Monday, May 14, 2007

May 14 - Day Away

Even when we take a day off, there's a lot of work involved when you're in Rome. The group of roughly 100 people left the parking lot in front of the Motherhouse at 6:15 AM and we didn't get back until 8:00 PM. Some folks decided to stay home - mostly those who were already familiar with the areas around Rome. But the rest of us packed our bags or backpacks, wore comfortable clothing, made sure our cameras were powered up, and set up for a day in the country.

I'd gotten up at 5:15 AM just to make sure that everything was ready to go. I'd stayed up folding the programs for the Mass at the monastery and packed everything that I thought I'd need, including a very small portable mini-keyboard, just in case. Luckily, I also packed some of the Magnificat misalettes, in the three languages.

On the bus trip out to Casamari monastery, the mood on our bus (there were two) was festive and positive. I had a great conversation with Br. Alberto on all sorts of topics related to the Brothers - differences of cultures, various programs of Lasallian formation, the future of the Brothers, that sort of thing. When we got to the place after 85 minutes of driving, we walked up to the ancient-looking buildings and right into the church, which was simple, immense, impressive and beautiful. No sooner did I walk in then Lorenzo came hurrying over asking for the programs - we were about 7 or 8 minutes late. We had all hardly sat down in the pews when the Mass began. As I walked to the front, I noticed the priests lined up on the side ready to process in, the server swinging the incense with abandon, creating a fog around the whole group. Lorenzo and others passed out the papers and we were ready to begin (this is now about 60 seconds after I walked into the church, which I'd never seen before). I was getting ready to blow a note on the pitch-pipe to start the first song when the organ jumped in. "Oh, good," I thought, "let's see what happens now." The organist, who I'd found out later was located behind the altar, had seen the music for the first time right then and there. I tried to find out when to jump in and then simply jumped in with my voice, with everyone following after. I placed myself somewhere in front so that I could conduct the group a bit, swinging my arms in competition with the incense server who was swinging his incense as if there were no tomorrow.

The Mass was in Latin, and chanted, so many Brothers dug into their personal, if not collective, memory to sing the appropriate responses. When it came to the reading, Br. Patricio stepped up and did the reading in Spanish (this is where the Magnificats came in handy). And so it went throughout the Mass, feeling our way through who was doing what between the celebrant, the organist, myself, and the congregation. But it all worked out, and the group sounded very good in that church.

After Mass, people lingered around a little, taking pictures, until the abbot came out and showed us to the large dining hall. There, we stood at the chairs, sang Ubi Caritas a couple of times and then dug into the food. I don't know if the same thing happened in Medieval times, but the Brothers certainly have a way of consuming whatever food is provided in very short order - sort of like the stories you hear about pirranha fish (well, not that bad). It's all very orderly and polite, but the phrase "you snooze, you lose" has some bearing here. The monks had to put on a couple more coffee pots, and the bread disappeared within minutes. But there was plenty of food to go around (I think that we brought our own fruit) and everyone enjoyed the ambience.

At the end, one of the Cistercian priests gave a terrific tour, in English, of the monastery, taking us to the gardens, the Chapter Room, and so on. He was in his 80's and was not only good in his descriptions of things, but he was also quite funny and down to earth. He told us right away that his teachers had always had high praise for the Brothers who had taught them, and that testimony always stayed with him. So he thanked us for influencing his teachers so well.

The schedule allowed us to have only a brief stop at the gift shop before we were again on our way; this time to Monte Cassino, the "motherhouse" for the Benedictine Order. It took an hour or so to get there on the buses, the last part going up the very steep mountain on which it is located. The place was bombed to smithereens during WWII, but it was all rebuilt within 16 years. (There's a famous movie about it with Frank Sinatra, I believe - don't remember the title.) When we got there, we went on tours right away (pre-arranged in language groups) and spent an hour or more exploring the place, including the tomb of Benedict and Scholastica. The guide also took us to some "behind the scenes" areas, such as the place where Benedict lived and where he wrote the Rule - all very inspiring. When we got to the museum, we were told that we had 15 minutes to see it before having to leave for our next destination. Fifteen minutes?! That's like seeing the Vatican Museum in an hour. So we did a quick walk through (passing paintings, ornate vestments, ancient manuscripts, and bejeweled altar pieces that each would have taken 15 minutes to appreciate) and lingered just a bit in the gift shop (no time to stop, they're waiting for us at the bus) before proceeding. On the way out, some of us who were lagging behind ran into the Abbot of Monte Cassino, and two younger members of the order (there are 20 who live there, and they don't own the place; it's now owned by the Italian government). Br. Michael Murphy was having a picture taken with the abbot, and he gestured for me to jump into it, so I did. Then it was a quick goodbye and a fast walk to the buses which took off when we all had gotten on board.

Another hour or so later we arrived at Gaeta on the coast, where preparations had been made at a restaurant for our noontime meal. It was an excellent meal. I suppose that they're used to having large groups come in. It certainly showed in the service and the quality of the food (wonderful seafood ravioles, seafood risotto, salad, and a white fish served in olive oil, etc.). The wine and the food were well received, and each table seemed to be very much enjoying themselves. Afterwards, we lingered along the water, taking pictures of groups and the scenery and enjoying some gelato that we could have as desert from another section of the restaurant.

Then it was back on the bus and on to our final stop for the day, the villa that Tiberius occupied during his reign at the time of Christ. Walking down to the place at first, it just seems like a bunch of old rocks. But when you read some of the history and visit the museum, you begin to get interested. Apparently, he was into fishing and water-based activities, evident from the many ponds and statuary in the museum. If I were interested enough, I'd read up on it a bit. However, my time is as pressed as the schedule for this day, so I'll have to put that one on the back burner.

On the way back - about two hours of driving - a few of the Brothers began a singing fest, with marginal success. I was too tired to join in, but it was fun to hear them going through a long repertoire taken from a small book that one of the Brothers had. They were mostly French songs, with a couple of American folk songs thrown in. Hearing them sing their way through "She'll be coming 'round the mountain..." helped me appreciate what it must be like for others when we sing songs in their language. But music is a universal language, and that was apparent.

Dinner was waiting for us back "home" at 8:00 PM, and afterwards most folks went to bed while I went to the "office" to see if I could work my way through the 470 pictures on my camera. I've gotten down to a method whereby I edit the pictures first (bad focus - out; bad composition - out; unflattering picture - out; etc.) and then see how I want to proceed. Nevertheless, lots of pictures were pretty good, and the whole bunch of the ones who made the cut can be seen at the link below.

Tomorrow is the Founder's Feast Day. When I came into the "office" Roch was working on the little video that Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento will show tomorrow as they celebrate the day. He didn't go on the trip both because he had lots of work to catch up on and he had been to all of the places where we would go.

My favorite location of the day was the first one - Casamari Monastery.
More pictures from today may be found at