Fr. Ed Namiotka
Guten morgen! Or, as they say in Bavaria: Grüß Gott (a form of “God bless you”).
Maybe some of you will recall the movie from 1969 about a bunch of American tourists in Europe entitled “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.” I’m going to have to watch it again. I understand there is a sequel. I don’t need to watch the second film. We just experienced it on our own.
Last night I slept in my own bed at the rectory. I was exhausted after being up from about 5 AM (Central European time) in Munich. The flight home from Germany to Philadelphia was rather uneventful and it arrived on time. Getting through customs was another story. I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but, as a friendly reminder, don’t try to bring the uneaten fresh fruit (apples, pears) that you were served for breakfast back into the country. It can cause certain “problems” with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Continuing with my report of the pilgrimage (saga) from last week, we spent only a few hours in Bratislava (Slovakia) and then two days in Vienna (Austria). Vienna's highlights included seeing its cathedral (St. Stephan) and attending an orchestra concert. Later, we visited Altötting (Bavaria) where there is the famous statue (Black Madonna) of Our Lady of Altötting and a Capuchin Franciscan friary housing the relics of St. Conrad of Parzham, O.F.M. Cap. Both of these are worth investigating. Pope Benedict XVI has great devotion to Our Lady of Altötting and even gifted his episcopal ring to her from his time as Archbishop of Munich. The ring was then placed on the statue itself. St. Conrad of Parzham had a story similar to St André Bessette in our part of the world (Montreal). Both were humble porters (doorkeepers) who became saints.
Our pilgrims later attended the famous Passion Play in Oberammergau (Bavaria). The play which is performed in a covered, open-air theater takes around six hours to complete. All of the many participants are from the village. There is a magnificent, large choir and an orchestra. Naturally, the dialogue and songs are completely in German, but we were given a book with the complete translation into English. Because of its great length, we were allotted time at the intermission to have a meal in a local restaurant.
The Passion Play is an event I had heard about in my youth but never realized I would eventually experience for myself. The play was not a performance but a faith-filled event to be experienced. The current interpretation showed how the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) were fulfilled in the life of Jesus. There was some obvious artistic creativity and poetic license employed during the performance. I was disappointed, however, by the portrayal of the Last Supper as it omitted the most important words of consecration spoken by Jesus (“This is My Body. . . This is My Blood”). Perhaps, it may be just another indication of how many people do not truly grasp the Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist.
While we didn’t lose anyone permanently during the trip, there were a few moments of separation-anxiety. Some items (backpacks, passports) were lost but then found. The tour bus, unfortunately, took off with my cell phone. I don’t know what it wanted with my phone. Thanks to modern technology, I was able to track the phone on my computer and it was returned the next day. (You didn’t actually think that I was going to blame myself for this mishap, did you?)
I am certainly glad to be home!
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Danube River, (Budapest, Hungary)
I am writing to you from Budapest, Hungary after having finished a brief one-hour river cruise on the Danube. The group I am with consists of thirty-one pilgrims, twenty from the east coast (New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) and eleven from the west coast (Los Angeles area). Ultimately, we will wind up in Oberammergau to see the world famous Passion Play. Additionally, we visit Prague, (Czech Republic), Bratislava (Slovakia), Budapest (Hungary), Vienna (Austria) and Munich (Germany).
Needless to say, the days contain much activity. Every day there is a bus ride, sometimes for hours. Often there is a rather tight schedule, usually including Holy Mass in a local church. We tour the various cities. We unpack and pack as we move from hotel to hotel. We eat, sleep and drink. And we get tired.
The difficult task of the pilgrimage leader (me) is to keep the pilgrims on time and together. There are those who want to shop. There are those who need to use a bathroom. Some stop to take pictures. Some have difficulty walking and cannot navigate the cobblestone streets or the non-handicapped accessible stairs of old Europe. Some go off on their own and get separated from the group. Some barely make it across the street as the trolley-car rapidly approaches them. There is no better way to describe my task than like attempting to herd a bunch of stray cats. Jesus sometimes used the comparison of a shepherd with the flock. Either image suffices. Sheep may be somewhat easier to handle.
Some highlights for me of our trip (so far) included visiting the church and offering Mass where the famous statue of the Infant of Prague is housed, seeing the tomb of St. Adalbert (patron of the Polish church in Philadelphia where my parents were married) and offering Mass in Budapest where a portrait of Our Lady of Czestochowa was the centerpiece of the high altar of a beautiful baroque church just steps from our hotel.
Much more is planned for the days ahead and it will certainly take me some time to process all that I have and will experience. This trip was postponed for two years because of a certain pandemic. However, the situation in this part of the world seems to have returned to "normal." Tourists abound and there is no sign of the former restrictions on society for health reasons.
While I like to travel, I miss my parishioners and my parish. Some parishioners, however, are with me now. I will do my best not to lose any.
When I get back, there will be stories to tell, pictures to show and work to catch up with. However, I intend to enjoy the current surroundings and to spend time observing the various cultures.
In the meantime, it is almost dinner time (six hour time difference) and I need to check up on the rest of the bunch. Maybe I will get lucky and they all will be there and on time!
Please pray for me/us.
Fr Ed Namiotka