Saturday, June 2, 2007

June 2 - Last Day of the Chapter

This was the last day of the 44th General Chapter which, despite all protestations to the contrary by certain members who shall remain nameless, was judged as meaningful and successful by the vast majority of those who attended.

The day started with the perennial shower mystery - why is there absolutely no hot water? When you turn to the knob completely over, it's as if you turned it off... nothing comes out. After five minutes I decided to reschedule my personal duties until later in the day. It was either that or try to wash under a shower that was such by wishful thinking only.

After doing some quick early morning work in the "office" I went to the 7 AM prayer service (in language groups). Since I came in exactly at 7 AM, I didn't know if anyone had started the service. The Brothers were in there quietly praying; so I joined them. Twenty minutes of silence later I wondered if all this was on purpose or if someone simply hadn't signed up for this prayer service and we were just winging it. Finally, one of the Brother spoke and invited people to mention something that they would bring with them from the Chapter, and it went on from there. An interesting half hour with the Brothers, to be sure.

During breakfast, I spoke with Br. Georges Absi about an idea that he'd pitched to me a couple a days ago concerning a thanksgiving prayer that the French group had used in which a prayer was said according to each of the Chapter them groups after which an antiphon was sung. I asked him if he could still do something like that for the morning prayer in the Aula Magna and he began to arrange it right away. With most other Brothers, you would run into reluctance, opposition, or complaint that you'd asked too late. With these guys, if they thought that something could be done, they went ahead and started the process. We had about 30 minutes to go and they were ready when the session began at 8:30 AM. For this last prayer, I had two sections, each of which I introduced. In the first was this thanksgiving prayer, said in French but translated into the other languages (one of the advantages of having prayer in the Aula Magna) with the sung antiphon in between. For the second part I showed the "To Be Lasallian" video by Scott Gibbs as a summary of what it is that we are about here. The thing worked fine until about 15 seconds from the end when the music video came to an abrupt ending - full stop and silence. Such an ending doesn't make for a good transition, but I made the best of it and finished the prayer as I could.

This last session included the final consideration of several reports and then went into the thank-you litany. Each of the support staff groups was recognized and thanked. Especially impressive was the large group of translators that worked throughout the Chapter. There must have been twenty of more people involved. As one person said, there seem to be about as many people working behind the scenes of a Chapter as are in it. That's probably true. Freddy and I were recognized also, of course, and given a beautiful bronze medallion of De La Salle.

While these sorts of closing things went on into the next session, I spent my time getting the candles ready for the closing Eucharist and commissioning ceremony this evening. The candles were done, but the labels hadn't yet been made. I went to Br. Jose Antonio Warletta, who is the one who creates all the logos and booklets, etc. here, asking him for help. He jumped right in and worked with me for about an hour until we had a good label that incorporated both the Chapter logo and the "umbrella" theme - Being Brothers today: open eyes, burning hearts. We just took the last piece of that in the three languages and put it on the label.

Once the labels were printed I found out that the package of printing paper was itself mislabeled. This was not pull-off adhesive printer paper, just heavy-weight glossy paper. So we looked around for a solution and decided that double-stick tape was our best bet for getting the labels onto the glass of the candle jars. Careful cutting and sticking later saw the completion of the project.

During most of lunch I was busy getting the chapel set up for the evening Mass and for the choir practice at 2 PM. It was an hour-long practice, and we went over everything for the evening's activities, including the commission service. A new song "Jesus Christ, You are My Life" was introduced as the opening song, and we seemed to get it down pretty well after a few tries. The great thing about this choir, beyond the fact that they sound fantastic, is that they respond well to invitations for input regarding how to approach certain songs, the number of verses, etc.

The time after the practice is mostly a blur. There were many things to do before the Mass: check with Rodolfo about playing the organ (changes were made during the choir practice); see if the Councillors - past and present - were around so that I could let them know about the commissioning ceremony; finalize the programs that Sr. Margaret was putting together (hopefully in time for the Mass); get the candles situated in an artful way in front of the chapel; practice the music; reserve the first row for the procession people; check with Vincenzo about the sacristy; check with Freddy about the offertory procession; and on and on. The difference between five weeks ago and now, as I think I've mentioned, is that it's more of a "flow" now. I don't get as perturbed by last-minute changes of glitches. You just go with it and adapt as needed. I hope that that means that I'm NOT a liturgist, since most liturgists I know would not be as flexible.

In any case, the time for Mass arrived and I spent some time explaining to the Councillors what the plans for the commissioning service after communion were all about, quickly putting together a step-by-step guideline for them. This is what happened: Br. Superior came to the front of the altar and Michael French led the congregation in a "Thanks We Give" chant, naming each of the former Councillors, who each came up to be thanked by Br. Superior. When all were present, the congregation applauded them and they returned to their seats. Then the same song was used to call up the new Councillors. Once these were in the sanctuary, Br. Superior read a short selection from DLS's meditations and this was followed by a "commissioning" of the Brothers. The Councillors, Vicar, and Superior, held out their hands in blessing while reciting a section from Ephesians that was a sort of commissioning prayer. Then they each received a candle (THE candles that we'd been working on weeks ago) which they carried out in procession - while Br. Alvaro brought the 44th General Chapter staff with which we had started this whole thing. The closing song was "We are marching in the light of God..." It all seemed to be very effective.

One highlight for all of us was a post-Communion song by Br. Gerard, the young Visitor from Venezuela. His magnificent voice, combined with his very accomplished guitar playing and the choice of the song were truly inspiring, memorable, and moving. It will remain with me for quite a while. The celebrant was Fr. Pascual Chavez, the Superior General of the Salesians. He had a fine, quiet presence and seemed quite accommodating, glancing over at me at all the right moments in order to make sure that we would now go to correct place in the plans - something that I really appreciated. He was also a good friend of Br. Alvaro, which made for a very comfortable relationship during the Mass.

During the Mass, which was the anticipated Mass for Trinity Sunday, we also renewed our vows by language groups, and the Guadulapana Sisters renewed their vows as well. This is the traditional day on which we do so and it was a special occasion to be able to do it as a Chapter.

At the social following the Mass there were lots of comments about the liturgy and how it touched people, which of course was very gratifying since that's the point of all this effort. People genuinely seemed to appreciate the efforts that the whole Liturgy committee put into the prayer activities of the Chapter.

Dinner was a long and joyous affair. By the time the cake and champagne were ready to come out, various tables were already singing a number of international favorites (Guantanamera, Auld Lang Syne, Waltzing Matilda, Santa Lucia, etc. - you get the idea). Everyone seemed to be enjoying the camaraderie that had been created during these last five weeks. Some Brothers had already left for their homelands and others will leave very early tomorrow morning, and so there were many heartfelt goodbyes among the group. It was as if they knew that they might not see some of these true Brothers again, but they had been happy to have been able to spend a number of weeks in their company. I know that these were my sentiments.

Afterwards and through the afternoon, various Brothers were finalizing plans for their after-Chapter activities, booking train trips and the like on their way back. Some Brothers are going right back to work, others are taking the opportunity to visit the Brothers in other counties "on the way" back home.

And so the Chapter comes to a close and now the real work begins - implementing it among the Brothers. That will be a longer process than five weeks. But this is good beginning.

I'll keep the blog going until I return to the States on June 6th. For now, however, it's enough.
More picture from today at

Friday, June 1, 2007

June 1 - One Day Until the End

Today was the penultimate day of the Chapter. There were no sessions in the Aula Magna. Instead, the concentration was on meetings of the various Regions, both independently and with the new Councillors.

The day began with our last language group liturgy. The English group had what might be called a "casual" Mass, with us sitting in our CIL Chapel with a small altar. We pretty much sat throughout the Mass, which included a shared homily. The Gospel was about the cursing of the fig tree, and the most interesting comment for me came from Br. Anton de Roeper who said that he noticed that the fig tree outside of the kitchen was producing fruit from its new branches, not from the older more established branches, as had been the case in the past. I took this as a metaphor for what was happening in the Institute, and a good commentary on the future envisioned by this Chapter.

While the various Regions were meeting, I kept working on the program for tomorrow. Lots of details involved in something like that, and although it's a chore, by now I'm sort of relaxed about the whole thing and take things in stride. This was tested about an hour ago when I found out that our celebrant had prepared his homily on the readings of Trinity Sunday. (It's deja vu all over again.) This was exactly what I had feared, and it's the reason I had asked a while back that he be contacted to make sure he had the right readings. But I was assured that he had the right readings and all was fine. Not true. And now that it's the last minutes, WE again have to change to accommodate the homily. So the last hour has been spent changing the readings at the Mass from the ones I had chosen (according to our Exodus theme, etc.) to the ones of the day, which are far less significant for the occasion. But I don't have much choice. Although I'm disappointed, I'm not really surprised.. Just sort of sad that it all happened again despite my best efforts to avoid exactly this problem. Also, the readers for the liturgy, who will be doing it in Portuguese and an African language have to hunt down the new reference in time for the Mass. It just shakes everything up and is not very comfortable. But, as I said, by this time I'm less worried about it than I would have been five weeks ago. Go with the flow seems to work - something to do with Providence.

This afternoon, Br. Gerard Rummery gave a presentation on the online Lasallian Leadership course that his District has developed and one where he's had a great amount of input and influence. It's a marvelous program, allowing Lasallians anywhere to gain credit, knowledge, and real appreciation for our heritage through an online medium. It's definitely the way to go, and I hope that it grows by leaps and bounds.

At 5 PM we had our large group pictures. Throughout the day, Br. Roch had been taking pictures of the various regional groups. This would be the large group one. He had worked hard to find somewhere other than the front steps to take the pictures. Everyone takes pictures on the front steps. They have got to be the most photographed front steps in the Lasallian world. Instead, we used the grassy area between some of the building, which made for a much better shot, especially since he took the picture from a higher elevation. When we began the process, it drizzled for a while and threatened to rain, but soon things cleared up and we had a nice overcast sky that would remove any harsh shadows that direct sunlight often causes in pictures.

This evening, the USA/Toronto Region had a dinner in one of the smaller dining rooms to honor Bill Mann as he finished as Vicar General and moved back to his District on the East Coast (Long-Island New-England District). We also honored Br. Miguel Campos, although he couldn't stay the whole evening since the Spanish Brothers were having some kind of dinner as well. Br. Alvaro joined us for the social and then left for the other celebration. At the end of dinner, there were some very fine words from VBr. Tom Johnston, the new Vicar General, about the influence that Bill has had both here and beyond. And Bill of course spoke quite eloquently and sincerely about his experiences here and looking forward to, in effect, being without a job for a while after 25 years of hard work. He said that he was happy with the fact that he did everything that he was able to do while here in Rome, and that he did it as well as he was able to do it. He had no regrets.

After the dinner I returned to my "office" to finish up my work for the day. But, the best-laid plans of mice and men... And so I've had to do those last-minute changes to the program for tomorrow. But perhaps that's all as it should be. I know that I'll live longer if I don't worry about the things that I cannot change, change the things I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference between the two (Yes, somebody else said that first).

One thing that I do know is that after tomorrow I don't want to prepare, help prepare, think about preparing, vaguely reflect about preparing, or be asked, cajoled, ordered, or persuaded to prepare another liturgy for quite a while, if not longer. I'm taking a liturgical hiatus, which will probably be good for my soul.
More pictures from today at

Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 31 - Final Meetings

Today was one of those days that was filled with four sessions of meetings in the Aula Magna, each running for 90 minutes. The first was at 9 AM, the next at 11 AM, then lunch and a break until 3 PM, and the final one at 5 PM. After a while, those wood chairs in the Chapter Hall become even harder. But the discussion is very strong, significant, and captivating. These were some of the final discussions on various documents and reports, most of which will be made available to the worldwide Institute. So people wanted to be careful with all of the details.

It was announced that the father of one of the Brothers (Br. Hillaire) had suddenly died in Madagascar, and we had a moment of silent prayer. I saw him later in the day and expressed my sympathies. He was in the process of packing, having secured a flight tomorrow to Europe and from there back to Madagascar. It's difficult when something like that happens, especially if it is unexpected. That makes about 4 deaths now that we have heard about during the course of this Chapter. It sort of puts things into perspective.

I spent most of the day taking care of other matters, since most of the work done in the Aula Magna now would be shown in the final documents. I had a closing ceremony to prepare, plus several other projects. For the opening prayer today, Br. Georges Absi sang a religious song in Arabic. It only took one practice before everyone joined the wonderful melody that was the setting to Arabic words that he had written so that we could pronounce them (and translations were provided as well).

I snuck away for a bit as I tried to track down some good photo paper for the printer. I have a very nice shot of Br. Alvara, the Superior General, with Pope Benedict and I'd like to give it to him (to Alvaro, that is - Benedict has lots of pictures already, I'm sure). I did track down some paper, but it ended up not working. However, Br. Jose Antonio Warletta was able to find some paper among his things and worked for a good while to come up with a good print, and I found a nice-looking frame at Upim across the street. Now I just have to find the right occasion to give it to him.

This evening, those of us from the San Francisco District went out to dinner in the Trastevere area of town. We met at the gate around 6:45 PM and took a bus to just beyond the Vatican where we got off and pretty much arrived at the restaurant. It was a fine time with good food. We solved all the problems of the Institute, the District, and the world, of course, as the dinner progressed. Around desert time, however, I excused myself to make my way over to the Trevi fountain.

Yesterday I had received an email from Janis Hoffart, one of the administrative secretaries at Christian Brothers, that Patti Gallagher and Tom English and 30-some CB kids were in town. Although I couldn't join them for dinner, I did manage to get hold of them through their tour guide, whose cell phone number was provided, in order to arrange a rendezvous after dinner at the fountain.

I took the 46 bus further than I'd gone before, trying to keep tabs of where we were via a map of Rome, while holding onto the strap and holding my shoulder bag in front and holding my camera in my pocket and eyeing the people around me for the pickpocket candidate of the day. By the time we got to the Victor Emmanuel monument, everyone got off the bus so I figured that this must be the end of the line. Then I spent some time trying to orient myself. It was dark but the street lights were bright. Cars were going all over the place, but I just stepped out into the crosswalk like a native and moved through the traffic without so much as blinking an eye. I made my way down the Via Corso and came to a busy side thoroughfare. The Trevi fountain must lay in that direction, with the vendors and the people congregating in the small street. A little while later I arrived at the fountain. Another phone call confirmed that they were on the other side of the fountain and soon enough Tom English saw me and greeted me, leading me to where the others were congregating.

It was great to see the kids, Patti, and Tom. They were also excited to see me, I think, and had been on the lookout for a while. We took a couple of group pictures (although I look morose in them, not knowing when the picture would be taken) and then spent some time talking and catching up. They said that the video that we had done here in Rome for the Founder's Day Liturgy went over very well. They would be going to Florence tomorrow and then on to Venice and Paris. After about 15 - 20 minutes it was time for them to catch their bus and we said goodbye. It's really something to have had this chance to see these kids, many of whom I'd seen almost daily for the last year or more. I'm sure that it was just a nice encounter for them, but for me it was like touching base with the reason why we're doing all of this work in Rome. It's all finally about them, even if they don't know it. And I truly felt a bit of the welling of the heart when I was with them. I know that I'll miss that quite a bit next year when I've moved to Napa. Hopefully, there will be other ways to have similar encounters and involvements with students.

After meeting up with the CB kids, I made my way to the Via Corso and found out that Bus 46 does not go anywhere near it, apparently. So I checked my map and walked the 10 -1 5 blocks to the Metro stop for Barberini. When I got there at 10:30 PM, I heard them closing all of the entrances to the Metro. This was a new twist, since I'd thought that the Metro ran until midnight. I wandered around a bit and finally asked the waiter at a restaurant for some directions. He told me to take the "MA1" bus which followed the Metro line exactly, except on city streets. Twenty minutes later one of them came by, filled to the brim with people, and I joined the cozy bunch - now fully alert as to my shoulder bag, etc. Trying to fit the people who had thought to be in an 8-car Metro train onto a bus means that the bus was chockfull of people all the way to Cornelia. But I arrived relatively unscathed and walked back to the Motherhouse, arriving much later than I had anticipated.

But never mind, it was worth it just to see Tom, Patti, and the CB kids. It made my day.
More pictures at

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

May 31 - Papal Audience and dinner al fresco

The French language group organized the Mass in the Main Chapel this morning. As organized as they always are, there was a complete program prepared. Even though the homily by Fr. Adriano was short, we still didn't get to breakfast until 7:50 AM, and the buses were leaving at 8:30 sharp. At the last minute, we found out that we should have our name tags in order to get in, so there was a furious hunt for name tags before boarding the buses.

Traffic in Rome at this time of the morning is crazy. It's gridlock all around, or so it seems. If we had taken the Metro, we probably would have gotten to the Vatican faster. At one point, the bus was blocked by a car whose owner had put on his flashing lights while he went across to the street to conduct some sort of business. It was only after some five minutes of continuous honking of horns that he came out and moved the car out of the way.

The bus parked some distance from the piazza and we walked to the already crowded outside viewing stands. We knew the general placement of our assigned seats and made our way to that area of the piazza, moving through a number of guides, guards, attendants, and police. Each time we had to explain who we were and where we were going. Once we got to our places we found out that we had better seats than we had been assigned. Apparently, one of the people overseeing the placement of seats spoke with the early arrivals and said that he had graduated from one of our schools. Then he promptly changed our seats to better ones, so that now instead of being seated behind the pope, we would be in front of him. Thank you very much.

The Brothers who had arrived earlier had saved the other seats for us, and I got a good spot near the front of the group. For the next hour, we were taking lots of photographs of one another and of the assembling crowd in the piazza. The official ushers were dressed up quite formally, and they knew their jobs well. Their eagle eyes would immediately pick out anyone trying to sneak into a better seat and would gently, but persistently, move them away. Doing this every week with people who are inevitably quite excited and who will recite any reason to get a better seat has probably made them quite resistant to most appeals for mercy.

Then the pope appeared in his pope-mobile, to great shouts and cheering of course. He made his way around the entire piazza, going by a circuitous route that reached to the very edges of the crowd. Then it was back to the front and up the steps - in the pope-mobile - until he reached the seating area. There he got out and went to his chair. The event began with a prayer and a reading, and then everyone was forced to sit down and calm down. One South American priest who had been standing in our area, and in a good spot, hoping to stay there throughout, suddenly didn't have a seat and stood out like a sore thumb. He tried to sit in the area in front of us (where there were some empty seats, but these were for the truly important) but the ushers found him and escorted him away, paying no mind to his softly spoken pitying appeals for mercy and consideration - as the pope began his opening address.

For the next 40 minutes or so we listened to a series of introductions of various groups in the crowd - a session in each of a number of languages (Italian, Spanish, English, French, Polish, and some others) - followed by a short response by the pope in that language. When a group was named, there would be great shout from somewhere in piazza and the pope would gesture appreciatively in that direction. Everyone from the altar servers at St. Mary Immaculate Church in Wabash, Wisconsin (I'm making up the name) to the seminarians from somewhere in Poland was mentioned. The Brothers were the lead on the program, and the pope had some special words to say to us - mostly about living our religious life with joy, as far as I could tell. He was courteous to us, but I don't think that he really knows us or our charism. Apparently, some months back, he referred to St. Don Bosco as the Patron of Teachers - which of course is not the case. Don Bosco is the Patron of Youth and De La Salle is the Patron of Teachers. But never mind. He's the pope; give him a break.

Several bands played music when they were introduced or choirs sang songs. The Brothers just applauded politely when our name was called, unlike the Polish seminarians who could hardly be contained in their enthusiasm, both singing and breaking out in some Polish cheer for the pope.

As the pope neared the end of his various talks, a group of secret-service types moved in front of our area of the observation platform. They formed a blockade of the empty chairs in the section in front of us and warned us not to move forward when the pope came to barricade that was located about 10 feet in front of us. The group in the section in front of us, which included Br. Alvaro and other truly important people, would be able to greet the Holy Father individually, but we had to be satisfied with simply watching. Somehow, folks from behind us had managed to weasel their way up front, so that we had quite a crowd pushing against us from the back.

Then Benedict made his way over to our side and spent a good amount of time greeting the various individuals who were assembled there. For each one, he took the time to listen and to speak for a while, undoubtedly realizing how important those moments were for the people involved. For our part, we just kept taking pictures as he moved along the line. It started to rain a little, and a white umbrellas quickly appeared to keep him dry, but that stopped after about five minutes. When I looked back over the piazza, I noticed that 80% of the people there had departed. Now that you couldn't see the pope anymore from the piazza, most of those attending had decided to get on with their day.

The Brothers left as well but I stuck around for a while, observing the people (tourists, guards, priests, bishops, etc.) as much as the pope himself. Then I found out that our section was now closed off; we couldn't leave even if we had wanted to - security kinds of things. So I made the best of it and took some more pictures. When the pope did leave, he rode out in his pope-mobile to the side entrace of St. Peter's, where a large group of elderly and ill had gathered in their wheel chairs. He slowly made his way past them, touching and blessing as he went. Just before going into the side entrance, he waved in the direction of the group where I was standing, and I took a picture that looks as if he's waving at the camera that I'm holding to take a picture of myself and him in the background. I think it's a kind of cool shot.

Once he left, everyone broke away and I made my way to the Salvatorian Generalate which was located just a block down the main drag from St. Peter's. It's a prime location, to be sure. I was an hour late for the lunch that Fr. Dennis Thiessen had invited me to, but the folks at the hotel that the Salvatorians have there were able to contact Dennis and I joined the community for the lunch that was already going on. Afterwards, Dennis gave me a tour of the house - a 15th century house of one a cardinal who had been at the Council of Trent - showing me the chapel of their Founder, their library, and so on. One of the highlights was their terrace on the roof, which overlooks St. Peter's and from which you get a clear shot of the Pope's window from where he does his Sunday noon blessing. Before the Vatican put a large building (offices and housing) in the way, you could see right into St. Peter's square from the roof, Dennis told me. On the top floor of that building lives Cardinal Levada. Other cardinals also live in that building and in other buildings in the immediate area.

Afterwards, I stopped by the Vatican bookstore to pick up some books that others had asked me to purchase and then made my way back to the Motherhouse via Bus 46. It was raining by the time I'd returned and I thought that that would dampen the activities planned for the evening. I caught the 5 PM Aula Magna session on the report from the Young Brothers and then did some work in the office until dinner was to begin.

Dinner tonight was an outside affair featuring Italian food, etc., and prepared by Roch and Massimo and Br. Andrea from the school next door. It was a very nice affair, with lots of bread and cheese and sausage and pork (I didn't have the pork - don't care for it much). The Brothers were in fine spirits after all of our weeks together and now that some of the major items are out of the way. To top off the evening, there were fireworks from the roof of the B Block building, behind which this outdoor dinner was held. A little later still, a group went to Blue Ice for some gelato to top off the evening.

So today was a very full day, but also quite rewarding and enjoyable on lots of levels. It's too bad that I didn't get to greet the Holy Father personally, but we were 15 feet away from him and were able to see him for a good amount of time, which is much more than most of the many thousands of people who were there today.
More pictures from today at

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May 29 - Lots of Elections

Today was an important Election Day at the Motherhouse. While yesterday the delegates elected the Superior General in secret (no cell phones or laptops allowed in the Chapter Hall), today the decision was made to allow "others" (staff, translators, etc.) to remain in the Aula Magna during the elections. Since all of this was done in public, over the course of the day, we heard a total 909 names called out, one after the other, by the Scrutineers (those young Brothers designated to distribute, collect, and count the ballots). There were also votes for what one Brother called "Brother Blanco" (a blank ballot).

First there was the election of the Vicar General, which after the sounding or sondage of yesterday, was pretty well clear to everyone in the room. Still, the atmosphere was serious and a bit tense. You never know how the Brothers will vote, you know. The Superior General, now that he had been elected, was seated with the panel of Moderators, etc. in front and was the President of the Chapter. After the votes for any one position had all been announced by the Scrutineersand the numbers confirmed with the secretaries, the results were announced by the Moderator (pretty superflous, of course, since most Brothers had been keeping track via their own numbering systems at their placess while the names were being called out). Once the results were announced, applause broke out and Brother Superior made his way to the place where the person was seated. Then all quieted down. The Superior asked, in the language of the person selected, whether they accepted the position for which they had been elected. All said that they accepted (except for one Brother who wasn't present in Rome but who had indicated that he would be willing to be considered) and then there was the accolade from the Superior General amidst further applause, followed by sincere congratulations all around.

Today we elected not only the Vicar General, but also the five Regional Councillors and the three Resident Councillors (staying here in Rome). That meant at least nine separate elections, and some of the specific posts took several rounds, since no clear 50% + 1 results were immediately forthcoming when we began the elections for the Resident Councillors. However, after six ballots the three top people were selected.

It was interesting to note the demeanor of those being voted into office. Here they were, seated among the rest of the delegates while they heard their name announced again and again and again. It must have been clear to them that they would be elected. Now it was only a matter of deciding whether or not to accept the position.

You can read the results of the whole thing on the Institute website, where they also have pictures and video of the process. It was a long day, but I think that everyone was quite pleased with the results. Of course, there were opinions about the candidates who took their names out or the ones that others thought should have taken their names out. But that's all part of the process. It was fascinating just observing it all happening.

For the prayer at the beginning of the session, by the way, we had a reading of a Lasallian version of the 7 days of creation, where each day was part of the vision for the future Lasallian world. It was done by Br. Alberto Gomez, who ended up being elected as one of the Resident Councillors. At the end of that prayer, we played some interviews of the kids who had attended the chapel ceremony for the Superior General yesterday. Their insights about the whole thing were both typical of kids and quite funny. A good way to begin the day.

This evening, the English language group was the sponsor for the Mass in the Main Chapel. The music came off quite well, with several Spanish Brothers helping with the guitar playing. The mixture of a capella music and guitar music seemed to go across well.

Then tonight we had our ubiquitous Central Commission meeting, this time dealing both with scheduling concerns (it IS getting late in the process, after all) and with possible public statements to the Brothers and others regarding this 44th Chapter.

Tomorrow is the public papal audience. That should be interesting, especially since today it rained in the morning and the papal audience is outside in St. Peter's square. In the afternoon tomorrow, it's back to work. The tempus is fugiting.
More pictures of today at

Monday, May 28, 2007

May 28 - Superior General Elected

Today was a busy day and the culmination of lots of things. First, as you must know if you've checked the Institute website, Br. Alvaro was chosen for another stint as Superior General. He mentioned in his talk that he has spent 50 years outside of his own District of Costa Rica, and while he was open to where the Holy Spirit was leading him, he had been thinking about working back in his own district - finally. Well, that's on hold for another seven years now.

The morning began early with the preparations for the morning prayer in the Main Chapel. This was a rather unique event, so I prepared something that included some simple songs and several readings spread out over about 30 minutes. It seemed to work well with the Brothers who were there at 7:00 AM, and so I'll do something similar tomorrow morning.

I hardly had time for breakfast, however, since the election was coming up at 9 AM and I still had a couple of things to do, including a Liturgy Committee meeting at 8:15 that went on for about 20 minutes (Closing ceremony details mostly, and we took a picture of the group - missing members, however). The programs were ready for the Brothers, but the Te Deum still seemed tricky. I went to Br. Rodolfo's office to show him what we would be using for our Te Deum music. He right away told me that most people would not know that, and that I should use a simpler tune. He had it in his office and would work on putting it together. It was now 8:56 and I told him I'd be back. I rushed to the Aula Magna, since I had to lead the Veni Creator that begins the voting process. As I walked towards the Aula Magna, I wondered where the Brothers were since I didn't hear anything. When I walked in I found almost all of the Brothers there already, very quiet and solemn in their formal dress, with the dais full of various officials of the Chapter, with just whisperings going on around me. Within a minute, the bell rang and we began with the Veni Creator. Then Br. Georges Absi, the moderator for the day, began the instructions and I left to pick up with Br. Rodolfo.

For the next 40 minutes I was rushing around trying to put this "new" piece of program together, using the melody that Br. Rodolfo had written out. Of course, the copier got jammed a couple of times, and I thought that I wouldn't make the deadline. But finally we had the copies made and ready to be handed out. Just when I got to my post outside the Aula Magna to await the Brothers in procession, I heard the applause and here came the Brothers to begin the procession. At that point, everything went on automatic for me, especially since neither myself nor most of the other Brothers had ever done this before. I started the "Laudate Omnes Gentes" and we processed slowly down the main 2nd floor hallway (1st floor if you live in Europe) to the main staircase to the front foyer, where the other Brothers had gathered and would join the procession, and so into the Chapel. The Brothers sang well, as usual, and picked up directions right away. We sang "Gloria Patri ..." (another Taize chant) for part of the procession but ended up with the Laudate within the chapel. There, Br. Alvaro came in, carrying the chapter staff, and prayed silently at the ornate kneeler that Vincenzo and Freddie had decorated in preparation. By now the bells in the tower were ringing up a storm as if a new pope had been elected - and I guess that for us that was the case - and two classes of little kids from the school came into the chapel, filling in the side aisles, to add their unique flavor to the ceremony - after all, it IS all about them.

Then the disaster happened. I said the word "Te Deum" to the Brothers and they picked up the "new" paper with the words and music while the organ began. The first line went fairly well, since the notes and words were clear, but from there on it went downhill. Some of the Brothers were trying to sing the old Gregorian setting, others were trying to apply the given notes to the other written verses (given without the notes but with accent marks) and Br. Rodolfo seemed to be playing a totally different melody altogether from the one that he'd give me for the paper.

The Te Deum is a loooong piece. By about the fifth verse I had checked out and was simply moving my lips to make it look like I was singing. Others had done the same, I think. To his great credit, Gerard Rummery came up and, through gestures, offered to lead the singing. I readily let him do it, but even he was stymied some verses later and joined me near the side chapel as we merely attempted to survive the confusing musical cacophony going on around us. Finally, mercifully, it came to an end. Of course, Br. Alvara all the while was prayerfully standing at the kneeler, trying to sing and thinking I-don't-know-what. After the "singing" of the Te Deum, he moved to the relics of the Founder, prayed there a while, and then stood as we sang a quite nice French hymn "Ta Parole le Seigneur" which is also about the Founder. I'd put together verses in different languages and this one seemed to work well. The Brothers sang it lustily, as they say. Then Br. Alvaro moved to the front of the sanctuary and everyone, from Brothers to custodial staff, came up to give him a welcoming greeting - the accolade. At the end, we sang the Honneur a Toi and then repaired to the dining room for aperitifs and a festive dinner.

Br. Rodolfo spoke to me, of course, with some concern and couldn't understand why the Brothers didn't sing what was written. My clear impression is that he wasn't playing what was written, but at this point I just don't know. I just know that 1) it didn't work, 2) I should have stuck with my original plan (the traditional Te Deum), and 3) I will keep my own counsel in the future. After all the work of trying to get the right Latin setting, God knows why I made that last-minute change based on his input. I think it came from the hope that everyone would know the "new" setting more readily, as promised. It was not to be. But besides that little disaster, everything came out well, and as one Brother said, "We were all so joyful that it didn't make any difference." A nice sentiment.

After the dinner I began to work on the other liturgies that will happen tomorrow and beyond. Later on, the Chapter met to choose potential members of the General Council. Each Brother could name 10 Brothers. That means that now the Scrutineers would have to go through at least 1000 names in a very short time. But they did a masterful job. (One of them did tell me that the writing on some of the ballots was very hard to make out.)

At 6:30 PM was the Mass in the Main Chapel, organized by the Spanish language group. There were meetings pretty much right up against that time, so I thought I'd better help with some of the preparations. When I went into the chapel, the kneeler with its decorations was still there, so I did some cleaning up before calling Freddy to ask him to help out. Soon, Vincenzo arrived and Freddy and he did most of the setup. The priest for the Mass was a Salvatorian priest here in Rome, and originally from Colombia, whom Fr. Dennis had secured for us. The Mass itself was very nice, very Spanish, and a good end to the day. After the Mass, Tim Coldwell and I sat down to plan the program for the English language Mass in the Main Chapel for tomorrow evening, and then we joined Carlos, Lorenzo and his sister Maru at their table in the dining room. We ended up having a very nice conversation about all kinds of things. I also found out that Lorenzo, in grammar school, was already a sort of "Secretary General." He knew English better than his teacher, and so while the kids were outside playing he was inside correcting the students' homework, including his own (which, he says, he did very honestly).

After dinner, the Brothers from Africa had their festive evening and I went there for a while to join in the music, conversation, and presentations about the continent and the Brothers there. From the pictures and the stories, it's clear that Africa is very different from anything in the Western world, and I continue to marvel at the Brothers here who have come from those ministries and will be returning there within a week or two. If I hadn't thought that this was an international order, being here for five weeks has certainly convinced me. Unlike the first week, hearing four or five languages during the course of a day is not very strange and in a way seems normal here at the Motherhouse.

Sorry for the lengthy entry, but this was quite a full day. I'm sure that the next few will be similarly filled. I do want to include this picture of myself with Santiago and Patricio, however, since at the evening party I found out that Santiago's mother reads this blog in Argentine (Buenos Aires), emailing Patricio about it. Message out: "Hi Mom!"
More pictures of the day at

Sunday, May 27, 2007

May 27 - Trip to Orvieto

With an extremely full week ahead, today was the day to take a little break. Original plans to drive to Pompei changed when I found out that a group was taking the train to Orvieto, and pretty soon we had eleven people signed up to make the journey.

In the morning, I did some quick work at the computer, checked out the weather in Orvieto (rain all day, 80% chance), and packed my raincoat and umbrella, along with the other "essential" items for travel (phone, tripod, book, money, addresses, etc.). As it turned out, there were exactly 3.5 minutes of rain all day. I should have been like a couple of other Brothers, bringing only their umbrella, camera, and money.

We met up at 7:45 AM in the hallway in front of the chapel - the community Mass was going on in the Main Chapel at the time, complete with a duplication of the Indian sandle-wax ceremony (dot on the forehead) for all those attended to symbolize Pentecost - and the made our way to the Metro stop nearby.

Even though it was a Sunday morning, the Metro platform was as crowded as if it were commute time. Most, if not all, were tourists making their way into town or to the Vatican for Mass or to the train station for trips around Italy. Ten stops later, in a packed set of cars, we arrived at Termini station and one Brother suggested that we check out whether they had "group rates" for our tickets. Good idea. Br. Bob Guasconi, whose family is from Italy and is our excellent French translator as well, was our interpreter, and we found out that we could save 20% of our tickets this way. On we went to Track 9, Train 528, Car 10, seats 51 - 57 and 61 - 68, or something like that. On the train, the journey took a little over an hour, with one stop in a town in between. There were lots of tunnels that changed the air pressure in the cabins to the point of hurting our ears. Others just slept on the journey.

At Orvieto, the train station was at the bottom of the steep hill on which Orvieto is located. There was a Funiculare that made the 200 meter journey for less than a Euro. Good deal. Soon enough we were walking through the town, a town that was just waking up, under wonderful weather (where's that rain that was promised?), with shops opening up here and there. At one point, I watched a baker in his apron walk out of his shop, go a couple of houses further and toss up a paper bag of fresh bread to a woman leaning out of one of the second-story windows, with lots of smiles and loud Italian in between. Now that's fresh bread! A couple of us decided that this would be a great location for one of those "international communities" that the Chapter has been playing with. In fact, I'll volunteer to live here in such a community! The place reminded me of Assisi, only without all of the religious goods stores.

On reaching the cathedral, you couldn't but be wowed by the facade. By far, it is the most impressive front of any cathedral I've seen yet. Between the intricate mosaic and the delicate carvings (a great "Tree of Life" on one panel), you could study it for some time. We made our way inside and found that the Mass was just at the readings, so we were in good time. The bishop and a bevy of priests were presiding. After the Gospel, the bishop spoke, and spoke, and spoke, sometimes gesticulating wildly with his arms, sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting - but Italian just sounds great, so I wasn't that bored. His speaking patterns reminded me of a History Channel program about Mussolini where he was shown speaking to the crowds (no slight on the reverent Bishop here, however - I'm presuming that his content was less fascist). I'd have been more impressed if I knew what the heck he was saying - and my feet and legs eventually got quite sore from all the standing. The fun part was that a helium ballon (bright red mylar in the shape of a heart) was released early on in his homily, and you could just see that a whole bunch of people watched as it floated slowly to the roof, then floated down a bit and hovered in the center of the sanctuary and then moved off to the side. I don't think that the bishop realized what was going on. Maybe he thought that we were so taken by his words that we were all contemplating heaven.

When he finally stopped after som 25 minutes, I though "Good, now we can move forward." But wait, there's more! It turned out that this was a great day to confirm the 150 students from the area who were ready. So that took another 25 minutes. By the time we got to the rest of the Mass, the Brothers were asking things like "So when was that train to go back home?" During the consecration, I had maneuvered to the side and watched a cute bunch of little kids march out to hold lighted candles in a semicircle in front of the altar for the consecration, while the oldest kid swung incense with great pride and precision. After communion, we snuck out the back in order to get good places for the Pentecost ceremony. Right behind us, as it turned out, they closed and locked the main cathedral doors, so we ended up in perfect position for the festivities.

The town band played up a storm, featuring songs like "La Cucaracha" and "Oh Susannah" and other international favorites. What happened to Italian songs? Then through the crowd came these folks dressed up like medieval musicians, towns people, and the like. They made their way up front and the trumpeteers lined up in front of a large constructed tower in front of the cathedral. At one point, the bishop and some priests came out (They'd finally finished the Mass) and walked to the city hall across the piazza where they showed up minutes later on the balcony overlooking the square. The bishop waved a handkerchief, someone behind the tower waved a handkerchief in response, and the action began.

Suddenly, I could hear firecrackers going off down a tiny street opposite the cathedral, and then I noticed a wire strung along the lenghth of the street, some 300 feet from the top of the structure in front of the cathedral to a building at the other end of the tiny street. On top of that building down the street, where the wire was attached, was a painted cloud with a hole in it. And through the smoke and noise of the firecrackers, out of the hole came a metal contraption that looked like a metal sunburst, with some sort of plexiglass container in the middle. It came flying down the wire, gathering speed, until it reached the other end at the top of the structure in front of the cathedral. When it had reached the halfway point, strings of firecrackers inside the destination structure began to go off as well. I haven't heard that many firecrackers since Chinese new year in San Francisco. They went on forever, it seemed. Then the sunburst thing hit the top of the structure and everyone calmed down. The cut outs of the apostles had little gas flames shooting out of the tops of their heads for a while, after sunburst thing had hit the top of the structure - Pentecost of course. Soon, two guys climbed a ladder up into the structure, hung a board out so that one of them could stand on it to reach the metal sunburst, and brought it down the ladder to the base of the structure. There, several people futsed around the sunburst thing, guarded by respresentatives from the police, the caribinieri, and God knows who else. At one point, I saw one person reach in and throw out a wide fluffy thing, casting it into a corner of the cathedral facade. I thought that that might have been the (now dead) pigeon that purportedly was stuffed inside of the plexiglass. Perhaps they had put in a couple of pigeons and just took out the one that survived the journey. But on reflection I figured out that it was a wad of paper towels that had provided a cushion for the live pigeon stuffed inside. You can be sure that the pigeon's journey down that wire - surrounded by noise, smoke, lights, abrupt movement and the complete inability to flap one's wings or do anything to influence one's surroundings - that that journey occasioned activities which would make it necessary to throw into a corner whatever material was sharing its tiny space. (By the way, the animal rights folks - about twenty strong - were relegated to a corner of the piazza, bearing signs such as "Use a fake bird for a real feast."

Then in great ceremony, the sunburst thing was held up to wild applause and taken in solemn procession to the city hall where it appeared on the balcony, with the beaming bishop standing next to it. A little later, a couple was shown with the pigeon. Apparently, the pigeon is given to the couple who were most recently married, for them to keep until next year. I certainly hope that they use a different pigeon every year. There IS such a thing as double jeopardy, isn't there, even in Italy? At first, I thought that perhaps the pigeon would become lunch for the bishop - you never know about these medieval customs.

One more thing, before the sunburst thing appeared on the balcony, the trumpeteers appeared to announce its arrival. However, the town band was still doing one of its La Cucaracha / Oh Susannah numbers. So you had a Charles Ives kind of moment with two different tunes happening at once. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that there is a bit of rivalry between those two groups in town.

Then the thing was over, the barricades were taken down and the people began to disperse into the little shops and restaurants. We similarly did a lot of walking around the area, exploring little streets and keeping an eye out for a restaurant that Bob Berger knew well. At a public map there was quite a discussion as to where to go. We didn't find the restaurant until later in the day and ended up stopping into the self-serve pizzeria / restaurant for lunch. Nothing really looked good to me (No pizza! "We only have that in the evening.") Br. Thomas Jones and I went back to the cathedral area, looking around the shops and stopping at a nice side-walk cafe for pizza and a white wine that was produced by the owner. (I ended up buying some to take back.

The group reassembled to walk around some more, getting some great gelato in the process. On returning to the cathedral to check out the frescoes, I saw John and Bob near the steps speaking with a group of students. It turns out that they were from Manhattan College! This is where John and Bob live and work, and it was Bob's recognition of one of the students that made the connection. They were there on a tour before going to Florence for a month of study. Small world! After John gave them a quick spontaneous tour of the local area, they went on their way. We, in our turn, made our way to "St. Patrick's Well" located on that other side of the ciy. It had been built some 500 years ago as the town hosted one of the Popes on the run from his enemies. Some people (not me) paid 4.50 Euros for the privilege of walking down 258 steps to see the water at the bottom and 258 steps up to see the sky again. The engineering, apparently, is a notable accomplishment (2 corkscrew staircases, for the water donkeys, that operate independently) but I was happy to just stay outside, thank you very much. The walls of the city gave some terrific views of the area. It was especially neat to watch the trains that came in, comparing the slow inter-city trains with the superfast Eurostar trains that smoothly went by on separate tracks at what looked like 200 kmh at least.

Toward the end of the day we relaxed at an outdoor cafe for a while before making our way back down via the Funiculare to the train station. Then the hour or so journey back to Rome and via the Metro to Cornelia station and the Motherhouse. Two of the Brothers were just slightly late catching the Metro at Termini and I watched their blank faces as we passed them as the train left the station. But they caught the next train and found their way back without any problem.

Back home, I knew that I had at least two hours or work ahead of me, and there was still the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament service to do. So I cleaned up, forgot about dinner, and got things ready in the chapel. From 8:30 PM until 10:00 PM we had the prayer service - similar to the ones we had during the days of discernment. There were fewer Brothers there, but this was due to the fact that this was Sunday and many Brothers were still on outings. After putting everything away, it was 10:30 and I began to work on the things for tomorrow - morning prayer service, liturgy committee meeting, and the chapel service for the new Superior General. I finished a little after midnight and decided to forego the blog for some needed sleep, especially since I needed to get up early the next morning. It will be a big and busy day.
Pictures at