Friday, July 6, 2012

Made in Mallorca: A Brief Visit to the Homeland of Beato Junipero Serra ofm

Earlier last month, I had the opportunity to visit Palma, Mallorc. I had the specific intention of catching the next bus out of town to the village of Petra, some 30 km. away. But both the beauty of this city (located in the Balearic Island off the coast of the Spanish mainland) and my hosts, the friars of the basilica and cloister of San Francisco, easily dissuaded me. Approaching the plaza and church in Palma’s medieval town center, one immediately encounters the bronze statue of Beato (Blessed) Junipero Serra before the entrance of the sanctuary. In Catholic circles, Father Serra (1713-84) is celebrated as the apostle of California and is credited with establishing nine of California’s twenty-one historic missions founded during the era of the Spanish Empire in the 18th and 19th c.) In fact, it was my original idea to visit his birthplace in Petra before I was happily sidetracked.

During my morning visit, I was warmly greeted and shown around by three friars--Jose Mendes Deves, Pedro Vallespir, and Brother Arturo. Father Jorge had been ordained a priest only the week before, showed me around. “The oils aren’t even dry on your hands yet,” I teased him. “I know, I know. I’m still floating and I have no idea when I will return to earth.” “Just enjoy it, Brother. Savor every single minute of these first days of your priestly ministry.”

Jorge graciously put aside his schedule of administrative duties—the friars operate a collegio on the premises, providing an education for nearly 1,000 children (both boys and girls) from ages 3 to 18. “We have a very long waiting list,” he told me. “Nearly 250 children whose parents want to enroll, but we don’t have the space.” As I looked around—classes occupy several floors that overlook the cloister’s quadrangle—I could see his point. It was the last day of school and the children, of course, were bouncing off the walls with anticipation of the approaching summer holidays.

Within the convent area(in Europe, the residences of the Franciscans are often called ‘convents’. Elsewhere, they are known as “friaries.”), we entered the sanctuary of the basilica. From its 13th century roots (started soon after the death of St. Francis), the church has undergone a number of renovations over the centuries—the most florid alterations having been made during the Baroque period. Europe’s architectural patrimony has a way of putting North American notions of ‘old’ in a more balanced perspective. This sanctuary was already ancient--nearly 500 years old-- when Fray Junipero Serra preached his famous (and last) sermon here on the feast of Beato (Blessed) Ramon Llull, on January 25, 1749.

Beato Ramon Llull (1233/35-1315) is another local friar and saint—perhaps even more revered here than Junipero Serra. Scholar, missioner, and ultimately martyr, Fray Ramon was the first late medieval intellectual to write extensively in the original and vernacular Mallorcan language (not to be confused with the later linguistic accretions of the Catalan and Castillian tongues). His remains are entombed above one of the side altars as both friars and local laypeople await his by now long overdue canonization.

Another side altar chapel, that of St. Pancras, is the site of an extraordinary event which occurred just two years ago. At that time, a major section of the chapel floor collapsed revealing a huge, cavernous subterranean area below—a mass grave containing the remains of nearly 1500 people. Friar Pedro, an historian himself, places the date at approximately 1350—the time of a huge plague which struck the city. Following excavation/ restoration efforts, the remains will be reinterred and the restored area converted into a contemporary columbarium.

In addition to school and sanctuary responsibilities, this community of nine solemnly professed friars provides outreach services for nearby parishes. Times are tough. The friars are aging; all of the Spanish provinces have been consolidated into a single entity. And the vocation situation is “fatal”, according to Fray Jose. Still, there are important signs of hope. The school continues to thrive. Youth activities—especially those recently organized in connection with World Youth Day in Madrid—have sparked renewed interest and participation. Couples and families—even in this increasingly secularized society—continue to come to the friars for the sacraments. A family tradition can often serve as an opportunity for re-evangelization and a new connection with church life. And Fray Jorge himself—already installed at a neighboring parish— observes that even small efforts at hospitality such as grief support are starting to bring an appreciative response.

Here in Mallorca, one has the sense of an ongoing historical and cultural continuum, stretching back over the past eight centuries. But the friars do not appear to be stuck in a nostalgic or retrospective mode. They are realistic about the challenges and struggles of our times (drugs, alcohol, massive unemployment, etc. are here as well). But they retain faith in the value of our Franciscan presence—showing up and being with the people, no matter what—and trusting in the power of the Spirit to do the rest.//

Lux in Arcana/ The Vatican Secret Archives Reveals Itself

I arrived in Rome last week, just a few days before the rest of our pilgrimage group. Time to dive into the atmosphere and cultural life of this famously beautiful city and to enjoy a few mildly pagan days before the start of our retreat. At dinner with several other friars, I casually asked if they had any particular recommendations of things to see, half expecting to hear about all the standard hits: St. Peter’s basilica, St. John Lateran, the Villa Borghese, the Pantheon, etc. But one friar took my request seriously and said, in a rather understated manner, “Well, you might enjoy a show of old documents from the Vatican called ‘Lux in Arcana.’ It’s really quite interesting.” Old documents. Indoors. In Rome. At the end of June, with 90-degree heat and humidity. Let me think about it.

I did think about it. And as I passed the city’s Capitoline Museums, I decided: Well, why not take a chance and drop in for a few minutes. It couldn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt at all. Not one little bit. On the contrary, for my money, “Lux in Arcana: The Vatican’s Secret Archives Reveals Itself” (May-September 2012) is one of the most exciting and fascinating exhibitions I have seen anywhere in recent memory. It’s lengthy title bears a bit of deconstruction. “Lux in Arcana” suggests a “light piercing into the depths”—in this case, the ‘depths’ of the Vatican’s literary holdings, which occupy approximately 85 km of space in various locations throughout the papal city state. The term “secret archives” is Vaticanese for the “private” or “personal” documents of the collection. It is not meant to give a Dan Brown-type allure to the event. Or is it? Truth be known, actually, is that many of the documents in this show have, in fact, been top secret items at one time or another during the four centuries of the Archive’s existence.

Consisting of 100 actual documents (not copies or reproductions) on loan from the Vatican, the material in this exhibition describes—in both literary and literal terms—the trajectory of some of the most significant events shaping both Church and European/ world history from the 8th through 20th centuries. Including items ranging from official pronouncements to the personal correspondence of the pontiffs, this exhibition presents an historical inventory of incomparable interest and value.

Here are a few examples of the items on display:
• The papal bull (Regula Bullata) of 1223 containing the final and officially approved Rule of the Franciscan order. (Might as well put first things first, friarwise).
• A petition, dated in 1530, and signed by members of the British parliament petitioning Pope Clement VII to grant King Henry VIII an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The petition, of course, was rejected, and almost all of the signatories eventually lost their heads.
• The papal document formally excommunicating Martin Luther.
• Proceedings of the Inquisition’s trial against Galileo Galilei
• The surrender of the Papal States to the nascent Italian government (1870) and the conclusive concordat establishing the Vatican state (1929).
• Letters from both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis to the Pope Pius IX (1863) expressing their separate thanks for his prayers in the wake of the terrible destruction at the Battle of Gettysburg
• The official abdication of Queen Christina of Sweden upon her conversion to Catholicism (17c)
• A beautiful letter from the Chipewa/ Obijwa nation of North America to Pope Leo XIII (19c) written in their language directly onto a birch bark base.
• A lengthy transcript of depositions taken by the Inquisition (14c) against members of the Knights Templar (eventually, 54 of the Knights were executed and the Order suppressed under pressure exerted by the French king)
• Correspondence and other documents involving various popes and signed by the tsars of Russia, patriarchs of Constantinople, Marie Antoinette, Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots), Michelangelo, Erasmus, the Great Lama of Tibet, the khan of Mongolia, and so on.

The list is exhaustive, exhausting, and truly engaging. Actual contact with such significant literary artifacts as these can leave a strong impression on the viewer. In the first place, it makes the people and events involved more real, pertinent, and concret. There really was an Inquisition, Henry VIII really did try to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, there truly was an organized effort to silence and condemn Galileo for his scientific findings, etc. Secondly, one realizes that these same people– no matter how celebrated or infamous—are not only real, they are also surprisingly finite. Michelangelo, Mozart, Queen Helen of China, and everyone else whose autograph has been included in this exhibition really did live, walk the same earth and breathe the same air as we do. But they are not immortal; they are, ultimately just as vulnerable and limited as you or I, no matter their grand deeds or great decisions.

Unfortunately, given the fragile nature of the materials shown, it is virtually certain that this important exhibition will not travel. Still, considerable documentation is available on the Internet and well worth consulting. //

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Roman Holy Days: Starting out on a Franciscan study pilgrimage

Welcome to the 2012 Franciscan Study Pilgrimage. Our journey starts here in Rome. The Eternal City. Actually, at 35-degrees Centigrade at the moment, it’s also the Inferno City. What the heck am I doing here anyhow? For months now, I’ve been trying out one of several one-line, question-and-curiosity satisfying spiels to explain myself: I’m on the lam…. in between assignments…. on a study tour…. taking some time out to rest, recharge the batteries…. I am on a pilgrimage.

Wait. That last one works. And besides, it’s the truth: I am on a pilgrimage. An open-ended journey with one very particular item in my baggage: I want an answer—actually. The Answer, if I can get it, to any or some of my heretofore unrealized dreams, hopes, desires, and longings. In other words, I want to go away somewhere and then come back different, changed (for the better, of course) somehow. Or at the very least, a little (okay, so I’m greedy) or a lot more satisfied and serene.

So. I’m on a pilgrimage. I’ve signed up for this group experience and about 20 of us—Franciscan women and men, laypeople and religious, brothers and priests, working and retired—are pilgriming (sic) together through Rome, then through Rieti (wherever that is), and finally, through Assisi—before we all return to our respective homes and jobs.

Our first meeting, which was two nights ago here in Rome, Friar Todd Laverty, one of our trio of directors (Friar John Quigley and Sister Jean Moore are the others) met with us in one of the meeting rooms in our pensione, the Hotel Tra Noi (rhymes with ‘Hanoi”). First the team members, then each of the participants in turn, stood, introduced her/himself, and briefly shared their purpose in coming all this way to spend all this money and take all this time to travel together. In various stages of hunger, thirst, fatigue and jet lag, we gave our responses: I want to get back to my Franciscan roots. . . . I’m looking for something which will enrich me for the rest of my life… I’ve been on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and thought this would be a great way to learn more about our (Franciscan) charism…. I want to steep more into my Franciscan identity…. When it came my turn, I just blurted out: “I'm here to retool.” Well, not the entire complicated truth, but close enough….Interesting, though. We’re all pretty much on the same page.

Todd thanked us for our comments and attempted to put us at our ease. He told us he’d been involved in organizing and leading pilgrimage groups for more than twenty-five years. And time and again, he’d observed a phenomenon he called “the Resurrection waltz.” We’re all pilgrims, “ he said. “ And as pilgrims we deliberately do things in our lives which cause us to change, be more open to God, in order to meet God.” A pilgrimage involves a very specific kind of process, he explained, referring to the writings of Victor Hunter: “First, there is the disaggregation. It may feel like things are falling apart for a while. There’s a lot of stress and disorientation. You may feel exhausted, or queasy for a bit. Then, there’s the second step, the stage of liminality. (Literally, the threshold experience). All kinds of things can happen as we pass under or over a threshold. It’s a good idea at this point to pay careful attention to dreams and feelings, as we move into a new experience of ourselves. It’s a process we Christians experience as growth in holiness: the deepening of our conformity to Christ and in God’s image…. And finally, there is the stage of reaggregation. Things have changed. We find that we begin to put our lives together in a new way. Now there’s no deadline on this final step. In a way we are always on pilgrimage, aren’t we?”

Well, I could certainly relate to disaggregation and liminality. But, actually, I would just as soon skip all that stuff and get to reaggregation: the evidence of an authentic pilgrim’s progress, if you will…. But wait. Let’s not get ahead of things. For the moment, it’s enough to do the step work, get with the program. Trust the process. I think of the welcome letter I found in my packet: “We ask that you put aside all worries and cares so that we can be truly pilgrims (sic)—open to what God wants to share with us and open to what the sacred places have to say to us…. Be ready for an experience that will touch you, that will challenge you. That will bring you into the presence of the sacred.”

Fair enough, I thought. Plenty to chew on there. But let me go back to that word “liminality.” Liminal. Pre- liminary. E-liminate. Limits. I look around the room. To hear our talk, it’s clear that we’re all pretty darn liminal right now: One sister has just stepped down as Provincial of her religious community. Another is retiring after a long career in nursing. Someone else, already active in retirement, has just built a built a little personal hermitage and been ‘gifted’ with the trip by family members. Several of us are on sabbaticals of varying length. And I’ve counted at least six younger friars with who are completing studies, preparing for their profession of solemn vows, or else getting ready for ordination as deacons/priests. Myself? I’ve already mentioned that I’m on the lam, having left a huge, multi-cultural parish for another, smaller community/ ministry assignment. And I really do need to rest and retool somewhat to be ready for that challenge.

We pilgrims, then, are all very different, and yet, in some ways very much alike. Sharing our articulated intentions while bearing within still greater, deeper, unexpressed and inexpressible hopes for our journey. Our itinerary booklet has a wonderful excerpt from Pilgrimage, by Virgil Elizondo and Sean Freye which echoes and summarizes Friar Todd’s earlier reflection: “ The pilgrimage itself mirrors not only the most basic reality of the church, the people of God… but even more so the reality of humanity itself, human beings together on the way to the mysterious beyond….. Yet pilgrimage sites are not ends in themselves, but often serve as thresholds into new stages in life. One does not go as a pilgrim to stay, but to pass through a privileged experience that will change us in unsuspected and uncontrolled ways….One breaks through limitations to experience a bit more of the ultimate and unlimited experience.” Okay, fellow pilgrims, here we go. Wish us well, everyone, okay?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Capuchin Encounters: Palermo & Rome

Hmmm. Early on in my Franciscan life, when I’d come across a feast day commemorating a revered member of the Capuchin Franciscan order, I’d ask myself, “Why do the Caps get all the saints, while we, (the OFM/Observants), get all the umm… non-saints? Have I, perhaps, joined up with the wrong crew?” Now, nearly twenty years later, I still marvel at the pantheon of Capuchin holy men—including such contemporary figures as St. Pio (Padre Pio) of Pietrelcina, Father Mariano of Turin, and our own Venerable Solanus Casey of Detroit, Michigan. But I have long since ceased to ask myself if I have joined the wrong Order. I am quite content among my fellow non-saints, thank you very much.

I hadn’t really set out to meet the Caps this summer (I am already acquainted with our great confreres in the western American province), but, in retrospect, my experience was every bit as unavoidable as it was unplanned. In Palermo (Sicily), I was invited to join a bus tour of the city which included a visit to the Capuchin “crypt,” as the brochure stated so succinctly. I thought: Great. Maybe I will say ‘hello’ to our brother/cousins, with whom, along with the Conventual friars as well as the members of the TOR (Third Order Regular) we share our name and identity (charism) as vowed Franciscan men. Well, it didn’t exactly work out the way I had expected.

I’d never been to Palermo before and was immediately dazzled by the city’s passion, charm, and visual candor. Other ancient cities show their cultural and architectural roots in a more orderly, layered fashion, often tidied up by the rationalizing efforts starting in the nineteenth century. But Palermo appears to have grown sideways through its history: huckabuck, cheek by jowl, posed and juxtaposed. Greeks pushed up against Romans against invading Normans besides Spanish overlords. A few Turks and Arabs squeezed in somewhere for good measure.

The Capuchin complex (church, piazza, convent, cemetery, and ossuary, then, all seemed to fit right into place amid Palermo’s fascinating urban jumble. Wait a minute, though…. Ossuary? It wasn’t until our bus approached the grounds and squeezed in among all the other jillion or so tourist vehicles that I began to re-remember. Ossuary. Capuchins. Caves. Bones. Ah yes, the Bones.

Before I knew it, our group was filing through the famous Capuchin catacombs which have served have not ceased to attract daily throngs of the curious since their founding in the 17th century. Originally intended as a burial vault for the friars, the space eventually evolved into a funerary showcase. The discovery of exhumed corpses in a state of remarkable preservation led to the deliberate practice and even fashion of mummifying and then displaying fully clothed cadavers poised along the catacomb walls. Separate ossuary chapels are festooned with carefully arranged skeletal remains. By 1920, the practice of displaying the efforts of corporeal desiccation had, mercifully, died out. But the remains… remain.

In my ignorance and naivete, I thought that the Palermo site was a unique expression of mortuary eccentricity. Until I happened upon Il Convento dei Cappuccini—The Convent of the Capuchins near the Piazza Barberini (Trevi Fountain area) in Rome, that is. Here, three of the eight rooms open for public display, featured decorative elements composed of human skeletal remains from the corpses of nearly 4,000 friars. Legend has it that this particular effort was a project of exiled French friars housed in the crypt in the wake of the Revolution and Terror (1793-4). Whatever.

At this point, I need to step in and change gears in the narrative. My natural inclination would be to continue describing and commenting somewhat sardonically upon the questionable merits of Capuchin funerary displays in Palermo and Rome. But I don’t want to go there. In fact, I can’t.

What happened to me is that when I visited the Capuchin Museum in Rome (the opening day of the renovated exhibition space, I learned), I took my time walking through the five other galleries before entering the crypt. The impressions, and insights of that experience led me to consider the Capuchins’ bloodless crypts in an entirely new way.

“Daddy, when are we going to the Bone Room?” “Not yet. Let’s look at these things first,” the American tourister parent replied. Father and son walked on ahead, but I inadvertently followed the advice not intended for my ears.
The newly refurbished Museum of the Friars Minor Capuchin of the Roman Province (its formal title) is organized into six separate galleries, each of which explains a different aspect of Capuchin life: the Friary, the Order, Capuchin Holiness, Culture and Spirituality, Saint Francis in Meditation, the Capuchins in the 20th Century, and The Crypt. Each section introduces the viewer through displays of texts and often impressive artifacts of Franciscan life from the unique perspective of the Capuchin friars.

The Museum’s purpose is best expressed in the masterful painting attributed to Caravaggio of St. Francis in Meditation (1603). In his trademark use of chiaroscuro technique, the artist leads the eye from the handheld skull to the saint’s torn, bedraggled habit, to his intense and intent gaze, to the barren cross at his knees. Image becomes icon as the artist draws the viewer into the interior life of the Saint.

As I stood before the painting, I began to think of some of the things I had jotted down from other sections of the Museum—quotations from two of the Capuchin saints represented:

• O Sweet Jesus, above all my Love,
Write in my heart how much You loved me.
Jesus, You created me.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Take my heart
And never give it back. – St. Felix of Cantalice

Death is a school to teach those so insane as to cling to the world…. Holy Virgin, be my light and guide above all at the moment of my death. God’s power creates us; wisdom governs us; mercy saves us.—St. Crispin of Viterbo (1668-1750)

At the entrance to the galleries, a life-sized holographic image of a contemporary friar “speaks” to the startled visitor: “In silence, listen for the voice of Jesus calling to you in your heart,” he urges. With all of this still fresh in my mind, I entered the crypt. What in another context would appear ghoulishly frivolous proofed instead, for me at least, to be a challenge to face dying and even Death itself in a frank and unsentimental way. But also in an expressly and expressively Christian sense: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” St Paul urges in I Corinthians. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. “

I left the Capuchin Museum moved and even a bit chastened. Instead of passing through an embarrassing display of Catholic kitsch, I had been led into a very serious guided meditation. After all, this Capuchin insight, I thought, is not that far removed from the Mexicans’ appreciation of the Day of the Dead/ Dia de los muertos, with its marigold-festooned altares and the confectionary smiles of its sugared skulls. Indeed, Death, where is your sting?

Hmmm. Maybe all this all has something to do with our Capuchin confreres—sainted and saint-ing alike—after all.

PS: Only one real, live friar spotted—an elderly Capuchin in his white missionary habit, seated at the entrance of the Palermo church. Nobody at Rome’s Museum when I visited— just lay guides and guards in their signature white Polo shirts. Where have all the friars gone?//

Naples: Lost (and Found) in Translation

Each morning of my pilgrimage this summer, I have asked the Lord to please help me to get lost. And, amazingly, each day my prayer has been answered. My little jaunt about Napoli was no exception. At first, I was a bit apprehensive about wandering around the city by myself. Friends and fellow travelers—especially those who had never been here-- warned me: watch out for the thieves—especially the pickpockets. They are everywhere. Everywhere! Such negative encouragement made me all the more determined to see Naples on my own terms, try to avoid the crooks as best as I could, and manage to have an enjoyable time. Actually, I was able to do all three.

My first stop was a little church with an enormous name: Real Basilica Pontifica de Santiago de los Espanoles (the Royal Pontifical Basilica of St. James of Spain), built 1450-1547. I asked the sexton for help finding the Franciscan friars (no map, no contacts, no website, no nothing, mind you) and he graciously pointed me in the direction of the Monasterio di Santa Chiara: “It’s somewhere over there, but I’m not exactly sure. Go to the corner and turn right where that white building is,” he told me. “And then after that, just ask people along the way and they’ll help you out..” So, I did as I was told and lo’ and behold!—people pointed out the way and, eventually, I found the place. But first, I made a stop at the Church of the Gesu Nuovo—a vast and commanding Baroque confection close by my destination. Even on a weekday morning, a steady flow of visitors--pilgrims, people attending Mass, and tourists like myself steamed through. It was beautiful, but a tad overwhelming for my taste.

When I saw austere fa├žade of Santa Chiara across the piazza, I was immediately relieved. The present basilica-style structure replaces a much older church destroyed in bombing raids during World War II. But, no matter, inside and out, this “new old” worship space really reflects in aesthetic terms the spiritual values of Franciscan simplicity and humility. The huge gashes of graffiti that, quite literally, are climbing the walls of the church—yield to the simple beauty and calming relief of this urban sanctuary’s interior.

The basilica stands next to the monastery of the Poor Clares, but there were no sisters or friars about the place. In fact, when I made some initial inquiries, nobody appeared to know where the friars lived. At the tourist office immediately adjacent to the church (!), the clerk diligently googled ‘frati minori’ for me and jotted down an address several Metro stops away that I just knew could not be right. “I’m not exactly sure where it is, but once you get out of the subway, just ask anyone. They’ll be happy to point out the friary for you.” Where had I heard that one before?

At the museum behind S. Chiara, the folks at the front desk sent me back to the church, whereupon the attendant in charge started to quiz me: Who are you? Where are you from? Why do you want to talk with the Franciscans? She then suggested I return to the Museum office for further instructions. When I told her that I had just come from there and had the feeling I was being sent around in circles, she shrugged:“Va’ bene!” and walked away. Welcome to Napoli!

I was ready to call it a day--faggettaboudit! as they say in Brooklyn– when a little voice told me to give it just one more try. Back to the Museum once more I trotted, only this time I actually spied a real live friar in his habit on the grounds— turns out he was an older missionary back home on vacation from Taiwan. After taking my card, he shook my hand, told me he hoped I would enjoy myself, and walked on. Then a second younger friar appeared in the doorway with some visitors of his own in tow. He nodded my way, smiled, and off they all went into the bowels of the house.

So, I went to the Museum all by myself. And had a truly wonderful time. Its treasures include a marvelous collection of majolica ceramic ware, numerous medieval antiquities—including some magnificent reliquaries, vestments, sacred vessels, and other artifacts saved from the old church. A side door leads to an impressive excavation site-- a Roman bath dating from the 2nd century AD. The Museum’s main entrance leads onto an exquisitely landscaped cloister garden in which are positioned still more elegant examples of vibrant majolica ware.

Satisfied with my museum-ing venture, I slumped onto a bench in the courtyard to sip some water, catch a breeze and admire the gardens—only to encounter a third friar ambling down the corridor. “Pace e bene, Fratello!” I smiled and waved-- both weary from the heat and amused by all of the rigamarole of trying to meet some confreres. He smiled back and then he, too, walked on into the friary. I said to myself: Well, even if I haven’t met the friars, at least I can say that I’ve seen them.” But a few minutes later, this same young friar came out to ask me: “Excuse me, are you by any chance the Franciscan visiting from California? “ Bingo! “ Please, Brother, we would really love it if you would in and have pranza/ lunch with us,” he insisted.

I was escorted into a large hall with about fifteen friars—including all of the ones I had seen previously-- seated at tables placed in a horseshoe arrangement, enjoying a hearty meal of fish, pasta, vegetables, salad and fruit. I was warmly welcomed by the friar in charge (the guardian was away for the day) and invited to dig in. As I sat down, I had the most wonderful feeling. I was home. It didn’t matter to me whether I was in Italy or California—I was with my brothers. I felt truly grateful and content. Friars are-- well—friars. We are pretty much the same cast of characters everywhere: the young and the passionate; the gentle and the gruff; the serene and deeply humble; the overworked and the not overworked.

Shy smiles and welcoming nods around the table. I tried to communicate in Spanish and they tried to understand in Italian. Good-natured shrugs alternating with sudden flashes of linguistic eureka. The gist: the friars were preparing for a three-day provincial celebration—priestly ordinations-- in Sorrento. This particular fraternity houses 16 men, including several in studies at a branch of the main Franciscan university, the Antonium, in Rome. The province, I was told, gets about 4-5 vocations a year. Excellent for these times. I told them a bit about myself, my work in California. They knew about Beato/ Blessed Junipero Serra, and a little about the California missions. “Everything in California is named after a saint, isn’t it? San this and Santa that. Everything!” I nodded in agreement, but don’t tell anyone in Bakersfield that.

As the brothers gathered the dishes, I offered to help with the clean up but was waved away hospitably. So I thanked the brothers, took my leave, and spent a few more hours watching, wondering, and wandering on my own but not alone. That you, God, for getting me lost. And found.