Cubs Win! The World is Shaken!

IMG_2733.PNGWhat seemed to be a fixed constant of our Universe — the perennial “next year” for the Chicago Cubs — has finally unravelled after more than a century.

Within this time, there have been world wars, the advent of air travel, radio, television, computers, the Internet, a host of other technological innovations, including sliced bread, as well as all of the societal and cultural changes of the past 108 years. Yet in all that time, never has the famed marquee outside Wrigley declared (except maybe, on April Fools’) the Cubs as World Series Champions.

We lived in Wrigleyville for several years, and after going to class and then clerking in the Loop, I would take the Red Line to the Addison stop. On game days, you could catch a glimpse of the action on the field from the El platform.

As I’d make my way down the stairs from the platform, I’d buy a bag a peanuts from a vendor set up in the station, and walk the few blocks to our apartment. If it wasn’t too far into the autumn, I’d open the French doors to our little patio, and turn on the game on the TV.

It was a surreal experience, watching a Cubs game in that apartment — an outfielder would catch a fly ball or Sammy Sosa would hit a home run, and you’d see the fans cheer on TV, and then, a few seconds later you would hear the roar and din from Wrigley through our patio doors. You could even hear the notes of the organ on the air.

So, while I’m not a “sports guy”, in my heart is a nurtured romance for Wrigley and the Cubs, and a reverence for the pure love of the team’s true fans. I couldn’t be more happy for those loyal North-Siders who, after generations of long suffering patience, have finally breached the gate of baseball paradise.

Even church bells had their say in the Windy City last night.

/ W /

Update on Hagia Sophia

IMG_0750Earlier this year, I posted about my New Year’s Day visit to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.  Shortly after my trip, the terrorist bombing of some German tourists at Sultanahmet Square occurred, which was especially alarming to me because I stood at the precise location of the explosion on my way to visit Hagia Sophia a few days before.

In that post about the visit, I wrote:

Before entering the main floor of the Hagia Sophia, our tour guide briefly introduced its history to us, and I’ll never forget the way he did so: he told us that we were “very fortunate to be here today, when Hagia Sophia is still a museum. Turkey is changing,” he said, “and soon Hagia Sophia will be a mosque again. So it is fortunate you are here now, before that happens.” This fellow, with his black leather biker jacket and designed jeans, did not strike me as especially religious. Yet, he spoke with a sort of certainty that filled me with dread.

So, since that visit I’ve noticed a number of news articles concerning the Hagia Sophia. It seems that the warning about re-converting the Hagia to a mosque has essentially proven true.

This article (as well as others elsewhere) states that an imam began leading prayers at Hagia Sophia during Ramadan, and the Turkish press agency Anadolu reports that “…the National Office of Religious Affairs and the Mufti of Fathi in Constantinople jointly decided to appoint a permanent Imam for the Hagia Sophia” and to perform on a “daily basis” the five daily calls to prayer there. The linked article “With the appointment of the Imam, the transformation into a mosque is actually accomplished, independently of an explicit decision.”

Pray for Turkey, and the Christians who remain there.

ACTION ITEM: Dew Drops Little Flower Fundraising Matching Campaign September 1 to 3

Xian-Man-Le-e1472533908285While in China this summer, we visited Dew Drops Little Flower several times. We met the founders of Little Flower and a lot of the people involved in its operation.

I experienced first-hand the loving care provided to abandoned children by this amazing organization. And, I got to meet and interact with some of the children and babies who live there.

Dew Drops Little Flower receives abandoned babies and children, most of whom have serious, disfiguring, debilitating, or life-threatening conditions, and provides them with a home, love, food, clothing, medicine and medical care. A lot of the children would die without the care they receive at Little Flower. They work to coordinate medical treatment for these children, and provide the funding for that treatment.

IMG_1862Dew Drops operates on a shoestring budget and relies upon monetary assistance from donors and gifts of things like diapers, medicine, supplies, baby formula and food, clothes, etc. Through generous donations and the prudent use of their resources, they save (and change) lives.

In the weeks leading up to our visit, the “word went out” that we could bring donations with us, and boxes of various things started to arrive at our house. One corner of our dining room was stacked with dozens of boxes up to the day before we left. We took all of those shipments and packed them into one huge suitcase for our flight to Beijing.

Today through September 3 there is a special fundraising campaign that will allow donations to be matched by Tencent Public. You can easily donate through Paypal by clicking here. You can set up a one-time or monthly donation. Please consider helping this worthy organization.

“Son of Quartermaster” Reports on Food in China

FullSizeRenderQuartermaster’s Note: This is a “guest post” by my oldest son, a 13-year-old beginning 8th grade this year, who traveled with me to China this Summer.

In China there were many times when our group would sit down to a meal, and just be blown away, by food that didn’t even cost half the amount of a much lower-standard American Chinese restaurant, but looked and tasted three times as good!! In this way Chinese cuisine in China was on a whole other level.

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A chef at a restaurant in Beijing preparing to serve the famous “Peking Duck”

One of the things noticeably different in the places we ate, yet such an improvement, was the lack of fried flavorless meat with an overwhelmingly sticky sweet sauce (e.g., lemon chicken, General Tso chicken, orange beef, etc.). Instead, meat was carefully cut according to its cooking method, seasoned and flavored with things like cumin, Szechuan peppercorns, all sorts of other interesting spices and ingredients, and without heavy doses of syrup or sugar.

There were lots of interesting proteins to try: in addition to chicken and beef, we enjoyed pork, lamb, mutton, duck, and an array of fresh seafood. One of my favorite dishes was lamb cut into strips and stir-fried in a hot wok with lots of different spicy peppers and cumin. It was brought to the table atop a little portable stove that kept the aromatic meat sizzling through the meal.

With at least one vegetarian in our group at all times, we enjoyed lots of different

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American fast food such as KFC is fairly popular in large Chinese cities, but we were too busy enjoying all the authentic Chinese food to try it

vegetables and tofu. I don’t normally like tofu, in part because it’s rather flavorless, but the preparations of it in China were varied in terms of texture and cooking method — we sampled it in soups, cubed and deep-fried or cut into ribbons and stir-fried. Generally, tofu actually tasted like something edible, and since we always had other dishes with meats at mealtime, the amazingness of the meat balanced out the quantity of tofu, so that the tofu dishes became another fun thing to try.

During my visit to China I learned some things about stereotypes concerning Chinese food. For example, dog as food is not as widely accepted in China as the stereotype suggests. In fact, one of our hosts in Taiyuan shared his experience that animals like dogs and mules are sometimes consumed as food in China, but usually eaten only in certain areas and at specific times, like special festivals. He also told us that he would not eat the meat of an animal that he knew has been mistreated.

Picture2Soy sauce is a universal condiment at the Chinese restaurant in the United States, but not something you find on the table in China; it’s still an ingredient in cooking, but it is far more common to find a condiment such as hot chili oil or malt vinegar (certain provinces, such as Shanxi, are famous for special vinegars). All you salty rice lovers, being your own soy sauce.

The weirdest thing I ate in China was definitely scorpion, which we tried on Wong fu Jing street in Beijing. It was my first fried arachnid, and while crunching into something with tiny little legs and a stinger was a new experience, the taste was similar to crispy fried chicken skin, and hence, not bad. The most upsetting part of the experience with eating scorpion was watching the live ones that had been skewered and anchored in display baskets, waiting for their turn in the fryer, squirming around while remaining fixed in place.

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YUM!

As a seafood lover who is especially fond of sushi, I enjoyed visiting the local markets in Beijing, which had an absolute top notch selection of not only fresh and live fish, but all sorts of shellfish, shrimp, crab, octopus and squid, oysters, claims and other mollusks. We saw an amazing variety of things from the sea during our visit.

IMG_1918My personal food favorite of the trip definitely goes to the dumplings (“Jiaozi”). Unlike potstickers common in American restaurants, jiaozi are steamed and very tender. The dumplings contain a delicious mix of meat and vegetable, and usually a little “soup” that escapes when you bite into one. They are served with vinegar and chili oil. I enjoyed them so much, and literally ate dozens of them during the trip.

My trip to China this summer was one of the most tantalizingly awesome trips I have ever embarked upon, for me and my palate. I hope to travel there again very soon, and for anyone reading this, I hope that that your experiences involving China are filled not only with God’s love and grace, but also with the amazing Chinese  cuisine that I love so much.

China Pilgrimage Series: Our Lady of Graces in Bansishan

Recently, my oldest son and I returned from a pilgrimage and mission trip to the People’s Republic of China. I hope to share (in a series of posts in the coming weeks) some of what we saw and experienced.

Shanxi Province 

IMG_2067The capital city of Taiyuan is approximately 514 km west of the city of Beijing, with a population of 4 million (source: Wikipedia), and seat to the Archdiocese of Taiyuan and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (source: UCANews).

Relative to other provinces in China, the treatment of the Catholic Church there is somewhat more relaxed. For example, there is very little distinction between that “above-ground” Patriotic Association Church and the otherwise “underground” Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.

One small clue that this is so can be found in the picture below, outside the Cathedral. A great many churches in China are obscured by a wall or have some barrier between them and the facing street. Here, however, the very short fence is used to stand posters about the teachings of Catholicism, and on the public sidewalk there were two tables, with stools and umbrellas, with an array of Catholic tracts for passers-by.

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Bansishan 

One of two official pilgrimage sites in the Archdiocese of Taiyuan is Our Lady of Grace Portiuncula Basilica on Bansishan (a mountain). (Source: UCANews). Approximately 100 km north of Taiyuan and 1760 meters above sea level, pilgrims access the Basilica by ascending a winding narrow dirt road that is punctuated by Stations of the Cross monuments carved in stone. (Source: UCANews).

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According to local tradition, Mary appeared at Bansishan in 1783 and opened the eyes of a blind child. A Franciscan bishop built a church on the site, and another Franciscan bishop later rebuilt it. (Source: UCANews).

IMG_2106While many pilgrims, particularly the local Chinese Catholics, make their 10 km ascent to the Basilica on foot, we made our way aboard a small bus that gasped and choked from overheat when we arrived. I’m glad that I didn’t know that at least once before a coach loaded with pilgrims has overturned on the rugged road, but miraculously, passengers received only minor injuries. (Source: UCANews).

Looking toward the mountain top with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Looking toward the mountain top with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Atop the mountain sits the Basilica. Thousands of pilgrims make their way there on August 2 each year to receive the “Portiuncula Indulgence”. This year, for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the doors of the Basilica have been designated as one of nine holy doors within the Archdiocese. When they were first opened on January 13, “more than 10,000 Catholics, coming on foot or in long lines of vehicles braved the freezing weather of minus 16 degrees Celsius at the pilgrimage site.” (Source: Sunday Examiner).

While the government of the Shanxi Province treats the Church more diffidently than elsewhere in China, it’s not as though Bansishan hasn’t been through its share of upheavals. In 1966, it was demolished by the Red Guards. It was rebuilt beginning in 1988. (Source: sacredarchitecture.org). As recently as 2008, the local government has interfered with pilgrims making their way to the shrine. On May 24 of that year, “thousands of police” blocked the access road to stop the pilgrims from reaching the Basilica, who were forced to return home. “According to eyewitnesses, the police forces greatly outnumbered the pilgrims.” (Source: asianews).

IMG_2120Further up the mountain, which we hiked, is a rosary garden currently under construction, as well as a golden statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the crest. While atop the mountain, at the foot of the Sacred Heart statue, our pilgrimage group prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before we wended our way back down the mountain for our return to Taiyuan.

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A culling of links

14768069492_581f144c67_oIt’s been a busy few weeks/months. Lots and lots of work. And then a whole array of new church activities. I pray for you, the readers of this blog, and I hope that you have all received many blessings, joys and consolations from Our Lord. Anyway, I’ve got enough time to provide some of the links I’ve been meaning to share here:

Much more to follow in coming weeks and months, as soon as time permits! Hopefully your Easter Season was fruitful, and may you receive many graces from the upcoming Feast of the Most Holy Trinity!

Vatican daily “L’Osservatore Romano” announces new recycling initiative

Rome (Vatican City) – For nearly 155 years, the “semi-official” daily newspaper of the Vatican city-state, “L’Osservatore Romano”, has printed papal discourses, statements, and news of appointments and audiences in its pages. Over the years, in addition to daily issues printed in Italian, the paper has added weeklies in such languages as English, French, German and Portuguese.

All of that adds up to a lot of paper, and particularly since the release of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, questions have swirled within the editorial offices of the newspaper concerning whether it can continue to print without regard for its “eco-footprint”.

Shortly after the Holy Father issued his encyclical, current L’Osservatore editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian began to fret. “Suddenly we have a Pope who cares about the environment, and a news outlet that looks entirely like an anachronism, with its newsprint and Latin motto. Then (on 27 June 2015) we get the motu proprio establishing a new Secretariat for Communications that will eventually absorb L’Osservatore Romano. The optics of this situation matter a great deal.”

According to Vian, the Pope appointed as new Prefect of the Secretariat for Communications none other than Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, “who hates paper.” Ever since his appointment in 2013 to be Director of the Vatican Television Center, “…it’s been nothing but ‘digital’ this and ‘new media’ that. History and tradition means nothing to the likes of him.”

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L’Osservatore Romano plan for “newspaper-only” recycling bins within St. Peter’s Square, the first of several locations throughout the Vatican city-state

So functionaries at L’Osservatore wasted no time in infiltrating Casa Santa Martae and embedding themselves “as cafeteria workers” who could discretely pass Pope Francis their idea, unhindered by papal handlers. The plan: recycling bins in St. Peter’s Square, circling the two granite fountains.

According to Vian, it was “This [the bins], or getting rid of the German weekly,” which he admitted no one actually reads but continues to enjoy a “cult following” due to its use for lining the cages of the birds of “high-ranking” clerics.

“Our big break happened one day in January of this year when the Holy Father accidentally dropped the panna cotta on his lunch tray as he was leaving the cafeteria line to join a group of youth from Brazil for lunch at a nearby table. One of our operatives quickly grabbed a new dessert from the line and brought it to Pope Francis, along with a copy of our proposal and a sketch that demonstrates the new bins,” said Vian.

Days later, recounts Vian, “the second assistant to Pope Francis called the offices of L’Osservatore to tell us that the Holy Father had seen the proposal and wanted the recycling bins placed at once, and preferably before the ‘Easter rush’.”

And, soon “we’ll have secured permission for placement of the bins at other major locations, including around the baldacchino inside the basilica, and within the Sistine Chapel.”

Thanks to another Vatican innovation, the future of L’Osservatore is again secure, “for weeks or months, at least.”