Archive | July 2018

A Parting Shout

Tammie and I silently followed the other pilgrims on tour with us across the dark, predawn paved area surrounding Fatima’s cathedral. Tomorrow we would be flying back to the United States from Lisbon, Portugal. How quickly our twelve days abroad had gone by! Part of me wanted to stay longer; another part was eager to return home.

Each daily Mass on this trip had been like a small calm oasis within our swirling days of nonstop travel and visits to amazing places. This morning the calm was even more marked. We had visited all the Marian shrines we had set out to see. Now our prayers were of thanksgiving and for a safe flight home the next day.

After breakfast we loaded our luggage into the tour bus and posed for one last group picture. Forty-five miles from Lisbon, we stopped to visit the church of Saint Stephen in Santarem where a 13th century Eucharistic miracle took occurred.

In 1247, a woman discovered her husband was unfaithful. She went to a sorceress who promised to restore the husband’s fidelity, if the woman brought her a blessed Host. The woman went to Mass and received the body of Christ. Back in her pew, she took the Host out of her mouth and wrapped it in her shawl. The Host began to bleed profusely so she ran from the church. At her home nearby, she threw the Host into a trunk at the foot of her bed. That night an unearthly light shown from the trunk. The woman told her husband what she had done.

The priest was called and he returned the Blessed Sacrament to the church. Despite the passage of the years, the Host, which has stopped bleeding, has not deteriorated.

When it was time to leave the site, we reluctantly got back onto the bus. Our next stop was at the Gare do Oriente Station in Lisbon. Built for World Expo 1998, the train, bus and metro station was designed for visitors to pass through with minimal stress. It handles more passengers than New York City’s Grand Central Station.

As our bus approached Gare do Oriente, I saw a modernist structure with many metal and glass lattice arches. Nighttime picture postcards shows the airy façade glowing from many lights placed within. Vasco da Gama, a shopping center is attached to the multiple leveled station.

We had an hour to explore, shop and have lunch. Tammie and I took off as fast as we could. An hour was such a short time! We managed to visit two levels and found a small diner where no English was spoken. We pointed to pictures of the food we wanted. Then it was back to the bus again.

At four in the afternoon our bus pulled into a parking lot near the river Tagus where a bright yellow bus parked with the word, “Hippotrip” printed in large black letters on its side. Juan, our Mater Dei tour director announced, “For the next hour and half we will be taking a Hippotrip tour of Lisbon and the river.”

The local tour guide on the Hippotrip bus was an attractive young woman who spoke English well, but had a very charming European accent. Her job was to amuse, educate and entertain the passengers. Only a few minutes into the tour I turned to Tammie and said, “This chick has stage presence. I wonder if she does nightclubs?”

The tour guide said, “Whenever I shout, ‘Hippo-Hippo’, I want you to shout ‘Hoo-ray!’” Stopping to think a moment, she said, “Wait, let’s make up a new shout. How about shouting, ‘Mater Dei?’ We have to let everyone know along the way that we’re having fun!” Pumping the air with her fists, she shouted, “Hippo-Hippo!”

Obediently, we shouted back, “Mater Dei!” throughout the tour whenever she prompted us.

We saw famous bridges, towers and multimedia graffiti that deserved to be in art galleries. On the hill above us was the castle of St. Jorge. Below, we drove around the square, Terreino do Paco, with its symmetrical buildings. In the center of the square was the equestrian statue of King Dom Jose I.

As our guide explained, “I want you to know this isn’t a bus that turns into a boat. It is a boat that turns into a bus,” our vehicle dropped down a steep incline into the water with a great splash. The river tour showed us where the river Tagus empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

The next morning before leaving for the airport, we pilgrims once again crept silently though the pale dawn light to reach a room where we held our last intimate Mass of the trip. We had seen many wonders, but the greatest wonder of all was present at each one of our Masses.





Fatima’s Children

The warm Mediterranean sun hung low above the western horizon. Our bus slowed and turned into a parking lot. Our pilgrimage director announced, “We’ve arrived at Fatima. Before going to our hotel, we are stopping so you can shop for souvenirs.”

I looked at the building next to the parking lot and commented to my daughter Tammie, “This is different. Usually there are dozens of small souvenir stores near pilgrimage sites. All I see is one huge store.”

Following the others off the bus, I entered the store and discovered why there was only one building. It was set up like a department store devoted to all things religious and in particular, objects showing they came from Fatima, Portugal.

As I made a circular tour of the store I came across luggage, which I reasoned was for pilgrim trips, veils and shawls to wear in church, statues of every size up to full scale, medals, biographies of saints, prayer books, bibles, rosaries and rosary-making supplies. The variety of each item was staggering. I felt like a child in a candy store. Continue reading

Tired in Avila

In the waning evening light, I spotted the crenulated city walls of Avila. I tiredly thought without any enthusiasm, “Oh, another castle. How nice.” When a person is tired, it is hard to get excited even when seeing something beautiful and amazing.

My fellow pilgrims and I had slept in a castle the night before. Since then we had traveled through Spain by bus for many hours. We had driven through Madrid and on to Segovia. There, we had shopped, visited the cathedral and toured the famous Alcazar castle. That would have been more than enough to do in one day, yet we traveled on.

As our tour bus approached Avila, I sleepily noticed huge gray boulders along the way reminding me of our fishing trips to Canada. The difference was no water surrounded these monster, barn-sized rocks.

The big tour bus was unable to maneuver to the hotel inside the city walls, so we pilgrims carried our luggage the rest of the way up the hill on cobblestone streets. Fortunately, the effort fully woke me up. A four-course dinner awaited us in the dining room. We finished dining at 11 p.m. Continue reading

The Rain in Spain

Our pilgrim bus pulled to a stop near Segovia’s main marketplace. My daughter Tammie and I looked forward to visiting the many shops along the streets radiating out from the plaza. Gray clouds hung low overhead. I pondered whether to take my sweater, or to leave it on the bus. Shrugging, I decided to leave it on the bus. I’d probably end up carrying it instead of wearing it.

Tammie said, “When I spent a semester in Valladolid during college, I visited Segovia. Gypsies sold things under the arches of the aqueduct. I don’t see any there today.”

I eagerly eyed the famous Roman aqueduct that ran through the plaza and the rest of the city. At its tallest point, it soared as tall as a nine-story building. Not content to simply build a utilitarian trough to carry water from the Rio Frio, a mountain stream more than ten miles away, the Romans artfully designed 167 arches into the structure.

Tammie joined me on the cobblestone street. She asked, “Did you know the Romans didn’t use any mortar to hold the granite stones together on the aqueduct?”

Admiring the way the stones were wedged together around the arches, I marveled, “It was built at the end of the first century, they used no mortar, yet the structure is still standing and it continues to work!” Continue reading