Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pentecost in Jerusalem.

According to the Julian Calendar, Pentecost Sunday fell on June 15th this year. Having already celebrated the feast under the stipulation of the Gregorian Calendar on May 11th, I took advantage of the opportunity to observe the Greek Orthodox celebration of Pentecost at the Church of the Anastasis - or, as it's known in the Latin West, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This set of photos captures several elements of the celebration, from the procession around the Tomb of Christ to the kneeling prayers of Vespers to the procession of clergy outside the church after the liturgy (the procession, which included most of the lay faithful present, made its way to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate nearby).

For those who may be curious, the hierarch in the center of the sixth photo is the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, whose name I can't write without thinking of the opening words of Acts: "In my first book, Theophilus . . ." Appropriately for Pentecost, the liturgy was international in character: the Orthodox pilgrims present came from around the world (with Slavs being especially numerous) and there were readings in Arabic and Russian as well as in Greek. There is something special about celebrating Pentecost in Jerusalem, and I suspect that I'll always remember my experience of the feast in the holy city. AMDG.

The streets of Jerusalem.

Looking at the photos that I took in Jerusalem, I found that street signs were a recurring subject. In my eyes, the trilingual ceramic street signs of the Old City are much more attractive than the plain white-on-green signs that I'm accustomed to in the United States. Appealing in their own right, the Old City's street signs are also striking in context, sharing wall space with unique advertisements (such as sign pointing to the 'Dome of the Rock Rest-house Station' on Bab El-Ghawanima Road) as well as religious images (like the torn icon-poster on St. Helena Road, close to the Holy Sepulchre) and commercial wares (like the woven carpet hanging on Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Road). Like the roads and alleys they identify, the Old City's street signs are all unique. AMDG.

Images of Jerusalem.

Since I leave for Chile tomorrow evening, I wanted to take a little time to post a few of the many photos that I took during my days in Jerusalem. The key words in the previous sentence are "a little time," as the demands of packing and the sort of last-minute details that precede foreign travel mean I won't be able to provide much in the way of text to accompany the images. I'll offer a few words of introduction for each set, but otherwise the photos will have to speak for themselves.

This first batch of photos pertains to the house where I made my retreat: the Jerusalem residence of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Though a few Jesuits live and work full-time at the PBI in Jerusalem, the main purpose of the house is to provide lodging for visiting scholars and others who are connected with either the PBI in Rome or the Society of Jesus in general and need a place to stay in the Holy Land. I found the staff and permanent residents of the PBI very welcoming, and the house itself was surprisingly well-suited for a group of silent retreatants. In addition to a general view of the building, the photos above include a couple of views of the Old City of Jerusalem taken from the roof of the PBI. (For those who might be curious about the two flags visible in the third photo, I should note that the PBI is right next door to the French consulate.) I hope that you enjoy the photos. AMDG.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jerusalem and Amsterdam.

Late on Thursday I returned to New York after a little more than two weeks in Israel and the Netherlands. On Monday I fly to Chile, where I'll spend a month improving my Spanish. Thus my stopover in the United States will be a relatively brief one, giving me time to unpack, repack and rest a little before I head to the Southern Hemisphere.

I had a fine retreat in Jerusalem, the graces of which came as much simply from walking around and experiencing life in the Old City as from formal periods of prayer. The Christ I encountered during this retreat was less the Jesus of the Gospels than the Christ of faith who lives in the Church and in the pilgrims from around the world who still flock to Jerusalem despite the precarious political situation. During the retreat, I spent a few hours every day at my favorite church, the Holy Sepulchre, which you can see behind me in the photo right below the title of this post. I could say a lot more about this - and perhaps will in another post - but for now I'll simply say that I'm thankful for having been able to spend much of my retreat praying and reflecting at the central shrine of Christendom.

My stay in Amsterdam presented a religious experience of another kind, as I enjoyed the chance to hear the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra play in their own hall. In the second photo shared above, you can see me standing outside the Concertgebouw proudly holding my concert ticket. The RCO is one of my favorite orchestras; for me, hearing them live at the Concertgebouw is a great privilege, sort of like attending a Red Sox home game. The program combined a work I know fairly well (Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition) with two I'd never heard before (Robert Schumann's First Symphony and the Overture of Carl Maria von Weber's Euryanthe). I'll leave a technical evaluation of the performance to better-qualified critics, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the concert. It was, like my retreat and the broader experience of my time in Jerusalem and Amsterdam, an occasion of grace for which I give great thanks to God. AMDG.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Live from Jerusalem.

This post comes to you live from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem, where I'll be making my annual eight-day retreat this coming week. I arrived here early Friday morning after a fine four-day stay in the Netherlands. Though this is my second time in Jerusalem, I've already encountered much that is new to me. A short walk from the Jaffa Gate that leads into the Christian Quarter of the Old City, the PBI is located in the "new" part of Jerusalem largely constructed in the last two centuries. Having stayed in the Old City on my previous trip, the "new" Jerusalem is largely unfamiliar to me. This morning, I made a first effort to get to know the newer part of the city by taking a long walk that included visits to the Israel Museum and the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Cross. The Israel Museum's best known exhibit, the portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls displayed within the Shrine of the Book, was appropriately awe-inspiring. I also enjoyed an exhibit of contemporary Israeli art called "Real Time: Art in Israel, 1998-2008," which received a very favorable write-up last month in the New York Times.

Reputedly founded in the 4th century by the Emperor Constantine's mother Helena and rebuilt in the 11th century by Georgian monks, the Monastery of the Cross is so called because it is located in what is traditionally held to be the place where the trees that provided the wood for Christ's cross were grown. Built in what was once an uninhabited valley, the Monastery of the Cross now sits beside a divided highway close to the Israel Museum, the Knesset, and rows of modern apartment buildings. Given that the Monastery of the Cross is still home to a small community of Greek Orthodox monks, I was surprised how much of the building was open to visitors - I was free to explore the monastery church (containing ancient mosaics and some beautiful frescoes), what used to be the kitchen and the refectory, and numerous other parts of the monastic complex. Judging from the signage and some of the items for sale in the gift shop, the Monastery of the Cross seems to attract many visitors from Russia (drawn by the Georgian connection, perhaps, or simply by devotion to the Holy Cross). Speaking of the gift shop, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that all of the items had price stickers (in contrast with a lot of shops in the Old City, where you have to haggle over the price of anything you might want to buy) and by the fact that the shopkeeper left me alone as I browsed his wares (again, unlike in the Old City, where shopkeepers hover over you and offer constant suggestions about what to buy, even if you tell them you're looking for something totally different).

Not long after I arrived yesterday, I attended the Divine Liturgy at the Melkite Greek-Catholic Patriarchate near the Jaffa Gate, a short walk from the PBI. Though the liturgy was entirely in Arabic (including some fine singing from the small but clearly very devoted congregation), I still could tell what was going on and had an easy time following along with a French-language missal provided for the use of pilgrims. After the liturgy, I enjoyed a brief chat in French and in English with the priest-celebrant and a couple of Melkite nuns in attendance. This morning I went to Mass at one of my favorite places in Jerusalem, the Benedictine Dormition Abbey right outside the walls of the Old City. The mostly German monks provided a quietly dignified liturgy with excellent singing (something that Germans as well as Benedictines are often said to do well), and I hope that I have the chance to pray with them again while I'm here.

My retreat begins tomorrow morning, so I won't be posting again for at least a week. I ask for your prayers as I make my retreat here in Jerusalem, and I assure you that I'll be praying for you as well. Until next time, pax et bonum. AMDG.

Friday, June 06, 2008

In Chicago.

I'm composing this post at a desk at Loyola University Chicago, where I'm staying while I attend the annual Jesuit gathering colloquially known as 'province days,' which might better be termed 'bi-province days' in the present instance since it embraces both the Chicago and Detroit Provinces of the Society. The two major events at province days are a Mass honoring Jesuit jubiliarians (those celebrating significant anniversaries in Jesuit life, such as fifty or sixty years since their entrance into the novitiate or their ordination to the priesthood) and the ordination of new priests. This year, the Chicago Province welcomes four new priests - Glen Chun, Bill Murphy, Peter Nguyen, and Charlie Rodrigues - who will all be ordained tomorrow morning. I ask you to join me in praying for them as they prepare for priestly ministry. Please pray also for vocations, asking that many more men will answer God's call.

Though I return to New York tomorrow night, I'll be on the road for the rest of June. Sunday night I leave for Amsterdam en route to Jerusalem, where I'll make my eight-day retreat with other Jesuits from the Chicago Province. Before and after the retreat, I'll be spending a few days in the Netherlands visiting family and friends. I'm grateful to the Society and its benefactors for giving me this opportunity, and I'm very much looking forward to the next few weeks. I don't know whether and to what extent I'll be able to update this blog while I'm abroad, so this may or may not be the last post for a few weeks. One way or another, I'll be sure to post a report on my travels at some point. Until then, I ask your prayers for me and my Jesuit companions as we travel and as we make our retreat. AMDG.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


I suspect that the only Fordham that most readers of this blog are familiar with is New York's Jesuit university. However, some readers are aware that Fordham is also the name of the Bronx neighborhood that is home to the eponymous university's oldest campus. Like the Bronx in general, the Fordham neighborhood has struggled quite a lot over the last forty years. The first photo shown above, taken inside the Fordham Road station of the MTA's IND Concourse Line, offers a poignant reminder of the neighborhood's decline - as well as the signs of decay visible in many New York subway stations. Even with some of the original tiles broken or missing, the bright blue and white walls of the Fordham Road station recall the glory of bygone days.

Still one of the busiest thoroughfares in New York, Fordham Road remains a vibrant business district despite the many struggles that area residents have gone through in the last few decades (and continue to go through today). In the middle photo, the vivid colors of the sky, the clouds, and the sheen of reflected light on wet pavement all point to the beauty that layers of grit and decades of urban blight can't entirely eradicate. On a day-to-day basis, I often fail to notice the beauty that is really present in the Fordham neighborhood, and photos like this one remind me to be more attentive to - and appreciative of - the area where I live and study.

The final photo in this set was taken on the Fordham campus; the building reflected in the puddle is Faber Hall, a former Jesuit residence that now contains university offices and classrooms. I took this photo simply because I liked the way the elements that it contains fit together. On the left, the building's reflection seems tailor-made to fit into the space offered by the puddle, while on the right the reflection seems to vanish into the brick. I don't know what else to say about this, except that I like taking pictures like this one. Hopefully, some readers enjoy looking at them as well. AMDG.