looking at me very sincerely as he told me in Italian what Br. Francisco had said in Spanish, until Br. Francisco tapped him 0n the shoulder and reminded him, in Spanish, that I only understood English. We spent 90 minutes talking about the upcoming events of the Chapter, and the details of the opening ceremony and opening Mass. Br. Vincenzo fulfilled all of my expectations of the Italian language as, at times, he spoke to me in very fervent Italian (only some of which I understood), waving his hands about like a traffic cop and using facial expressions that only a long-time expert in non-verbal communication could muster. If I wasn't so aware of the sensitivity of some of the topics (like what elements should be part of a procession) that we were discussing, I would have enjoyed the experience more.

Here is a picture of the JPII Chapel. It's a large room at one end of the main building where Mass is held each day during the "winter" by a Romanian priest who says the Mass in Italian and is the "voice of the vatican" to all Romanians on Vatican Radio. The room has these red lounge-like chairs that seem a bit out of context, and it's also the room where many of the popular paintings of De La Salle are hung.

Later in the day, there was a meeting of Preparatory Commission. We looked over the entire first week, day by day, in order to make sure that everything was being covered. Meanwhile, occasionally I would pop into Br. Lorenzo's office to see if the 256-page Liturgical Resource book that I had submitted more than a month ago had arrived yet from the printer. The printer promised that it would be here this week, and here it's the last possible day that it could be delivered before the Chapter itself. The one-hour meeting turned into a two-hour meeting. We covered more details than I thought existed for any event, and we emerged relatively unscathed.

Right after, I went to see Brother Rodolofo, who is the Postulator-General (in charge of all of Brothers who are being considered for sainthood - if I survive this next 5 weeks I might be a candidate) and a very good organist. I asked him to play the organ in the Main Chapel for our two initial services, and we went over each service step by step.

When all that was over, it was almost time for dinner (19:30) and after making changes on documents related to the liturgical life of the Chapter, in preparation for meetings tomorrow, I went to a very nice dinner in one of the large dining rooms where the Chapter delegates were now asked to have their meals. (The meals so far had been held with the Motherhouse community in their dining room.) More Brothers from the States had arrived and we had a great time, telling stories and reminiscing about Brothers past and present.

At the beginning of the dinner, I heard in the background two names that I immediately recognized, since I'd emailed them a number of times over the last nine months. One was Br. Ferdinand, a young Brother from India who will be the other member of the official Liturgy Team. The other was Br. Paul Petry, the Provincial for the District of Brazil, who will be helping out in the area of liturgy and music. It was really nice to finally meet them and to spend some time chatting. We arranged to meet tomorrow morning to get to the work of what was ahead of us.

It appears that everyone here is able to both appreciate the company of some very interesting characters and to be able to get down to some serious work. It should be an interesting time, to say the least.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fourth Day - Getting Settled

Even though it was nice outside, several times today I could hear thunder happening in the area. Perhaps it rained when I was inside, but when I went outside the weather was fine. The picture here is of the outside of the chapel with the large clock tower that dominates the area. From the top of it you can see St. Peter's Dome (No, I haven't climbed that ladder).

Now that I'm getting a bit of a sense of what's coming, I am both more relieved and more concerned. I'm relieved in the sense of knowing more of the details in trying to organize 150 Brothers from around the world to have meaningful liturgical experiences during a period of 35 days that will include 15 large group liturgies (in three languages), 22 smaller language group liturgies, and 13 prayer services of various kinds. This is not to mention the 15 or so prayers that begin one of the General Chapter sessions in the meeting hall. I don't need to say why I'm concerned.

Today was spent going to several meetings of Brothers involved in various aspects of our time together here in Rome. One of the meetings was to address concerns about the whole "tent" thing in the chapel. I think that Brothers here thought that we were going to set up a full tent inside of the chapel. As it turned out, what we are planning to do was okay. We were going to start today; now we'll start tomorrow. With more and more Brothers arriving, and the real stuff beginning on Sunday evening, we're cutting it kind of close. But, oh well.

The picture here is of Br. Jose Antonio Warletta, who does graphic design work for publications here, and Br. Antonio Botana, the Secretary for Association. They're reading the various postings in the "coffee room" of the Motherhouse.

Time in the computer chair was spent making up sign-up sheets, descriptions of jobs, details for the liturgy committe, and the like. This afternoon, I was happy to learn that the large tube mailers from Napa had arrived with the small and large banners that we are planning to use. However, I also found out that the "Magnificat" May issues were here for the French and Spanish groups, but the English ones were still stuck in Napa. An "emergency" email to Napa will have them here early next week (not without a price, of course). Details, details.

Br. Dominic Berardelli arrived here from our District and we had a fine dinner together in the dining room. He filled us in on happenings in the District and showed us the "trading cards" of Brothers at Saint Mary's College that had been created as part of "De La Salle Week" there. They're great, and apparently the students really are trading them with one another. Br. Dominic told us stories of when he was stationed here some years back, how he tried to get the Brothers to stop the clock tower from striking once every 10 minutes to announce the quarter hour, where it would go through a series of bells, and then going through the whole hour-bell-peal business at each hour, like Big Ben in London. It drove him crazy. He figured out once that, along with the electronic buzzer in the house that announced various activities, he was hearing over a thousand bell chimes a day. But the Brothers said that it had been that way for years and some guy from California wasn't going to make them reconsider. But one weekend, when he was charge of seeing that the rope that controlled the bells was set correctly, somehow the mechanism that started the whole thing going broke (he insists that he didn't do a thing) and there was merciful silence for a while. Some Brothers quietly thanked him, even while he denied causing the clamor to stop. Now, during daylight hours, we only get the single peal each quarter hour and the toll of the time at each hour.

Tomorrow we really will start on the "tent" thing in the chapel. We promise.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Third Day - Doing the Details

Practically all day today was spent on the computer in a little room off the library, a place where both the communications people and myself are surrounded by a jungle of wires and various forms of technology. The windows are covered with metal shades, so we don't even see when it's turning dark outside. The sole indication of time is the quarterly chime of the bells in the huge clock tower that's part of the property.

It's taken most of the day to put together the program for the Opening Mass. Not only do all of the readings, titles, instructions, etc. have to be in three languages, but I also have to make sure that the musical settings are singable, interesting, and sensitive to the theme and to the people who will be there. As usual, a project like that takes at least twice as long as one's most pessimistic estimate.

I also had several conversations with Brothers in the house about the "tent" theme. Some had the impression that we were going to put up a full tent inside of the main chapel; that would be just too daring. I assured people that we would give the "idea" of a tent, and environmental indications of a tent-like atmosphere. But we would not drape everything in cloth and obscure the relics of the Founder, the Blessed Sacrament, and so on. Actually, the questions have helped to clarify what we could do in that chapel, and tommorow we'll begin doing it.

Today was the 72nd birthday of Br. Marcellino, who is the go-to-guy in the house. He's a bundle of energy and very helpful - although he only speaks Italian. The Brothers in the dining room were quite enthusiastic with their singing of "Happy Birthday" in Italian for him; while he looked like he'd rather be somewhere else. Marcellino is the short Brother in the middle of the picture. For many years, Marcellino was the head of our school in Castle Gandolfo. Roch told me that when he goes there, he gets mobbed in the streets by folks who come to greet him. There's a picture in his office of him being hugged by JPII.

The Brothers are starting to arrive in larger groups now. Br. Michael Avila, who is working as a translator, is here already here and busy translating documents from Spanish to English. He works at Saint Mary's College in Moraga during the year, and I don't know if he thinks of this gig as a break or as the honoring of a request. Like me, he will be working pretty much all of the time. But he has a positive attitude and plugs on.

Today the Italians celebrated the day that the Americans came into Rome during WWII, and so it was a holiday - nobody went to work. One Brother said that he thought it was curious that they would celebrate being invaded by their "enemy" during the war. But as people keep saying: "This is Rome."

This afternoon I took a two-hour nap that was an hour too long; right now (22:40) I'm wide awake. But I'll turn in and try to get into the rhythm of this part of the world.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Second Day - Getting Busy

Last evening at this time (2240 - we use the 24-hour clock here, you know), I was standing inside of a nearby gelato place munching on a combination hazelnut/almond "ice-a creama cona", as Br. Norman of happy memory would say when in Italy. That's one of the great Italian creations. You can get every flavor under the sun. Roch tried a taste of the chocolate with pepperocini (yuck!), and found out that he didn't have Italian taste buds.

My day was spent chasing down the details involved in the upcoming ceremonies, which included a quick trip to the center of Rome on the Metro in order to find a music store and a sustain pedal for the small keyboard from the school next door that will be used in the chapel for the services, a series of meetings to determine what needs to be done when, emails to liturgy committee members letting them know what will have to be covered before their arrival (most are arriving a day or so before we start), and conversations with Brothers in the house about liturgy resources, their availability for organ-playing, and so on. This afternoon and evening were spent putting together the contents of the opening ceremony and the program. This three-language thing is going to be a bear, I can tell already. Suddenly I'll be stumped because I don't know "General Intercessions" or "Greeting of Peace" in Spanish and French. And off I run to tackle the nearest French or Spanish-speaking Brother.

I'm using several Taize pieces, but they're not done in three languages usually, so I have to find a good translation, plug the phrases into the right notes, and then go into Photoshop to manipulate the score with the new phrases. Interesting stuff, but time-consuming. I had hoped to have three services (Opening Ceremony, Opening Mass, first Morning Prayer) done today, and I've completed one. The other two will have to be done tomorrow.

Br. Roch went out to get the fabric for the tent in the main chapel. Here's a picture of what the chapel looks like now. Later on, I will put up some shots of the transformation - if there is one. Apparently, the Brothers in the house aren't too keen on the idea. But I'm simply following the request of the Preparatory Commission and its directions about the theme of the General Chapter, along with a desire to have a "tent" atmosphere for our prayer space. I didn't realize that a liturgist had to be such a diplomat also. (Yes, I know the joke: "How do you tell the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? ...pause... You can negotiate with a terrorist.")

Got about three hours of sleep last night - I think. Really got to know a pigeon cooing outside my window well. Tried to put a positive spin on it and took it to be a sign of the Holy Spirit's presence during our time here. You could do worse.

Monday, April 23, 2007

First Day in Rome

It is now late afternoon in Rome on April 23rd, the commemoration of St. George in the Catholic Church. I believe that it is nine hours earlier on the West Coast of the U.S., and my body doesn't quite know what time it is, from all indications.

The trip from Sacramento to Rome was pretty straightforward on UAL, some 20 hours of traveling, door to door, with a 3-hour layover in Washington, D.C. My seatmate on the plane from Washington was a retired Marine colonel aviator who was on his way to give some talks on a cruise-ship in the Mediterranean about his interesting and varied life (which included being married to Raquel Welch for many years and playing the part of the baby in Gone With the Wind - not in that order). One of our Christian Brothers High School graduates, Paul Wolfing, was also on the trip with me, having been hired by Br. Roch to help with the technical responsibilities for the General Chapter.

Br. Leonardo and Br. Roch greeted us at the airport when we arrived at 9:00 AM and drove us to the Motherhouse where we immediately set up our work spaces and began our work. Paul received a quick tour of the place, some of it using the big model of the complex at the entrance to the place. I met with a number of Brothers involved in preparations for the Chapter to begin working out the details for the liturgical life. Roch and I went over the planned transformation of the Main Chapel into a "tent" atmosphere that will convey the sense of Exodus and Journey that the Preparatory Commission asked for. And lunch provided an opportunity to greet Brothers whom I had gotten to know the last time I was here.

The time adjustment was surprisingly easy. Around 3 PM, however, I did have to take an hour nap just to assure my system that sleep wasn't a stranger in my new environment. Now it's back to work until prayer at 6:45 PM followed by dinner at 7:30 PM. Tomorrow will be a day to begin the transformation of the chapel, to lay out the elements for the opening ceremony and Mass, and to determine the best ways to encourage the involvement of the Brothers in the liturgical life of the Chapter. The vast majority of participants will arrive next Sunday, a day before the whole thing begins, and so we will have to be ready to go full out beginning on Monday. The thought is scary, frankly.

I tell myself, "Step by step, keep breathing, and say the occasional prayer."