Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Two Baptisteries: Pisa and Siena

Tuesday morning greetings from Siena.

Yesterday traveled to Pisa.It is a huge tourist destination, more so than anywhere on this trip thus far.

Here is a video showing the two doors; of the baptistery and of the cathedral. This would have been the journey taken by the newly baptized from the baptistery to the church.

The baptistery itself is a "must see" for anyone interested in baptisteries. It is enormous. There is a gallery about half way up that affords a great view of the font, ambo, and floor below.

Every half hour, a local tour guide stands next to the font and begins to sing. The reverberation in the space is quite long, so the guide sings different pitches, which linger to form chords. Here you go:

I am still trying to decide, of all the baptisteries I have seen here in the last ten days, which is my favorite. And the baptistery here in Siena is certainly in contention for number one.

The frescoes on the ceiling are a major reason why. There are twelve sections, each depicting an article of faith expressed in the creed.

And if one looks closely enough, one can see that in each scene there is a person in a white garment, kneeling, and examining the scene, gazing at the article of faith expressed in the art. And there is written, like one of those "balloons" in comic strips, next to the mouth of the kneeling figure in white, one word: "CREDO." It was stunning.

Another view:

It is difficult to leave Siena. Last night, this was the view from the table outside at a cafe along the Piazza del Campo.

Next stop: Ravenna. Again, this is a place I have looked forward to visiting for many years. There are two significant baptisteries there; one is an Arian baptistery.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Baptismal Pilgrimage Continues: Siena, Pistoia, Lucca

Monday greetings from Siena, Italy. Arrived here on Saturday. What a treasure Siena is! Holding off touring the immense baptistery here and more Catholic sites until later today and tomorrow morning, before leaving for the East Coast, Ravenna.

So much to share this morning. I have had my heart set on visiting Siena for many years and this is like a dream come true. Happened upon a wonderful concert in the Duomo on Saturday evening. The concert was dedicated to Saint Catherine (of Siena), patroness of Italy and of all of Europe.

Went to early morning Mass at 8:00 yesterday at the Duomo here. This cathedral is indescribably beautiful, inside and out. Unfortunately, there was no music at this early Mass and there were perhaps forty of us filling this enormous space. Not sure if this is their custom here, especially with handling tourist crowds, but the priest consecrated one host and we all received communion from a ciborium he retrieved from the tabernacle.

After Mass, headed north to Pistoia and Lucca, to visit two important baptism spaces. Pistoia, a not-so-well-known treasure, has a large piazza in front of the cathedral. Directly across from the front doors, at about 200 feet, is the door to the free standing baptistery.

This placement I see as a theological statement. In order to "get in" the doors of the church, one must first "go through" the baptistery. Open the main door after baptism and head directly into the cathedral.

Stopped by a neighboring church and captured this video at the end of Mass:

In Lucca, the Duomo of San Giovanni has archaeological excavations that reveal three layers of usage of various buildings, dating back to 200 B.C.

There is one baptism font from the Middle Ages, but beneath it, in two other layers, are two additional fonts, the original dating from the 4th or 5th century.

For a "baptism geek" like me, yesterday was exhilarating. This "vacation" has really been a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage "without" to Italy and a pilgrimage "within," to a renewed sense of the gift of my own baptism and my own connection to millions of Christians who were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Treasure in Albenga

Early Saturday morning greetings from Nervi, a small seaside town on the eastern end of Genoa. Sitting here as a gentle rain falls, with a breeze coming off the Ligurian Sea a few hundred meters from the window.

Yesterday, after leaving the mountains, traveled through Piemonte region and to the region of Liguria. I have had my heart set on visiting the baptistery and font at Albenga. The font itself is what remains of a 5th century octagonal baptism font; the octagonal building which surround it is a restoration done in the 19th century. Curiously, photographs inside are forbidden. So, I took this video outside of the baptistery and at the end you can peek inside. Sshhhh! Don't tell the woman inside!

This little town, hardly on anyone's tourist map, is the quintessential Italian seaside town; narrow streets with shops and cafes all along. The cathedral and its baptistery are set in a beautiful piazza.

After spending time in Albenga, drove here to Nervi. Next it off to Siena, where baptisteries and fonts will be visited in Pisa, Lucca, Pistoia, and perhaps some undiscovered locations in Tuscany.

There is one photo I want to leave you with this morning. Using an extension rod with the camera fastened to it, I was able to get this photograph from the very center of the baptism font in Parma, with the camera directed to the ceiling. This was the view that a newly baptized person would have seen had that person looked straight up when coming out of the waters of baptism.


The 2014 pilgrimage is beginning to take shape in my mind. When I return to Chicago, I will contacting the Catholic pilgrimage company to begin our discussions.

I hope you have enjoyed these photos and videos.

Hoping to get to Mass at least twice this weekend. Hopefully I will have photos and videos to share.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Courmayeur, Chamonix, and Mont Blanc: Hand Painted by God!

Thursday greetings from the mountain village of Courmayeur, Italy, which is in the extreme northwestern part of Italy. I am taking a few days away from the cities and the fonts and baptisteries to explore an area to which I have dreamed of traveling for many years. I have been amazed at how close in distance these very diverse and beautiful places are in northern Italy. Yesterday morning I was in Isola d'Asti, near the city of Asti in the Piemonte region of Italy. It is there that the Barbera wines are produced. I asked the waiter at the restaurant for the specialties of the region and was told that they had a very special regional ravioli in that area. I had to ask him to repeat the specialty. And I did not hear correctly the first time when I thought I heard him say "duck ravioli." No, he was actually saying that the regional specialty was "donkey ravioli." Always the daring type, I tried it. It actually tasted quite good, but eventually I just had to stop eating it because I just couldn't get the image of a smiling donkey out of my mind!

Travels brought me from Isola d'Asti, through Torino, which is an immense metropolitan area, here to the Valle d'Aosta. which is the region where Pope Benedict XVI spent his summer vacations. And I can see why. The scenery is extraordinary here. Some photos of the area. A view from the village of Courmayeur.

Today, I was privileged to drive through a tunnel built through Mont Blanc. It is about seven miles long. The engineering feats throughout this region are phenomenal. The tunnel connects Courmayeur, Italy, with Chamonix, France. Some of the finest skiing in the world is found here. Mont Blanc, of course, is the reason why. It is the highest mountain in the Alps and the highest in the European Union. It ranks as the 11th highest mountain in the world. Usually, there is a way to travel via gondolas from Courmayeur to Chamonix, but that route has been closed and will not re-open until 2015. So today's route was to drive through the tunnel and take the Aiguille du Midi cable car to the closest spot near the summit of Mont Blanc. 

Folks, the day today was absolutely crystal clear; not a cloud to be seen. And once at the summit, I had to stay for at least an hour and a half. Although the air was very thin at over 12,000 feet, I couldn't help myself; the views were amazing.

That little triangular peak just to the right of the largest peak in the above photo is the "other side" of the Matterhorn in Switzerland.

Here's a short video. It's really not possible to capture the grandeur. My carpool colleagues will testify to the fact that there was no way that I could not think that on this day, "Jerry, this landscape was hand painted by God for you today!"

Tomorrow, it is back to the "work" of this vacation. Traveling to an area near Genoa, where I hope to find a baptistery in Albenga, along the Ligurian coast. After that, it's Siena (home base for exploring baptisteries and fonts in Pisa, Lucca, and Pistoia), then Ravenna, then Udine.

I hope you know how very blessed I am feeling right now. Growing up, I never dreamed that I would ever see the things I have seen in the past six days. My heart is overflowing with gratitude to God, whose grace is more than I could ever deserve.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Magnificent Detour

Tuesday evening greetings from Isola d'Asti, here in northwest Italy.

Decided late last night to take a little detour on the way here from Modena. Late this morning I arrived in Milan; just couldn't resist the opportunity to visit one of the most significant baptism sites on the planet: the archaeological site unearthed in 1961-62 during a construction project beneath the piazza in front of the cathedral in Milan. Here was discovered the fourth century font in which Saint Ambrose baptized Saint Augustine. Here are some photos of the wonderfully designed site, much improved since the last time I was here.

The photo above shows some of the elaborate system for filling the large octagonal font, which you can see in the back.

And here is a shot of the font itself.

Friends, as I stood in this holy space, I couldn't help but think of the hundreds of workshops and presentations I have given that quote the mystagogical homilies of Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine. To be standing in this place today brought tears of gratitude and wonder to my eyes. Here's one more angle, where you can really see the octagonal shape, the symbol of the eighth day.

What an amazing day; I feel so blessed to be able to visit these sites and, hopefully, to lead others here next year.

Finally, a quick video I took out in the piazza, truly one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces on earth.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Verona and Baptistery in Parma

Monday morning greetings from Modena, here in northern Italy.

Arrived here in Europe early Friday morning and have since stayed in Merano and Verona. Yesterday, I attended Mass in Latin at the beautiful Duomo (cathedral) in Verona, then arrived here in Modena. The duomo in Verona is spectacular; just happened to be novus ordo Mass in Latin at 9:30.

Here is the Duomo's courtyard and chancery grounds before Mass:

The men's choir sang the Gloria, as we all sat, at Mass:

And yesterday afternoon I began in earnest the work I have planned for this vacation: to scope out baptisteries and fonts in the hopes of leading a pilgrimage here in late 2014. The freestanding baptistery at Parma is a magnificent building, with an interior that will take your breath away. Imagine emerging from the waters of this octagonal font and looking up and around you, just seconds after having become an adopted child of God:

That's it for now so much more to share, but I need to get moving: Bologna and Cremona today. Feelin very blessed to be here.

Gotta sing Gotta Pray.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Planning for a Pilgrimage: Italy-bound

Wednesday afternoon greetings from a very rainy and stormy Chicago.

For the past several years, I have been privileged to lead the music for two annual retreats of U.S. Army Chaplains, one here in the United States and another in Europe. I was scheduled to be in Germany over the next few weeks for the retreat but the funding for this retreat was rescinded and so the it will not be taking place. As part of my trip to Europe, I had planned to spend ten days in northern Italy on vacation. Well, that vacation has been extended now because the retreat is not happening. I feel very blessed right now.

Several years ago, I helped lead a pilgrimage through Italy that was sponsored by the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. We visited fonts and baptisteries in Florence, Milan, Padua, Trieste, Grado, Aquileia, and Rome. I have been wanting to lead another pilgrimage that would expand into other cities, seeing other significant baptisteries and fonts. So for the next two weeks, I will be scoping out baptisteries in the cities of Verona, Ravenna, Parma, Bologna, Pisa, Lucca, Pistoia, and the areas around Udine.

My hope is to be able to lead a pilgrimage to Italy in November, 2014. It will focus on major baptism sites and will be an opportunity for pilgrims to reflect deeply on the meaning of baptism as we explore the riches of the art and architecture that has been created to honor this sacrament of initiation.

I plan to take you along with me in the next few weeks as I travel throughout the various areas. I will post photos and my own commentary. Many of you have told me that you enjoy visiting these kinds of places, virtually, through this blog.

Once I return, I will be speaking with the Catholic travel agency I would like to work with, iron out the plan, and then begin sharing details.

Please pray for the safety of travelers in the coming days.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Tragedy: The Prayer of "Why?"

On the same day for seven years, beginning on Patriot's Day of 1977 through Patriot's Day of 1983, I stood with my fellow seminarians, seminary professors, chancery workers, priests, and bishops on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston's Brighton neighborhood. We stood in front of the then "Carindal's Residence," watching and cheering on the thousands of runners in Boston's annual marathon. Some days were cold and rainy; others cool and sunny. We stood for hours, encouraging those who had trained long and hard for this significant day in their lives.

What transpired yesterday in Boston was simply unfathomable to me, as it is for so many others. The pride the people of Boston take in staging this annual event is so evident from the moment the race steps off in Hopkinton to the finish line in downtown Boston. My heart ached yesterday for those killed, their loved ones, and the scores injured. As with so many tragedies, we are left with the question, "Why?"

Most of us will never experience the murder of someone we love. It is difficult enough to live through the grief that accompanies the sudden death of a loved one through a car accident, a heart attack, or stroke. And it is as difficult to move through the grief when a loved one dies after a long struggle with a debilitating disease. I just can't imagine what these families are going through at this time of tragic and unexplained terror.

On September 11, 2001, the employees of the J.S. Paluch Company and World Library Publications gathered for prayer just a few hours after the tragic events of that day. I wrote a prayer that grew out of my own sadness, anguish, despair, and anger. It is sad that I have to turn to that prayer again today.

O God of mercy and forgiveness,
we stand before you in pain, in fear, and in grief.
We know you desire good for your people,
which is why we are stunned when we face terror of today's magnitude.
We cry out to you with the word that we share with one another:

In our fear and doubt, we still turn to you,
O God, and ask your presence.

Welcome those who were killed today
into your loving embrace.
Give them eternal peace.

Comfort the families of those who lost loved ones.
Give them strength.

Be with those who have suffered pain.
Heal them.

Guide those who care for the injured.
Be their strength.

Lead our country through this grief.
Comfort us.

Bring justice to those responsible for this terror.

And Almighty God,
we pray that you do not abandon your people
in their time of need.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Praying for Boston

Praying for everyone affected by the senseless acts in Boston today. My family is safe and sound.

A Sad Sunday

Monday greetings from the home office here in Franklin Park.

This was a wonderful family weekend for me. My sister and brother-in-law were in town from Boston and on Friday, they surprised me with a visit from their daughter, my niece from Atlanta.

As Sunday morning approached, however, I could feel myself getting more and more tense. You see, yesterday morning my parish, Saint James, had scheduled a time of farewell for our shuttered church building. The week before, in our parish bulletin, a notice from the Archdiocese of Chicago appeared. In part:

11. Considering that the Code of Canon Law, as legislated in canon 1222 §1, provides that if there are grave causes which render a certain church impossible for use for divine worship, the diocesan bishop may relegate it to profane but not sordid use; and

12. Considering that the Presbyteral Council has been updated about this; I, the Rev. Msgr. John Canary, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Chicago,in the name of the Archbishop of Chicago,


That in accord with the norm of canon 1222 § 1, the ecclesiastical structure which is the church edifice of St. James, located on the west side of the 2900 block of South Wabash Avenue in the City of Chicago, is recognized as being relegated to profane, non sordid use, and further that it is to be demolished.

The Rev. Msgr. John Canary
Vicar General

Jimmy M. Lago

The farewell was publicized in the bulletin for several weeks. The church's main doors were to be open before and between Masses and the parish received permission from the Archdiocese to have a small portion of the vestibule available for people to walk in, take a last look, pray, and grieve for this beloved edifice. A ceremony of farewell, with a closing of the doors, was scheduled at 1:00 P.M.

My own nervousness arose from my intuitive sense that somehow all of this would end up being not the prayerful farewell that was envisioned by the liturgy committee, but a tension-filled several hours for our parish, with those who want to save the building from demolition somehow interfering with the planned moments of prayer and reflection.

Sad to say, I just did not want to pull my family members into any kind of stressful or sad moment. So we all got up early and walked to Old Saint Pat's, a few blocks from where I live. Of course, my thoughts were twenty-nine blocks south. And during Mass I prayed for Saint James.

Late last night, I received, via e-mail, some photos of the farewell ceremony, as well as e-mails that were quite sad, e-mails that described what occurred yesterday before and between Masses. What I suspected would occur apparently did occur. So, I was glad that I didn't bring my family members to Saint James yesterday. And this saddens me very deeply. I have been so proud to say that I am a member of Saint James Parish and when I have brought family members and visitors there in the past, even in our old hall where we currently worship, they have been moved by the the sense of diversity and unity within that diversity. Had I brought my family members there yesterday, I am afraid that they would have witnessed just the opposite.

Please pray for my parish, Saint James.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

White Ribbons and a Young Bright-eyed Music and Liturgy Director

Thursday greetings from a miserably cold and rainy Chicago.

Most mornings I travel to work with my carpooling colleagues. I take the train from downtown Chicago to Oak Park, then we travel through River Forest. River Forest is the town where Anne Smedinghoff grew up. She was the young woman killed this week in Afghanistan while delivering books to a school. A memorial service was held yesterday for Anne at the Catholic high school she attended, Bishop Fenwick High School.

We were amazed by what we saw as we drive through Rver Forest this morning. Thousands of white ribbons had been tied around most of the trees in the town. Took this photo from my back seat perch.

What a tragic loss for Anne's family and the community where she grew up.

On a completely unrelated note, I noticed on Facebook last night that one of my former childrens' choir members posted a photo of me. This was taken some time in the middle 1980's at the first parish at which I was music and liturgy director, Saint Mary Magdalene Parish in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Even though I had just completed eight years in the seminary in Boston (I was obviously not ordained), I always refer to my time at Saint Mary Magdalen as my "real schooling." This is where my passion for the potential for the RCIA was ignited and nurtured. This is where I learned the role of ritual music. This is where I learned how choral music can reach deeply into the hearts of the assembled worshippers. This is also where I learned many of my own limitations. I look back fondly on my time at Saint Mary Magdalene. And, franky, I can't believe I was ever this young!

Good God!

Please watch the blog over the next several days as I share some exciting news about an upcoming trip designed to plan a future pilgrimage that I hope to be leading . . .

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rum Cakes and the Eucharist

Wednesday greetings from a cold and rainy city of Chicago. There is even snow in the forecast here for Friday!

As many of you know, I have been grieving the loss of my friend Mary, who died suddenly on Palm Sunday. Each year at Christmas, Mary would bake absolutely delicious rum cakes for families and friends; this was her Christmas tradition for decades. She baked two for me this past Christmas and had them shipped to my home in Chicago. I put one in the freezer and when I received word of her death on Palm Sunday morning, I realized that I still had this rum cake in my freezer.

Well, when I returned from Houston and Wichita late Saturday, I decided to defrost the cake and have a little late night snack before going to bed.

As I ate that piece of Mary's rum cake, I was instantly flooded with memories of my friend. The tears flowed freely. It was as if, with every bite of that cake, Mary was somehow present in my living room. And, as you could have guessed, I immediately made connections between that late night snack and the celebration of the Eucharist each week, when, in the eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ, Christ is made present to us through the gift of the Eucharist. This sense overwhelmed me as I continued to eat Mary's rum cake. When I went to Mass on Sunday, I was struck by the presence of Christ when I went to communion in a new way.

Thank you, Mary, for this posthumous gift, not only of your delicious rum cake, but for a new, or rather renewed insight into the meaning of the Eucharist for me.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Monday greetings from Chicago.

On Friday morning, I arrived in Wichita, Kansas, for a two day "RCIA Kansas 2013" event. It was held at the Diocese of Wichita's Spiritual Life Center.

There was a nice crowd of about 100 people who minister in Christian initiation in the dioceses of Wichita, Dodge City, and Salina. I gave a presentation on Apprenticeship on Friday night, then we celebrated an adapted rite of acceptance on Saturday morning, followed by a reflection on the celebration. Then I gave a presentation on music and the RCIA; then it was time to head to the airport. I had a wonderful time and I hope that it was a helpful two days for the folks in Kansas.

I did want to mention something that happened when I first arrived. A woman I did not know came up to me and expressed her condolences to me at the recent loss of my friend, Mary. And then she expressed her own concern about the issues dividing my parish of Saint James around the impending demolition of the building. She said she had prayed for us and wanted to offer me more of her prayerful support.

Later, when I recalled this conversation, it struck me how much blogs and things like Facebook do to keep people connected. Some scoff at the "virtual" nature of these kinds of relationships. I sometimes forget that there are real live people reading these words across the country and across the world. That woman in Kansas showed me that these virtual connections really do bring us together, even if only over fiberoptic networks.

So, to that dear lady in Kansas, and to all of you, thanks for staying connected to me through Gotta Sing Gotta Pray.

And a very blessed Easter Season to you all.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Houston Today and Headed to Kansas Tomorrow

Thursday greetings from the NCEA convention in Houston Texas. It is been a long but productive week for us here in Houston. Have enjoyed so much meeting Catholic school teachers and principals from around the country as well as catechetical directors.

Our newest artist and composer Andrew Chinn from Australia gave a wonderful workshop yesterday. People are really hungry for good solid children's music and Andrew provides that for them. We are so glad to have Andrew Chinn as part of the WLP family.

I am headed to Kansas tomorrow for an RCIA workshop.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pope Francis Singing and Speaking

Speaking of Pope Francis . . .

. . . check out this report.

Gotta sing (maybe not!).  Gotta pray.

NCEA and "Beauty"

Tuesday greetings from Houston, where it is warm and quite humid.

Yesterday afternoon, we set up the WLP booth here at the NCEA convention. WLP is sponsoring three speakers here at the convention: Andrew Chinn, a music minister from Australia specializing in leading children closer to the Lord through music and gesture, Mary Beth Kunde-Anderson, WLP's director of publications, and yours truly.

Here are a few shots of our booth space:

We are looking forward to our time here.

I have been reading lots and lots from every "side" about our new pope. Not ready to comment at this point; we simply need more time with this pope.

I do have a question in all of this. When we speak of the term "beauty" with respect to the liturgy, what is your understanding of "beauty?"

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Easter Octave and the Paschal Mystery

Easter Monday greetings to all.

This certainly was a different experience of the Triduum for me. On Saturday morning, I flew to Columbus, Ohio, to attend a wake for my friend, Mary. Grieving with this family, whom I have known since the mid-90s, was something I just knew I needed to do. And I was so glad that I went. My grieving process for my friend would not have been the same had I not gone.

The paschal mystery was staring us all in the face as we gathered around Mary's body and shared stories about her life and the ways her life intersected with the lives of so many people. I often tell young people that Church is important in our lives because it helps us live through these moments, live through them with the hope that can only come through our faith in Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection is something that continues every day for us, giving us small glimpses of the life that is to come.

Even though I was not able to engage in the Triduum as is my annual custom, I felt that I reached back into all those Triduums and gained strength and hope.

This morning, I flew here to Houston, Texas. I will be speaking at the annual convention of the National Catholic Education Association. It is warm and humid here; quite a change from Chicago.

I hope that this Octave of Easter is a blessed one for you.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.