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ROME '95..... A Chaplain's Point of View

(This was written in 1995.  I was a pastor in Juneau, Alaska at the time)   

Photos in Spain
Photos in France
Photos in Italy
Photos in Rome

Dear all, here it is, another one of my trip logs. I have not written one of these for a couple of years... for one reason or another I did not record my last hiking trip... mainly because it was so abbreviated I think. But, having gotten this one done, I may actually get to the other one. Let me add this one cautionary note before you begin reading.... this is, of course, my point of view, and the way things were experienced from my vantage point.... never fully objective fact. It was very different to go on a trip of this sort, as a chaplain to a tour. It is something that I probably will not do again.... not for such a large group (about 300). Though my primary duties were directed to the people on my bus, when you have 7 buses there are all sorts of coordination problems and what goes on with one part of the group affects the others. I think I would be willing to try this again with a group no larger than a single bus-load. That would be manageable, fun and do-able. Anyway, enough of that.... on to the remembrances.....

This was the year that I was going to go to Australia. The ladies of Ketchikan and I had been talking about it, had even gone so far as to get brochures, maps, etc. It was going to be a wonderful trip - a pilgrimage - to all the shrines of Australia. We were not able to think of any actual shrines there, but we figured that we could bless some along the way, especially if the way led to the beach side. But it was not to be... at least not this year.

In the midst of our planning and scheming, notice came from the Oblates... Eugene deMaznod was going to be canonized a saint this year, and the different provinces from around the U.S. were planning pilgrimage trips to attend the event. Well, that changed our travel plans. Australia would be there for many more years to come, we could bless our shrines any time, but a canonization was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and that couldn't be missed. It meant saving money, it meant changing plans, it meant being part of a much larger group than we had originally planned, but me and the ladies thought it would be the thing to do. The trip offered by the Western Province seemed to be the best of those being offered, and it was more in our "neighborhood" and so we signed on. After posting notices in the parish bulletin, we managed to get a total of 24 people signed on from Southeast Alaska. I discovered that by getting 10 people together, I could have a free trip for myself.... and so, with the money I had put away fro the trip, I called my mother and asked if she would like to go along. I would have liked dad to go as well, but he has a rather serious aversion to flying. I sort of expected my mother to refuse my offer, but she agreed.... and I was elated. This would be so neat... to have my mom with me in Europe. What a neat thing.

We were to meet the other pilgrims leaving out of Seattle on the day after Thanksgiving for our departure. Most of the Alaskan group decided to meet in Seattle for the evening of Thanksgiving to share a holiday meal. This was also a very practical decision... given the weather conditions at that time of the year in Southeast, and the unreliability of the flights. In fact, my flight out of Juneau was delayed by about 4.5 hours due to heavy fog. That was most disappointing, for it meant that my mom would get into Seattle before I did, and that would give the ladies from Ketchikan more time alone with her.

This was a constant fear for me over the months of planning and preparation. This particular group of ladies are a fun-loving group, and the love to make trouble for me in humorous and fun kinds of ways. They are a group from whom I have very few secrets, and are not above exploiting and using any information that they can get about me in their practical jokes and pranks. I was afraid that too much time with my mother would give them even more ammunition than they needed. There are a couple of them... Agnes and Annie, two older widows, that I have dubbed the Daughters of St. Paula... the patroness of widows, known for taking care of the needs of St. Jerome (cooking for him, carrying his belongings, attending to all his mundane needs). They are affectionately referred to as the "daughters". They and several other people in Ketchikan are known collectively as the PMS Group (Perfectly Marvelous Suppers). They are a group that gathered on a monthly basis in Ketchikan for meals and reverie.... celebrating holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. together with great food, free-flowing alcohol and lots of gag gifts.

Anyway, I did eventually get out of Juneau and got into the Seattle airport. Annie, Agnes and Regina (aka "Queen Mother".... the secretary from Ketchikan who moved to Kansas at about the same time I left for Juneau) met me there.... Annie bowing low to the ground in deep reverence accompanied with shouts of "there he is", "there he is"! Annie tried to tell me that my mother had not arrived yet, but she was standing against the wall behind me... with Kris Fabrello (sort of the "ring leader" of much of the PMS pranks.... she was not going with us to Europe and it was quite a surprise to have here there at the airport). I was immediately inundated with all sorts of news, emotions, and talking and carrying on... too much for me to follow any one strain of the conversation, and it all felt rather overwhelming... a feeling that would become quite the norm as this particular trip progressed.

Catching the shuttle to the hotel, the desk clerk got a taste of what I had experienced at the airport.... as everyone talked at once, inquiries were made, room-mates decided upon, etc. I felt so sorry for him, and it was only the beginning, because very shortly after our arrival, a slew of other Alaskans arrived and gave him more of the same. He finally had to call out for some quiet and order so that he could do his job. He gave me a look of deep respect and pity when he found out that in some way I was the "leader" of this group.

The first order of business after checking in and settling ourselves in our rooms was to find a drink. The hotel bar was closed for Thanksgiving, and so we walked down the street to the hotel where we were going to be eating that night and settled into their bar. But we were not allowed to settle for long. Kris's daughter was with us, she is under-age and they do not allow minors to even sit in the bar.... even with their parents. I had never heard of such a thing. So, we grabbed our drinks and headed upstairs to the restaurant. We were not due to be seated until about 6:30, it was 4:45, and despite the promises by the restaurant staff that they were trying to find us a place early, we did not get into the place until about 6:30. We spent the waiting time in the hallway, making noise, gabbing, and Kris and Regina were stealing leaves off the plants in the hall. They would not say what they were for, but no good, no doubt. The old familiar tingle of fear went up my spine... something I had not experienced since the time a number of the PMS'ers had come to Juneau for a diocesan event. Oh well, I tried to ignore it and enjoy myself.

We did finally get a seat and a drink, and then set loose on the Thanksgiving buffet. A very, very generous spread of all sorts of meats and vegetables, breads and deserts, salads and snacks. At about half way through the dinner Kris excused herself and reappeared a few minutes later wearing a white alb (robe, and a home-made papal miter).... the lady pope had arrived to make sure that this group of pilgrims was properly equipped for the up-coming journey.

It was rather funny, and I thought quite gutsy of Kris, to show up in the middle of this restaurant dressed in that garb, with lots of people in the place, to make her presentations. I think everyone in the restaurant, as well as the folks at our tables, were thoroughly enjoying themselves. There were Kleenex and whistles, baggies, toilet seat covers, and a string to which the Alaskan group could attach themselves so as to stay together and not get lost, and a number of other items. Lots of fun, and thoroughly embarrassing for me... it was starting to feel like old times again.

We finished with dinner and merriment and headed back to the hotel. The plan was that we would meet in Regina's room for a game of Farkle (a dice game) and some more laughs. Well, I was called at my room and asked why I hadn't arrived yet. I should have suspected something... but did not. I went to the room, neither Kris or Regina were there.... all the more reason to get suspicious, but I really thought that all the foolishness was over for the night. The two of them appeared a little while later and we played our game for a while, and then it was time to retire... we would need all our sleep and energy the next day as we began our trip. I went to my room and discovered why Regina and Kris were late, and why they had been stealing leaves in the restaurant. They had cut and taped together the leaves in the form of "little green men"... a reference to some of the delusions I had had when I was in the hospital earlier that year with my foot infection. Well, they had green men taped to my mirror and my toilet (as well as a sheet of saran wrap across the toilet bowl). It was fun, and soon disposed of. It really was feeling like old times... the old paranoia was coming back in full force. I don't know what the maid thought about the lipstick message that I didn't bother to clean off the mirror.... "remember me?". It's just something that I am not willing to think about.

FRIDAY... NOVEMBER 24 (departure date) THROUGH SAT. NOV. 25

We all woke up the next morning at different times. Mom is a smoker, like myself, and her roommate (Agnes) is not. So, I ran into her in the lobby that morning, just having come from a nicotine break. We were not scheduled to be at the airport until later that afternoon, so the thought of the group was that we could go shopping or into town. I had nothing to shop for, and mom had not been to Seattle before, so I thought it would be nice to take her downtown. We caught the shuttle to the airport and were going to take the bus, but could not make hide nor hair of the bus schedule and which one to get on to go to town. The hell with it, I decided, and we caught a cab that took us to the market area along the wharf in Seattle. We walked through the farmer's market, the fish market and along the water side. It was fairly early in the morning and the stores and shops were just opening, but we had a good time, walking, talking and window shopping.

Leaving the water and heading into the town we were caught up by the sounds of marching bands and other noises associated with parades. It was the Christmas parade! We were able to get good viewing spots. We would watch for a while and then move on a bit more, following the parade route. I for one did not want to leave until we had seen Santa Claus... which we eventually did. No lap sitting for me though! No matter how much mom insisted that I give it a try. We then walked around a bit more and then caught a cab for our return. For the price of the two cab rides we could have rented a car for the day, oh well.

We got back at around noon. Many of the others had returned as well. Regina decided that she had needed some new luggage, and so when we got to her room, she was transferring stuff from her "old" (and I thought quite adequate bag) to her new one. I thought it was poetic justice when later in the trip, the handles on the darn thing had broken. I really do get a slight twinge of delight at those sort of things... it is something I will have to work on. Bad Attitude.

There were others who bought extra pieces of luggage and such.... I could only wonder what this was saying about our up-coming trip. I soon learned that a number of the folks had come not so much to pilgrimage, to make a journey for spiritual nourishment and fun, they had come to shop. Watch out Gucci!

We convened in the hotel restaurant and after eating went to the airport for a 2 hour wait (getting there 2 hours before we were supposed to arrive... which was to be 2 hours before departure.... we were nothing if not a prompt group).

Soon that particular section of the airport was filled with people from all over the West Coast who were joining us from a number of places for this pilgrimage journey. As it turned out, there were about 300 people on this Wester Province sponsored tour. A very small portion of the 10,000 or so who showed up in Rome from all over the world. But a respectable showing nonetheless.... one of the larger groups of the five U.S. provinces.

The tickets were distributed, the luggage checked in, then on to the International Departure Lounge to wait some more. We were finally let on the plane and everyone settled into their seats, eyeing what they hoped would be empty seats that they could take over once we got into the air. I had requested smoking, and so they put me in the rear of the plane, but not far enough back. After we had gotten on our way, and a lady complained about the smoke, one of the stewards informed me that smoking was only in the last 2 rows, I was in the fourth. I don't know what happened. I have a suspicion (one borne out by similar treatment on the return trip) that they said sure you can be in smoking, assigned me a further back seat, and then left me to work it out with the other passengers. Oh well. At least the section I was in was less crowded than others, and I found myself with 3 seats to stretch out on.

The daughters and Regina all managed to give me a hard time about my having my own mini-row and they eventually shamed me into giving it up to Agnes so she could lay down and sleep. Agnes had been dealing with some sort of infection or other (and as of this writing they are still not quite sure what is going on with her) and it had been an iffy thing about her coming with us. She did of course, and even decided to take her medicine so as not to be a party-pooper, and so she needed the seats worse than I did. I then offered the seats to the other two after Agnes had her nap, but they refused. Though, Annie did give me hell later on about her not being offered the seats.... just can't please some people. (I think she was more pleased that she had something to give me hell about). Regina refused, and with another smaller woman, laid down on the floor in the back of the plane.

We eventually landed in London and had a small lay-over before our plane to Barcelona. Mom and I and several other smokers spent most of our time in the smoking lounge of the airport (those Europeans still have such things.... thank God). Once in Barcelona, the customs was a non-experience (didn't even get our passports stamped - damn it), and then we were met by the tour directors, herded onto buses and left for our hotel. We arrived at 6:30, got checked into a rather nice hotel, though very slow elevators, and were scheduled for a 7:00 mass. Well, I was tired, had been sitting all day, felt rushed and so decided that I would opt out of the mass. I cleaned up (I was immediately thankful that I had paid the extra money for a single room) and found a group on the front porch, a few minutes after 7, waiting for the bus they had missed to take them to whatever church mass was scheduled for. Mom was among the group, and I convinced her to go walking with me. We headed toward what looked like downtown. There was a rather large park across the street from the hotel, and a large avenue that we walked up along. The weather was rather moderate... leaning toward the warm side, much better than the below-freezing stuff that I had left back in Alaska.

The streets were decorated with lights going from one side to the other... outlines of snowmen, Santa figures and all the typical holiday images. We walked, looked into the store fronts. We smelled the bakeries, we watched the people hustling by, looked at the items being sold for the holidays and talked. There were lots of people on the streets, doing their evening walk, and it was all rather nice.

Barcelona is the capital of that part of Spain that they call Catalonia. It's the second largest city in Spain and lies along the Mediterranean Sea.

We returned to the hotel in time for dinner... something I really did not need given all the eating we had done on the plane and the lack of exercise.... but what else are you going to do when that is where all the action is at?

The first part of the meal was spent trying and trying to guess what it was we were eating... some sort of selection of dried and pickled meats of some sort. Most of them were all right there were a couple of kinds that were pretty gross. I was not real enthusiastic about the slices with the small hairs coming out of it, and passed it by. The main course was fish. Needless to say, I did not eat much that first night in Europe... and that was all right. I went to the bar afterwards, had a $10.00 bourbon and soda, and then called it a night.


I called it a very short night. What with all the down time in the plane, and the 9 hours time difference, I found myself wide awake at 3:45 in the morning. Tried to watch some of the British news on the television and then went to the train/bus station which lay under the hotel. There was quite a mini-mall under there... mainly travelers things and convenience stores and a couple of small restaurants and coffee shops. I found a diet coke or three, and felt my morning was complete.

I ran into Regina, Annie and some other Ketchikaners in the hotel lobby, they were looking for coffee. Nothing in the hotel was open, so I led them down to the station below. They very quickly discovered that they were not going to like the European version of coffee, but they drank some anyway... needing the caffeine kick I suppose. We wandered around a bit and then headed up for the Continental breakfast in the hotel dining room. We entered the room to complete chaos. The waiters could not put the coffee, bread and fruit out fast enough. The people were like animals. Grabbing handfuls of the stuff, pushing their way through the line, really acting badly... taking stuff to put in their purses and bags, leaving nothing for others. Long waits for more food. I was really embarrassed by it all. It did not help that they were late in getting started, but it was no excuse for the extremely rude behavior of so many that were there. I did not even try to get anything once I saw what was going on. I was really put off by it all.

Of course that lead to a lot of complaints from the people who did not get their share, and we were promised that it would be better the next day, and we also asked the folks not to act like animals. This was worse than a bunch of kids. The fact that so many were suffering from jet lag did not help either... made them crankier and more sensitive to all the things that might have gone wrong.

There was a meeting of chaplains that morning. I was told that this chaplain thing would not involve much. Lead prayer on the bus, be available for confessions and stuff like that. That was what I was told. It turned out to be a lot more work than I expected. Part of it was the situation, the other part was my own doing. I felt ver responsible for each of the Alaskans that had come, and felt obliged to see to it that they each enjoyed themselves, that they had a good time, and that they were in high spirits. If I could have let up on myself a bit in that regard, I think it would have been less work... but I didn't, and it turned out to be a working trip. That was not a totally bad thing, by any means, it just was not the trip I imagined, nor did it allow me to be as free as I might have wanted to be.

We were then assigned our "permanent" buses (the number and color that we would use all through the trip - our bus was the green bus... and all but one of the Alaskans were on it. I don't know why that one didn't get assigned with the rest of us). We had no real "tour guide", rather she was the tour director. She was responsible for the entire group -seeing to it we got hotel rooms, that buses were available, etc. She tried to play tour guide as well... most of it done from notes and books that she brought along. The nice thing was that she was a lady of good humor, sort of a tough cow-girl type person, and a lot of fun. She fell right in with the PMS'ers (for good and bad) and immediately got into the spirit of giving me a hard time. Her name is Jenece.

Anyway, we all loaded on the buses and headed for MONTSERRAT and a monastery located in the hills there surrounding Barcelona. The Montserrat mountains were used by Wagner as the setting for his opera PARSIFAL. And in looking at them, it is perfect for that opera. You can almost see the vikings and knights fighting in the mountains.... perfect, absolutely perfect setting for it. The mountains have a real craggy and 'sawtooth" look to them which is awesome. This area is the principal religious and cultural center of Catalonia, and the Marian shrine that we were visiting attracts thousands of pilgrims each year.

It was a trip of about an hour through the Spanish countryside and mountains... quite beautiful. I was watching the countryside, when a voice from the back of the bus cried out "CAN WE PRAY THE ROSARY????". Uh oh, time for the chaplain to go into action. My rosary was somewhere in my luggage - back at the hotel, and I had no idea what flavor of mystery we were supposed to meditate on that day, and even if I did, I would not know for sure the order or what they were. Thank God for the daughters. I looked back to where Agnes was sitting and asked if she had her rosary with her, did she know the mysteries, and wouldn't she like to lead the rosary. She did, she knew, and she was happy to lead. She came and took her seat beside me, led the prayers and got me off the hook. Of course, I thought that this would be a wonderful thing to do the whole trip.... let the happy pilgrims lead the prayer.

We eventually finished the prayer and got to the monastery. It was really something else. Sitting in the midst of some very craggy mountain peaks, treeless, the peaks reaching into the sky like old, bent, bony fingers. Actually, the Montserrat monastery is one of 5 main hermitages on the mountains. It was started in the 9th century with the coming of the Benedictines. In 1025 a priory was founded there, one that grew in importance, wealth and size throughout the centuries. That is until 1812, when the monastery was sacked by the French. The present buildings, although they look much older, date from the 19th and 20th centuries. It has a very medieval look to it.... very fortress like, huge stairways, and lots of walls and buildings. It is known for a "black Madonna" that is kept in a viewing area high above the altar... approachable via a walkway leading upstairs and past the case in which she is kept. The Black Madonna is known as La Morenta. It is a wooden statue said to date from the 12th century. She holds a figure of Christ in her lap (that particular part of the figure was restored in the 19th century). According to legend, the figure was found by shepherds in a cave on the mountainside.

We were there for mass and to hear the renowned boys choir of the place. The choir is known as the ESCOLANIA, and it is one of Europe's oldest boys' choirs.... founded back in the 13th century. They were wonderful voices, and it was a real thrill to hear them.... despite the crowd. It was the church's usual Sunday mass, and it was packed (especially after adding the 300 of us).

Mass was in the language of the area... not Spanish, as I sort of thought it would be. The people of Catalan speak their own language -Catalan (which, with Castillian Spanish are the 2 official languages of the country). Apparently this language was banned during the Franco regime, and I am told that they are all the more insistent on speaking it because of that ban. It sounds not quite Spanish, more a French-Spanish mix, ... definitely more French than Spanish, and what little Spanish I know was just about useless there. There was no place to sit, the aisles were crammed, and the ushers (dressed in boy-scout like outfits with red bandanas around their necks) were really having a time keeping order. Fr. Clenaghan, the organizer of the Western Province tour concelebrated with the clergy there... he would do that as often as possible, and I think was a little miffed that I would not dress in clerics most of the trip... but I figured that the 40 I was responsible for/to knew I was a priest (or at least by the 3rd or 4th day had figured it out) and that was enough.

After the mass, after communion really, many of the people lined up to view the madonna. The line was just too much for me, stretching through the church, into the expansive courtyard and beyond, that I decided to by pass that experience and bought a post card instead.

I should mention that most of the people on the trip were older people, and despite the clear warnings on the pilgrimage material that they would be doing a lot of walking, complained about the steps they had to use to get to the church, and this was just the first day of our trip. I did my best to play "Fr. Happy" and discourage as much of the griping as I could, but it would get to me at times. Thank God, the PMS'ers retained their good humor.

For those who did not wish to view the madonna, it was time to hit the gift shops and postcard shops, and buy snacks off the back of trucks and look around. It was a lot of fun.

Our return to Barcelona included a tour of the city, which was cut short because some of the women on the bus insisted on being taken back to the hotel, as they were tired and did not want to go on the tour. One woman in particular needed to get her insulin shot. Why she did not bring the equipment with her on the bus, is beyond me. She was someone who did her best to be as cranky as possible throughout the trip. Always letting us know how she suffered, and then thanking God that he had been so good to her. Whoa!

The highlights of the tour included a stop at the Church of the Sacred Family (LA SAGRADA FAMILIA)... designed and started building by another in 1882, it was taken over by the famous artist GAUDI in 1883. During his lifetime only a small portion of the church was completed. The Nativity facade was one of those. It has three doorways, each representing Faith, Hope and Charity... the doorways have lots of decoration with statues, and groups of carved figures. Before his death only one of the very crazy spires was completed, but since work resumed in 1940, eight are now done. I don't know how many more that they can add, but the work continues.. I had read about this church, and its many fascinating and different styles and images, but to actually see what was a whole different matter. It was really something else. It was like looking at a very interesting acid trip done in stone. Finials and towers that corkscrewed their way into the sky. Nothing quite squared, nothing quite "normal", an eclectic collection of styles and images. It was all too wondrous... and this was just viewing it from the outside. They wanted to charge a $7.00 admission price, which we bypassed, as their was plenty to see from outside. It is a church that is not yet finished, and though Gaudi himself walked off the job long before completion, others have resumed his work, seeking to stay faithful to his vision (nightmare?) and it is quite the sight. Bizarre and fascinating.

We were then dropped off at Las Ramblas... a main pedestrian thoroughfare leading to the shore. It is supposedly the most famous street in Barcelona. It flanks the Gothic quarter of the city and the many buildings that represent that era. There were booths set up all along the expansive walkway, entertainers, painters, craftsmen, and all the kind of arts and crafts typical to that situation. We did not anticipate many people at all, since it was Sunday. But the area was quite crowded, and looking after my bus group was something of a challenge, that I eventually gave up on, and just enjoyed whatever group of them I found myself with at any time.

The end of the square where we were to meet our bus is dominated by a huge monument to Christopher Columbus. The monument is surrounded by a number of lions in various poses, and a number of us took turns crawling all over the lions to have our pictures taken in various poses. It was a lot of fun.

We managed to keep Remy (part of the Ketchikan contingent) out of the McDonalds. It was an on-going effort throughout the tour. She practically lives on their food in Ketchikan, and trying to convince her that since she was in Europe she should eat the local food was an on-going and unwinnable battle. Though we did pretty good about keeping her out of the Mickey D's for most of the trip.

Upon our arrival at the bus... where I learned that another of my chaplain duties would be the on-going effort of trying to find people who could not find the bus.. Agnes started what would be her usual evening refrain "I want a drink." We made our way to the bus station mall again and as a group tried to decide what we would like to buy. I just was not all that excited about spending another $10.00 on a single drink. It soon became evident that this group was not going to be able to come to consensus on such a major issue as what liquor all of us could stomach.... so we gave up and ended up buying very expensive single drinks at the bar. Agnes was really enjoying a rather strong Margarita of sorts. Then it was time for dinner - mom and I ended up at a table with a group of Spanish speakers from California... that certainly kept conversation to a minimum. The waiters, based on the experience of the morning I suppose, were very careful about taking positions throughout the dining hall and serving the various tables all at once. Smart people.

During dinner, Regina came and gave me a small plastic cat, Annie offering me another. The same kind of cat that my housekeeper here in Juneau keeps leaving all over the place. She had discovered my great dis-liking for cats, and has plagued me with cat images, books, etc. ever since. There was only one couple with us from Juneau, so I knew from whence it came. I just could not believe that the housekeeper had managed to reach me across the oceans; and that Jack would conspire with her, was really sort of startling as well. These were to be the first of many such small "gifts". I returned them to the ladies the next morning... decapitated and otherwise defaced.

Since we were leaving Spain the next day, we decided that we should try to spend all our Spanish money and so we re-convened at the bar for a nightcap.


I slept rather well Sunday night... not getting up until about 6 in the a.m., and that with the help of the wake-up call. I immediately went down stairs, stocked up on diet coke and picked up some cookies for my ladies.

I did not attend the 6:30 mass at the hotel this morning. Several of the people reminded me of that fact throughout the day. So, I resolved to be better about it in the future. I found that spending the whole day with the people, and really finding very little time for myself, I was avoiding whenever I could, being part of the group... my introversion coming out I suppose.

Fr. Clenaghan is on the bus with us this morning. It is his plan to spend time on all the buses at various times throughout the trip. To help keep us focused on this as a pilgrimage trip, and to give all the spiritual stuff that I am sure he felt was lacking with the particular chaplain assigned to that particular bus.

The call went up from the back of the bus again for the recitation of the rosary. I asked if anyone would like to lead it, no one volunteered, and so Agnes did the duty once again. I thanked God often for her presence on that bus.

It was "pick on Jef" morning on the bus. With Jenece, Jerry Gucker and the PMS'ers all getting their licks in. Mom seems to have fallen in with it too. All that social pressure on her, poor woman. I am sure that she would not have had such fun at her beloved son's expense if those others had not put so much pressure on her. I really can't blame her, but it will take years to "de-program" her I am sure.

We are traveling along the Costa Brava (the Wild Coast) and the Pyrenees as we make our way to Aix-en-Provence and the birthplace of the Oblates. I did my best to fill in the "tour guide" chatter along the way. I pointed out the Spanish rocks, trees and water and many other things that the typical tour guide would probably miss. What would they have done without me.

It was a long day on the bus and we arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of Aix pretty late in the afternoon. We checked in pretty quickly and I needed a walk. I found Remy and Purita (another Ketchikan-er) outside with the same idea. We decided to get going. Using a foot-bridge, we crossed the highway and made our way into what we thought to be town. It was getting darker as we walked. We did not see a whole lot of things, mainly houses of the locals, though they were very nice, big and some seemed rather old. We looked through the iron gates and vegetation at the rather large mansion-like buildings all along the street. Eventually, never quite making it to the commercial district, we turned around and went back... so we would not miss dinner. We turned around just several blocks short from downtown (I discovered this after returning to the hotel and consulting the map that I had found in our wanderings).

Upon our return I found mom, Agnes and Annie sitting in the lounge with my bourbon and soda waiting for me... they really do take care of me. After a rather nice meal (mom loved the hard rolls that we would be served throughtout the trip), it was time for another walk. This time it was with Annie, Agnes and Regina (mom wanted to rest).

Annie was having some troubles with her hips, and the stairs to the walkway, as well as the uphill walking was really putting her in some pain, and slowing us all down. What took Purita, Remy and I some 30 minutes or so to walk, took us about an hour... never quite going as far as we did on my first walk. Poor Annie, she was catching hell from me for her walking, and though it was meant in jest, I think she took it a bit harder than I intended. I think, on my part, it was a mixture of frustration, concern and worry. We got back, had another drink and went to bed.


Our group from Alaska really caught a lot of attention this day. The daughters had conspired to get some "polo" shirts made that were quite nice. Sort of dark blue-purple in color, with the name of Eugene across the back and Alaska on the front. They were really nice, and only about 8 of us had them.... the other Alaskans were offered the opportunity to buy one, but most of them passed it up. Mine was given to me, as was my mother's... those ladies are all so nice. Anyway, it cause a stir among the others, and some of the Alaskans were disappointed that they did not buy one. There were many pictures taken of us in our shirts, as well as offers to buy.... which none of did (not enough $ being offered)... anyway, we looked good in our uniforms. The first time we wore them was for this day in Eugene's city, the next time they were worn (not by me... I was in cassock) was for the audience with the pope by the others. They were really nice shirts, a nice keepsake and gift, and something I will continue to wear with pride... and memories of the kindness of the ladies who provided them.

Aix is the traditional capital of Provence. First settled by the Romans who came because of the presence of thermal springs. The name Aix originates from Aquae Sextiae (the waters of Sextius) in honor the the man who repudetly founded the town in 122 BC. Both Cezzane and the writer Zola came from here.

We had an early start on this day. We went into town together where we got off the bus and were led on a walking tour of some of the various Oblate sights in town. We had a young man join us on the bus this morning. He was practically kicked off one of the other buses. He is Italian, as are all our bus drivers, and the bus he was assigned to did not like him at all. Apparently he gave no observations or guidance in Spain or along the way to France. And when he did talk to them it was in very poor English. He would remain with us throughout the rest of the trip. He was supposed to help us with the touring stuff, but he really seemed hopeless. It was kind of a sad thing, and we made him feel as welcome as we could, but he was really not much help at all.

On the road, I gave my version (the one Ira told me) of how the Oblates came to Texas and what they accomplished there. I am sure the story had a good mixture of B.S. to it (not that I made it up, but it was how I had heard it... and liked it). It was not a very pious version of our story, though one I am rather proud of. I was not thinking about the other priest on the bus. An older Irish man who seems to be in semi-retirement in Arizona. I wondered, later, what he thought of the story I told. He is a bit more pious than I am (as are most people).

This is the city where Eugene was born and where he and 4 companions founded the Oblates in 1816

We were dropped off at the center of town... called the COURS MIRABEAU with its fountains and 17-19 century mansions with corner statues. Our first stop in Aix was at the church/monastery where DeMazenod took his vows and in effect formed the Oblates. It is called the Chapel of the Oblates. It was the building that was given this new group of missionaries, and was an old run-down monastery that he tried to renovate as they needed the room and had the money.

We gathered in the church and were given a general overview by one of the English speaking preists assigned there. We were then going to be led through the various rooms, but it was a building of small rooms and narrow hallways, so the chaplains were brought in first, given the tour, and then we were to take the people a dozen or so at a time and give them the same tour that we had just received.

The tour included the small private chapel where the vows were first taken, the two rooms that were the living, dining and everything else quarters of the first group of Oblates, the room where a portion of Eugene's heart is preserved as well as other memorabilia from him (papers, vestments, chalices, miters, etc.). It was crazy, the groups squeezing against one another as they tried to make their ways through the halls, getting into the very small rooms, turning around and leaving, trying to get one group in and out and another group right behind them... all very chaotic.... but fun (for me) and chaotic.

We were also allowed to see the building in which Eugene was born and lived (though we could not go in) and then set free to wander on our own. Me and my group went to the Magdalen church, a rather large church, dark and kind of stark in contrast to so many other churches in Europe. This was apparently the church from which Eugene would preach each morning to the poor of Aix, early in the morning, before they had to get to their various jobs.

We also made our way to the Cathedral of Aix (ST. SAVIOUR'S CATHEDRAL)where Eugene was baptized. It is a church built on the sight of more ancient Christian churches, and there was some excavating going on... including a baptismal font from the 2nd or 3rd century. I took pix of mom, Annie and Agnes standing inside of it. I was also hoping to see the Triptych of the Burning Bush which the church is famous for - a 15th century masterpiece, but it was closed, and despite the tour books advice, we found no one to bribe to open and illuminate it. Oh well. There were Eugene displays set up throughout the cathedral.. I guess that there were many pilgrimage groups coming through this year (the year of DeMazenod... which will end in May of '96).

After that, many of my group wanted to go eat. I was not interested in that, and decided that it would be a good time to get away from all the other people and do some solo exploring for a while. It was a good thought. I went in the opposite direction of the rest of the group and just wandered around, slowly making my way back to the main plaza where we were to meet out buses later. Wouldn't you know, I ran into a woman from our bus who had gotten lost from her group, and she asked if she could walk with me. What could I say.... sure she could come along, though all I was doing was wandering. That was fine with her, but wouldn't I like to wander someplace where she could buy some perfume and pins of some sort or another. Well, I was not real interested in that sort of thing, so I directed her toward the plaza and left her in the midst of some shops that looked like they might have what she wanted.... and I continued on my own.

At the time set for meeting our bus, all but two were there. I then had to go round up the lost sheep and see if I could not get them back. I eventually found them several blocks away and rather lost, so I herded them where they needed to be and then it was off to MARSEILLES.

It was really a thrill to be in the city of our founding. I am usually rather cynical about such experiences. But, I found myself really touched by it all, the simplicity of our roots, and the fact that the places made important by the works of Eugene had not really been turned into the mini Disney-lands that so many important religious places have become. Of course, in the big picture of the church, Eugene is not really a major, major figure, but important enough to me. I felt some rather strong and soft emotions breaking through my cynicism, and truly felt myself to be on holy ground, important to me if nothing else. Also, a real pride in it all.

We were going to the cathedral in Marseilles. A building that Eugene had designed as Bishop of the diocese. It is one of the typical large stone, rather squat cathedrals of the time. It was begun in 1852, built in the Romano-Byzantine style; with the black and white stone stripes surrounding the whole thing. The tomb of Eugene is in this church. He was originally in the crypt of the cathedral, but as his cause progressed, the body was moved to the upper church and placed in one of the side chapels in a new tomb inscribed with the Oblate motto and coat of arms. Atop the tomb is an altar. We had mass in the cathedral. This time I concelebrated, though the rector of the place did not seem real pleased to see me in jeans and tennis shoes and putting on an alb and stole. But he will get over it.

Mass went pretty well, though somewhat clumsy... what is it about Oblates and liturgy... they never seem quite elegant or comfortable with it all. They also don't seem to have the common sense necessary to accommodate large crowds. Oh well. Mom wanted to know if I had goose bumps celebrating mass there, as she did being part of the congregation. Not quite goose bumps, but a real sense of reverence came over me. I was very happy to be there.

Within the cathedral is another small chapel with the reputed bones of Lazarus. I didn't know they were there. It was interesting to think about it. I think it comes from the legend that after being cured, after Jesus ascended, that Lazarus, Mary and some other disciples headed to Europe.

After seeing a bit more of the cathedral, we loaded back up on the buses and headed back to the hotel. Me and the ladies had a drink (at the insistence of Agnes) and then I went for a solo walk into Aix. I actually made it to the central square, and back to the church that we started the tour with. I wandered around a bit and then headed back. I got a bit turned around, and ended up at some dead end near the university. A girl at a bus stop was able to point me in the right direction to get back, and I did eventually get back.. There was a point there when it was really getting much darker and I was still unsure of my location, that I got a bit worried, but it turned out all right. I was even able to find a source for diet cokes and bought several.


We were on the buses by 8 that morning for a long day of travel, broken up a bit by several stops along the way.

We made a restroom stop along the way. There were several other buses parked there as well. One group in particular, marked as a pilgrimage bus, intrigued me. It was a bus-load of African Oblates. I asked one of the men where they were from and he responded Zambia. That is the sight of the Southern Province mission in Africa. I talked with him a while, we both had a number of common acquaintances. It was interesting to meet him at a rest-stop in France.

We stopped in Nice on the Riviera. Memories of my first time there all came back to me. That time, some 15 years or so ago was not a good one. I had found the French rude and un-helpful, it was raining and miserable, and all I wanted to do at that time was leave. This time, it was a much different experience. In the sunshine, the place was really nice. We had a mass there at Sacred Heart Church. Apparently the church, outside of serving the local people, is also the place where English mass is provided for those who speak that language. They have a program where Oblates (usually semi- or fully retired) come for a year... free room and board, and the Riviera, and they only have to take care of the English speakers. Might be something worth looking into at some point. I wonder if they would accept a 29 year old such as myself. It would seem so much better to go there while I could still appreciate the area. The church itself is rather large, and very white. It seems too white for some reason. Very bright. Not ugly, just very white. Lots of marble, close pews and very hard, unpadded kneelers.

After mass, we were set free to wander and find lunch, shop or whatever. We had to stop Remy from getting to the McDonalds she had spied as we entered the city. I don't think she actually found it, but another, local version of it, and was sort of a disappointment....GOOD. I did manage to buy "french" post-cards. I had to keep watching for the pilgrims... didn't want them to see what I was buying, but I also couldn't resist... I have too many friends who would appreciate that sort of thing.

We re-gathered on the bus and were taken to a local perfume factory. There we learned about the making of perfumes, the work of the experts (they call them "noses" and are not allowed to drink, smoke, eat spicy food, and several other restrictions in order to keep their sense of smell keen.... not a job I would like). The main purpose of the tour was to get us to buy their products. I couldn't find anything in particular I wanted, but there was plenty there to keep the ladies buying. The one thing that did interest me was a skin cream that would make a person look ten years longer... but I passed when I found out they did not sell it by the vat.

It was then back to the bus. We made a stop at an over-look of Monte Carlo. The original plan was to stop there and let people go to the casinos and such, but there would be a lot of walking, lots of fees to pay, and the crowd on my bus were not in the best shape (did I make that clear earlier) and so our bus by-passed that stop. Others did not, and apparently some of them did quite well in the casinos. Oh well, another time.

One lady from one of the buses that was going to stop in Monte Carlo, and who did not want to go along joined our bus fro the trip to Genoa. A real interesting woman, who I would have several odd encounters with through the course of the rest of the trip. I think she was several cards short of a full-deck. She was a shorter woman, rather ill kept hair, wearing coke-bottle glasses that magnified her eyes. Her accent sounded as though she might be Colombian. She entered the bus and was distressed that we were apparently without a chaplain. It took a little talking from the others to convince her that I was the chaplain. But once she looked into my eyes and declared that she saw Jesus in them, she had no further doubts. Of course, the PMS group loved that... "Ol' Jesus Eyes" was added to the many other nick-names that they began to use for me.

The rest of the day was spent traveling to Genoa where we would overnight. It was to be our single one-night stand. Several of the buses were at one hotel (where dinner was going to be served) and my bus stayed at another. Our hotels were near the water front, and not in the best of locations, though the rooms and all were rather nice. After dinner, and despite the warnings of the tour director, 10 of us decided to walk back to our hotel. It was not an unpleasant walk, and not all that far... and in fact, when we got to the hotel, half of that group went to the hotel, the rest of us decided to go into town. We weren't sure what we would see, but we decided we should be able to say we did see some of Genoa.

We walked into what was apparently NOT a real touristy part of town, but very aged. I had informed my bus about camp-fire girls... hookers. It is the custom that these ladies, standing on their corners or wherever, light little campfires near them, these are their "red-lights". Well that information put Agnes on the prowl. She wanted to see some camp-fire girls. We did not see any, but we did see a Christopher Columbus monument... which was rather nice. There were also plenty of old buildings with "castle turrets" and stuff. Nothing was really open so we did not get into the church's that we passed, but it was fun to be together and look around. We passed several groups of grubby looking young people and such... that put us on alert and added a little excitement to the walk.

We made our way back to the hotel and its bar, listened to the music of the live, loud band and eventually retired. There was a channel of Italian soft-core porn on the television - a free channel - that I refused to look at.

THURSDAY NOVEMBER 30... from Genoa to Assisi

Most of this day was spent on the bus. We left Genoa fairly early in the day and made our way to Pisa. It was a rather long trip. Our route took us past the famous marble quarries of Italy... the Carrera quarries from which Michelangelo selected most of the marble he used in his scultors and which are still active quarries.

We saw the leaning tower, but we were not allowed to go inside of it because they were doing some more work on it. I had heard, just prior to our departure for Europe that they had finally done something to the tower to keep it from leaning any further than it is. Some said though that it was a failed effort... like all the previous ones. I don't know, but it has a definite lean to it.

The tower is actually the bell tower for the church there. Some say the architect was mad at the patron paying for all this work, and built it in such a way as to make it lean on purpose. I am not sure. We did also visit the church... actually a cathedral called the DUOMO. It was built with the spoils captured during the expeditions against the Muslims. The most interesting part of the church for me was the pulpit. It is the work of the Giovanni Pisano in 1311... it took him 9 years to complete it. It is supported by a number of columns and pillars decorated with all sorts of biblical and allegorical characters. The eight panels that make up the actual pulpit tell the life of Christ. Near the pulpit is the lamp of Galileo on a huge arm suspended from the ceiling.. It is said that it was this lamp that gave him his original idea for his theories about the movement of pendulums. We went on a search for an image of St. Agnes that was supposed to be in the church someplace, but we never did find it. It may well have been in the sanctuary area, but like most churches we visited, that area was roped off to the general public.

We could not get into the baptistry without paying a $10.00 fee, and though it was supposed to house some impressive art works, we were not going to be there long, and the fee was just too much. The church and tower are surrounded by a rather nice courtyard, with a number of businesses to one side, including lots of souvenir shops. Much of the area surrounding the complex of church-tower and baptistry is known as the Field of Miracles.... not sure why. It is all contained within the walls that surround this old part of the city. There were many African street hawkers, trying to sell leather and cloth coats for prices that at times started at 3-4 hundred dollars, the vendors finally settling for 25 to 50. I did not bother. Several on our bus did.

We were supposed to have left Pisa in time to be in Florence by noon, but we dawdled, and so we did not get there on time. It was due in large part to one particular woman who was inevitably always late, and always had to be looked for... the same woman who decided to walk with me in Aix. I don't know what her problem was... she was chronically late, and no amount of threat or pleading seemed to change that.

I had only one desire for Florence- to see David. They started us with a stop at hill-top so we could look over the city of Florence. It is a beautiful city, maintaining much of its medieval look. From the over-look we headed into the city itself. We were to have mass in the church of St. Croce after a walking tour. This was the one time I was really ticked off. One of the Italian tour directors was supposed to lead us on the walking tour, but our particular guide took us only to a plaza to point out the church where we would be having mass, and then led the group to a leather shop and gold shop. I am sure he was trying to get his percentage. I was not interested in the shopping, I wanted to see the sights.... I wanted to see David.

I saw what was happening with that guide, and so I hooked up with another group that looked to be ignoring the shops, and their director was leading them elsewhere. He took the group to the DUOMO... The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, along with it's bell tower and baptistery, form quite a sight of white, green and pink marble. Reflecting the building styles from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance. The cathedral is one of the largest in the Christian world. It is a Gothic cathedral (mainly) begun in the late 1200's and finally consecrated in the middle 1400's. The dome alone took 14 years to build... not sure why, probably the Italian penchant for not showing up for work when they don't feel like it. It is richly decorated with all sorts of mosaics on the outside, and in contrast, is quite bare interiorly. The interior dome is painted with a huge fresco of the last judgement.

The Baptistery is a Romanesque building done in white and green marble. The bronze doors are world famous. One portrays scenes from the life of John the Baptist and the Theological Virtues (faith, hope and charity) and the Cardinal virtues. The other door show scenes from the life of Christ. Another set of doors... on the eastern side, are the doors that Michelangelo declared worthy to be called the Gate to Paradise, it recalls the Old Testament, with various prophets and sybils. The dome, on the inside is covered with mosaics. Again, there is the last judgement and a large picture of Christ the King, and several other thematic renderings... I especially liked the depiction of the demons. I sort of hurried through the church and the baptistry, as I was still hoping to see the David. I asked the tour guide where I might find it. He pointed me in a certain direction, and I headed there... not really sure where it was or what exactly I was looking for, but I headed in the direction he indicated. I stopped in a building that looked like it might have something. I ended up in another museum, with a number of reproductions outside the building... nice, but not what I wanted. The time kept ticking away, mass was going to start, and I still had not found the David. I sauntered back toward ST. CROCE. I had decided that I probably would not be going to mass, and so I was no longer in a hurry.

I got to the church, the mass had started, but I decided to wander through the church (being careful not to let the group see me... which is quite possible in those massive churches, with their many pillars and side chapels). I was intrigued by the various monuments and tombs within the church... including the tomb of Michelangelo. It is interesting - at the time of his death, the Florentines stold his body from Rome and brought him "home". He has a massive tomb in the church, and a beautiful symbolic monument, but there is no body. Afraid that the Romans would come and steal his body back, the Florentines put his actual body in an unmarked grave near his monument. What a fascinating time it must have been in history. The tomb of Galileo is also there. There is also a monument to Dante. He too was a Florentine, but was banished from the city during his life time. When he died, the Florentines wanted his body, but having been banished in life, he was not going to be buried there in death. So, they put a tomb-like monument to him, but no body.

After mass we had a couple more hours on the bus to Assisi. During that portion of the trip, the other priest on the bus, came to the front and told us about his work and ministry. He spent quite a bit of time talking about a modern day mystic to which he has some dedication. He believes her to be in touch with Mary, gifted with the stigmata and other stuff. I found it overly pietistic, but it seemed to interest a number of the pilgrims on the bus. I was very polite in giving him my attention. We got to our hotel in Assisi, and I exercised another one of my chaplain duties... unloading luggage from the bus. We were, again, on the edge of the city, and for some reason we had to unload quickly from the bus. So, it was easier and faster for me to help. I helped one older lady with her bags, and she ended up tipping me a few bucks. Really unnecessary, and funny. I did make scenes several times during the trip, about my daughters not fulfilling their duties as women dedicated to the ways of St. Paula. They, like their patroness, were to carry my bags about... but quite often got lost in their own selfish concerns for their own bags, leaving me to carry my own most of the time. There were several occasions when they came through and did in fact take care of my bags, and included much fanfare when they did it so that everyone would know. It was always a lot of fun to heckle them and be heckled by them.

The accommodations at this particular hotel were the most primitive of the entire trip. It was a very Italian style, older hotel. With the showers that have no curtain or tub, older beds, and rather cold. That set a bunch of the older women to complaining again, but I simply ignored them.


Jenece had asked me to help lead the tour in Assisi since I had been there twice before. I was happy to do it, though it was something that also made me a bit anxious, and I was looking all over for materials about the place.

We loaded into the bus fairly early this morning and headed into Assisi proper. Our bus driver seemed very bright eyed and bushy-tailed this day. It turned out that he actually lives in the area and that he spent that night at his home with his wife... where they celebrated their 21st anniversary. It was neat, and we razzed him a bit about it all. He was always in good humor throughout the trip, and he and I would often roll our eyes at some of the stupidities that went on at times throughout the trip. He did not speak much English at all, but we found ways to communicate.

Once we got to Assisi, we headed to the Basilica there. We were supposed to have mass right away, and when we entered there were a number of folks gathered for a mass - English speakers - and so we thought that this was the mass we were supposed to be at. It turned out it was an Oblate pilgrimage group from the East Coast. Well, one of our people started spreading the word that this was not our mass, that ours would come later. I was disgusted enough that I left that mass with a few people from our group and decided to tour. I took Remy, Purita, mom and Regina on a tour of the upper and lower church. I had bought a tour book and so it was not too hard to point out the stuff I remembered and the other stuff I could look up.

When we got to the upper portion and the paintings of Francis' life by GIOTTO, I relied heavily on the book, and we picked up about 25 more tourists, and I played guide... did a good job of it too. I really should have been tipped.

It was then off to the souvenir shop, where we spent a lot of time. I even bought some little things.. something I was not doing much of during this particular trip. I tended to buy more post cards than anything. I was writing Christmas messages to my correspondents on the back of the cards as we made the trip... thinking that that was going to be the only way I got my Christmas notes off to the people I write to.

It seemed as though I was not going to be much of a tour leader, the groups were dispersed all over the place. So, me and several of the others went on our own walking tour of the city. We visited the central square of Assisi, the 1st century B.C. church of Minerva (actually a temple to this goddess that was taken over and made a Christian church). We stopped for some lunch and then simply wandered the streets, going up the narrow streets that still keep me expecting a knight to come charging around the corner on his charger. We would walk up stairways, and make the small turns, never knowing where we would end up for sure. I led them to the old walkway around the ancient walls of the city... just to show them what it might have been like to have lived here in the time of Francis.

We returned to the bus on time and went to the Church of St. Claire where I give a bit more of a tour to my group... though there was not much to say, as it was pretty well marked out. It included the original crucifix that spoke to Francis, some of the clothing and articles of Francis and the tomb of Claire. An interesting sight was had on the walk to the church... some men were harvesting olives from the trees, and it was sort of interesting to watch them lay down the cloth that would catch the olives, and then watch them climb the ladders that they leaned against the tree to knock off the olives into the cloth. So, that's how they do that......

We were then taken to a huge store of Umbrian specialties. Liqueurs, cookies, candies, meats, oils, etc. They were offering free samples of the various liqueurs, and I tried as many as I could... leaving the place with a light buzz from all the free samples.

That evening, I was dubbed the priest with the "million dollar smile" by someone from one of the other buses, and another cat showed up at the dinner table... mom wouldn't let me cut that one up, so I melted it instead.

During dinner Regina lost an earring, and everyone at our table was looking for it. We were all over the floor around out table, and under the table cloths. There were several of us under the table at once, hidden by the cloth... all looking for the earring, but declaring to the curious on-lookers that it was confession time. That led to some odd looks and smiles. Including the crazy woman who was making eyes at me from her table... especially when it was announced that I would be presiding at the mass the next day. This was the day I learned that her name was Daisy. A real doozy of a lady.


We were up, packed, out of the rooms and into the buses fairly early this morning. We proceeded to the church of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi. I looked around quickly and then went to get ready for mass. I was again in jeans and T-shirt. The sacristy is staffed by a number of nuns. They had a hard time believing that I was a priest and that I was going to be celebrating mass in the church. Their dismay was added to when Sr. Rita (of Ketchikan) who I had asked to do the readings of the day, stepped in and was not wearing a habit (and I made a point of introducing her as a nun). After some side-long glances and further discussions among themselves, they finally allowed me to "sign in" as the presider of the day and to don my vestments.

I had brought my own alb and stole, the nuns insisted that I wear one of their chasubles. A priest who came in during my getting dressed thought that my stole would look better on the outside of the chasuble (I agreed, it was a rather colorful stole and contrasted nicely with the white chasuble), he even came and started placing it for me. Well, the nuns were none too happy with that and decided that I should take it off altogether. I was in no need to argue, and so I took it off. It was a mini-comedy of sorts... I haven't been dressed by others in a very long time. I finally gained their reluctant approval (they kept eyeing the jogging shoes that showed beneath my vestments) and let me go celebrate mass.

Since it was that particular church, I decided to do the mass of the Guardian Angels, and took the opportunity to speak about all of us being called to be angels (messengers of God) and reminded them that if they were complaining too much and being crotchety that they are probably not giving God's message. The mass overall went well, though the concelebrants tended to cramp my style, insisting on loudly saying the prayers with me, drowning me out, and not using all the same words that I did. Oh well, it was still sort of fun.

Despite the admonitions to get right to the buses after mass, many of the folks went wandering some more in the church - to see the rose bush that dropped its thorns when Francis threw himself into it, and, of course, to visit the gift shop. Of course, one big draw of this church is the small church that it was built around. A very small building, it is called the Portiuncla (little church) and was a chapel that Francis and his follwers used. The huge cathedral was built around and over it to preserve it. We were delayed in our departure by a good 45 minutes or so. The delay pre-empted our driving tour of Rome that day. In waiting for the one lady who was really the one responsible for holding us up, I had my ladies lead the bus in religious songs and then moved into the rosary... I figured if I kept them praying, then maybe they would keep their tempers in check a bit longer. I guess it worked.

We made a stop at a truck-stop/ restaurant. It was sort of an interesting set up. There was a gas station and sandwich shop/ convenience store on one side of the highway, and on the other side, accessible via a tunnel below the highway, as another sandwich shop / store and a fuller restaurant. Well, our people swamped the store on the side of the hiway that we stopped at, so several of us took the tunnel and crossed over to the other side. It was the fastest service that we had ever received at one of these road-side stops... this was largely due to the fact that not many of the others followed our lead.

Mom and I got something to eat, and the walked a bit. I saw Regina and Annie on the other side of the hiway and waved them over. I stationed myself at the end of the tunnel, and as I heard them get closer, I sat on the steps and lit a small fire... a campfire boy. My small way of trying to make their trip a full one... to be sure that they saw everything that they wanted to see in Italy. Unfortunately Agnes missed it, as she had missed the under table confessions on the previous occasion. She made some comment about it, in that she felt she was missing all the good stuff. Oh well, she survived the disappointments.

We finally got to Rome. Our hotel was very nice, but it was also about 45 minutes from St. Peter's and the city proper. Oh well, that is how it goes when you are on a group trip that is trying to provide as nice accommodations as possible and keep the cost down.

We hurriedly unloaded the bus, checked in and then were to re-enter the buses and get going to the opening events of the Canonization weekend. We were given pilgrim kits... carry bags with a rosary, our pass pin, some prayer cards and other items celebrating the canonization. Some of the folks were tired and decided not to go to the opening ceremonies, staying in the hotel instead.

As we drove to St. Peter's the sights and buildings and "feel" of the city became more and more familiar. I was washed over with a sense of nostalgia for my college days here as well as the last time I was in Rome - with a group of Oblate priests on our return from the Holy Land. It felt really good to be back, and it felt good that it felt somewhat familiar.

We were let off the bus outside the plaza and directed toward the audience hall. The plaza was filled with people heading to the audience hall, there were thousands. As we entered the plaza I looked at St. Peter's, and there, hanging over the main doors was the image of Eugene. It sent a rush right through me, a sense of pride and wonder at it all. It was a huge banner. It was odd that it would have been unfurled at this time. It is traditional to have the newly names saints image on such a banner, but usually it is not unfurled until his actual canonization. The why of it was a curiosity, but the fact that he was there to watch us flowing in was also an added joy. I was excited to run into a number of other Oblates that I knew from Texas. It was good to hook up with them, laugh, share our experiences of our various trips, and just enjoying catching up and seeing one another.

We eventually made our way to the hall. The evenings ceremonies was a presentation by a group of young people from all over the world who offered various entertainments. They told the story for Eugene in mime, music, slides, song and dance. They presented dances and songs from the various countries represented by the pilgrims. It was a rather grand spectacle, and the people were in high spirits, excited, and the energy in the air was very palpable.

At about the half way point, Annie, mom and I, along with Frank Quezada ( a classmate of mine from Texas who was there with a group from Houston) went outside for smokes and toilet. While outside, we ran into Bishop Mike Pfiefer, I introduced him to my mom and Annie. We eventually made our way back to the hall, watched the rest of the program, and left for the buses. It was one of the very few times that there was not much problem in getting people on the bus or in the bus promptly.

On our way back to the hotel, Jenece and I talked about several options for touring the city, and changing our agenda so that we might get everything in that was promised and still provide for enough free time for the people to wander and shop. It was not an easy thing to figure, and we tried a number of options. We finally settled on a city tour that she and I would attempt to give, and that would leave the last day freer for other things. We would see.

During the time at the audience hall. I ran into Don McMahon, who is staying at the General House in Rome and so has access to some things that I did not. He provided me with a ticket that provided better seating than we were liable to get as a tour group. I was thankful for that. He indicated that it would get me rather close to the altar. We would see.


This was the big day. We left the hotel on time and got to St. Peter's by 8:30 that morning. And what we got into was mayhem and madness.... a typical Roman situation for these things. There were very tight crowds gathered at the entrance gates. No real lines, that is not a Roman thing, just a bunch of cattle grouped at the starting gates, with shoulders, knees and entire bodies pushing into our various body parts.

We were waiting for a mass that was not due to start until about 10:30 or so. I was dressed in cassock and Oblate cross (lots of comments from the others when I entered the hotel lobby dressed in that way... but it was to be expected). The guards finally let us in, quickly scanning us with metal detection wands, occasionally checking bags, etc. They were also supposed to check for tickets, but they did not look too hard for those, and it seemed that everyone and their mother was getting in - ticket or not - which really caused problems once we got inside.

The tickets were to provide us with assigned seating, but since so many had been let in without tickets, and so many were ignoring their seating, there was no real seating to be had. People were standing pressed against the barricades on either side of the main aisle, and they were more cattle-looking than ever... and mean cattle at that... the pushing, shoving, expletives (in a multitude of languages) continued as the people jockeyed for position. It was becoming obvious that very few were actually going to be able to see what was happening at the altar... and that was borne out in fact. Unfortunately, most of the Alaskans were in that number of folks who would not be able to see or sit.

My own seat was in a section reserved for the relatives of Eugene DeMazenod, and so it was place mainly populated by French people and clergy. There was supposed to have been a special Oblate section, but that looked very filled... and getting there would have been impossible. Frank was also in that section, only closer to the main altar, and he managed to find me a seat next to him, which I promptly accepted. My jacket, with the Alaska patch on it, was of great interest to many of the French people who asked me about Alaska and pointed me out to their children.

Whenever Frank and I get together there is usually a lot of talking and laughing, and this time was not much of an exception, and one of the old ladies in our section shushed us several times. We finally quieted down and paid attention to the mass.

It was the first time I had seen the pope in anything but white or gold. He was wearing the Advent purple. He looked rather frail, and as he moved around the altar he had to hold on to it to steady himself, and his voice was a bit shaky. His 75 years and recent health problems were really showing their wear on him.

After the opening rites, the canonization ritual began with a reading of the biography of Eugene, the Litany of Saints, the declaration of Sainthood, applause, presentation of the bust of Eugene and several other gifts, and a final prayer and then continue with mass. It was really a rather simple ceremony, all the more elegant for its simplicity. Although it was in a language I did not comprehend, there were enough clues as to what was going on that I could follow. At the declaration of Eugene's sainthood, there was a chill up and down my spine. I never expected that, and it was very moving and joyful. Joining with the applause of the people, I found myself acting more out of thankfulness that was deep and real more than simply going along with the crowd. The mass became an even greater occasion for thanksgivng than usual. Included among the people who made presentations of gifts included the man from Mexico whose miracle was the last authenticated one in the cause of Eugene. That was moving as well.

The departure from the Basilica was as big a mess as was getting in. And I could not believe the amount of people in the plaza, it was almost enough to rival the gatherings at Christmas and Easter. People were gathering around in order to pray the Angelus with the pope, receive his Sunday message and blessing. I managed to get a spot that provided a pretty good view of the Pope. My mom and some of the other Alaskans were with me, and it was their first real view of the pope that day. Though he was high above us in a distant window... at least they caught a glimpse of him... even if he did look about the size of a Barbie doll. I felt so bad for them, they had spent the last three hours standing and being pushed on, and unable to see anything.... geez, it seemed so unfair and disappointing. The pope said something to the effect that this was the largest crowd in modern times to gather for a canonization... apparently there were some 10,000 people who had come from various Oblate areas to attend this. It was more than initially thought would be in attendance.

I ran into Don again, and he gave me a ticket that he assured me was front row for the audience the next day. I was hopeful. After all that, we wandered around a bit more, and I ran into Gene Canas... my provincial from Texas. I introduced him to my daughters. He was surprised to see me in cassock, remarking that he did not even know I owned one. I pointed out that it had been a gift from my daughters for the previous Oblate day.

The crowd was unbelievable on through the main exit of the plaza, so I lead my little group down some side streets. We had a bit of rain, but not too bad. We made an attempt to get back into St. Peter's in order to see the place, but it was closed as they were cleaning up after the celebration we had just left.

So, we made our way back to where the bus was to pick us up. We got some food from the street vendors. There, it was discovered that Mike Moran (from Ketchikan) who had left the mass to tour some of the Piazzas with Jenece had had his pockets picked by a gang of young people. They got his passport, some credit cards and some money. They had just come from making arrangements to get a new passport as well as calling and canceling his credit cards. What a mess.

Jenece and I then attempted our city tour. Sort of a disaster. I knew what quite a few things were, but I was not all that informed about the history or the type of information that might have been of interest to the people.

We did make it to Piazza Navona (the same Piazza where Mike had encountered the pickpockets) and their famous fountains. The piazza was filled with stalls of people selling Christmas goods. It was a rather festive look to the place. Given the experience of Mike, no one was really in the mood for scattering out, and they stuck together pretty well. With the help of a guidebook, I tried to tell them about the various fountains (especially the magnificent Fountain of Four Rivers) and buildings and to lead them to some other sites, which ended up being sights of no importance at all. Within the plaza is the church of St. Agnes in Agony... which seemed appropriate for our own Agnes. I think that there were some pictures were taken of her outside the church... though it was locked and did not allow entrance.

We then got back on the bus and were dropped off at a street that was to lead to the Spanish Steps. Me and the bus driver tried to find the Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain and the Piazza Venetia on the map so I could lead them to those sights. I thought I had it pretty well in my head, and he gave me his phone card and # so that I could call him when we arrived at the Piazza. We got to the Spanish steps without problem, looked around there a bit, watched the street vendors, took some photos, etc. While they were doing that, I was getting my bearings on the map and preparing to lead us to Trevi Fountain. These are things I had been to a number of times on foot, but all of a sudden, having a group of people dependent on me, it became a far more frightening affair.

We threw our coins into the Trevi, took some photos, and then I asked directions to the Venice Plaza. Got three different sets of directions. Finally I handed the whole thing to Jenece to let her lead. She did, and we got to the place, but only after one false stop (which I knew was not the plaza, but thought that she was going to tell us something interesting about it.... she wasn't, she was just lost. We got there, and found our bus... which had been waiting for us for about an hour. They were deep in prayer - maintaining peace and praying for our safe return. Good for them.

Well, my stint as tour director really made me feel bad, I felt I had really messed that one up, and that the tour was rather disappointing. I remained very quiet on our return trip to the hotel... just feeling the dart-like glaring of the folks in the bus piercing my back. All I wanted to do was get to the hotel and go hide in my room.... a drink would not hurt either.

When I got there, Jenece asked if I would walk with her to what she heard was a shopping area not too far from the hotel so that she could buy some water. That was a nice breather, and we walked, looked at the stores, and finally found a bar that was selling water. Unfortunately it was bubbly, but it was cheaper than what we were getting at the hotels. Water (that you felt safe drinking) as well as wine were not provided with our meals throughout Europe. You had to buy it from the stewards... and they had quite a mark-up on the stuff. So, people bought their bottles of water along the way, when they remembered.


Today was rather full. After the canonization experience, everyone agreed that we should get to St. Peter's early... several hours early. And we did. We got there at 9 a.m. for an audience that was not due to start until either 11 or 12... no one was real sure. Well, we stood in line until about 11:15 before the Swiss guard let us start filing in and going through the search process again. It was the same sort of mess that we had experience the day before. Today the people were a bit more aggressive.... booing and hollering at groups that tried to force their way towards the front of the group. The guards were also helpful in sending people back. Of course, the weather decided to be the coldest day we had experienced throughout the trip... why not. While waiting, I was able to see a number of other Oblates that I knew, and met some others.

They finally did let us in, and after some disagreements with the ushers, I was let into a section quite close to the stage area... about 5 rows back really, and again it was with the DeMazenod relations. Some recognized me and my jacket from the day before.

I later found out that my ticket was supposed to have placed me in the very front row. But finding out such things afterwards, is not real helpful. I also later discovered that I was only one person away from having been allowed to go up and shake the hand of the pope as well as receive his blessing. Oh well, such things do tend to pass me by. I will admit to being rather disappointed after finding it out, but there was not much to be done about it.

The audience hall was full, but at least everyone had a seat. All eyes kept going to the back of the hall where we expected the pope to process down from. But he fooled us all, and walked right on to the stage area from a side door. The time between getting in and his actual appearance was filled with a band that was playing some rather fun music, chantings from various national groups, some choirs, etc. It was all rather festive.

The excitement mounted in the air, and when he did finally step on stage, the applause was tremendous. He gave a talk to us, reading it from a prepared text and moving from language to language... really quite incredible I thought. On stage with him were more than 30 Oblate bishops from around the world. He eventually finished his talk, blessed the sick, shook hands with those who had that privilege (including another friend of mine, who happened to be in the right place at the right time) and then it was typical Roman madness in exiting.

After grabbing some pizza and a coke from one of the vendors on the street, we got back on the bus and were taken to the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Wall. There we were to have a mass of Thanksgiving. They were setting up chairs as we arrived, and there was a lot to see and look at in the basilica. I left the group and went to the sacristy to get ready for mass. The Superior General gave all those who were concelebrating a stole with the Oblate Cross on it. The sacristy was a small room... not really a sacristy as much as a closet, and it was very tight quarters. I got into my alb and put on my stole, and then joined a number of the guys from Texas. It was fun, and we had some laughs as we waited for the procession to start.

This was the largest gathering of Oblates in our history. Some 800 Oblate priests from around the world. It really felt powerful. The church was full of the pilgrims from around the world... and everyone had a seat. The entrance procession took over 20 minutes as we all filed in, 2 by 2, one priest after another.

I was able to see mom and some of the others in their seats as we processed up. We priests were placed on benches set up on the altar, which gave us no view at all of the proceedings on the altar. There was an offertory procession conducted by some Africans, with chanting, drumming and some sort of yell-like calling back and forth. I am told it was fascinating... my seat provided no view of it at all.

There were 6 Oblate bishops who were going to each give a 5 minute homily. They were in various languages, and all except one of them kept to the 5 minutes (surprisingly) except of course the English speaker. Oh well, it was painless enough. Being caught up in the emotion of being with so many other brothers and just the whole spirit of the event made the entire thing pass rather quickly. I do remember the Superior General in his closing remarks calling us to being first humane if we were going to be truly Christian. Another highlight was the music... it was a mass composed for the event by Vaugn Fayle, a South African Oblate who does some teaching at the seminary in San Antonio, and someone I consider a friend. It was really beautiful.

I did not fully trust the room where we left our bags and stuff, there just seemed to be too many people going in and out, and it just seemed too open to whoever wanted to be in there. I was carrying a lot of money in my shoulder bag.... the money collected as tips for the driver, Jenece and tour guide, as well as my own. For that reason I decided to leave my big bag there, but not my little money pouch. I crammed all the money into that small pouch, but when I hung it on my neck or strapped it around my waist, it stuck out too much... made a really ugly bulge. So, since my pants were sort of baggy, I tied the strap to my belt and dropped the bag into my pants. That seemed to work all right, except that it was a canvas like material, and it scratched like heck. Every step I took, the bag rubbed against the inside of my leg, and by the time we got to our seats behind the altar, I felt rubbed raw, and with the heat of the vestments, the uncomfortable seats, and all that, it just seemed to get worse. It is amazing how much I must move when I am sitting on a bench, because the rubbing just continued throughout the mass. Finally, toward the end of mass... during communion time, we were told that we would be processing out the rear, so no big to-do down the main aisle or anything like that. Since that was going to be the case, I decided that I could get away with a bulge and relieve the pain in my pants.

I tried to be discreet in pulling it out, and tried to not make too much of a scene about it all, so I slipped one hand under my alb and tried to untie the strap from my belt so that I could pull the pouch out. Well, I tried to look casual as I was doing it, but there was a lot of activity under my alb, and try as I might to be decreet about it, it drew some attention from one of the older Oblates behind and to the side of me. I noticed that he was looking at me with a rather surprised and curious expression on his face. I am sure it looked bad... one hand under my alb, all sorts of activity going on under there as I struggled with untying a couple of knots with one hand and no looking. I can only guess what he must have been thinking... and I am sure it did not help matters that after I got the knot undone, I reached in and clearly pulled something out from my pants, though not out from under my robe... and the look of relief on my face could only have made matters worse. Oh well, whatever he was thinking, I am sure it only added to the occasion for him... I hope. I told that story to the ladies at after-dinner cocktails, and I thought that Jenece was going to die, the way she rolled on the floor with laughter as I told it. It made for some fun discussions.

After mass, with the admonitions of the General in our ears, we fought and clawed our way into the sacristy. It was un-real. 800 priests trying to get in a room built for 20 all at the same time a bunch of them were trying to get out. It was a mess. I sort of just stood still and let the crowds carry me forward, inch by inch. After getting in, and trying to make my way out, someone finally took the initiative and started directing traffic... that made things move little more easily. It was unreal. But no one was getting too upset about it all, in fact there was a real good humor about it all, and the guys were all laughing at the ridiculous situation and the mess we were making of ourselves.

Many people remarked that this mass was the true hilight of the whole three days. That they sensed a power and energy and sense of brotherhood there that really made the whole thing very, very special. In many ways I concur.

Then it was onto a bus reserved for the priests from our tour group. This bus was going to carry us to the General House for a reception for the Oblates. The others went back to the hotel for dinner.

I was really touched the day before because I thought that transportation would not be provided back from the reception. We were told that they could get us there by bus, but that we would have to catch a cab back.... that would be about an $80.00 cab trip. Well, several of the Alaskans got together and collected that amount of money for me to take that cab. I was deeply touched, and tried to give it back... I could well afford the cab... but they insisted. They really are a wonderful group of people, who spoil me beyond anything I deserve.

We got to the General House and were told that a bus would also pick us up... that was a nice surprise. I went into the reception, and it was packed. The House is not really built for that many people. I made a small visit to the chapel, introduced myself to the Superior General and then went to the gift shop... with everyone else... to buy a number of Eugene souvenirs. I walked out of there with about 350.00 worth of stuff... including busts, rosaries, keychains, medals, Madonnas, holy cards, etc. It is one of the very few places where such things are available, and I wanted to get some gifts for people. This was my one major souvenir purchase.

I then wandered through the crowds, in and out of the dining rooms, grabbing whatever food was there, drinking wine, talking with old friends and new acquaintances, it was wonderful... a crowded but also very nice time. It was so crowded at times, that rather than fight my way to the food tables, I often just grabbed it off the carts as those preparing the food wheeled it from the kitchen to the various dining areas.... it was not all meant to be finger food, but using cheese slices as tortillas, it is amazing what you can eat with your hands.

It was just so good to be with so many who share a common life... across the world. Incredible, and a real sense of Oblate pride. I spent a large amount of time talking to Ray John.. A priest friend from New Orleans... who was there on his own, and not as part of a pilgrimage group... smart man. We walked through the gardens and talked about how things were going, and just enjoying one anothers company. The bus picked us up at the appointed time, and we made our way back to the hotel. It was a full, exciting and wearing day. One I will not soon forget.


We all got on our buses early in the morning and made our way to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. The largest and oldest church dedicated to the Blessed Mother. It houses a number of important art works and relics, including pieces of the manger in which Jesus was said to have been born. We were there for mass. I was not real excited about it, and spent my time walking around the interior of the church with Jenece and telling her about various things in the basilica and explaining some of the Catholic symbols and such. It was pleasant enough. The mass was supposed to have been a brief one, but the rector of the Basilica, a man with an English accent, decided that he needed to talk about a half hour or so after mass on the connections between St. Eugene and this basilica and Mary. I did not pay him much heed and continued my tour with Jenece.

After mass we took a group photo that were later sold to us at dinner. That was a feat in itself... rounding everyone up and trying to get them posed,,,, bu it was sort of fun as well. After that, we had some choices to make. They were going to provide the city tour that we had missed the day before, others could be left off to wander, and several pick up times were arranged. Me, mom, Regina, Annie, Agnes and Purita decided to do our own thing. We got left off at St. Peter's and decided to walk to the Vatican Museum. The bus was heading there, but the traffice was so bad that we beat them there. The reason for the traffic problem was that there was a threatened public transportation strike scheduled for that afternoon, so those who normally took the bus or train were driving... it really made traveling quite a slow thing. The strike did indeed take place, lasted about 2 hours and what had started at 1:00 was over by 3:00.

As we walked along the outer walls of Vatican City, making our way to the museum, we stopped and bought some chestnuts, sodas, and just seemed to be enjoying the fact that we were sort of free. There was one point where some beggars intercepted Annie who was in the front of our line, and was being quite aggressive with her. I think that they were trying to steal or pick our pockets. I became aggressive as well, and grabbed one gypsy's hand and moved it out of the way, telling them to leave us alone.... she clawed at me and then they moved out of the way. It was sort of an interesting encounter... poor Annie was a bit frazzled by it all. But, it added some excitement to our trip... and this time Agnes was there to be part of it all.

We got to the museum and made what was for Annie's hips, a rather torturous climb up the winding stairway to the museum proper.

We were going through rather quickly, taking some time to look at some of the exhibits but mainly interested in getting to the Sistine Chapel. Too bad we felt somewhat pressed for time, there is so much there that we did not see. We got to the chapel, after making some observations and remarks about the many nude statues all around us. In the chapel, our whole group grew rather silent and simply stared... what else can a person do.. Though I had been there a number of times before, this was the first time I had seen it since its full restoration... and it was incredible. Such a difference in the colors, and the whole look and feel of the place was so different from the very first time I had seen it... before restoration started. The contrast between the now vibrant colors and the muted, dirtied colors of my first visit was quite striking.

After some 20 minutes or so of staring, we then tried to find our way to the Raphael exhibit. Well we wandered and wandered, back tracking going here and there, trying to find our way via the rather confusing and misleading signs. Finally, we gave up and asked a guard how to get there. He informed us that it was closed for restoration......OHHHHHH.

The museum closes fairly early in the afternoon (2:00 I think) , so we had very little time left after that fruitless search. So we went to the gift shop, where I made a few Christmas purchases as well as a couple of T shirts (got to keep my wardrobe constantly updated).

We then walked back to St. Peter's to finally see it. We got to see the Pieta, rub St. Peter's foot, saw the tombs of St. Peter and the many other popes buried under the altar... and visited quite a number of the side chapels and altars.

It was an awesome experience. I think it was all a bit too much for the ladies, including my mother. There is a certain numbing of the mind that comes with being so inundated by so much, and I think we were all suffering from that numbness.

After an hour or more, we decided to go find a restaurant, which we did. We sat down to a meal, did some talking, and then slowly made our way to the bus rendezvous point.... stopping in various shops, looking, occasionally buying, and just enjoying our last few hours in Rome. I felt it was important that I provide as full a Roman experience as possible for the daughters, and there was one thing still missing. As we waited for the bus to come and pick us up, I pinched both Agnes and Annie. They made the appropriate squealing noises, hearts palpitating quite quickly and a smile creeping across their faces... their trip was now complete... they could go home fulfilled. It was a task worthy of a chaplain, and I was happy to have been able to help.

That night we had a good meal, too much wine, and lots of laughs. It was coming to an end, tomorrow would be spent in airports and planes.... there was a certain sense of being glad it was coming to an end mixed with a sense of "all ready?". People exchanged addresses, talked about hi-lights and generally enjoyed one another.

The next day was traveling. We boarded the buses, got to the airport, checked in and boarded the plane. Wouldn't you know that I ended up with Daisy on that first leg of the journey to London? Some of the PMS group noticed it, and laughed. I tried to go to sleep, hoping that she would not bother me too much. She made some initial inane comments, claiming, when asked where she was from, that she was from heaven, that her folks had disappeared, and all that sort of nonsense. I kept my eyes closed for most of the trip. As we were taxiing into the airport at London, she thanked me for sitting next to her and told me how blessed she was for having shared that section with me. I told her that I was the lucky one, and that I hoped we could share that sort of experience again. Well, I thought that was a fairly safe thing to say, that the odds against our being seated next to each other from London to Rome were at best remote...... God has a way of putting me in my place.

In the London airport, I did not notice it on the way to Europe (probably because I spent all my time in the small section reserved for smokers), but the thing is literally a shopping mall in there. Remy had not given up on acquiring a Gucci product, and so she spent a lot of time shopping... it seemed everyone did... all sorts of stuff was available , from clothing to food-stuffs. There was even a McDonalds there... and I am sure, though I don't know it as fact, that Remy must have made a stop there. I bought some chocolate mice for my secretary in Alaska (because she can't stand mice) and some shortbread cookies for Mike Foster (I sent them with Regina) and some chocolates for the ladies I was with... more than they needed, but that was the point. I just could not believe the amount of things available... in an airport no less.

Unlike the trip to Europe, the plane seemed to be a bit more full on the way back. Again, I was not in the smoking section, and I was not so fortunate to get a three seat row to myself... instead I found myself in the middle seat of a row of three... mom on one side of me, and Daisy on the other side. I mean what are the odds of that sort of thing happening? Well, they happened.

While on the ground, before taking off, I was busily searching out other seats. I spied a row with only one person in it, and the minute the seat belt lights went out, I practically jumped over my mother to get there... telling Daisy that it would be more comfortable for all of us if I were to move.... at least it would be more comfortable for me.

We had gotten into Seattle about 4:30 or so on Wednesday evening, after some 9 hours or so in the plane. I got some sleep in the plane, not a whole lot, but enough to keep me with some energy. The time difference kept us in daylight the entire journey home, and that helped to extend the day, and it made it seem less long than the journey to Europe, so I guess that there is something good to that...

Anyway, there were no problems getting through customs or anything like that. We were pretty much simply ushered through.... at least the group I was with, thank God.

We met outside the luggage compartment, changed whatever lira we had left, and then went to get our transport to the hotel. It was sort of a keystone cops little jaunt..... having all the luggage piled on just a couple of carts and then trying to get through the elevator. We got stuck getting out at one point..... the cart wheels getting stuck, the luggage falling off, the doors trying to close, we through the luggage out and then pulled the carts through, laughed a lot about it all and then made our way to the bus stop... after resettling out luggage.

We took the short trip to the hotel and checked in. The check in man was sort of laughing to see us back, he remembered us from two weeks prior and made some mention that I had lost quite a few of my women.

We went to supper at the nearby restaurant and I ate more than I should have, and a lot more protein than was good for me.... and too much fat than was good for me. We had a drink with dinner, which was not the best of things considering the fact that we were already tired (even over-tired). Mom ate some of her food and then left for bed, me, Annie, Agnes and Regina went on over to the accompanying bar and ordered a single drink. Agnes was anxious to have one. All but Agnes ordered a rather short drink.... she had her long island tea. We were all done pretty quickly, and had to sit around watching Agnes drink her drink which was not going too quickly because she kept talking and not drinking. It was crazy. Finally, Regina and Annie convinced her to shut up and drink her drink..... and when she did we went back to the hotel to get back to sleep. At the elevator doors I was saying good night and goodbye to the ladies. I hugged Annie and said goodbye, both she and Regina handed me an envelope each. After hugging her, Annie went quickly into the elevator and was crying. Regina was watering in her eyes, and she too left. I then told Agnes goodnight and went to my room. I tried to watch some TV... it was still early in the night, but finally shut everything off at 9:30 that night and went to bed. Regina declared that we would all need to check in for alcohol treatment once we got back to our respective homes.

I woke up at about midnight and went back to bed, woke again at 1:30 and went back to sleep, woke again about 2:30 and tried to get back to sleep, but could not. I stayed up and watched some TV, though there was not much at all to watch. Finally got out of bed and showered about 4:00 or so and then walked on down the street to get some diet coke and walk back to the hotel. I laid around the room, watching some television and finally getting out of the hotel room about 5:30 that morning. Mom was in the lobby waiting for me. We talked for a few minutes, with tears in my eyes I told her goodbye and that I loved her, and left her. Oh well, it was the longest time we had spent together in many years, and it was good and fun.

There was some delay in taking off due to fog, we were slowed down thanks to head winds, and the landing was delayed a few minutes because of the ice and snow. The plane was not packed at all, there were entire rows of three seats available to all on the plane, and so it was not too unpleasant. The sky was clear enough that I was able to sit near the window and watch the mountains and islands pass by. That was good.

What a trip. I will never go as a chaplain on another pilgrimage tour like that again. Especially with such a big group, but it was definitely worth doing once. Eugene is now a saint, and as I begin my new pastorate here at St. Paul's, I am invoking his help almost daily.