Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hierapolis and the "Cotton Castle"

Saturday greetings from Bodrum, Turkey, here on the coast of the Aegean. This vacation has taken a decidedly relaxing turn here on the Aegean. I was planning on excursions to some of the ancient sites, but realized I needed simply to rest and soak in the beauty that surrounds this peaceful area.

After the first several days in Istanbul, our little group flew to Izmir (ancient Smyrna), where we picked up the rental car and headed to Pamukkale for two reasons. One, to visit the ruins of ancient Hierapolis, mentioned in Paul's Letter to the Colossians (4:13). In the first century, Hierapolis (the "Sacred City") was part of the tri-city area of Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis. I found out that Philip the apostle moved to Hierapolis before 70 AD, where it is believed he was martyred. His tomb here was only recently discovered in 2011.

Walking (and climbing!) through this very large city was fascinating on many fronts. Its position high on a hill overlooking a vast valley was stunning.

The theater, built against a hillside here in 60 AD, following an earthquake, has a stage that has been reconstructed by archaeologists. A few photos I took while inside the theater.

Walking along the main road.

As is the case with so many of these ancient sites, one could spend days here.

But there was a second reason for visiting Pamukkale/Hierapolis. Just at the edge of the city, forming a kind of cascade down the side of the hill into present-day Pamukkale is a natural wonder, the hot spring pools, terraces really, made of travertine, a sedimentary rock formed by the carbonate minerals in the water that has cascaded over the side of this hill for centuries. This is quite a tourist attraction, as you can imagine. Everyone must remove shoes in order to walk over, around, and in these pools of warm mineral water. "Pamukkale" means "cotton castle."

The whole area resembles a ski area, doesn't it? It was extraordinary.

Since the visit and overnight in Pamukkale, the coast of the Aegean has been the place of rest.

We are privileged to have been here this past week, during the Muslim Bayram, the feast of the sacrifice. I will have much more to share about that in the next post.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

More on Hagia Sophia and Mass in Istanbul

Tuesday greetings from Antalya, Turkey. My apologies for not having posted these past few days. So much to see and do, accompanied by the usual technical challenges. I have been finally able to download the "good" photos from my camera onto a mini-PC, so I can share more with you about the amazing city of Istanbul, which is a city with 14 million inhabitants, certainly the largest city I have ever visited.

I wanted to share a few more photos of the Hagia Sophia, whose history as a Christian church dates back to the early 6th century. Here is a photo of the inner narthex, where I was told those who were being instructed in the Christian faith would gather for their instruction; they were not allowed even to gaze into the cathedral.

Here is the main door into the Hagia Sophia's inner narthex. You can see traces of the crosses that once adorned these doors, which were removed when the church was converted into a mosque.

And the mosaic above the door into the main space.

A closeup of the mosaic.

The interior, the fourth largest "cathedral" in the world, is immense. This photo was taken from the enormous gallery. The scaffolding has been there for over fifteen years; this place needs an extraordinary amount of repair and restoration.

I marveled at the Christian mosaics that had been painted over when this place was converted to a mosque in 1453. Ataturk declared it neither a mosque nor a Christian cathedral in the 1930's. It is now a museum.

As you can well imagine, I was keen on discovering the baptistery. I read in many tour books that it had been converted into a Sultan's mausoleum. Our guide led us to the space. The font was enormous, carved out of one solid piece of stone, with steps leading down on one side and up and out on the other. Some photos.

But to me it seemed like it had simply been plopped there from elsewhere, kind of pushed up against the wall, if that were at all possible for this multi-ton structure.

Not sure if you can read this about the baptistery and font. "It has a square shape plan, covered with a dome, an apse on the east and a porch on the west. Some architectural remains in the courtyard indicate that it may possibly be older than Hagia Sophia (4th-5th century)." I am skeptical about this space and whether or not it was the baptistery or something older, or whether or not the font is original to one of the three churches that were the Hagia Sophia. More research is in order. Anyone out there know more?

On Sunday, I attended Mass at Saint Anthony of Padua, one of a handful of Catholic churches in this massive city. Outside this very Western European styled building, in the courtyard, is a lovely statue of Saint John XXIII.

The parish is made up largely of people from the Philippines and people from Africa. So interesting. The choir was Philippino, as were the lectors and the "commentator," who spoke the directions as to when to sit and when to stand (even though she would say these directions right after we had all instinctively done so). All of the servers were African men. The assembly was made up mostly of African young adult males, Philippinos, and tourists. By the way, even though the prayers were prayed by Father Julius, an African priest, directly from the recent translation of the Roman Missal, the Gloria was the former text. I really loved the music. Here is photo of one of the young African men praying after Mass.

The piety of these African Catholics in front of the tabernacle after Mass was so evident.

And a festive gathering in the courtyard after Mass.

I was saddened to leave Istanbul. Before leaving, I got to cross over the Bosphoros in a ferry to the Asian side of the city; my first time on the Asian continent. A photo of the "small step for Jerry" as I touched Asian ground for the first time!

So much more to share about my visit to the ancient ruins of Hierapolis and Pamukkale, which occurred yesterday, but I am exhausted from writing this entry, and you are probably exhausted from reading it! Until tomorrow,

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Istanbul: Wonderful First Few Days

Late Saturday evening greetings from Istanbul, Turkey.

Travels across the ocean went well; still adjusting to the seven hour time difference. Istanbul is a very large city of 14 million inhabitants; an amazing mix of cultures. This is my first time in a predominantly Muslim country; over 98%.

Spent yesterday at the palace of the sultans here, Topkapi Palace. One of the chamber rooms in the harem is pictured here. Most of what you see are tiles; the tile artistry is beyond belief here.

Today our little group visited the Blue Mosque, which is directly across a grand plaza from Hagia Sophia. This was my first visit to a mosque. All had to remove shoes and women who had arms or legs not covered were given cloths and cover skirts. Men in shorts had to cover their bared legs as well. Frankly, it all seemed strange once we entered because it all felt like a giant tourist area, with lots of talking and photo-taking, with very little reverence at all, given all the machinations we were put through just to enter the grand space, pictured here.

I understand why we needed to do what we did to enter this place, including the removal of all shoes. Perhaps while here I should visit a not-so-famous mosque and see and feel the difference.

Next up today was Hagia Sophia. We hired an English-speaking guide and it was awesome. As we stood in the outer narthex, we were told that that was the location where the city's pagans would gather for instruction. One had to be a Christian in ancient Constantinople (now Istanbul) in order to have any status, in order to vote, in order to be able to be a respected member of society. Our guide told us that it was in this outer narthex that instruction in the Christian faith would take place and that twice a month, those who had completed instruction would be led into the cathedral for baptism. I definitely need to read much, much more about this history to verify this account.

Folks, it was simply amazing standing in this place. I took this photo to show you some of the history of the place. It all began as a Christian temple/church/cathedral, then in the early 1500's it was converted to a mosque and then in the early 20th century was converted into a museum. This is a long and complicated history. Today's Hagia Sophia is a study in that history. It is the third building to stand on these grounds, now over 1500 years old. On the ceiling of the apse, you will see a restored mosaic of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Jesus. To the right and the left are large pieces of calligraphy which, in Arabic, read Allah (on the right) and Mohammed (on the left). So the history is seen right in front of you as you stand in this immense space.

Just a few days here and I have seen and learned so much. We will be attending Mass tomorrow at one of the few Catholic churches here in the city. More in the next few days.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Turkey on the Horizon

Wednesday greetings to all.

Well, this is my last day at work for awhile; I am leaving for Turkey this evening via a stopover in Copenhagen.

You can see the places where I plan to visit on this map.

Did you know that Turkey currently is the home to approximately two million Syrian refugees? It is going to be quite interesting to be in the middle of this unfolding crisis. Turkey issues a kind of visitor status to refugees, but not work permits, which means that these two million people cannot earn a living while in Turkey. This is one of the main reasons why we hear of people trying to cross sections of the Aegean Sea near Bodrum to reach Greece, where their journeys continue in the hope of reaching Western Europe to find jobs and settle into new homes. I will be staying in Bodrum for three nights before heading to Ephesus. I hope to be able to understand more deeply what this refugee situation means for all involved.

Hearing some of the stories just tears at one's heartstrings. I heard one story of a professional man whose offices were bombed one day and his home the next. I often try to put myself in these kinds of situations. I imagine what it would be like if I arrived at our offices here one day and found them destroyed by bombs. And returning home to find my neighborhood in ruins. My heart aches for those in this kind of situation. It helps me to understand why nearly half the population of Syria has fled.

So, folks, please say a prayer for these refugees today and, if I may ask, a prayer of safety for all travelers.

I plan to blog while in Turkey if all the technological pieces come together.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Have You Found the "Key?"

On February 11, 2016, the Church will mark World Day of the Sick.

The Vatican Press Office released Pope Francis' statement for the 2016 Day of the Sick today, which reads in part:

"Illness, above all grave illness, always places human existence in crisis and brings with it questions that dig deep. Our first response may at times be one of rebellion: Why has this happened to me? We can feel desperate, thinking that all is lost, that things no longer have meaning."

"In these situations, faith in God is on the one hand tested, yet at the same time can reveal all of its positive resources. Not because faith makes illness, pain, or the questions which they raise, disappear, but because it offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing: a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side, weighed down by the Cross. And this key is given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way first hand."

As many of you know, my family, like many of your own, has been touched with serious illness. And each time a loved one has been diagnosed with an illness, I have found myself going through what Pope Francis describes: "Why has this happened?" I have often fallen into despair over all of this.

But I have also been given the grace to see, when I get beyond my "rebellion," that discovery of deep meaning of which the Pope speaks. And I often have turned to the Blessed Mother (usually when I am saying the rosary in my spin class at the gym) and pray to her under the title "Our Lady, Mother of the Afflicted."

The Holy Father uses the metaphor of the "key." I am trying so hard at times to grasp for that key. Maybe I need to go the Mother Mary more often to find it.

Have you found the "key?" How?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Monday, September 14, 2015

The Cross at the Center

Monday greetings on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The cross has been at the center of our scriptures both yesterday and today.

On Saturday, I was at Saint Thomas More parish in Elgin here in Illinois, giving a day long retreat to over 100 liturgical ministers and we did lots of talking about the cross in our lives. This group of dedicated ministers spent over six hours together on a beautifully sunny Saturday, sharing their faith and rededicating themselves to their ministries.

Yesterday, at Old Saint Patrick's in Chicago, the song we sang during the preparation of the gifts was Tony Alonso's We Should Glory in the Cross.

This community had not sung it before and they caught on to its great melody quite easily. Afterward, I spoke with the music director, telling her how appropriate it was for the day. She told me that the parish does not have a setting of this Holy Thursday entrance antiphon and rather than have it be a new piece this year at Holy Thursday, she decided to use it this week to get the community familiar with it. Gee, maybe that music director should write a book about creating a plan for parish music participation. Oh, wait, she already did!

These two days provided times for me to think about the crosses I have shared with Christ in my own life. I remember learning, mostly through my experiences at the RCIA institutes sponsored by the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, so much about the cross; as a sign of pain and suffering, and as a sign of victory. I shared some of my own experiences of the cross on Saturday with those ministers and yesterday gave me the opportunity, through the scriptures, preaching, and music, to know that my own Christian journey is one that I do not to alone. That brought me comfort and hope.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Resources for the Jubilee Year of Mercy

Friday greetings from the wet and cool Midwest. Autumn is in the air.

As we mark the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I am reminded of the experience I recounted in yesterday's post.

Some of you might think it out of place to do a little WLP "commercial" on a day like today, but I think this is appropriate. In the face of the violence that grips our world and city streets, the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy will provide us the opportunities to see the place of mercy in all of this.

We have been working hard for you here at WLP. We are publishing three particular resources that we hope you find helpful. The first is for the folks in your parish. Celebrating the Year of Mercy: Our Jubilee Journey is a take-home resource that leads people through the jubilee year. This mini-magazines contains weekly reflections and reflection questions, scriptures, prayers, and many more ways to learn about this holy year.

It is also available in Spanish.

In addition to these two resources, we are publishing Week by Week Through the Year of Mercy/Semana tras semana del año de la miseridordia. 

Written by Peter Scagnelli, this book contains reflections for each Sunday of the Year of Mercy, in English and in Spanish. All of the material is on the enclosed CD-ROM, making it perfect for placing into your parish bulletin, on your parish web site, and in other materials for your parishioners.

I am a contributing writer to Celebrating the Year of Mercy. I think these resources will assist parishes in leading their people through the year that we so desperately need.

I hope your weekend is a good one. I am leading a retreat tomorrow at Saint Thomas More Parish in Elgin, Illinois. Looking forward to meeting the people of this parish.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Shaken Up: Response to Violence

Thursday greetings.

For some time now, I have been preparing for a vacation that will begin next week; I will be traveling to Turkey, a country that shares a borer with war-torn Syria.

Some friends, colleagues, and family members have expressed concern about the safety of traveling to that part of the world during this time of uncertainty and violence, especially amid the enormous challenges of the refugee situation that has been unfolding in the Middle East and throughout Europe. I have been calm through it all, and have at times told people that living in this city of Chicago has its own dangers and violence. I tasted that this morning and are just a little more than shaken up by what occurred.

After my "spin" class at the gym, I was making my way to work, westward along one of our expressways, "The Eisenhower," which was anything but an "express" way this morning. So I exited, which I often do when traffic is backed up, and took a surface street, Lake Street, westward toward our office. I drove by a huge cordoned off area where a lagoon is being drained because in the last few days the dismembered body of a child has been discovered in the waters. The traffic was very heavy and I was stopped for about fifteen minutes, my mind wandering, thinking about the day's work ahead.

Suddenly, I heard a loud banging sound; it was a kid running through the traffic; as he passed by my car, he pounded on the hood of my car, running past me and between the cars in the stopped traffic. Within seconds, an unmarked police van pulled onto the sidewalk and a heavily armed Chicago police officer jumped out of the car and began a foot chase toward the young man. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the officer chasing the kid. Before I knew it, I heard "pop, pop," gunfire erupting somewhere in the congested area behind me. I wasn't sure who fired those shots.

The kid who was running could not have been any more than fifteen or sixteen years old. Then the traffic ahead cleared and we all drove onto our destinations.

I prayed that all were safe and that the police apprehended the kid without any injuries being incurred.

I thought about the people living in these very unsafe neighborhoods in my city, people who face this kind of violence nearly every day of their lives.

I wondered how a young man, this kid, could have spiraled into whatever caused this scene this morning.

I was deeply concerned for the police officer who was there "to serve and protect" people like me and everyone else in the area, risking his own safety and life in the process.

What is the Christian response to violence?

I sit here now at my desk, asking God this question. And my mind and heart turn to the Lord Jesus, who was the victim of violence, torture, and capital punishment.

Lord Jesus,
you who were left with no protection as you climbed Calvary's hill,
protect those who risk their lives to protect us.
You who were nailed to a cross,
help lift the burdens of those trapped in neighborhoods where that cross appears every day.
You who showed mercy to the repentant sinner,
somehow enter the heart of that young man and turn him around.
You who healed the man who was born blind,
lift the blindness of those who lead us, to move toward establishing lasting peace.
You who calmed the seas,
calm the sea of violence that touched me this morning and touches people every day.
You who were raised from the dead,
raise those who suffer to new life in you.
Come quickly to our aid. Amen.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Time for a 5-minute Survey?

Wednesday greetings to all.

Can you do us a favor? We are currently embarking on a strategic planning process here at WLP and it would be great for those of you who have engaged with us as customers to complete a five-minute survey. Just click on the link below. I sure do appreciate it!

Speak your mind. Tell us what you think. Point out what we are doing wrong. Point out what we are doing right. We want — actually, we really need! — to hear from you as we plot our course for the future. Can you take 5 minutes to fill out this survey?

Thank you.
WLP Music's photo.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Potomac, Atlanta, Saint Petersburg, and New Orleans

Tuesday greetings from the sultry Midwest.

It has been a very busy couple of weeks for this weary traveler.

Two weeks ago today, I was in Potomac, Maryland, leading a WLP Sing the Seasons Choral Reading Session at the beautiful Our Lady of Mercy Parish. Some photos of the interior of the church.

It was a marvelous night for singing.

From Potomac, my travels brought me to the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where J.S. Paluch and WLP presented two seminars, one focused on building a better bulletin and another (which I led) on rebuilding the RCIA. The sessions were held in the beautiful pastoral center for the Archdiocese. pictured here. State of the art!

And from Atlanta, I made my way (through Chicago, interestingly enough) to the Diocese of Saint Petersburg, Florida, where I gave two keynote presentations for the Florida RCIA Convocation.

A highlight of the convocation was the Taize prayer we celebrated at a nearby parish, Saint Mary Our Lady of Grace. As part of the service, we all came forward and received votive candles, which we placed within several wrought iron screens in the beautiful sanctuary.

My journey then brought me to the Archdiocese of New Orleans to the beautiful new parish of Divine Mercy in Kenner, where I led my final WLP Sing the Seasons event. Here are a few photos of this magnificent church and the session itself.

Finally, a nice photo with Lorraine Hess, who is the music director at the parish, and Jamie Diliberto, who helped us on guitar for Lorraine's beautiful piece, Mercy.

Lots of different "tastes" of the Church throughout the United States. Was so glad to return home and attend Mass at Old Saint Patrick's on Sunday.

One week from tomorrow, I leave for a long-anticipated vacation, a vacation which will take me to Turkey. I plan to blog while there and share photos and stories from this country.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.