Saturday, May 19, 2007

May 19 - Crunch Time & Mostly Making Candles

Today was the day that the theme groups needed to complete their work so that their lists of challenges, horizons, and lines or action could be translated into the three languages over the weekend for presentation to the general assembly on Monday. Some of the groups met into the late afternoon to complete their work, although "officially" the afternoon was free. A number of the groups also decided to provide their texts in the three languages through the people in their groups, much to the relief of the the Brother translators who were ready to work through the weekend. It was clear during the morning break and during lunch that all of the groups were solidly into their work and would come up with some significant results.

For myself, Freddy, Paul, and Roch, the day revolved around the candles. There was a Liturgy Committee meeting at 8:30 AM at which we reviewed the changes in the liturgy schedule during the last two weeks of the chapter and also began to brainstorm about the closing ceremony. It's two weeks away, but it's best to be prepared. Some good ideas were raised and will be pursued over the next week of so. One idea was to "send forth" the groups of Brothers by Region, just as we processed into the "tent" at the beginning of the chapter. For this purpose, having candles to carry our, perhaps sung to "We Are Walking in the Light of God" in the three languages, was quite appealing. So that meant creating the candles was now a must.

I went into the Main Chapel and gathered up the various candles that were still set on the table that we had used for the Exposition of the Blessed Sacramento. I went in after a Mass for 400 students and parents from San Giuseppe, who were holding their baccalauret there at 9 AM - something that Br. Marcellino told me about at 8 AM. He said that the would take down the material hanging from the columns for the "tent" effect (apparently, kids would fool around with them - probably true) but would put it back up afterwards. I brought the candles down to "The Den" which is the room in the basement where the English Brothers gather to socialize. There's a living room area there and a kitchen, and I would use the kitchen for the candle making. Afterwards, I walked around the garden area of the Motherhouse and found that it had been turned into a parking lot for the parents attending the baccalaureate Mass. Most of the cars were very small - it looked like a "tiny cars" convention" - but some were quite nice (Mercedes, BMW, etc.). How they got the cars in there I don't know, but all of the paths in the garden had become parking places. To top it off, at one corner of the property, where there is a grotto to Mary, a group of young kids from the school next door were having some sort of graduation ceremony as well. It was rather cute to watch them interacting with one another and with their teacher, with the kids dressed in their uniforms and the parents proudly watching from nearby.

Back to the candles... Paul and Br. Roch came down to help with the process, and we soon had a bunch of the candles melting down to a very hot wax. We concentrated on the white candles, because we wanted to see how much white wax we could create. While the candles were melting, I went back to the Purim store to get a number of things (spaghetti boiler - good for collecting the wax; sieve - good for getting out impurities; and small sauce heater/pourer - good for pouring the wax). When I got back, most of the candle wax had been rendered into a liquid. We used a little wax to set the wick and found our that the wick promptly became loose and wouldn't be set back in place. So I asked Br. Marcellino for some super glue (using hand gestures and pantomime) and we super-glued the wicks to the middle of the glass jars. Then, when we poured the wax, we discoverd that the wicks wouldn't stand up staight but melted into the wax. Yikes! Now what? Freddy and Paul devised a way to take pieces of coat hanger and tie up the ends of the wicks so that they would stand up straight. Then, when we poured the wax, we found out that it spilled all over the sides, both inside and outside of the container. Well, that would have to be taken care of later.

I returned to Purim to buy a few more candle wax containers, since we would have more wax than was needed for the six candles. During that time, Freddy and Paul poured in the reddish wax that came from melting a number of the other candles, plus some dye that we had bought from the candle store. When I came back, stage two was almost done. As an aside, by this time there was wax everywhere - the tables, the flour, the sink, the appliances, my pants, the table, and so on. It's amazing how messy something like candle-making can get.

Once the second batch was put in, we took a two-hour break to let things harden up. When I returned two hours later, the other folks had left and were nowhere to be found, but the candles needed to be completed. So I set to work and finished them up several hours later, with a top layer made up of the left-over "white" wax and the candle that we'd had burning in front of the picture of De La Salle in the Aula Magna (which I replaced there with a new one). By that time I was well and truly bushed, plus my lower back was giving me fits to the point that I could hardly stand up straight with excruciating pain, and so I joined the Brothers who came in for a little social before dinner.

At dinner, about 70% of the Brothers were elsewhere, probably on the town somewhere. After dinner I returned to The Den to finish the work and to begin cleaing up. One of the things that I discovered was that a portable hair dryer is a candle maker's best friend. With it you can clean up both the sides of the container plus the table, the floor, and anything else that needs to get wax removed. A hair dryer and a bunch of paper towels are all that is needed.

Later in the evening, Br. Gerard Rummery and Anton de Roeper came in for a bit of relaxation and we had some wonderful conversations before moving off to bed and beyond. One of the memorable phrases that I heard, when we were talking about the various nuances that the French language entails, is, "When you get into a good French sentence, you can hardly find your way out." Or words to that effect. The point is that one can be very nuanced with French, in ways that wouldn't apply in English, which makes translations rather tricky.

I must say that I find Italian quite interesting to listen to. While waling over to Purim, I overheard an elderly Italian couple arguing, or so I thought. They were walking behind me and were using loud Italian, emphasizing every other syllable - so it seemed - and REALLY emphasizing about every fifth syllable. It was this smooth, yet jumpty and melodic phrasing that was both striking and appealing. When they passed me, they were arm in arm, just having a conversation. What a language!

At the morning break, I was speaking with Michael Avila and Michael Sanderl and they were talking about taking the bus to Sienna tomorrow. I expressed an interest in this, and before I knew it I was helping to organize it. Roch and Paul were interested as well, and Roch managed to secure one of the vans for our use. So by dinner time, there were nine people committed to go to Sienna tomorrow - and I'm driving. That should kick in all of my past bus driving experience! Now I'll get to experience a bit of Italian driving as well. This should be fun. Stay tuned.
More pictures of today at

Friday, May 18, 2007

May 18 - Solid Day of Work

There comes a time in every enterprise when the quiet working phase begins. Teachers prepare their classes in their offices or rooms; accountants sit with their books and a calculator; bus drivers sit in the bus seat and drive; doctors make their rounds; politicians (hmmm .... well, you figure that one out). Today was one of those days for the Chapter. On the outside, you didn't see much public display of anything; just people walking from one place to the other, or milling about during a break. In the various rooms where groups or subgroups were meeting, however, all was brought to bear on the theme group's focus area. The Brothers got to work. (Not that they haven't been working, of course. But today was well and truly a full work day.)

With the candle project still in mind, Freddy and I took the 46 down to Trastevere and walked to the same place where Roch and I had gone already. There, we picked out a number of wicks that could be used in whatever containers we might find. The proprietor also gave us some hints on how to make our candles. And we brought some red dye, since we were told that the mixed candle wax will likely be an ugly brown. With the red dye, I'm hoping for a "Sienna" look. On the way to the store, Freddy looked into a door and down the corridor noticed a "Hardware" sign above another door. When we walked in, it turned out to be an extensive electronics, hardware, and everything else store. You certainly couldn't tell it from the street, but here was a full, modern store that was accessed by a hallway that most people would simply have passed by without so much as a glance. Another one of those interesting Italian observations. On the street where the candle store was located, you could look up and see a beautiful Italian villa on the hill overlooking that section of Rome. I could just imagine what the view was from there.

By the time we were done at the candle place, it was time to return, since I had an 11 AM meeting with the Central Commission. Fortunately, a 916 bus showed up just as we got to the bus station, and we got back a little before 11 AM. A couple of Brothers were again sampling the fruit tree in front of the house (I was told that the fruit wasn't a Persimmon, but they strike me as something like a Persimmon). One Brother, whom I had seen here before, hid in the trees because, he said, otherwise I'll end up in your blog again and everyone will know. You can't tell who it is, can you?

I had thought that today I could do some catching up with various tasks related to upcoming liturgical events. But it was not to be. I was told after breakfast this morning that a recommendation had come (from very high sources, as they say) to have a couple of days in the coming weeks when we might have morning prayer and an evening Mass instead of just having the morning Mass, and to have morning meditation/prayer on the days of the elections that were coming up. This was fine with me, but it did mean that I had to redo the schedules for the next two weeks. So I put something together, worked on refining it during the meeting, ran out to make copies, and then discussed it with the commission toward the end of their meeting. Some further recommendations were made and back I went to do draft # 2 for the 3 PM meeting, when other commission matters were also being followed up. The 3 PM meeting having finished in about 40 minutes, I made some adjustments and returned for the 5 PM meeting at which the agenda for the 8:15 PM meeting with theme group leaders would be put together, along with the finalization of documents we would share with them (which included the liturgy revisions). Then dinner and back to the 8:15 meeting, which lasted until about 10 PM. For a day that I thought would be fairly open for me, it sure did fill up fast.

I did, however, find time to pop over to the Purim store nearby, and there I found the perfect glass containers for the candles - about 5 inches wide and as high, with a stopper sort of top that could remain even after we turned them into candles. So we'll see where all this goes next.

Roch and Paul went to Frascati for dinner. I had planned to go, but these meetings put an end to that thought. I did, however, ask Roch to bring back a bottle of Frascati wine, one of the nicest white wines that I know. Perhaps there will be another chance to visit there later. (Yeah, right.)
More pictures of today at

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 17 - Theme Groups Begin

Today was the day that the theme groups really got to work. There was one fairly short session in the Aula Magna at which the procedures for the theme groups was finalized. The prayer to begin the session was done by Br. Freddy, who used one of the Bhanyans that he had brought with him from India. Two other Brothers (Denzil and Michael French) helped out with the music, while Frank Burns was called upon to do the short readings. Everyone had a copy of both the Indian words and the English translations. As a short, repetitive chant, it went very well and established a prayerful atmosphere for the morning. Plus, Freddy's voice is well fitted to this music and he throws in all of the half-tones and quarter-tones that the Bhanyan deserves.

Once that began, the rest of us were pretty much on our own. I had a bunch of things to do on my computer for future liturgical activities, but at least the pressure wasn't there to produce something within the next day or so. I did put together prayer packages for the theme groups to use at the end of the day (suggested prayer formats, an example of a prayer, and so on). It's really up to the theme groups, however, to set up how they wish to proceed. When I checked in with a couple of the elected coordinators of the theme groups at lunch, I found out that they had taken the bull by the horns and had already set up volunteers to lead their group prayer times.

The theme groups will have a little more than two days to get all of their work done. When I went around to the groups to take some pictures it was clear that they had dug in with both feet and even with the translation challenges they were moving quickly to the heart of their subject areas.

After lunch, I had wanted to go with Freddy to the candle place to get some wicks, etc., but then remembered that the place was closed until 4 PM or so, and that Freddy did his exercise in the late afternoon. So we'll go tomorrow morning instead, since the theme groups will still be at it then. The plan for the candles has changed somewhat. Now we're thinking of taking all of the candles that the Brothers have brought and turn them into large candles for the various Regions of the Institute. I went online for an hour or so to educate myself about candle making, and as long as we use a double boiler, I found out, we will lessen our changes of blowing ourselves up or starting a major fire. I'll just take it one step at a time.

This afternoon I decided to take a walk in the neighborhood, something I hadn't had a chance to do before this day. That walk turned into a walk to the Vatican, which took about an hour and 15 minutes. I had wanted to visit the souvenier shop there, and when I finally got there found it to be shut tight. Later I discovered that while the Rome diocese celebrates Ascension Thursday next Sunday, in the Vatican they celebrate it on Ascension Thursday (today), and so the stores were all closed. Seems kind of funny that where the Bishop of Rome lives they celebrate it one way while where he is bishop they celebrate it another way. Anything for a day off, I suppose.

On my walk, I was struck by some of the more interesting aspects of Italian life: gas stations on the sidewalk, where people simply pull over for gas; scooters for whom traffic lights do not apply, running the lights and maneuvering through people crossing the streets; scooters parked all over the sidewalks in front of apartment buildings; impeccably dressed people skirting strewn garbage on the sidewalks as they pass graffitti-filled walls of buildings; and so it it goes.

I went into several stores looking for some inkjet or laser forms to make clear, large labels. Several stationery stores I found didn't have them at all. At one place the proprietors were watching a very loud soccer game on television. When they asked me in Italian if they could help me, I did the best I could with gestures and Italian-like noises. Finally, he seemed to understand and in rapid Italian gestured down the street while saying "MaccaDonalds" - indicating, I suppose, that I would find what I wanted down the street near McDonalds. Well, I found the McDonalds but kept looking for another stationery store. Hence ending up at the Vatican. From there I tood the good old 46 back to the Piazza De La Salle and so back home for the evening meal.

Roch said that he would like to go to Frascati tomorrow evening, and that I should drive. That will be another brand-new adventure. It will also help intensify my prayer life, no doubt.
More pictures at

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

May 16 - Let's Get to Work

The short 7-minute video that Br. Roch and I produced for the Founder's Day Mass at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento (where I'm just finishing 8 years and where Roch spent 4 years, working mostly in setting up the KBFT television station) was shown in the gym during that Mass and apparently was well received. If you'd like to see it, you will need to have Flash Player installed on your computer or you can download a free player here if you don't already have it installed. For the flash movie to download and start, click here.

This morning started out with a good wake-up call; Br. Joseph from Thailand had us start the 7 AM language group mass with a Thai dance (!) involving a series of hand gestures as we sashayed around the altar to the accompaniment of a Thai musical number. I could see the wide eyes of concern on most of the Brothers as Br. Joseph explained and demonstrated the movements. These mostly Western Brothers were not very agile when it came to early morning dancing. But we all held up well and it all ended up being prayerfully done. It was certainly memorable. Father Dennis wove the theme into his homily, talking about how our experience mirrored the experience of establishing a new process of having a General Chapter.

At 9:00 AM we were all in the Aula Magna, and I began the prayer with the sung "Let us remember..." followed by Br. Donal Mouton reading a wonderful little reflection on the Exodus theme as it related to this phase of the Chapter. Before the prayer began, I invited the Brothers to volunteer to lead these morning opening prayers in the next couple of weeks, and I hope that they will do so, since they should really feel that the Chapter is theirs, prayers and all.

The consideration of the details of Phase 4 began and, as expected, there were many questions and clarifications concerning the details of the process and its contents. But the moderators did a great job of answering all the questions and addressing all the concerns. It was particularly interesting to note how well they avoided the tendency to let the discussion drift into areas that wouldn't be helpful. It's clear that almost everyone in the room was an expert when it came to meetings and they knew how to keep the process moving.

By the time that we broke for coffee many issues had been resolved, and the ten original themes were on their way to being reduced to a more manageable number. Nevertheless, the break was abuzz with conversations and perspectives, which of course was all to the good. It's the kind of thing that leads to positive movement. The Brothers also went into the hallway to place three round stickers on their preferences for the theme groups that should be created, based on the cards and topics that had been raised during the discernment phase. Efficient as ever, the Brothers took about 6 minutes to place their stickets on their preferred topics before they went off to the break.

During the break, Roch and I went out to the new statue area to take some pictures of a class of kids from our school next door who were sitting in front of the statue getting a lesson on De La Salle, we believe. Great pictures, anyway. On my way back in, one of the Brothers commented on the fact that his experience with the water these past few mornings was the same as I had experienced and related in the blog, and he said: "Forget the statue, do the pipes!" This may perhaps be a sentiment shared by others, but then this is Italy and everything doesn't have to be understood, just accepted.

Then it was back to work. This time the session went into further clarifications and the final theme groups began to emerge. There was concern that the report from the Assembly on Mission would receive appropriate consideration, a topic came up several times, as did the point that the Brothers were now 3 % of those involved in Lasallian education and we should keep that in mind as we moved forward. These conversations lasted into the afternoon session and were all quite productive. By the end of the afternoon, it was clear what the theme groups would be and how some of them might proceed.

I had been trying to figure out what kind of prayer service the Brothers might want for their theme group meetings later today. In the morning, I had been told that the Central Commission wanted something for the theme groups to be able to have their own smaller prayer session at the end of their first meeting today. So I spent a while putting together some suggestions along with some specific examples that could be taken from the Liturgy Resource. I ran them off and set them out in the Aula Magna. When I told the Moderator about them at the end of the morning session, he said that they had wanted me to provide a ready-made prayer service for the theme groups to use. Okay. So off I went to make one up, taking about an hour to do so while they were in session. I ran it off, found out that parts of it wouldn't work, redid it, ran it off again, and went up to my seat in the Aula Magna to see where all this would go. By the time the afternoon session ended, it was clear that we would have to reassembly tomorrow morning before starting the theme groups. So the Moderator announced that we wouldn't have the theme group meetings or the prayer service within them but would instead meet in Regional groups. Okay, another change. Maybe I can offer these prayer service to the theme groups tomorrow. We'll see. The idea is to be flexible, so I'm told.

Since these Regional meetings would go on until dinner, I went to Roch and invited him to join me in investigating a candle factory in the Trestave area of Rome, since I wanted to take those candles people brought and perhaps turn them into a set of fused candles that the Brothers could take with them at the end of the Chapter. We made our way to the bus stop and caught a fairly crowded # 46 down past the Vatican. I almost felt like a veteran on the bus, hardly clutching my shoulder bag at all, but still wary of the people around me ("I wonder which one is the pick-pocket?"). We walked down to street to Trastever and ran into one of the Guadulapanas sisters coming back from some errand or other. The world is full of small coincidences - or is it Providence?

At the candle place we made our inquiries and found out that we should make some phone calls to the factory associated with it in order to see how much a little project like this would cost. They did, however, have candle wicks, so if I can secure an old coffee urn we may yet be able to do something. If it will take too much time, however, then I'll forget it. But the story isn't over yet.

Going back on the 46, Roch and I got off the bus early to walk back to the Motherhouse - traffic was so slow that we could make better time walking. We stopped at a bakery for some cookie-like pizza things (I didn't like it, but he did) and also checked out a store features all foreign foods (French's mustard for 3.90 Euros) - but didn't buy anything. Coming into the Motherhouse garden, we noticed some Brothers near the Persimmon trees. Two of the Brothers had taken a nearby ladder and were liberating the ripe Persimmons from the top of the tree - just the thing at the end of some vigorous exercise. With others joining us as they came back from jogging at a nearby park, it turned into a Persimmon fest. Then all ran away. I walked.

Back inside, I joined a couple of Brothers in "The Den" for some conversation and socialization before dinner. Then dinner followed by a practice with the guitar of the Bhanyan that Freddie will do tomorrow morning to start the morning session.

Finally, it was good to find out that the laundry had been done. Every Wednesday morning we drop it off down in the basement near the laundry room and a week or so later we go and pick it up in another room, where it's laid out on a long table, neatly wrapped in plastic, folded and ironed. The thing is that when you get back to your bedroom and unwrap everything, you find out that each piece of laundry is stapled (three times!) with tiny staples and a little piece of paper that has your room number on it. I suppose that it's only practical, but it does mean that you spent the subsequent twenty minutes gouging around with whatever pointy thing you can find to remove the staples without tearing the fabric too badly. Even every sock had a thrice-stapled tag on it. I'd leave all of them in except that the idea of having staples in certain places on certain pieces of clothing is a scary thought. I'd rather take the risk of tearing the fabric by maneuvering them off.

On we go into tomorrow.
More pictures may be found at

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

May 15 - Feastday of Our Founder

Although the official Church feastday of St. John Baptist de La Salle is on April 7th, the day he died, many in the Lasallian family celebrate it on May 15th, the day he was proclaimed Patron of Teachers in 1950. Besides, he died on April 7th, 1719, which was Good Friday that year, and that date usually falls on a day within Lent or Holy Week, so his feast is often "co-opted" by other priorities, and May 15th falls nicely at the end of the school year, allowing students and teachers a break when they need it.

But before the day even got started, my festive spirit was challenged. Although I got up fairly early, my morning ritual tooklonger than usual because of the shower (you may remember the "water dance" entry from before) which, when I turned it fully on, produced only several drops, literally, of water. Then I heard my friend the water pump turn on outside of my window, and the water increased a bit. After a while, there was fine trickle of hot water, which, when combined with the cold at just the right angle of the nozzle, was sufficient to begin. Of course, at the appropriate time - when ready to rinse - everything stopped once more. I could count the drops coming from the shower head through my eyes squinting through the soap. Now what? Cold water was aplenty but not exactly my favorite choice. I could have done better with a bucket and a Dixie cup, and was thinking of options like that when the trickle began once again and I somehow managed to finish. Apparently, this problem only occurs in Blocco C, this particular building on the property and the one used by CIL students and guests of the hotel. Blocco A, the one where most of the staff and administration lives, works fine. It calls to mind a principle I'd heard one Brother say, regarding air conditioning in our schools in hot climates: "There should be a rule that the offices are the last building to be air conditioned." Although I'm not complaining - well, maybe sort of - you would think that the hotel would want to solve this little (!?) dillema, especially since studies have shown that the quality of the shower is a primary factor in why people choose some hotels or motels over others. Oh, well, on with the day.

I brought the programs (three languages, three colors) to breakfast and set them on a table to be folded. Some Brothers volunteered to help do so - as I had hoped - and they were done in short order. The Mass to celebrate the Founder would begin at 11:30 AM, and I had scheduled a choir practice in the Main Chapel at 9:00 AM. When I arrived there around 8:45 AM to set up for the practice, the organ was going and I thought that it was Br. Rodolfo practicing (I'd seen him earlier with our requests for the music at the mass). I went up there to speak with him and found instead Br. Andrea and a group of kids from the school. I tried to communicate with him, to no avail, but picked up the fact that the school was having a mass in the chapel at 9 o'clock and that they would be done by 10 AM. Great, there goes my choir practice. Off to my office to make a sign saying that the practice would now be at 10. Then run around to tell folks about the change in time. On reflection, I realized that we probably should simply have changed the location, since some Brothers had set up a meeting at ten, knowing that the practive was at nine. A half hour later I return to find that the Mass was just at the homily. So I snuck into the side aisle and made a sign to Fr. Adriano to stay aware of the time. To his credit, he wrapped up the homily in short order and moved on. When I came back at 10 AM, they were going through communion so I thought that we would be okay. But here, down the hall, come 100 or more real little kids (first and second graders from the school?) and they began lining up. What now? I asked one of the Brothers to ask what this was about and found out that they would just have a "short" prayer service after the mass. Okay, so we will have to move to another location anyway. Off we went to the CIL chapel, leaving Br. Peter to kindly tell choir members where to go. We practiced for a good 45 minutes and were ready for the Mass.

Then off I went to make sure the chapel was set up, the sacristan (Br. Vincenzo) all set, the readers ready, the cup ministers assigned to their proper places, the music in place, the programs and liturgy books arranged, and so on. I'd also seen all of the Councillors and Br. Alvara and Br. Bill Mann to ask them to be in the procession as we went in for Mass. With the help of Br. Freddy, we were set all at around 11 AM. I popped into a Central Commission meeting that had been going on - I'd been too busy to attend - and picked up on the topics discussed. I asked Lorenzo, quietly, which language the bishop would be saying the mass in, since up to then all of our information had said "Italian" but I'd heard from others that it would be in French. He said "French" and off I ran to tell Vincenzo about it; he wasn't happy (you can tell by the gestures, even if you don't know the language). Then it was out again to meet up with the bishop and whatever priests showed up.

The bishop arrived about five minutes before the mass was to begin, and he went right to the room where he would vest. When I went in there, I saw Bishop Gardin and four priests (Fr. Dennis, a Rwandan priest in the house, and two priests from the SOLT group who live in a section of the house - SOLT: Society of Our Lady of the Trinity). On our way to the chapel, another elderly priest was waiting for us; it was Fr. Flanagan, the Founder of SOLT who lives with his group on the third floor. So we would have five extra priests. I just hoped that Vincenzo had enough chairs on the altar.

The music began right as the group got to the chapel and off we went, with me rushing down th aisle as the music is playing in order to get to the choir, singing their hearts out in the area next to the sanctuary. Everything went very well, I must say. I'd arranged to have the first reading done in Vietnamese and the second reading done in Arabic (everyone had the readings in their programs in either French, Spanish, or English). The bishop said the homily in French, but the translations were passed out after the Mass. It was fairly short, thankfully. I have yet to meet a Brother who will say that a homily was too short.

At communion time, the four Brothers whom I'd asked to serve as cup ministers came into the sanctuary and stood there while the priests took communion. Then four of the priests took the cups and promptly walked down to the front of the sanctuary, leaving the Brothers sort of standing there. I quietly told the Brothers "thank you" and off they went to join the rest of the congregation for communion. This came about because I hadn't known a) how many priests would show up, b) if they would want to be ministers, c) what the bishop preferred, d) and pretty much most of what might happen. Part of the liturgical adventure. I'm just sorry for the Brothers, since they were generous enough to respond to my request. You have to flexible in Rome, I'm finding out.

At the end of Mass, Vincenzo walks out with a big cope and while the organ is playing the postlude, we watch the bishop take off his outer vestment and put on the cope and then process out the side door to the statue area. I gesture to the Brothers to follow either out to side doors or the back. (It reminded me of a scene from "Keeping Up Appearances" - a British comedy series - where Hyacinth gestures directions to her relatives, waving her arms about like a banshee.) As they're leaving, I grab a resource book and make my way through the crowd to the outside where everyone is quietly gathered around the statue. Maneuvering my way to the front, we start the Taize "Ubi Caritas" and sing it twice. On my way out, I'd asked Br. Jean Luc if he would read a verse from one of the psalms, in French, after the Ubi Caritas, which he did. Then one more refrain and we're ready for the benediction ceremony. I began to hand the microphone to Br. Donato, the Visitor for Italy, but he looks to me and gestures that he's not going to speak. Okay, now what? I look over at Br. Alvaro on the other side with a questioning look ("So, do YOU want to go next?") and Br. Alvaro communicates with his facial gestures to Br. Donato that he wants Br. Donato to say something. That does the trick, and off goes Br. Donato like a pro, speaking for three or four minutes in Italian, gestures and all. After that it's Br. Alvaro's turn, and finally we get to the bishop who says a few kind words in Italian and begins the blessing.

Positioning myself behind the statue was good thing from a photography perspective. Br. Marcellino and Massimo were holding strings to some drapery that would reveal the statue at the right time. It sort of worked - which of course made for some good pictures. The statue was revealed (applause, applause) and it was duly blessed. Then we went for our social and dinner.

The dinner was a long affair - a good two or three hours I think - with a number of courses. Everyone was in good spirits. The cake had a picture of De La Salle on it, and I don't know if it was made of frosting or not. But it was real tasty. The Brothers thought that it was probably a picture that had been embedded and would be removed, since cutting into the Founder wasn't something that anyone was going to do. Toward the end of dinner, Br. Paulo Petry took me over to his table and introduced me to the Ambassador from Portugal - a graduate from our schools there - who was their guest. He'd wanted to meet the person who created the photomosaic of the picture of the Founder and was effusive in his praise. We exchanged cards and I said that I'd be happy to give him more information about the process, or to help him create one. Later, in garden I took a picture of the two of us, just for reference sake on my part.

After the dinner, it was down time for most folks. I took a good long nap, emerging around six o'clock to go through my photographs and see about tomorrow's prayer service. Dinner at 19:30 had about half of the people there. Most, I figure, were either out on the town or weren't interested in a dinner so close to the last big meal. Finally, after dinner, four of us went to a nearby gelato place - the one next to McDonald's - to finish the day in good Italian style.

Happy Founder's Day, folks.
More pictures at

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

Sunday, May 13, 2007

May 13 - Discernment Ends and Work Begins

I think that I'm getting Chapter fever. It's around 7 PM and as I was sitting at my desk working on one of the liturgy projects, I had the acute feeling that there was a meeting somewhere that I was supposed to attend, so I did a circuit of the Motherhouse - a furlong of walking at least - looking for a meeting. Now is that crazy, or what? I think it's because I haven't had a block of time like this in the evening when there wasn't some kind of meeting or event to go to, and that includes the discernment days. Perhaps I'll find our later that I did miss a meeting. At this point, the word "whatever" comes to mind.

So far it's been a busy day. Today we finished the days of discernment and took first steps toward the decisions part of the Chapter. This morning at 8:30 AM we began in the chapel with the Liturgy of the Word, prepared by the English language group. I purposely removed myself from the direct planning of this liturgy, since each language group should feel free to organize "their" liturgies as they prefer, and it helps the group come together as a united body - sort of like the old dictum that community is built in the kitchen when folks cook together (but let's not stretch the analogy too much). After some rousing singing (We Are Marching in the Light of God - in three languages, Kyrie, Laudate Omnes Gentes, Alleluia), there was quiet time to reflect on the readings and begin the final phase of consideration and discussion. After an appropriate pause, individual regional leaders were invited to come forward, take one of the candles that had been burning in front of the banner of the Founder (these were chosen from the table of candles used at the evening prayers) and invite the Brothers from their region to follow them in procession to the place where they would have a regional conversation about the results of this phase. It was all quite solemn, but relaxed. The USA/Toronto Brothers and the Canadian Francophone Brothers combined, with Br. Tom Johnson and Br. Louis Paul Lavallee taking up their candles together to lead the Brothers out. As they bowed in front of the altar, Louis Paul's candle fell and went out. Tom relit it from his and off they went with the Brothers. One Brother said later that it was a great little symbol for everyone involved, since efforts are beginning to combine the Canadian Region with USA/Toronto. At lunch I heard that they have not had any vocations in 40 years, but that they are among the most forward-thinking and hard-working Brothers on the continent. It reminds me of something that Br. Armin said on a video when he was Visitor of the Philippines - something like "There is no one too poor that they have nothing to give, and there is no one to rich that they have nothing to receive."

After the Brothers silently perused the cards in the hallway, they moved to their discussion rooms and established their own rhytmn for their conversation until 12:30 PM, when the Mass would conclude with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. At that time, everyone assembled once again in the foyer of the Motherhouse. This time, however, unlike the more quiet assembly from the Opening Ceremony in the same location two weeks ago, the group was very active - loud even - with conversations happening by everyone with everyone else; a good sign, I think. Then, when Br. Alvaro went to the Chapter Staff and picked it up, people quieted down immediately for the procession, with Br. Alvaro saying something like: "Brothers, let us go forward in faith." We took up the Laudate Omnes Gentes again and thence processeth to the chapel. Once there - and it took a while for everyone to make it in - we did the general intercessions, in three languages of course, and then on to the rest of the liturgy. The choir sounded great! However, at one point it was clear that I needed to lead the congregational singing with the handheld microphone, plus direct the choir, plus read from the book. I ended up waving the book around to keep the rhytmn while sharing the microphone between myself and the choir. In between I was also trying to take some pictures. Sometimes it would be good to have another arm, or two.

Just before we went to the chapel for that 12:30 PM Liturgy of the Eucharist, Br. Lorenzo came into the communications room where I was working and said that the Mass tomorrow morninbg at the Casamari monastery at 7:30 AM is one that we should fully prepare. He just spoke with the monks. So please put together a Mass for the 100 Brothers going there and organize everything. I think that he could tell by the look on my face (some panic, some "concern" over the late notice, some "when in Rome") that this was a bit of a surprise. But he smiled and said that it would be marvelous. Of course, this sort of distracted me during the subsequent liturgy, since I was working out in my head what I would have to do this afternoon to get it all done and printed up by tomorrow at 6 AM when we would leave.

So for lunch I ran into the dining room to speak with a couple of Brothers who would be involved in the Founder's Day Mass on Tuesday, had a quick bite, and then went right to work on the mass for tomorrow. I did go back, however, for the celebrations for today (birthdays for Br. Edwin Arteaga and Br. David Hawke, 29th anniversary of ordination for Fr. Dennis, and tomorrow 60th anniversary of robing for Br. Gerard Rummery - he doesn't look that old). A couple of hours later it was ready to be printed. As a result, I missed most of the Aula Magna session at which the Brothers considered the outline for Phase 4 of the Chapter. When I came in, the questions to the Central Commision and the Moderators - polite, but probing the details - were still going on. Eventually, all questions were addressed and the assembly broke for the afternoon and not planning to resume until Wednesday morning, when the harness is put to the plow (is that the right expression?). The point was emphasized that we (the Central Commission) could not predict the exact details of the schedule into the next few weeks, but that we would have to see how the theme groups developed their reports, and so on. It's all about staying open to the Holy Spirit and allowing the Brothers to form the kinds of results that they determine by consensus and discussion. It's a little risky, I know, especially with a deadline - in terms of time - looming, but it's the only way to stay faithful to the principles that they've set out for themselves.

Then it was back to work, getting the Founder's Day liturgy programs completed, one for each language group. Sr. Margaret, the Guadalupanes Sister who seems to work all the time with the other staff in Br. Lorenzo's area, pointed out some Spanish errors on my final drafts, for which I was very grateful, and now everything will be able to be printed out in good time (I hope).

This morning also, in the middle of the morning, as others were in their meetings, my cell phone rang and it was Bishop Gardin, asking about the liturgy on Tuesday. His English wasn't bad, but I could tell that he wouldn't be able to express himself best in that language. I walked out to Lorenzo who chatted with him in Italian for five minutes and then completed the call. I asked him if I needed to know anything from the conversation and he said that everything was covered, so I went back to work. The expression "too much information" has all kinds of contexts, and this was oneof them. What I needed toknow I already knew.

Later this afternoon, a group of Brothers (mostly young or in better health than me) spent a good hour or more playing soccer, tennis, and other strenuous sports. The soccer field was about as big as a couple of volleyball courts, but that made it all the more enjoyable because the action was constant. The ball was never "out" - although I did almost get knocked "out" with it a couple of times.

This evening I spent most of my time working and getting ready for tomorrow and the day after. But as a nice diversion, Roch had a little BBQ on the roof of the Motherhouse at 7:30 PM. It was just him and the volunteers, along with another resident in the house. Later on, Fr. Adriano, the house chaplain, stopped by. Conversation flowed between Italian, French, and Spanish, with a little English thrown in now and then too. I understood the English.

I might just get to bed early this evening, which would be rather unique. But I'll make up for it tomorrow, since the bus leaves at 6 AM sharp, and once we get to Casamari Abbey, wherever that it, I'll have to get my bearings for the Mass at 7:30 PM. I don't know who the celebrant will be, what the customs are, what ministers we will need, or anything else. Who said that Liturgy was an adventure?

More pictures at