Saturday, February 20, 2010

Paris, Churches, Examinations

Bonjour! I apologize for not writing sooner but the examinations were my main focus over the exam period. Blogging had to wait!
Anyway, after completing our exams, my brother seminarian Jason and I decided to travel to Paris (and some other places) before the second semester began. It was an incredible trip, as we had imagined. We stayed at the guest house of a beautiful 19th Century basilica, named after the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Sacre-Coeur Basilique). This basilica happens to be on a very large hill (Montmartre) overlooking the city, so before we really had a chance to explore it, we had a good view to whet our appetites!
We went mostly to the famous churches in the city, because we actually did not have as much time as we had anticipated (getting through the Metro system was more complicated than we expected). I guess I will have to go back there again to see the other important sites. We were able to see Notre-Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Notre-Dame des Victoires, and the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. All of these sites have had an historical impact on French Catholicism. Notre-Dame is and has been the Cathedral of Paris dating back to the 12th Century. It is famous for its Gothic style as well as its connection with French History (for example, Napoleon’s coronation). I found it to be very dark and gray, but I think that’s just because I am used to Roman churches’ Baroque style!
Sainte-Chapelle was the constructed by St. Louis, King of France, in the 13th Century to house relics. Honestly, this chapel might be the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I really can’t describe the whole of it, so here’s a picture instead!

It is now a museum owned by the French government, since it is attached to one of their government buildings.

The minor basilica Notre-Dame-des-Victoires is known for its many miracles, beginning with the pastor dedicating the church to the Blessed Virgin Mary after having a vision of her there in the early 1830s. There is an altar to the right of the sanctuary at which one prays for Mary’s intercession, and according to the custom, one’s prayer is always granted if it is in accord with God’s Will. It was very beautiful and more like what I was used to with the baroque style. It was also pleasant to see many Parisians stopping in the basilica to say a few prayers after the work day (we happened to be visiting this church at dusk).

The last chapel that we were able to visit was the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Both the bodies of St. Catherine Laboure and St. Vincent de Paul are buried there (though supposedly St. Vincent is buried in another church on the same street), two very important saints of French Catholicism. This chapel had a unique significance for me because both my grandmother and great-grandmother kept the devotion of the Miraculous Medal, praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary for her help and intercession. Regarding the chapel itself, St. Catherine Laboure had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the sanctuary. During this vision, Mary told St. Catherine to establish the devotion of the Miraculous Medal so that many who were not praying would come to pray through the grace offered by her Son. Today, there are more than a million people who keep this devotion worldwide. Here is a picture!

So it was a graced filled trip. I cannot fail to mention that the Sacred Heart Basilica where we were able to stay was also beautiful and had an interesting history. Jason and I really enjoyed it because the basilica had perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, so we could go and pray whenever we went to or from the guest house. Here’s another picture!

During this trip, we also took a train to Poitiers (though we did not get to explore the city), and then went to a monastery for a few days in the country. I promise to tell that part of the story another time, because I think it is quite a good story and therefore deserves its own post.

Examinations went very well. We could respond to the professors in English but the questions were posed in Italian, but by now I can handle that just fine. The most intimidating of the exams, which involved 45 questions that had to be memorized, ended with the professor saying to me, “Hai fatto bene, continuare a lavorare bene.” (You have done well, keep up the good work.) Those words have been with me ever since!

Lent has begun here at the NAC and we have begun the “station churches,” which is the tradition in the city of Rome for Lent. Everyday there is a different church to which we walk for Holy Mass inside the city, and since there are more than 300 churches in Rome, 40 is not a bad start to seeing some of them. I will be sure to offer prayers for my family, friends, and bloggers as I march around the city to see the rich history and keep the tradition during the season of Lent. Au revoir, arrivederci, and take care!