Saturday, February 16, 2013

¡Rezo y Risa!

Greetings and blessings be upon you as we enter the mysterious season of Lent! It still kind of blows my mind how early Lent and Easter are this year, considering that a little more than a month ago we were still celebrating the birth of the Lord. However, that's just how things go with liturgical calendars, and time always seems to surprise us.  I guess all the better since both sets of my family visits that I mentioned in my previous post will come during this great time of preparation!

For those of you who don't speak Spanish nor took the time to put the two words of the title into an online translator (knowing full well that I would define them anyway), "rezo" is one of the many words in Spanish for "prayer" while "risa" is the equivalent of "laughter." These two might seem at odds with each other, but I would say the union of the two best describes my wonderful pilgrimage experience in Fátima, Portugal from February 8-12, appropriately ending right before Ash Wednesday.  It was also "Carnaval" in various parts of Spain, hence why I didn't miss any class on that Monday and Tuesday. I'm sure participating in a specific "Carnaval" festivity would have been a unique cultural experience as well, but I wouldn't exchange my time in Fátima for anything.

On Friday the 8th, our group from Galicia, numbering at least 45 people from all parts of the region, left from Santiago around 5 pm in the afternoon and arrived at a small town outside of Fátima around 10:30 pm. After a chilly night in a Portuguese seminary (being in the cold was another prominent theme of the whole pilgrimage), other groups from all over Spain arrived there in the morning, as this small town was the launching point for the 13 kilometer march to Fátima.  For the march itself and for the rest of the pilgrimage, we were divided into groups that more or less tried to carry an even representation of each region of Spain.  My group, #26, was strongest in its representation of Toledo, Sevilla, Barcelona and good ol' Santiago de Compostela (three of us).  Upon learning of the group assignments, I was first taken aback that not everyone in mine was from Santiago nor Galicia, but it definitely was a blessing to get to know so many great, diverse people in such little time.  It may sound strange, but by the end of those days, the people in your group felt like your family, and it was hard to say good-bye so soon.  I first noticed this dynamic of "rezo/risa" on that first leg of the pilgrimage.  For the first half or so, "risa" thrived with shouts of "¡Viva la Virgen!" or "El 26, es el mejor, de alegría y de peregrinación (The 26, is the best, of joy and pilgrimage)" and numerous chistes, or funny stories.  As we grew closer to Fátima, the emphasis appropriately switched more to "rezo" with silent meditation for a few kilometers and praying the rosary.  When we finally arrived at the Sanctuary in Fátima that evening, all 600 of us, give or take, entered in silence from the new basilica entrance, flanked on either side by families holding processional candles, a moving experience indeed for all involved.  We celebrated Mass in the little chapel outside, built there as requested by the Blessed Virgin to mark the site of the apparitions.  However, after this, one more experience of "risa" marked my evening as I searched for where I would stay the night. Asking one of the volunteers for help, I told him the name of my hostel indicated on my group card several times, but he kept giving me puzzled looks.  We learned, to my great surprise, that I had been assigned to one of the all-women's dorms, so some "jajajaja" moments ensued.  I'm not sure if someone higher up simply thought Ethan was a feminine name, or perhaps more likely, I had subconsciously marked "M" on the original sign up sheet thinking of it as "Male" instead of "Mujer." Claaaasssiicccc Ethan.

In addition to personal group discussion and Mass, my favorite spiritual parts of the pilgrimage were praying the Stations of the Cross (La Vía Crucis), visiting the apparition sites, and a vigil service in the chapel.  In what would best be described as a meditation orchard, we walked up the hillside praying the traditional Stations of the Cross in the afternoon, and although we were nowhere near Jerusalem, the suffering and death of Jesus in first century Palestine just felt so real to me.  This may just be coincidence, but it started to rain hard and the wind whipped at the 11th station, "Jesus is Nailed to the Cross." However, by the 15th station, the Resurrection, the wind had calmed and the sun was shining on the top of the hill. One day, we visited the sites where an angel first appeared to the shepherd children, Lucía, Jacinta and Francisco, before the Marian apparitions began.  Seeing the very simple house of Lucía and the simple grove of trees where the apparitions happened helped me understand how God often reveals much of his mystery to the smallest of us in humble beginnings. Finally, the vigil service, in which we prayed silently amidst occasional reflections on the events of Fátima, was quite compelling for me as the true pilgrim experience. It was cold, wet and long, and I loved every minute of it!

From a social perspective, Fátima was like a pie in the face of Spanish culture  (truly Spanish because of the diversity of the people). I heard/had difficulty understanding so many various Spanish accents and quickly realized that I needed to improve my colloquial vocabulary to understand humor. One of my friends from Santiago in the group named Macarena taught me, with great enthusiasm, several "must know" phrases in Spanish to be hip and cool, which I've been employing almost to a fault ever since. To answer what everyone is inevitably thinking, the answer is "yes": her name is spelled and pronounced like the famous song. In fact, one of the priests for the Youth Delegation in Santiago would always introduce her last in the group (and still does) as "Heeeyyy, Macarena" with everyone else responding with "Aaaahhaaa" in rhythm. It's pretty great.  Though we all weren't in the same group, I got to know a lot of my peers from Santiago whom I had seen at Wednesday Mass and other church functions often, but whom I had not met.  So, in short, Fátima was a springboard for Spanish friend explosion!

Being Catholic and being at Whitworth, I have frequently had the privilege to explain some topics of the faith to my non-Catholic Christian friends, either informally or in the context of Primetime.  Along with the Eucharist, sexual ethics and the Pope (please pray for the intentions of Pope Benedict XVI), the topic of the Church's relationship with the Blessed Virgin often has come up. Though I have explained the role of Mary as an intercessor, I'll be honest that I did not understand the full importance (and I'm still learning) of the Blessed Mother's role in our lives until this pilgrimage. Our Lady really is there for us as a Mother, a Mother who wants nothing more than for us to know and love her Son as she does. A really great way of trying to understanding the Virgin's role is that of the relationship between the Moon (Mary) and the Sun (God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit).  The Sun is the source of life on this planet, and without it's constant burning and shining life would cease to exist.  Although the Sun is of utmost importance, we all know from experience that the Sun is so powerfully bright and shining that we cannot look at it directly for long periods of time. Obviously that doesn't make the Sun bad; rather, it shows how awesome and high above us it is. Keeping with the astronomical metaphor, the full Moon lights up the night sky but does not contain the means within itself to produce light. Rather, the light of the Moon gives evidence of the glory and power of the Sun ("Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.") Nevertheless, the light of the Moon is much easier to behold for longer periods of time, and we can learn much and appreciate the Sun even more from our study of the Moon. So it is with our relationship with the Blessed Virgin.  It's not a perfect metaphor, nor can it cover all the complexities of Mariology, but I think it's a good start if you've never tried or have had reservations about getting to know the Mother of God.

Thanks for reading my diverse stream of consciousness, posting comments, and most importantly your prayers! May the Blessed Mother, through her Immaculate Heart, lead you always to be more faithful in your pilgrimage to the Lord.

Part of our group from Santiago inside the new basilica^

Left: One of my best friends here, Rafael from Brazil (He leaves in less than a week :(
Center: Javi García, one of the priests for the Youth Delegation in Santiago and a great personality.

Inside the little chapel. The statue marks the exact spot where the Virgin appeared.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mid-Year Musings

Greetings readers!
First of all, I would like to thank all of you who have been keeping up with my study abroad experience/travel blog. Though I always feel better after writing a post, oftentimes it takes a lot of effort on my part to just sit down and write it, so I thank you for being an audience with whom I can share this adventure.  If you're just joining ¡Vivalano! or are catching up, welcome to the program! I hope I can provide you with a well deserved rest from your day, some laughs, and maybe something intellectually stimulating or uplifting.

Technically, the title of this post is somewhat misleading, as I have already completed five months of my nine month study abroad program. However, as I always appreciate artistic alliteration, we'll leave it as such. Because the possibility of this turning into a stream of conscious post is quite high, I will just touch on three themes: The Past, the Future, and Time.

To say that I've simple "grown" these past five months would be the understatement of the century. If I was a baby bird molting my feathers in the nest at the beginning, now I've not only learned to fly but to soar. Perhaps I'm not quite an eagle, but I still have four months to work on that. I think back to my first days in Santiago: settling into my room, not knowing anyone, trying to figure out classes, and of course seeing and entering the cathedral for the first time, being somewhat dumbstruck in all four cases. When I had enough time, I remember mentally preparing what I would say ahead of time in Spanish, often for menial requests such as food or keys to the piano room. At the beginning of the year, I never thought for a second I would experience the following (and if I had, some of them might have scared me away): Spending the night in two airports (with more to come, surely), getting swindled into buying coconuts on a beach, taking a college level course in a language I had never studied, Gallego (with 3 more this semester), missing a flight whilst running like a madman in the Madrid airport, getting lost and almost missing the bus in Fátima, getting lost in the same trip just a few hours later in Lisboa, wandering in the London area by myself for a week, and participating in the Charismatic Catholic movement, to name a few.  All of these experiences, the good and less than good, have formed me into the confident, comfortable, and self-aware American-Spaniard that I am today.  Only through the grace of God have I been able to grow in this way, and I know that through Him, any challenges which come amidst the moments of joy in these next four months will eventually be transformed into a greater good.

Even with three of my courses being in Gallego this semester, the future looks pretty bright and exciting so far. First of, I understand much more of what my professors say, since their accents aren't very thick and my understanding of both languages has improved to a great extent. In the very near future (i.e. this upcoming weekend), I will be going to Fátima again and not getting lost, as I will be traveling with a large group of Spanish youth for a pilgrimage there. In Galicia, everyone is on holiday Monday and Tuesday for "Carnaval," so the pilgrimage will be from the 8th until the 12th.  I think it's safe to say that this will be my first pilgrimage ever, and I know it will probably be one of the most memorable experiences here! In March, again by the grace of God, I will have the privilege of seeing two sets of visitors from the states! From the 8th until the 11th, I will be with my sister Claire and brother-in-law (BIL) James in Madrid.  Not only am I obviously excited to see them again after so many months, I will relish the opportunity to finally spend some time in the capital of Spain. I find it kind of odd how I've been in three other European capital cities (Lisboa, Dublin, & London) while only being in the airport of the capital of my host country. Then, about a week and a half later, my parents will arrive in Santiago! We'll spend some time here in Santiago and exploring other parts of Galicia, and then on the Monday of Holy Week, which is also my Spring Break, we will fly to Valencia and spend a few days there. One of my friends from Brazil just went there and said it was gorgeous, so I'm looking forward to seeing that part of Spain. Close to the end of the week, we'll take a train up to Barcelona and spend the Triduum and Easter there.  As far as other traveling in the semester goes, it's kind of up in the air (literally, because Ryanair flights are sometimes troublesome with my schedule). I may have the chance to meet up with a friend from Whitworth named Heather up in Scotland, which would be quite fun since kilts are the bee's knees. My dream is still to go to Rome, and more importantly Vatican City at some point this semester. Shaking hands/getting a photo with Pope Benedict XVI would be a definite win, but I guess I should work on getting there first.

It's definitely been a peculiar experience seeing (or hearing about) people returning to their home countries these past few weeks. When experiencing cultural nuances and living with the same people for five months, you forget that everyone has a previous life that they will return to in the end.  I know that certain departures will affect me more than others, as my level of friendship depends on each person. Nonetheless, it is frankly strange and uneasy knowing that the likelihood of seeing certain people again in the flesh, at least in this life, is like getting struck by lightning.  Something I keeping telling myself, and sometimes to departing friends, is that although we are unaware when/if we will see each other, we can find peace that in knowing each other, we will never be the same.  From the way this paragraph is going, you might think that I were leaving! On the contrary, I'm still very content with my decision to remain here the entire academic year; there are so may things left to experiences and other friendships still to develop.  I think the winds that will blow me back stateside will become more apparent when registering for Whitworth classes, a good kick in the pants to remind me that I actually attend an American university.  Though four months is a considerable part of a year (1/3, right?), I'm still afraid that Time will come to bite me by passing too quickly.  With so many things to think about for next year and especially post-Whitworth, I don't want to see Spain passing away into the fog of my memory too soon! God willing, it won't :)