Monday, February 23, 2009

There have been two recent events in the Vatican Saturday and today that have touched me because of personal friendships. Those who regularly read this column traveled with me last August to the Hawaiian island of Molokai where we walked in the footsteps of Fr. Damien De Veuster, a missionary priest who, for13 arduous years, took care of leprosy patients on this small island. Fr. Damien became Blessed Damien when Pope John Paul beatified him on June 4, 1995 in Brussels, Belgium. Saturday, Pope Benedict presided at a consistory for several cases of canonization, during which it was announced that Blessed Damien of Molokai will be canonized in Rome by the Pope on October 11. Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu was in Rome for the consistory.

Born Jozef de Veuster in Belgium, he took the name Damien when he joined the missionaries of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. After 10 years on the Hawaiian island of Oahu as a missionary, Damien spent 13 years on Molokais Kalaupapa peninsula caring for victims of leprosy, a disease so dreaded that its victims became social outcasts and pariahs, exiled to live in loneliness and without dignity on this small Pacific island. More than 8,000 people had been banished here amid an epidemic in Hawaii in the 1850s. Today there are 25 patients of leprosy living on Kalaupapa where Damien died in 1889 at 49 after contracting the disease.

On July 3, 2008, the Vatican announced that a Hawaiian womans cure from terminal lung cancer was miraculous and could be attributed to the intercession of Blessed Damien. Audrey Toguchi, 80, a cradle Catholic and native of Honolulu, was cured of cancer in 1998. A retired school teacher, she is a member of St. Elizabeths Church in Aiea, Honolulu. Last summer during my visit to Hawaii, she told me that in 1936, when she was only 8-years old, she and her fellow Catholic students at St. Augustine grade school in Waikiki were brought by the nuns to a pier to say farewell to Fr. Damien whose remains were being brought back to his native Belgium on a ship. We all knew him, she said, as the holy man from Kalaupapa.


The second piece of news brings immense joy to my heart because it was announced today that a dear friend of mine (and MANY other people, I might add), Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee was named by Pope Benedict to succeed Cardinal Edward Egan as archbishop of New York. Cardinal Egan had offered his resignation to the Pope in 2007 when he turned 75, the canonical age for retirement. The archdiocese of New York is the second largest in the country, after Los Angeles, serving 2.5 million parishioners in 409 churches. It has a vast network of colleges and universities, schools and social service agencies, and nine hospitals that treat about a million people annually. Archbishop Dolan is the 13th archbishop of New York. All but one of his predecessors French-born John Dubois who was archbishop from 1826 to 1842 have Irish heritage. New York is a cardinalatial see.

Archbishop Dolan, 59, a native of St. Louis, studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, obtaining a Masters in theology at the Angelicum and after his ordination in 1976, worked in a St.Louis parish. He obtained a degree in ecclesiastical history at the Catholic University of America in 1983, was a pastor again for four years and in 1987 was appointed secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., He returned to Missouri in 1992 where he was Vice Rector of the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. In 1994 he was named rector of the North American College. On June 19, 2001, a week after his return to the U.S., he was named auxiliary bishop of St. Louis by Pope John Paul and just over a year later - June 25, 2002 - the Pope appointed him as Milwaukees 10th archbishop.

In Milwakee, as he did for seven years at the North American College, Archbishop Dolan combined sound theology, personal charism, a wonderful story-telling ability and a great sense of humor in teaching, preaching or reaching out to people. He is a man deeply in love with his Lord, with the Church and the priesthood, a man who enjoys life and his ministry and people with equal zest, whose smile is ever-ready, whose energy never seems to flag.He will be greatly missed by the people of Milwaukee.

God sit on your shoulder, dear friend!


We pilgrims from the journey to Turkey in the footsteps of St. Paul are all back in Rome, safe and sound, which was no mean feat, as you will understand from my columns in coming days. Some of those footsteps in which we followed were on treacherous paths of stone and travertine blocks, uphill and down, over hill and vale, as they say, on dry land, in gooey mud and in deep snow. We had everything but a heat wave in Turkey but every single moment was wonderful, a totally new experience for all of us.

The first day of our pilgrimage was Monday, February 16 when we flew from Rome to Istanbul, where we met our incredible guide, Alp Kaya, who proceeded to travel with us to Izmir , a port city on Turkeys west coast and the third largest city, where we boarded the bus that would be our home for the next five days. In Izmir we met our extraordinarily capable driver Ahmet who accompanied us to the seaport and cruise ship town of Kusadasi (pronounced ku-suh-dah-suh) where we would spend the night. And this was the sight that greeted us on our first morning in Turkey.

Alp was with us the entire trip, until we boarded our plane in Istanbul for the return trip to Rome. He was affable, unflappable and did his best on a number of occasions to make the impossible happen, as you will see. Alp is also a teacher and a lecturer and has contributed articles to many travel books and magazines. If I remember only 10 percent of what he taught us about Turkish history, customs, food and society, Id be the most well-informed person in Italy about Turkey!

On our very first day of road travel, Alp told us that what we would visit and see in the ensuing five days is normally a 10-day itinerary! No wonder we were so tired at the end!

Our final day was Saturday, February 21, a long day that began with a 6 a.m. wake up call and ended on Sunday with our arrival in Rome at 10:30 a.m. We spent many hours on a bus, saw Tarsus and Antioch, had a late night hotel arrival in Adana where we had a two-hour nap before a 3 a.m. departure for the airport for the flights to Istanbul, then Rome.

It is my intention in the columns that start today to offer you some spiritual food for thought for Lent which starts this Wednesday. I hope each day to retrace our steps as we visit places where St. Paul spoke, lived, preached, and taught. I will describe the places visited in words and photos and will then offer some of the readings that Fr. Tom prepared for us daily Bible readings pertinent to each of the sites on our pilgrimage.

One of my great fears is that I will write too much. The other great fear is that I will say too little. Those five days of pilgrimage were so rich, so unique, such a beautiful tapestry woven of friendships and hardships, of intense spiritual moments, of shared joys and laughter, of opening our minds and hearts to receiving the graces that come from such pilgrimages.

Day One in the footsteps of St. Paul began in Ephesus. Ephesus was already inhabited in the first millennium before Christ and is famous for having welcomed Sts. Paul, Timothy and Mary Magdalen, among others. St. Paul lived there for three years and wrote letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians and Philippians. Ephesus is also known for the ecumenical council that took place there in 431 at which Mary was proclaimed the Mother of God.

We drove high up the mountain overlooking the ruins of Ephesus to the place where St. John had a home built for Mary, who had been entrusted to him, as you will recall, by the dying Jesus on the Cross (John 19:26-27). As we approached Marys House, Alp showed us what used to be used for baptisms.

Father Tom had arranged for Mass to be said in the small modern chapel built on a hill overlooking Marys house in this intimate forest setting and there could not have been a better way or a better place to start our spiritual journey. I was immensely privileged to do a reading and the responsorial psalm, and I was moved for many reasons, but especially because this chapel and Marys house were off limits to visitors the only other time I was there. It was closed to visitors but open to Pope Benedict as he visited Efes, the Turkish name for Ephesus, and said Mass on November 29, 2006.

This is the view of Marys House as we descend the steps from the chapel.

Here, I am standing in front of Marys house the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. I wanted to turn the clock back 2000 years and become a neighbor of Marys and perhaps drop in for conversation as she made bread or prepared for St. Johns arrival, or kneel and prayer with her as she thought about and longed for her Son.

Erin Von Uff told me that Fr. Bernard F. Deutsch, in his book Our Lady of Ephesus, quotes from an 1896 ecclesiastical inquiry, saying, "...the ruins found at Panaya Kapulu were of a church built in the fourth century over the remains of a house which, as also supported by local tradition, was the House of the Virgin Mary during the First Century A.D.. " Anne Catherine wrote: "They (the Apostles) made Mary's room in the house into a church." They did this before they left Ephesus. Over the centuries there were changes but nothing very substantial. Our guide Alp pointed out a red line around Mary's House, telling us that what was below the red line depicted the original ruins as the Lazarist's Priests found it. By the by, Panaya Kapulu means chapel of the most holy and refers to a shrine.

There were a number of signs on the house that said no photographs and I was a little disappointed. There was a guard so even if I had wanted to chance it, I'd have company. However, an intrepid member of our group, Marsha, told the guard that I was a journalist, that I worked for EWTN, an important Catholic television and that I was writing a story on Ephesus for my column Joans Rome that simply had to be accompanied by photos. Marsha asked if he would reconsider and let me take photos. He smiled, said nothing, and pointed the way inside.

This is what greeted my eyes and soul. There were a handful of chairs on the side walls for those who wished to pause and pray.

In a smaller room to the right of the altar I saw this painting of the Dormition of Mary, inscribed in German below the painting.

This is a rosary that Pope Benedict XVI donated to Marys House in 2006.

Here is the countryside as you look out over the hilltops. As I savored the views I asked myself: Was this what Mary and John and Paul and others saw two millennia ago?

As I noted last week, in 1886, before leaving for Smyrna (Izmir) the French nun credited with finding Marys House, Sr. Marie de Mandat Grancey, had read a just-published book on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Anne Catherine Emmerich, a German mystic nun. After reading the Life of Mary, Sr. Marie was inspired to find and preserve the House of Mary. Though Anne Catherine Emmerich never left her native Germany, her descriptions of Marys House, a result of visions she received which she dictated to Clemens Brentano, a poet, perfectly matched the building and physical surroundings of Marys house. Emmerich died at age 49 in 1824 and was beatified on October 3, 2004 by Pope John Paul.

What follows are extracts from Blessed Emmerichs mesmerizing description of Marys House (the entire book can be read online). This is somewhat long but truly riveting - and you might want to savor it along with a cup of coffee. Perhaps you can consider this a mini-Lenten retreat!

In place of the biblical readings he had prepared for our journey to Marys House, Fr. Tom read extracts of what follows at the start of Mass. I should add here that this shrine is frequented by Muslims, the majority of believers in Turkey, who venerate Mary as the mother of the great prophet Jesus.

The initials AC refer to Anne Catherine, who was dictating her visions.

CHAPTER XVIII. THE DEATH OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY AT EPHESUS From The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Anne Catherine Emmerich

The following communications, made in different years, generally in the middle of August before the Feast of the Assumption, are here arranged in chronological order.

1. REGARDING MARYS AGE. [On the morning of August 13th, 1822, Catherine Emmerich said: Last night I had a great vision of the death of the Blessed Virgin, but have completely forgotten it all. On being asked, in the middle of a conversation on everyday matters, how old the Blessed Virgin was when she died, Catherine Emmerich suddenly looked away and said: She reached the age of sixty-four years all but three and twenty days: I have just seen the figure X six times, then I, then V; is not that sixty-four? (It is remarkable that Catherine Emmerich was not shown numbers with our ordinary Arabic figures, with which she was familiar, but never saw anything but Roman figures in her visions).] After Christs Ascension Mary lived for three years on Mount Sion, for three years in Bethany, and for nine years in Ephesus, whither St. John took her soon after the Jews had set Lazarus and his sisters adrift upon the sea.

Mary did not live in Ephesus itself, but in the country near it where several women who were her close friends had settled. None of the apocryphal legends of the Assumption suggest that Our Lady lived at Ephesus: most suggest Jerusalem, and the Greek legend (John, 4) gives Bethlehem. Marys dwelling was on a hill to the left of the road from Jerusalem some three and a half hours from Ephesus. The road from Jerusalem, one would suppose, would be the main road eastwards through Colossae, etc., but the suggestion that Marys house was nearer the sea than Ephesus (p. 160 ) indicates a road southward along the coast. The issue is obscured by ACs supposition that Ephesus must be several hours distant from the coast (ib.).

There seems to be some geographical confusion here, although the precise geographical history of Ephesus is rendered difficult through the silting-up of its harbor. This hill slopes steeply towards Ephesus; the city as one approaches it from the south-east seems to lie on rising ground immediately before one, but seems to change its place as one draws nearer. Great avenues lead up to the city, and the ground under the trees is covered with yellow fruit. Narrow paths lead southwards to a hill near the top of which is an uneven plateau, some half-hours journey in circumference, overgrown, like the hill itself, with wild trees and bushes. It was on this plateau that the Jewish settlers had made their home. It is a very lonely place, but has many fertile and pleasant slopes as well as rock-caves, clean and dry and surrounded by patches of sand. It is wild but not desolate, and scattered about it are a number of trees, pyramid-shaped, with big shady branches below and smooth trunks.

John had had a house built for the Blessed Virgin before he brought her here. Several Christian families and holy women had already settled here, some in caves in the earth or in the rocks, fitted out with light woodwork to make dwellings, and some in fragile huts or tents. They had come here to escape violent persecution. Their dwellings were like hermits cells, for they used as their refuges what nature offered them. As a rule, they lived at a quarter of an hours distance from each other. The whole settlement was like a scattered village.

Marys house was the only one built of stone. A little way behind it was the summit of the rocky hill from which one could see over the trees and hills to Ephesus and the sea with its many islands. The place is nearer the sea than Ephesus, which must be several hours journey distant from the coast. The district is lonely and unfrequented. Near here is a castle inhabited by a king who seems to have been deposed. John visited him often and ended by converting him. This place later became a bishops see. Between the Blessed Virgins dwelling and Ephesus runs a little stream which winds about in a very singular way.

2. MARYS HOUSE IN EPHESUS. Marys house was built of rectangular stones, rounded or pointed at the back. The windows were high up near the flat roof. The house was divided into two compartments by the hearth in the center of it. The fireplace was on the floor opposite the door; it was sunk into the ground beside a wall which rose in steps on each side of it up to the ceiling. In the center of this wall a deep channel, like the half of a chimney, carried the smoke up to escape by an opening in the roof. I saw a sloping copper funnel projecting above the roof over this opening.

The front part of the house was divided from the room behind the fireplace by light movable wicker screens on each side of the hearth. In this front part, the walls of which were rather rough and also blackened by smoke, I saw little cells on both sides, shut in by wicker screens fastened together. If this part of the house was needed as one large room, these screens, which did not nearly reach to the ceiling, were taken apart and put aside. These cells were used as bedrooms for Marys maidservant and for other women who came to visit her.

To the right and left of the hearth, doors led into the back part of the house, which was darker than the front part and ended in a semicircle or angle. It was neatly and pleasantly arranged; the walls were covered with wickerwork, and the ceiling was vaulted. Its beams were decorated with a mixture of paneling and wickerwork, and ornamented with a pattern of leaves. It was all simple and dignified.

The farthest corner or apse of this room was divided off by a curtain and formed Marys oratory. In the center of the wall was a niche in which had been placed a receptacle like a tabernacle, which could be opened and shut by pulling at a string to turn its door. In it stood a cross about the length of a mans arm in which were inserted two arms rising outwards and upwards, in the form of the letter Y, the shape in which I have always seen Christs Cross. It had no particular ornamentation, and was more roughly carved than the crosses which come from the Holy Land nowadays. I think that John and Mary must have made it themselves. It was made of different kinds of wood. It was told me that the pale stem of the cross was cypress, the brown arm cedar, and the other arm of yellow palm-wood, while the piece added at the top, with the title, was of smooth yellow olive-wood. This cross was set in a little mound of earth or stone, like Christs Cross on Mount Calvary. At its foot there lay a piece of parchment with something written on it; Christs words, I think. On the cross itself the Figure of Our Lord was roughly outlined, the lines of the carving being rubbed with darker color so as to show the Figure plainly. Marys meditation on the different kinds of wood forming the cross were communicated to me, but alas I have forgotten this beautiful lesson. Nor can I for the moment be sure whether Christs Cross itself was made of these different kinds of wood, or whether Mary had made this cross in this way only for devotional reasons. It stood between two small vases filled with fresh flowers.

I also saw a cloth lying beside the cross, and had the impression that it was the one with which the Blessed Virgin had wiped the blood from all the wounds in Our Lords holy body after it was taken down from the cross. The reason why I had this impression was that, at the sight of the cloth, I was shown that manifestation of the Blessed Virgins motherly love. At the same time I had the feeling that it was the cloth which priests use at Mass, after drinking the Precious Blood, to cleanse the chalice; Mary, in wiping the Lords wounds, seemed to me to be acting in the same way, and as she did it she held the cloth just as the priest does. Such was the impression I had at the sight of the cloth beside the cross.

To the right of this oratory, against a niche in the wall, was the sleeping place or cell of the Blessed Virgin. Opposite it, to the left of the oratory, was a cell where her clothes and other belongings were kept. Between these two cells a curtain was hung dividing off the oratory. It was Marys custom to sit in front of this curtain when she was working or reading. The sleeping place of the Blessed Virgin was backed by a wall hung with a woven carpet; the side-walls were light screens of bark woven in different-colored woods to make a pattern. The front wall was hung with a carpet, and had a door with two panels, opening inwards. The ceiling of this cell was also of wickerwork rising into a vault from the center of which was suspended a lamp with several arms. Marys couch, which was placed against the wall, was a box one and a half feet high and of the breadth and length of a narrow plank. A covering was stretched on it and fastened to a knob at each of the four corners. The sides of this box were covered with carpets reaching down to the floor and were decorated with tassels and fringes. A round cushion served as pillow, and there was a covering of brownish material with a check pattern. The little house stood near a wood among pyramid-shaped trees with smooth trunks. It was very quiet and solitary. The dwellings of the other families were all scattered about at some distance. The whole settlement was like a village of peasants.

3. MARYS MAIDSERVANT AND JOHN THE APOSTLE. The Blessed Virgin lived here alone, with a younger woman, her maidservant, who fetched what little food they needed. They lived very quietly and in profound peace. There was no man in the house, but sometimes they were visited by an Apostle or disciple on his travels. There was one man whom I saw more often than others going in and out of the house; I always took him to be John, but neither here nor in Jerusalem did he remain permanently near the Blessed Virgin. He came and went in the course of his travels.

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