Monday, December 17, 2012

where there is no love...


"Where there is no love, put love, and there you will find love"
--St. John of the Cross

This weekend, for most Americans, has been an emotionally-charged and confusing few days, myself included. I am speechless and heart broken following this newest tragedy. But my faith tells me that this is not in vain. As Father Steve said during his homily at Mass this morning, the shadow of the Cross loomed over even the light of the manger. We know that suffering exists in this world, even suffering that can seem inexplicable. There are new saints in heaven, but these are not the first martyrs our world has seen.

While the healing will certainly take time, the world is still turning. On Saturday morning, hoping to fight evil with goodness, beauty, and God's love, I volunteered at the Mission at Our Lady of the Angels. Their annual Christmas party serves their entire neighborhood, over a thousand families, children, seniors, and others who most likely would not have had anything. I saw dozens of kids beam at the sight of Santa. The entire gym was piled with brand new toys, donated so that these children would experience what many of us take for granted. Turkeys were donated so that the meal on Christmas would be special. As the families and neighbors filed in, there was excitement in the air and smiles on faces. All because they were receiving love. Love from strangers, love from God, love in a place they don't normally feel it. 

It was strange to feel such joy so soon after an incredible tragedy. It was almost guilt-inducing to be celebrating Christmas when so many families are in mourning. But then I heard the quote above this morning. And it hit me. The only way to heal from something like this is to put even more love into the world. It is what the saints all learned. It is what Mother Teresa knew. It's what the community at OLA practices. And it is the only solution to the evil in this world. 

pax christi.

Thursday, November 15, 2012



Without missing a beat, as soon as my mom was off to the airport from the hotel to fly home, I boarded a train to the coast with a final destination of England! I arrived in Dieppe, about 2 hours from Paris, with a few hours to spare before my inaugural ferry arrived. So I spent my afternoon in true French fashion. Being May 1st, everyone, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, was celebrating Mary with flowers. I bought a tiny bouquet, enjoyed a glass of wine along the pier, popped into the local church to pray, and leisurely ambled around town and along the water until I finally spotted the boat!

my ferry, pulling into the harbor in france

a ferry with a view?

i had an extended sunset, as i was travelling west

The ferry ride took 4 hours and was mostly uneventful. It felt much more like a cruise ship than I expected (albeit the tiniest cruise ship around), as my only previous ferry experience consisted of crossing Lake Michigan to get to Washington Island. A journey of no more than 45 minutes. This ferry, on the other hand, included a full restaurant, a bar, a gift shop, an arcade, and ample, comfortable seating. I spent some time on the deck, but retreated inside for most of the trip because it was chilly on the open seas!

I arrived in Newhaven in the evening, after sunset. I did not see much of England itself on that first night, but was instead greeted, after going through customs, by a British nun and my French friend Anthony!

My whole purpose in England was to serve as an English teacher and spiritual leader for a middle school break trip! Because my mom was visiting, I showed up a day later than everyone else, but I quickly settled in with Anthony, Fr. Eric, and about 12 French middle schoolers in the English town of Seaford for a 5-day intensive English retreat!

Our days consisted of meals prepared together, prayer & Mass, English lessons, games, and excursions in the area. We visited the local parish for Mass one day and were able to pray the Stations of the Cross in English! On another afternoon, we set the kids loose in town to visit different shops and try out their English. They came back with One Direction posters, chocolate, and even a dog toy, and I could not have been prouder at their willingness to communicate somehow or another with the people around them.

english class with miss maura

The part of Southeast England that we were in has a beautiful landscape and coastline. Seaford is home to a chain of chalk cliffs named the Seven Sisters, and they are breathtaking. It is the first thing you see as you approach in the ferry and you can walk on them, play golf, or farm. We spent an afternoon walking all along the cliffs and spotted plenty of sheep!

the seven sisters

My quick jaunt in England was amusing and quite enjoyable. It was strange to be surrounded by English-speakers once again, especially since I realized the need to practice my native language before returning home! Overall, I tried my best to teach English to a bunch of kids who were in vacation mode, but most importantly, I got to share my culture and my faith with these middle schoolers who really took something away from the trip. I ended up seeing one of the girls, Marie, later in the summer when I was back in France. Her brother, Nico, was a fellow counselor of mine at Katorin and when his family (including Marie) came to visit for a day, his mother thanked me again for Speak & Spi. It was an unexpected gift months later that helped reaffirm for me the retreat's impact on these kids. It had obviously bore fruit. Fruit that will hopefully last.

pax christi.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

return to the city of lights


The (a little more than) slightly delayed recap of my last weeks in France continues...with a return to Paris! After a tour of Western and Southern France, we took the train back from Avignon to Paris for a weekend stay before my mom's return to the States.

My mom had been to Paris once before (on my parent's honeymoon--quite some time ago...), but after all that time, the memories had understandably collected some dust. Though we visited many sites and monuments that I knew from old photos taken by my mother herself, most of what we saw seemed brand new to her. Thankfully, we did not have to fight too many tourists around the city since it was still not quite peak travel season. We enjoyed much of the beauty Paris has to offer with that wonderful, casual European pace I very willingly acquired.

arc de triomphe

maureen along the seine

inside notre dame

flower market on my favorite street :)

cheers! lunch at a great bistro along the river

not my favorite, but my mom loved seeing all the fish markets

Within a weekend, we made it up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for one of the best views of Paris, to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night, to several of the city's lush gardens, to some of my favorite restaurants & cafes, and all along the river. We walked more than our feet wanted to take us, but it was worth it to see Paris above ground in the spring rather than from an underground tunnel. Especially at night. The City of Love easily rivals the City of Light.

It was definitely worth re-visiting these places that I know inside and out to view it all from my mom's excited, fresh perspective. Just as I was preparing to leave the country to which I had grown so accustomed and acclimated, it was like rediscovering it all over again. Exactly what I needed to engrave this most beautiful city in the world into my memory.

With that, my mom's trip to France came to a close and we headed our separate ways for only two more weeks. She braved Charles de Gaulle all by herself (!!!) to fly back to Chicago. And I hopped a train headed west towards the coast, off on one last adventure before my own homecoming!

pax christi.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

sur le pont d'avignon...


le Palais des Papes

This is approximately five months overdue, but the overseas adventures with my mom are still fresh in mind! And with this changing weather, I'm dreaming more and more of the sun and warm breeze of Southern France that I left behind...all of which is prompting me to revisit via blog.

The third destination on our Tour de France was Avignon. After a gloomy (though only temperature-wise) start to the trip, we were finally blown into delightfully warm weather by the Mediterranean winds. The majority of this trip was planned, very much intentionally on my part, around historically important sites and cities in Southern France. Avignon is certainly no exception. Though this is a beautiful Southern city, not too far from the sea, and known for its lavender fields and estival theater festival, Avignon boasts an incredible history deeply rooted in the Church (even if it may be ridden with confusion and dispute...).

Hundreds of years ago, in the early 14th century, disputes over papal succession and authority broke out in the wake of the death of Benedict XI. In Rome, French and Italian cardinals would not agree on a successor, each nationality insistent on electing their own countryman as pope. When the stalemate was finally breached a year later, Pope Clement V, a Frenchman, was elected with a particular request--he wanted to remain in France and move the papal conclave from Rome to his home country. For almost a century, Avignon became the new Rome, the new capital of the Church. Seven popes officiated from this French city until Pope Gregory XI, with the influence of St. Catherine of Siena, moved the papacy back to Rome. The years of the Avignon Papacy saw confusion, conflict, and power struggles but the historical significance of this period in Church history is still deeply embedded in the city.

One of the most impressive and well-visited sites in Avignon is the Palais des Papes, or the Papal Palace. This chateau has been turned into a museum to display the 14th century papal residence and educate tourists, and it is quite impressive. Cavernous banquet halls, quarters for the popes, secret treasuries and meeting rooms all comprise the beautiful palace.

hidden money cellars underneath the huge stone flooring slabs

outdoor walkway

interior courtyard

Besides the Palais des Papes, Avignon is also known for its large bridge to nowhere. The Pont Saint-Bénezet was built in the 12th century, and originally crossed the whole river with 22 arches to connect both banks of the Rhône. Only four of those arches remain, however, as poor upkeep caused the others to crumble and fall. What is left of this bridge is open to the public, who can visit its two chapels and enjoy the beautiful view of Avignon, the river, and the vast valleys and vineyards surrounding both. There is even a classic children's song about the bridge! It is quite charming.

the bridge's two chapels lit up at night

Ours was a quick trip, simply overnight, before we headed back to Paris. We saw what I had desired to, but that was certainly not everything there was to see. Avignon offers much more than the Palais des Papes and a bridge. There were neighborhoods, restaurants, vineyards, and chapels to see that we did not have the time to get to. Now I will just have to plan for my return...

pax christi.

Monday, May 7, 2012



I am finally home!!! Lots of transportation and heavy lifting were required to get me from Evreux to Paris to Chicago (this whole ordeal technically started in England, actually). But I finally made it. And now I am exhausted and not at all adjusted to the time change yet. It will take a few days of waking up at 5am, and therefore making it to 6:15am Mass!, before I will be on Chicago time. There are still lots of stories to share as I come to accept the fact that I no longer live in Europe. It will be a strange, and difficult, adjustment. But there's no place like home...

pax christi.

Friday, April 27, 2012



Stop 2 on the tour of Southern France is to Carcassonne! After a few days in Bordeaux, we hopped on the train heading southeast to find ourselves in this terribly historic medieval castle town. It is so cool here.

Basically, about 5 centuries before Jesus was born, some ancient tribes built a little fortress thing on the top of a hill in Southern France. Then, about 3 centuries after Jesus was born, the Romans built a bigger, stronger castle, which was expanded even further in the 12th century, by the French kings and, eventually, St. Louis. There is a lot of history contained within these walls, which is just fascinating. Considering Carcassonne's proximity to Spain, the area has gone between Roman, Spanish, and French rule for centuries. It finally came under permanent French rule in the 17th century, and was restored in the 19th. In 1997, Carcassonne and its incredible castle were named as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is a massive castle, with about 3 kilometers of walls, and a total of 52 towers.

the Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse

St. Dominic preached here during Lent in 1213!

We took a boat ride along the Canal du Midi--a canal built in the 17th century to link the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Lovely views, even with all of the wind.

one of the locks we went through

The castle is so cool. We are staying in a hotel at the very foot of the hill, so we are super close, and we can see it all lit up at night. I feel like I'm living in the 13th century! We leave tomorrow, but the history lessons will continue in Avignon!

pax christi.

Thursday, April 26, 2012



The weather was not great in Bordeaux. That put a bit of a damper on the whole "tourist" bit that I normally try to avoid anyway. We saw some cool things, but overall, the rain was not much of a motivator to explore as I normally would a new city.

In all honesty, wine was the biggest motivation for visiting Bordeaux. I knew it was a beautiful city, but it has never really stuck out to me as a must-visit spot in France beyond the fact that it is the capital of wine country. I was not quite sure of what exactly was here other than châteaux--I knew the Cathedral was pretty, and pretty old. And that Bordeaux is also one of the stops on the Camino de Santiago, from France. Other than these fun facts, I was rather ignorant of other significant monuments or buildings, leaving exploration, a map, and some wine to guide me and my mom through the city.

cool fountain in the place des quinconces

cathédrale de st-andré

saint andrew's cathedral on the camino!

st andrew's from above

city hall

this is a movie theatre

st. peter's

a large clock

a lonely archway

a fancy castle vestige

my mom in the park--recreating monet's gardens

I wish the weather had been nicer for our jaunt in Bordeaux. But we made do, and enjoyed wine all the while. Therefore, it was no failure.

pax christi.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012



Wine is sacred in France. Especially in Bordeaux, wine reigns supreme. It is everything from a very basic table drink to the fanciest beverage around. And it's just fabulous. Being in Bordeaux is a whirlwind of wine and walking! When it's not raining...

fountain in Bordeaux

Yesterday, we toured two wine châteaux in the Bordeaux region. The first, the Château Reynier, was a quaint, family owned and operated vineyard on breathtaking property. The château, which is also the family's home, was just beautiful and the vineyards were picturesque. We toured the property, saw the fermentation and bottling processes, and tasted some wine.

château de reynier

wine being bottled and sealed with a cork

wine fermenting in oak barrels, in a cave

baby grape vines!

The second château, the Château de France, was a much bigger production, yet with less-stellar wine. We briefly toured the property and buildings, followed by another wine tasting. But the first château remained an easy winner.

château de france

It was a day full of what makes Bordeaux Bordeaux. Wine!

pax christi.