Monday, September 09, 2019

Bella Italia!

Pardon me a moment while I pick up my jaw from the floor, where it keeps falling...

Detail from the top of the stairs at San Marco Friary.
We’ve been in Italy just over a (very full week), having spent the first three days in Florence. The three of us walked everywhere, and no matter where we went, as soon as a door opened, so did my mouth, “Ohhhh!” Many of the most significant sites in Florence, even though they are churches (heck, even the Cathedral), require tickets, but religious sisters generally get in free (and even the tickets are works of art). The Cathedral ticket is valid for 72 hours, which is a good thing, because it covers the Cathedral museum, the Cathedral itself, the crypt, the bell tower and the Baptistry. We only managed to see the Baptistery and the bell tower, though we did go to Sunday Mass in the Cathedral, so we saw that much. The Cathedral museum is one of the best-curated museums anywhere. I missed most of it and I was still blown away. So there is enough left for another trip, should God provide that opportunity! 

Florence was on my must-see list because of Fra Angelico. I had been on several day trips to this magnificent city (including my first visit when I was still a college student only considering religious life), but I had never seen the Dominican friary where the saintly artist lived (and where he painted each brother’s little cell). With almost three days there, I finally had my chance. (Unfortunately for me, the friary-turned-museum is closed on the first Sunday of every month, and September 1 was our only full day in town!) We visited the monastery Church of San Marco on Sunday and saw some of its jaw-dropping splendors (like the ancient mosaic of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a Byzantine Empress: a mosaic that had been in the Constantinian Basilica of St Peter’s in the Vatican circa 705 AD, and when that was being torn down to make way for the new Vatican Basilica was cut in half and transported to Florence by a really smart Florentine cardinal).

We learned that Florence with its famous leather industry is the (only) place in Italy where you want to get a steak. And another culinary specialty: lampredotto. 
Lorenzo, the lampredotto vendor.
Note his name! It's a popular one in Florence!
We saw food stands and mom-and-pop restaurants boasting the availability of this unknown foodstuff (which we assumed to be eels or something lamprey-like). Finally we had to break down and ask what it was. This we did in the old produce market, now a combination marketplace (downstairs) and upscalish food court (upstairs). Lorenzo (he with the smiling face) ran a stand that featured something you can get nowhere else but in Florence: a cow stomach sandwich. Two of us were willing to give it a try (at least to split one). With artichokes. The portion of cow stomach (looked like tripe, but not tripe) was pulled from a pot of broth and chopped up; then the artichokes were chopped. These were piled onto a roll, topped with a thin parsley pesto and cut in half for us. Lorenzo was so pleased that we were trying the local specialty he gave us a discount. The flavor was very mild; so mild that it was really like eating an artichoke sandwich to which the meat gave only a bit more substance than the chopped vegetable. Don’t be afraid to try it. (Tell Lorenzo the Sisters sent you.)

Every night in Florence and for our two days in Rome my phone congratulated me: You have taken 15,000 steps today! You are taking more steps than usual! Keep it up! (Not going to happen…)

Sunset view from my room.
Right now we are currently immersed in a retreat experience—appropriately enough, at a retreat house. In fact, this is Pope Francis’ favorite retreat house: The Casa Divin Maestro, established by none other than Blessed James Alberione as a retreat house for the Pauline Family back in the 1950’s when he was at the height of what some members called his “brick fever.” (Always thinking ahead, he was buying properties right and left; this property is just a couple of miles away from the land he bought as a clinic where not only Paulines but any priests, brothers and sisters could be treated while offering their sufferings as a form of prayer that the media would be rightly used.)

Close quarters in the translators' booth.
At any rate, Sister Julia and I won the room lottery. Or maybe they just gave us the best views in the place because we were destined to be in the translation booth all day, every day. But our teeny, tiny bedrooms overlook Lake Albano, and as the sun begins to set, it lights up the Tyrrhenian Sea—highlighting Italy’s west coast. Since we are on the edge of a mountain (a volcano, which I sincerely hope is extinct), there is generally a cool breeze all day, so there is no AC (no screens, either). 

The first part of this month long meeting we are here to translate consists of a retreat with two hour-long conferences daily. (They are outstanding!!!) The “meetings” will begin on the 12th. That's when our translation work will really get intense. Aside from high-level input from Mother General and reports from the treasurer, there will be talks from experts in various fields. Then every day, our sister-delegates from around the world will present short (10-15 minute) reports on the Pauline mission and the needs of the people of their area. This can be especially challenging for the sisters who represent communities that serve more than one country! For example, our East Asia delegate represents communities in four very different counties, with more than four languages; similarly for the sister who represents Central Europe, where she must communicate the situation of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. These reports will help the assembly get a handle on the needs around the world so that the members will be better able to discern the direction the Lord wants us to take for the next six years (and the people he wants at the helm of the congregation for that timeframe, too).

The Chapter Hall, as seen from the translators' booths.
Overall, this is a young assembly. 27 of the 60 members have never attended a General Chapter before. (One of those 27 is also the eldest elected delegate!) I believe that this is also the first General Chapter in which all our African communities are represented by African sisters. At the last Chapter (I was a delegate) there were still missionary sisters representing East Africa and South Africa. And just Saturday night, as if truly passing the torch, one of our great missionaries to Africa died in our nearby hospital (the one founded as a clinic by Blessed James and Mother Thecla back in the 50’s). I don’t believe I have ever done this, but as soon as the English translation comes in, I am going to post her death notice so you can read about this apostolic woman who joined the Daughters of St Paul when she was just eleven years old, established our community in Angola and, before that, in Mozambique (she was kicked out of the country twice during times of political upheaval), and lived long enough to see the Pope visit her beloved adopted land. (One of them: she also served in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria.) She was a writer, teacher, novice director, publisher, cheerleader for the evangelization of Africa. And when it was not possible, because of political tensions, to carry out the media mission of the Daughters of St Paul, she found a way to stay with the people of her adopted land and share the Word of God with them in any way that was available, including parish work, until the way was clear to take up the publishing apostolate and welcome Pauline vocations once more.

Sister Maria had been in Italy getting some medical attention, and had accepted with a spirit of sacrifice and real oblation a new assignment that did not include a return to her missions. However, she did have permission to go back to Mozambique one more time: for the Papal Visit. Instead, when Pope Francis landed there, Sister Maria, still in Italy, had landed in our hospital in Albano. So when the delegates from Africa began to arrive for the General Chapter, she sent them a message, "Please come and see me before the meetings start." The Mozambican sister told me that on Saturday evening, despite the retreat, she found herself turning on her cell phone, and there was an email from her novice director, Sister Maria: I am thinking of you and praying for the General Chapter. That night, the younger sister found it impossible to fall asleep. She tossed and turned, until late in the evening there was a knock on the door. It was Mother General, informing her of Sister Maria's sudden death.

How can we not see this missionary’s departure as a providential sign that, just as she went ahead in so many countries to prepare the way for the Pauline mission, she would be going ahead of the work facing the assembly in the coming weeks so that “the word of the Lord will speed on and triumph” through our mission in the future? 

I am counting on your prayers to help me and Sr Julia translate as well as possible the remainder of the (excellent beyond words) retreat conferences and to communicate accurately the content of the Superior General's report and the expert's input without stumbling too much along the way.... and counting on your prayers to the Holy Spirit to truly guide our Sisters in this most important month of discernment. (A General Chapter is the highest governing body in a religious congregation, even if its authority is only temporary. So it's kind of like a conclave that not only elects a Pope but gives him marching orders!)

Thanks a million!
A domani--or whenever! (Until tomorrow, or....)

1 comment:

Sister Anne said...

Here is Sr Maria's death notice and biography: