Saturday, November 12, 2011

paris, revisited


Today, I got to spend another beautiful day in Paris. The second day this week! It was a lovely day, especially since I was able to spend it with a friend from U of I! Not only was it comforting to speak in English all day long (I literally spoke the least French today since I moved was kind of weird), but it was also such a joy to see a friend--someone who knows me, knows St. John's, and with whom I can talk about anything!

I took the train into the city and met Rose at St. Joseph's Church, which is the English-speaking church in Paris. We attended Mass (my first English Mass in 2 months!), and were able to go to Confession with an English priest as well. I have yet to attempt Confession in French, but it's a goal I'm working on! After Mass/Confession, we grabbed lunch at a little brasserie in the neighborhood and had delicious crêpes :) Most people think of crêpes as a dessert, but there is a difference between sweet and savory crêpes. For example, for lunch I had a crêpe with spinach and mushrooms. Definitely not a dessert crêpe!

From lunch, we had decided to visit the Arc de Triomphe. Although I had seen it before and walked around it, I had never been to the top. And I was very happy to discover that I could go for free since I'm a legal French resident!

l'Arc de Triomphe
Rose and I at the Arc

L'Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in the early 1800's to celebrate his military victories. In typical Napoleon fashion, he insisted in the most elaborate and impressive structure. So we have this incredibly grand arch! It is situated in what used to be called the Place de l'Etoile (Star Plaza) because it is an insane intersection with 12 streets radiating from the center! To even reach the Arc de Triomphe, you have to enter through an underground tunnel to avoid the cars circling chaotically! This huge archway was finished in 1836, over 10 years after the death of Napoleon, and it is decorated with huge stone reliefs depicting Napoleon and other powerful historical or mythical rulers and warriors. Carved inside each of the pillars are names of Napoleon's military leaders and battles that he had fought. There are also memorials of wars that France has been involved in since Napoleon.

the tomb of the unknown soldier

One of the most powerful and well-known aspects of the Arc de Triomphe is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After World War I, the tomb was installed in memorial for all of the soldiers who died unidentified with an eternal flame. Every year on Armistice Day, there is a ceremony at the Tomb. And since we visited the day after Armistice Day, we got to see all of the beautiful flower arrangements!

From the Arc, I wanted to show Rose one of my favorite places in Paris, the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal. In the 1830's, Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré, a sister of the Daughters of Charity in Paris, and instructed her to create a medal to be worn to receive blessings and protection from Mary. This chapel is a popular site for Catholic pilgrims in Paris and it is a beautiful, peaceful place to pray. St. Catherine's body is incorrupt and displayed above a side altar in the chapel. You can also pray in front of the chair that Mary sat on when she appeared to St. Catherine. We arrived near the end of the Rosary, and the chapel was packed!

"I was established Guardian. The protection of God is always there!"

I was able to visit this chapel several times over the summer and, even when it is full with pilgrims and Parisians, there is a respectful silence and an undeniable peace. That is a characteristic of any place that Mary has appeared. Her presence persists, even hundreds of years after the apparitions. It is the same case with Lourdes. Though Mary was physically present to St. Catherine and St. Bernadette, she is always with her children--watching over us and protecting us from heaven! I know I can always find peace in any church I visit and pray in, but there is always a special comfort where Mary has been. Visiting the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal today was an unanticipated treat!

With one last stop, for ice cream, Rose and I went our separate ways to catch trains and return to our respective French stomping grounds. I was so happy to spend the day with her!

pax christi.

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