[So forgive me please for interrupting my Camino de Santiago series with a two month National Parks Road Trip. (You can check it out on my Instagram.) While traveling 10,000+ miles there was very little wifi and even less time to devote to my sweet, little blog. So to hold you over while I get reacquainted with indoor plumbing, here is my Camino experience in 100 words.]
“I’m walking Compostela.”
I had cried a desert dry. I was parched.
“That is exactly what you should do…Let the Camino flow through you. El Camino has graces; the Camino itself,” the Spanish accent rolled off the priest’s tongue. “You can’t receive those graces anywhere else.”
Meditating on his words, I walked. Kissing each church door that I passed; the Camino flowing like a fountain, seeking to forgive the travesty I had left. Thirty days I walked, until I reached The Apostle. I came with expectancy; Santiago met me on the Way. Now my name is Joyful Life.
My walking partner and I parted ways after three days. As much as I enjoyed his company- his knowledge of the local flora and his manners (while we were walking) that ended at the alburgue when the hostess thought we wanted one bed. I’m not sure what he told her in spanish, but I was not on board. The idea never even entered my mind! Seriously crazy.
In the end, he stayed at a different alburgue but you know how the Camino is. You step out into the dark morning and viola, there are the pilgrims you walked with the day before. Sometimes welcomed and sometimes, well, let’s just say, I welcomed solitude-while it lasted. No harm done.
“Don’t worry, About a thing, Cause every little things, Gonna be alright.”
-Bob Marley, Three Little Birds
Yep. You got it. Add to playlist along with No Woman, No Cry.
The past two years had been wrought with trauma along with indescribable emotional pain. The emotional pain was so real that it affected my physical integrity. I literally felt my heart in my chest breaking. My life of the past twenty-five years had been demolished out of malice. And so here I was walking across Spain, seeking the grace to forgive the perpetrator of the destruction.
My next Camino will be for you; and all survivors of violence- even sexual. Please know that God heals.
Add Redemption, Dermot Kennedy and The Cave, by Mumford and Sons. This is real. It’s about having the strength to forgive and move forward.
“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Back to the graces of the Camino for God’s love is magical.
Like I said, I had not planned on walking the Camino when I came to Spain last summer, but the Way called me. When I told a friend in Madrid about this he shared with me his wisdom:
“That is exactly what you should do…Let the Camino flow through you. El Camino has graces; the Camino itself. You can’t receive those graces anywhere else.”
-A Holy Priest from Madrid
“And let your mind wander,” I recalled my friend saying.
Add: Lost in My Mind by The Head and the Heart.
Memories came forward stirring up the muck in my heart. Anger and sorrow would ebb; and love would flow as I released the pain to the One who took it on Himself. There was nothing too great for him to bear. The more I released the more joy I found. The more joy I found, the more peace I recieved. The Camino flowed through me.
Add Ripple, by The Dead.
I kept walking keeping my chin up; that part is essential: HOPE.
Also, don’t forget to smile at the your fellow pilgrims. Be ready with “Buen Camino” to greet them. They have their sufferings too. No pity parties on your Way. Just keep adding to that playlist.
For me it was: Keep Your Head Up (Ben Howard), Panic! At the Disco’s, High Hopes, and for fun, This Is How We Roll, by Florida Georgia Line. Music is therapy for the soul.
Singing is praying twice.
Go to every Pilgrim’s mass you can. Offer up all of the muck along with all of your efforts of this Camino with the priest’s offering. Let His love flow to your very core. He did not do this to you, dear one. His love heals. He is there. Present.
He knows your suffering.
She knows the scandal of injustice.
Ave Maria by Beyoncé added to playlist.
If you can, receive everything on your pilgrimage as a gift. The blisters, the fatigue, the aches, the heat, even the illness that may come.
And come it did. A nasty cough. Try as I did, nothing seemed to relieve it. I hope my roommates were able to get some sleep. I sure wasn’t. But the worst part was my difficulty with my asthma. I had to make some choices and they were not easy.
In the end, I made the right choice for me. I realized that my pilgrimage to Santiago was to visit the Apostle in celebration of his feast. That had always been my dream. To celebrate mass there on July 25th. For me it didn’t have to do with how many kilometers I could walk in a day, or even getting my Long Distance- even though something inside me really did want that.
And so without shame: I got on a bus.
I knew I needed to practice self-care and I could not safely walk the next stage. The unexpected benefit of the short- again, short- bus trip, was being able to dry up my drained blisters by pouring rubbing alcohol on them a few times during the day while wearing my open toe Birks. I’m certain “experts” will warn not to do this; you should listen but it did seem to help me. A little.
That- somewhat of a rest day- along with some new cough lozenges seemed to help. (Shout out to the pharmacists along the Camino.) I was walking again the next day, no longer in solitude but with the Moldovan pilgrim I met walking to Logroño. Remember the one who sang the Beatles? That day we would walk for 30+ km, the longest stretch of my Camino.
We stopped at a place that had la ensalada de papa. Score! While we walked he told me that most people can only handle being around him for a couple of hours.
Spent more time with him in Leon…I started to think his friends were right.
I had been making due with one pair of hikers since Logroño and so now in Leon, I had a chance to shop! Where did I head to? El Cortes Inglés, of course. Now it wasn’t quite the same experience as shopping in Madrid but I didn’t have much time anyway. I did manage to find the most beautiful blush cotton dress with long flowing butterfly sleeves, the floral motif reminiscent of the gardens of Alhambra. Putting it on after a long day of walking the Camino felt heavenly. Best. Decision. Ever.
Add to playlist: Señorita by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello. Not for the Camino Playlist. Instead add: King and Lionheart, Of Monsters and Men.
The Moldovan left in the morning to do his 50 km day. I stayed and toured the Cathedral.
It is breathtaking.
And so worth the late start.
Now, just so you know, I am glad I came to the Camino alone. I would not have it any other way. There really was a beauty in going it alone. With complete freedom, I became dependent on God for my strength. Being alone enabled me to rediscover myself; the strong, friendly, gritty, joyful, free-thinking, feminine me; the me who had to be buried in order to survive an abusive, patriarchal relationship.
For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. -San Pablo
…I AM FREE.
Brand New by Ben Rector gets added to the list.
Thank goodness for my playlist. The next stretch of the Camino is black asphalt and car exhaust.
Someone told me that I really should stop in the next church because the statue of the Virgin of the Camino had a lot of significance. I do not know the story of this statue. What is clear is this image is special. Very special.
A Thousand Years, Christina Perri, added to the List.
I urge you to stop here even if the locals don’t want you to. They may even charge you for being a vagabundo–a vagabond. That is what my lunch receipt said. Just shake the dust off your feet and go to the friendly little peregrino eatery just across from the church. They welcome pilgrims with a smile.
Add to playlist: Shake It Off, by Taylor Swift.
Also, if you leave before dawn, be careful. Another pilgrim and I, missed the Camino due to some very large dogs being let loose on us. To afraid to turn back, we kept going not aware of our mishap. We eventually both made it back to the Camino, after probably two hours of walking. She had to climb a fence and cross a highway. Lucky for me, I checked my phone when I came to the only crossroad. I was able to cross through a little village that eventually met up with the Camino. I never want to see those dogs again! They were as big as lions.
A-wimoweh, a-wimoweh A-wimoweh…S T O P. Hold up a minute. That song will be stuck in my head forever.
Okay, that’s better: “Don’t worry about a thing…”
Now, after making it back to the Camino, I ran into the pilgrim priest again, along with the pilgrim I had started off with that morning. Fr. Jojin told me about a monastery that he was headed to for evening vespers chanted in Latin. I so badly wanted to go but as I was still feeling sick, I didn’t think I could make it. He made it, and sent me a little video. Little did I know, I would be there soon along with a caravan of American pilgrims.
Get to add to the playlist: Pretty Shining People by George Ezra.
But first Astorga:
The lessons Astorga had for me: Good things come to those who wait. Remember my 4th of July longing for a bacon-blue burger? Got it here. Right outside the bell tower.
The other lesson? Bed bugs are nasty little buggers. I saw my first poor victim of bedbugs. Fear is the right response. The worst part? Instead of compassion, she had to be greeted with: leave & follow this protocol. My heart went out to her.
That night, I crawled into my silk, wrapped myself up like a caterpillar in a cocoon and slept soundly. Tomorrow would be another day of Wake, Walk, Wash, Wine, Repeat… I need a vacation.
Single gender bathrooms would be welcome too…
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I received my credentials along with a pilgrim’s blessing at the Royal Parish Church of Santiago and St. John the Baptist in Madrid. I was officially a pilgrim. I had not come to Spain planning to walk. It was His plan, in His time.
I arrived by train in Pamplona on the feast of John the Baptist, June 24, 2019. I participated in the Pilgrim’s Mass at the Cathedral. That is where I met the first member of my Camino Familia, a pilgrim from Croatia. I will always remember him walking into a great hall of the church and belting out a Croatian marian hymn. It was a sight to behold.
Jose Maria, an exceptional volunteer, gave us a lovely tour of the cathedral and later, Father led a nice community time of sharing and prayer. This was so much more than I expected. I now felt like a pilgrim.
First hurdle for this American peregrina? Going into a bar and ordering pinchos- alone. First lesson learned? SMILE = FOOD + BEER. Invaluable.
Later on I would learn, if you add rubbing your tummy to the smile, you will get the best chicken dinner you’ve ever tasted. That would be in Villamayor de Monjardin. Don’t worry; there is only one bar so you will find it. Unfortunately, it is only open- sometimes.
“We never shall know all the good a simple smile can do.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta
Day One Walking: First up Mt. Perdon. And then, D O W N…Oh, the knees. My training consisted of walking from Decathlon to Decathlon in Madrid, trying to get the gear I needed for my impromptu, but long desired, pilgrimage on the Way to Compostela. I was hurting.
My hosts at the first alburgue were so gracious, even allowing me to pick cherries from their trees. And, dinner? AMAZING. The wine? So nice. The heat wave? Starting tomorrow…
A German Pilgrim.
We attended the Pilgrim’s mass together at St. Michael in Estella.
San Miguel, my patron saint, has a fierce devotion to me. (I say that tongue in cheek but it must be said.) I try and return it in the same measure but I’m certain I will never quite match him. It was so special celebrating mass here, receiving the blessing from Fr. Michael who shares devotion to our namesake.
Fr. Michael gave the pilgrims a holy card with the Pilgrim’s Prayer to our Lady of Rua printed on it. I carried it with me, trying to pray it everyday. By the time I arrived in Santiago it was so worn that it looked nearly as old as some of the churches along the Camino.
After the blessing it was time for tapas and cervezas. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers played, I had to remind myself that I was in Spain. The baby eels on the little plate helped with that. Topic of the night? What else, US politics.
As I passed the multitude of churches along the old pilgrim route, I made the practice of kissing each door as a little sign of my love to the Presence who may be inside. Just a small act of devotion for so many graces.
Yes, the heat wave arrived. The pilgrims I was privileged to walk with are survivors. We walked the meseta- think Death Valley- while temperatures scorched Europe, reaching 44° C. Translated into American? Just over 111° F. Maybe it got hotter. I wasn’t keeping track. I am thankful to the bartender in the village that gave me gazpacho. I’m certain it saved my life. Gracias.
The pilgrims from LA I met walking the meseta were thinking of leaving and going to Scandi. I get it. No judgment here. The American mom with her young daughter was thinking Ireland. Smart move. I hope they made it to the wine fountain first. The vino is not bad at all. Salude.
Pilgrims who had started in St. Jean had three days on me: three extra days of blisters, injuries, and exhaustion. How happy we were to arrive at an alburgue that offered us foot baths and a laundry spinner. The hosts even let me join them for the ride straight up a jaggedy dirt road, to an old fortress. Their ministry to pilgrims was so appreciated but how it saddened me to hear them say “that they were the only thing spiritual on the Camino” when Christ Himself is present; waiting for hearts with humility to be open to sweet communion in the Eucharist.
Walking to Logroño on a Sunday afternoon with new boots two sizes too big; so much better. Left the old boots on the church steps with the hope that they could go to someone who needs them. Met a pilgrim from Moldova who sang the Beatles. All You Need is Love became the simple truth of the Way. And so began The Camino Playlist.
Just before Logroño, lining the Camino, are fruit trees. A local woman was gathering the cherry like fruits. When I asked what they were, the kind woman filled her second bag with half of what she had gathered- and gave them to me! So kind and generous was her heart.
Add to playlist:
Heart of Gold by Neil Young
“I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold…”
I didn’t think my feet could carry me any further- but it was Sunday- and I needed to make it to mass so I kept going. In Logroño, waiting for the Moldovan pilgrim, was a pilgrim from India, a Catholic priest, who the Way brought into my pilgrimage as a shepherd while I was so far from my shepherds at home.
Another one added to the playlist: Shed a Little Light by GoldFord.
I told this pilgrim priest that I needed to go to mass and he walked me to the Cathedral. Mass had just begun. Elated, I opened the door with my pack still on my back- a hot mess- and not caring! Thankfully, the pilgrim priest checked the mass schedule, looked at me and decided that we would go to mass that evening. Now it was time to get a bed. And then, food!
Felt so blessed to be able to help prepare the pilgrim’s meal at the alburgue; yes, there were too many cooks in the kitchen, but in the end many hands made light work. The food was delish! Mass was lovely too.
Add to playlist: Kenny Chesney’s Get Along.
The ringing of the old church bells calling the faithful to prayer- what a memory. When I heard them ring, I would run fearing that I would miss the celebration. I learned I typically had 15 minutes to get there. So thankful to be able to pray vespers with the sisters at the monastery. Beautiful sweetness.
“40” by U2 added.
Loved Santo Domingo. The mosaics in the crypt are muy bonita. Such a nice pilgrim’s mass. Realized I left some clothes in Logroño. Checked a local store for some new hikers. €65. Ouch. Made the decision that I would get by with the one pair of hiking pants I had, save my money and wait to buy something I loved. Best. Decision. Ever.
Gloria by U2 added.
Walking into Burgos I met the first of the LA ladies. Kelly and I connected right away as we could relate to situations we each were going through. We soon caught up to her friends, Becky and Sylvia. We would meet each other walking many times over the next three weeks. Love the LA ladies. And, the Burgos Cathedral is amazing.
Can’t forget Willie. On the Road Again. Added.
Met up with the Croatian pilgrim I met the first night in Pamplona. So surprised as he is a giant and I walk at the speed of the snails because of my asthma. As we were talking about the Good Shepherd and the 23rd Psalm, what should approach us? Yes, shepherds leading their sheep down the Camino! Seriously, Providence. It is true, the goats seperate themselves from the sheep. It is their way not the way of the shepherds.
Can’t not add: I Will Follow. Yes, I know, more U2. But it’s vintage…
Darko and I continued on our Way, reciting, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He leads me,” taking turns in each of our own tongue. Pretty magical. We soon parted ways. I am as slow as the snails.
Add to playlist: You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello.
So how is it being in a foreign country on the Fourth of July? Honestly, hard. After another scorching day, I’ll I wanted was a bacon-blue burger, watermelon, potato salad and a nice local brew in my hand. I wanted to kick back, watch the fireworks exploding across the sky, while Don Henley’s, American Pie looped in the background.
Give me some little American cuties turning cartwheels with their red, white and blue ribbons twirling like sparklers from their pigtails, while their older brothers are taunting them with snakes caught by the creek; the TNT poppers exploding at their bare feet. Give me that, and I’m good!
While there was a place to kick back with a beer, the open field behind the albergue remained vacant of exploding stars in an American anthem.
The church bells called the village to mass and I went running. There was even a sing-along where every country was invited to sing a song important to them, but everytime I suggested, God Bless America, it was nixed. Another tradition missed. How ’bout, Immaculate Mary?
A m e r i c a n.
North American that is.
I checked the store for hamburger. None. Although interiorly sullen, I kept my American chin up and enjoyed the paella along with the company of the Chinese, Italian and French Canadian pilgrims at the dinner table. The next day, Tom Petty’s, American Girl was added to the Camino playlist.
“Well she was an American girl, Raised on promises, She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there, Was a little more to life, Somewhere else, After all it was a great big world, With lots of places to run to, Yeah, and if she had to die, Tryin’ she had one little promise, She was gonna keep………She was an American girl.”
Well, the sun still rose the next morning and it wasn’t long (just 15 km) before this American girl was biting into the largest, sweetest slice of watermelon she could remember. It tasted so good under the shade.
While the scroungy dog listened intently to his master, the watermelon vendor shared his verse with the pilgrims resting at his establishment; a poem he wrote about el Camino. It was recited in Spanish. After all, this is Spain.
One by one, the other items I missed so much; la hamburguesa, la ensalada de papa and los fuegos artificiales, would come to me as I continued my Way…
…Hit play. Boots of Spanish Leather, The Lumineers. They’re Colorado-grown.
Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?
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Just a couple of places in Cologne that are worth mentioning:
die wohngemeinschaft: Hostel, Cafe, Bar, Theater. The staff here is amazing. They have great information and are always helpful. They recommended the ballet and then helped me navigate the web page to buy the ticket as it wouldn’t translate from German to English. The rooms are clean and have an eclectic vibe. The breakfast buffet looked great and the coffee was free. Above is the view from my room.
KA Putz Brauhaus: Best place to drink a never ending stream of Kolsch. When you have had your fill just put your coaster on top of your glass–and soon you will have your bill. The food here was great too. Prost!
Cologne Culture: The National Russian Ballet performed Swan Lake, arena-style. Tickets were super affordable. Something like $50. This would cost so much more in the States. I use discretion on how I spend my money and this was so worth it! Events are always changing so see what is new.
If you’re going to splurge on a cultural event, I’d go with a ballet or the theatre rather than an orchestra. Churches often have amazing choirs as a part of their services. Immerse yourself in a musical rhapsody there for free. A donation goes far in showing that you appreciate them.
I hope to return to Cologne in the future. It’s one of the few European cities where I thought I would enjoy living. It’s clean, vibrant and historical. Lovely.
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Another hidden gem in Cologne, in addition to the majestic Cathedral, is the Basilica of St. Ursula. This basilica is like no other that I have ever seen, having laid within it’s facade the bones of thousands of virgins who were martyred in Cologne, alongside St. Ursula.
Ursela was a princess of Cornwall who lived in the 5th century. Her father, Dionotus, had promised her in marriage to Cynan Meiriadog of Amorica. The king sent Ursela off, along with 11,000 virgins and 30,000 common women, to inhabit the new kingdom. Braving the treacherous North Sea the women became shipwrecked. Carried off by the Huns and the Picts, Ursela and the virgins were martyred while the others were enslaved. Their remains were found lying were the basilica is.
With the dilemma of what to do with so many holy relics, it was decided that they would cover the walls of the church with them. The Chamber of Bones is extraordinary. I could not help but be reminded that one day I too shall die. My takeaway? May my heart not turn dry and brittle like the walls of this chamber. May I be purified by love; as the women who lie here embodied strength of virtue.
The best thing about allowing God to plan your travels are the amazing ways He surprises you. When I stepped off the train in Cologne I had no idea of what awaited me. I had found little of spiritual significance in Berlin other than art and artifacts.
I guess because of that, I had written off the rest of Germany outside of Bavaria. God knows what he is doing even when I don’t. Living in the present though, requires not knowing, thus receiving each moment as a sacrament. It’s trusting that while you may be in the dark, you’re really in His light, being guided by His illumination.
Awe, sheer awe, is what I felt as I approached the looming, goth of a Cathedral, with it’s twin spires and it’s dark staining. I needed to know more, even if it meant using my precious data. Quickly, Google turned up all I needed: Relics of the Kings. I checked my phone for the date. January 9th. Yes! It was within eight days of the celebration of Epiphany. I knew this was more than luck.
I was taught that Catholics may celebrate any solemnity as an octave. I think this may have been a hook; Catholics like to party so we can extend it out. If you get a Christmas card from me in February- as long as it’s before Mardi Gras- it is legit. Don’t ask me to explain it. Just say “thanks”. Wink. Wink.
Anyway. I marveled at God’s timing in bringing me here to visit the tomb where three kings who followed a star across the globe were laid to rest. You know these guys.
“We three kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traversed so far, Field and fountain, Moor and mountain, Following yonder star.”
Yep. Those are the ones. Amazing. I would NEVER have guessed that they would be here in the Rhineland. But as I said, God is full of surprises.
Cologne, Relics of the Magi
The Three Kings, or the Magi, as they are sometimes called, seem to be a bit shrouded in mystery, like the lands that they inhabited: Arabia, Persia and India.
As a disclaimer: I am neither theologian nor scholar, just an ordinary pilgrim like you; that is all. I give you this disclaimer as there seems to be debate amongst those who are theologians and scholars, as to the facts concerning these men. They may argue but I prefer a simpler way; Trust.
When we choose to trust we open ourselves to the reality of the Truth. Choosing to trust is an act of faith. It is declaring that we don’t have all the answers, that we are willing to be vulnerable and risk facing humiliation. Trust requires courage.
Back to the Kings…This is what I know:
Balthasar was a king of Arabia, Melchior was a king of Persia and Casper was a king of India. These men set out on a long pilgrimage being led by the light, a star shining in the darkness.
They did not make the journey empty-handed. Within their bounty were some treasured gifts. They knew that someone even greater than themselves had come into the world. They wanted to be prepared to offer him their honor and allegiance.
Perhaps, they were prophets. Some say they were priests. By the end of their journey they would become: true prophets, priests, and kings.
After traveling for more than one year, the pilgrim kings finally arrived in the land of the Hebrews. As would be customary they went to the ruler of the kingdom, King Herod. They explained their circumstances to the Roman-appointed, king of Judea. The Magi informed him that they came seeking the newly-born King of the Jews. Imagine Herod’s surprise.
Herod possesed with envy and fear, ordered all male children in the kingdom under the age of two, to be murdered. This is remembered as the Massacre of the Innocents. Christians recognize these Holy Innocents as the first martyrs of the faith.
The Three Kings went on from Herod’s palace eventually finding the Infant Jesus. They prostrated themselves in worship before Him laying at His feet their gifts: Gold for the child’s Kingship, frankincense for his Priesthood, and myrrh for His Death. Imagine Mary’s wonder.
Shortly after their arrival, Joseph, Mary’s husband, had a dream in which an angel appeared to him. The messenger from God warned Joseph to take his wife and child to Egypt due to the tyranny of Herod. In astonishment, Joseph obeyed.
Balthasar, Melchior, and Casper had found what they were searching for. They set out seeking that which was greater than themselves. Their sights were set on heaven. Their hearts were that of pilgrims.
Their pilgrimage brought about many surprises not only for themselves but for those they encountered. It set into motion many unexpected events of which they were unaware. They were only aware of their part. Living in the present they allowed life to unfold before them. With trust they followed into the unknown and were illuminated by the Light of the World.
Much more could be said about the Holy Family’s Flight Into Egypt but I think I’ll wait with hope that a pilgrimage to that mysterious land may be in the future. For now I will be content with this very moment, for that is where God is to be found. With every new moment comes a new epiphany- illuminating the darkness- that hides in the heart.
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Christmas in Krakow. New Years in Prague. That is what I decided, and as expected, the Czech’s know how to party. Dancing and fireworks were the order of the night, with the fireworks (you know the real deal) being lit off throughout the city. The Czech’s are so serious about their pyrotechnics that it is difficult to walk through the streets, each step needing to be navigated as if walking through a land mine. The cityscape with it’s spires explode from every direction making the glittering reflection from the river incredible to behold. I’ve never been so thankful for a new year with all the hope of a new beginning: Prague made it memorable.
Waking up after a big night is always a little difficult to put it mildly, but as I am a pilgrim, I want to attend mass. New Year’s Day mass honors Mary, Mother of God, which makes the rising so early easier, as it is one of my favorite feasts. Do you know that chill vibe you get when you’re singing the Beatles’, Let it Be? Well, that is the feeling I always get during mass on Mary’s solemnity but even more chill; absolute peace seems to settle in my very core.
I always do. And, this year was no exception. I made my way across town to the “lesser quarter” of Prague where the church of Our Lady the Victorious and the Shrine of the Infant of Prague has stood since the mid-1500s. My devotion to the Infant of Prague seems a bit mysterious to me, as if it has not yet come to complete realization. Let me explain:
In my home we were religious at Christmas, and sometimes, Easter. I was the youngest of two children. I did not have any babies around me. Ever. They were really a foreign thing. I thought of them as something like a puppy or kitten but with diapers and crying. Think of the song, The Wheels on the Bus. All the baby did was CRY, CRY, CRY. And the mommy? SHUSH. SHUSH. SHUSH. Not so endearing.
Then came Christmas, and yes, there was Santa Claus. He came with the threat that he knew everything, and if you were bad (and who wasn’t) you’d get nothing, not even coal. There also came Christmas carols. Music filled the house. Some of the songs were about a baby who was loved and was lovable… Away in a Manger, Silent Night; These carols were instrumental in opening my heart to a friendship with this baby. My favorite carol was The Little Drummer Boy. I would pour over the pages of the book by Ezra Jack Keats. The vivid illustrations would hold my gaze while I would sing that song over and over again. This would be my first experience with Mother Mary:
(Pa rum pum pum pum)
The ox and lamb kept time
(Pa rum pum pum pum)
Then he smiled at me
(Pa rum pum pum pum)
Me and my drum
That is all I needed to feel loved. She said yes to the little poor boy who didn’t have any money to buy a gift for her son. I could relate. I was poor too and couldn’t buy the gifts I wanted to give to the people I loved. As a child, I felt my poverty. God uses every opportunity given Him, to draw us towards His boundless love and His sweet smile, even childish songs.
In addition to the music, the decorations were pulled out of storage and carefully unwrapped. I distinctly remember being given the honor of placing Baby Jesus in the creche and feeling the love of God as a young child being raised in a family ruptured by divorce. God is so good and wants to love on us, like no other can.
So fast forward to adulthood. When I was becoming Catholic, I read a book about Therese of the Child Jesus. The book described an illness that Therese had as a child. Her family thought she was going to die. They prayed for her and through the Child Jesus, she was cured. The image she described was the Infant of Prague; Jesus as a child holding the whole world in his hand. Now that I think of it, that sweet little song, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands was in my Brownie songbook.
I went through the process of becoming Catholic and eventually, chose Therese as part of my Confirmation name. What drew me to Therese was her little way of trusting the Father’s love for her. Jesus and I; we were good. The Father’s love? That was difficult for me.
When I arrived at Our Lady the Victorious, I was greeted by a small stable with live animals to delight the children. Then came the whimsical wooden nativity outside of the church and finally, upon entering the sanctuary, there was a nativity decorated with handmade paper stars. A most interesting statue of Teresa of Avila that looked as if she was in motion stood below a picture of the saint in ecstacy. Across from the life-size Teresa, was a very small statue of the Infant of Prague dressed in his royal finery.
Although a little groggy from the celebration the night before, I was still present enough to pray. I could not help but be moved by the presence of this tiny little statue. He seemed to radiate a mystique and imbued grace that he wished to pour out on those who had come to his shrine to adore.
Infant of Prague
Jesus, you decided to become a child, and I’m coming to you full of trust. I believe that your attentive love forestalls all my needs.
Even for the intercession of your holy Mother, you can meet my necessities, spiritual as well as material, if I pray according to your holy will.
I love you with all my heart, all my strength, I beg pardon if my weakness makes me sin. I repeat the Gospel, “Lord if you want you can heal me.”
I leave you to decide how and when. I’m ready to accept suffering, if this is your will. Help me not to become hardened to it but rather to bear fruit.
Help me to be a faithful servant and for your sake, holy Child, to love my neighbor as myself.
Almighty Child, I pray without ceasing to you to support me in my necessities of the present moment which are:
Grant me the grace to remain in you, to be possessed and to possess you entirely, with your parents, Mary and Joseph, in the eternal praise of your holy servants.
-prayer to the Infant of Prague
Having fully prayed that prayer, I knew that my purpose in Prague had been fulfilled. Music filled the sanctuary. The closing hymn was a Christmas carol. The only familiar one I heard while in Europe. Thank ya’, Baby Jesus.
“At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” -Paul’s Letter to the Church in Corinth
The Infant of Prague was given to the Carmelites of Prague by Princess Polyxena of Lobkowicz. It is believed to have belonged to Teresa of Avila, the Spanish reformer of the Carmelite order. It was promised that as long as the Order honored the Child all their needs would be provided for. Miracles have been attributed to devotion to the Infant of Prague.
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Just a few businesses around Krakow that are worth a mention:
The cafe at the John Paul II Center: Seriously good, kremówka papieska (Papal Creme Cake). JP II’s favorite!
Cytat Cafe: Coffee, books, and cake. So good. Cozy on a winter day. Great place to charge your phone or connect to wifi. Love. Love. Love.
Rigionalne Alkohole: Nice selection of Polish liquor, beer, & cider: not so much wine. The guy behind the counter is the quinestencial Pole. You may have to break out your Americana to get him to crack a smile; I did. My recommendation:
Christmas Fair: Covered this here. Highly recommend.
Hostel One Momotown: Sweet staff. Free dinner. Youthful, party vibe. You decide. If you want quiet contemplation this is NOT the place for you; check with the Sisters of Mercy. Love the Momotown staff.
Mihito: Maybe Poland’s answer to Zara? Loved the clothes. Loved the prices. Shop here for deals before you go to Prague or Berlin. Just sayin’. You will thank me. Women’s clothing store close to the John Paul II Center.
Mr. Valvelsky Karaoke Bar: If karaoke is your thing, this place is so fun. The bar staff make excellent cocktails & the price will blow your mind. It’s so reasonable. Go early if you want a more chill vibe, as the night goes on it gets packed with Pub Crawls.
Skip the perfume stores. Period. They smell watered & alcohol-downed.
Ask up front how much food costs at the Christmas Market or you may, just may, get ripped off, like paying twice as much for a sausage. I had no problems at the pierogi or soup stands. Those are steller. Just the sausage. Go figure.
Polish wodka is strooong. Proceed with caution. This peregrina has sworn it off. Wow.
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Their letter had been read in every church in Holland. The Dutch bishops could no longer keep silent. They felt they had to speak out against the racist regime. Their flock needed to hear their voice even if it meant their imprisonment, for even Bishops had been interned in Dachau. They went forward, undeterred, boldly giving witness to the truth of the dignity of all people. The shepherds were prepared to suffer themselves for the tyranny must be stopped. They were unprepared for Hitler’s retaliation; he went straight for their heart by striking at the flock itself.
Sister Teresa had been sent in secret by her superiors to the Netherlands for they feared for her safety in Cologne. It was not long after her arrival that the Dutch were overtaken by the Nazi forces. Ethnic Jews, like Sr. Teresa Benedicta, were soon required to fill out extensive paperwork to register themselves with the new dictatorship, regardless of their religious affiliation. Teresa obliged the requirement to protect her Order.
“Hail Jesus Christ, King of the Universe!”
was the audtious salute that Teresa greeted the Nazi’s with as she entered their headquarters. It could be no other way for Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. God was the only One who merited such a provocative greeting.
In Her DNA
Teresa was born on the Jewish festival, Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement. She was given the name Edith Stein. Her father passed, leaving Edith’s mother to raise her and the ten siblings up, according to their Jewish faith. Like her mother, Edith was endowed with a will of steel and a pointed intelect. She also possesed a great desire for knowledge and truth, intertwined with her melancholy temperament.
Experience of the Divine
At fourteen, Edith found herself unsatisfied with the faith of her family. Having declared herself an atheist, she committed to the pursuit of learning, taking a particular interest in philosophy. It was during this pursuit of knowing that Edith came across Teresa of Avila’s autobiography. After reading about the nun’s experience with the divine, Edith came to know in her very being, that what the Spanish mystic wrote was true. Edith had been given the gift of faith.
With belief, Edith sought out instruction from a priest in the Catholic faith. This lead to her baptism. Rather than closing herself off after being born-again, she was intentional about maintaining her relationships. Edith was down to earth. Unfortunately, this would cause some to criticize her saying that it was difficult to see a difference from the saint and the sinners, at least when they shared company.
Ugh. Relatable…Haters gonna hate. Must be why our connection is so strong. Sorry, going on…
Being a pioneering women, she continued her studies in philosophy at the University. Edith was mentored by Edmund Husserl, and though, unable to acquire a professorship due to her jewishness rather than her gender, she would later go on to develop her own philosophy as a phenomenologist rooted in Thomistic thought.
Teresa never lost her ardor for the faith she was gifted. She developed her spiritual life with the help of spiritual mentors. At the age of forty she entered the Carmelites following after her spiritual mother, Teresa of Avila. It was her texts that opened Edith’s eyes to the divine thus making it fitting that she took the name, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
And, like the great Teresa of Avila, Edith also soared in the realm of Christian mysticism. She had deep foreshadowing knowledge that she would be sacrificed as a burnt offering for her Jewish people; in union to Christ’s one atonement on the Cross. She even offered herself as a holocaust to Christ.
The roundup of Catholic Jews had begun in the Netherlands. Teresa and her companions’ would follow after their Saviour.
But He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity, He bore the punishment that makes us whole, By His wounds we are healed.
The prophet Isaiah, Chapter 53
And like Esther, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, would stand before her King pleading for her people; offering herself.
When she and her companions entered the gas chamber on August 9, 1942, there was the One who burns as a Holy Flame dancing alight inside them. For like their ancestors the prophets, they did not enter the furnace alone but with God who delivered them into His Presence, joining the chosen generations who had come before.
And there she stands today, making intercession for her people, the Old and the New.
I made my way down the long dirt road that followed the fence of the concentration camp. I was told that the building, a former SS commander’s house, was now a church; though no one ever goes there, it should be open if I want to pray.
When I arrived a wedding was just concluding and so with trepidation I entered. A painting of the saint greeted me hanging just to the right of the Presence in the golden box. I knelt and cried. That was my prayer.
“And though my windows got a view, The frame I’m looking through, Seems to have no concern for now, So for now, I need this, Old train to breakdown, Oh please, just, Let me please breakdown, This engine screams out loud.”
Add to playlist. Stop thinking. You are going there to remember – the heroic. This is an act of Mercy. Love triumphed.
I turned up, Spotify. I needed to stop the haunting images the clanging of the train was bringing to mind. Images etched in my youthful memory from Eli Wiesel’s, Night. Images from other pens came as well, but being older when those were lived- through the safety of the page- I had more maturity to process the confrontation with evil.
Dwell in the Good…I will dwell in the Good.
I had tried to get tickets online but was unsuccessful. I knew if Providence desired it, it would be- and so I trusted. The line was long. I was told to come back at six the next morning. Did he know how long the train ride was? I smiled and explained my situation.
With an expressionless face but a glint in his eyes, his monotone voice spoke, “Auschwitz I is only open for you tomorrow, but Auschwitz II-Birkenau does not require a ticket. They will help you there.”
Well, this pilgrim did all she could. And, although I couldn’t get inside cell 18, block 11, the starvation chamber, where Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the Martyr of Love had died from lethal injection after volunteering to take the punishment of another prisoner, I had still made it just outside the barbed wire compound.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends. -The Gospel of John, Chapter 15
I took my moment right there. I prayed for my people; I once had carried them in my womb and now I carried them in my heart. I knew that they were dear to their namesake. I knew he could succeed in securing their difficult vocations.
I found the lamppost where the bus to Auschwitz II-Birkenau made its rounds to pick up the thousands of visitors who arrived everyday. As I waited, and wondered at God’s plan for me, I felt a nasty, gritty wetness hit me from above! Pigeon poop. There was the sign of God’s favor. Lucky me! Although, I prefer ladybugs landing on me as a heavenly lot, I got on the bus now knowing, I was where I was meant to be.
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein
Come, Rosa, we go for our people.
Teresa took her sister’s arm, her brown habit blowing as her flag in the evening breeze, coming off the canals. The gestapo officer lead the two women to the truck ironically offering them his hand. Teresa, with the dignity of knowing her purpose, raised her hem just enough not to trip, and seated herself amongst her companions. Some of the faces she knew. Mother had arrived to bring comfort. They began to pray the scriptures, “Hail Mary, full of grace…”
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