Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lots of words, not a lot of pictures... Sorry!

So, as you can tell from the long pause between my last post and this one, I haven’t had any adventures to speak of lately.  The closest I’ve gotten to an adventure was a couple days before my birthday when I went to eat ‘lunch’ with a few Italian friends.

It was Sunday and I had gone to Mass at a new church near the house.  After the Mass I ran into a lady that I work with at one of Mother Teresa’s sisters’ soup kitchens, and she invited me to go for a Sunday stroll.  So walking along she randomly invited me go have lunch with her and some friends.  Having a free Sunday to burn, I readily said ‘yes’ and off we went.  Now, I had forgotten that in Italy (as in Spain), ‘lunch’ means ALL DAY.  So after a mouthwatering meal they brought out the coffee, then the after-dinner drinks, and then the snacks.  And we just sat around talking about a million different topics until someone had to be somewhere.  In this fashion, my ‘lunch’ that started at 1PM wound up with me getting home around 6PM… nothing like ‘lunch’ in Italy! (Note: also a GREAT way to practice Italian…)

So besides that random little story, there’s not much of interest going on in my life right now… just school and studies. 
 Look it's me!  and Greg

(To be honest, I only put that pic in there because a blog is boring without pictures...)

But one other thing:  as if I hadn’t spoken and written enough about my summer experience with the Oblatas, I recently wrote an article about the whole thing that will be published in my Congregation’s worldwide information publication.  And, for your personal enjoyment, I post it here in English and in Spanish (which leads me to send many thanks to my friend Luismi from Spain who so kindly offered his time to translate it; ¡Muchísimas gracias, tío!!) 

I’ll let you know if I get into any more adventures between now and Christmas…

Scholastic Brother Devin Watkins is a member of the US province and is currently studying in Rome in his second year of theology. 
Have you ever watched a seed sprout?  Seen its first green leaf unfurl and reach toward the sun?  You know instinctively that it contains an enormous potential for growth and an abundant harvest at some distant point in the future, but at the same time, you see how fragile and vulnerable it is, realizing that a rough touch or a strong gust of wind could wound it mortally.  This, in a nutshell, was my blessed experience this past summer: to see a sprout struggling to reach the heavens.  Let me explain. 

After having finished my first year of theology studies in Rome, I was sent to Spain in order to learn Spanish and help out with the Oblate Malaga Experience and WYD Madrid.  The studies went well, but what I didn’t expect was to get a firsthand glimpse of our Oblate beginnings – when things were tough but yet so fresh for Eugene and his tiny band in their first years together – by simply meeting the Misioneras Oblatas de Maria Inmaculada.  Maybe you have heard about them, but they are a recently born Institute – ten years since diocesan approbation – that share our Oblate spirit, charism, and even Constitutions and Rules almost to the letter.  My involvement with them began in Malaga when Fr. Tony Ortiz, OMI and I were assigned to welcome the Oblate pilgrims from the US along with two of their number:  Raquel Toro, OMI, the Vicar General and director of formation, and Katherina Ramrath, OMI, a German juniorada studying medicine.  The rest of the sisters – 21 in all – were also helping out with the different national groups.  These women dedicated their vacation time to helping out and it is due in large part to their efforts that the Malaga experience as a whole came together.  Even in the midst of the craziness that was Malaga, most of us Oblates picked up immediately that these Oblatas are chock-full of St. Eugene’s charism, completely available for our common mission, and incredibly close to the people.  They were the first ones up in the morning and the last ones to go to bed, always talking to the kids and making sure things went well. 

Once the Experience was over, I figured that I might see these women again maybe once more in Madrid for lunch or something.  But, as often happens, God had other plans in mind.  I did have lunch with them after WYD, but during the meal, their Superior General – Marimar Gomez, OMI – invited me to go on retreat with them up in the beautiful north of Spain!  And so, after receiving the proper permissions, I was off to spend a week in a Discalced Carmelite Convent (a ten minute walk from the beach) with ten Oblatas with voices like angels and hearts aglow with joy.  From the first moment with them, I felt like a brother among beloved sisters and was amazed that even some of the little things we Oblates do were somehow manifested in their mannerisms – such as a strong devotion to the practice of oraison and a curious difficulty staying silent for extended periods of time (punctuated by random bursts of laughter during silent meals).  But what was even more touching was hearing their story and realizing that they are living what St. Eugene had to seek to live in the first house in Aix – the lack of material resources or stable housing, the constant problem of how to pay the bills – but through it all, a pure peace and joy that is almost palpable.  Somehow during that week, my heart was opened to a feminine expression of our beloved Congregation, one whose sole aim is to live our common Oblate charism to the full and whose members’ sole ambition is to give their lives for the mission.  To sum up the experience, I feel in the very depths of my soul that I have 21 new sisters whose depth of charity and zeal promises to renew and reinvigorate how we live our Oblate mission and charism. 

So, have you ever seen a seed sprout and reach for the heavens?  I have, and because of it my hope for our future is stronger than ever. 

El Hermano Escolástico Devin Watkins es miembro de la provincia americana y se encuentra actualmente cursando su segundo año de teología en Roma.

¿Has visto alguna vez germinar una semilla? ¿Has visto desenvolverse y alzarse su primera hoja hacia el sol? Instintivamente sabes que contiene un enorme potencial de crecimiento, así como una gran cosecha en algún momento futuro, pero al mismo tiempo, percibes fácilmente lo frágil y vulnerable que es al ver cómo un duro golpe o un fuerte soplido del viento podría herirla mortalmente. Esta, en pocas palabras, fue mi bendita experiencia el pasado verano: ver un brote luchar por alcanzar el cielo. Déjenme explicarlo.

Al acabar mi segundo año de teología en Roma, fui enviado a España con el fin de aprender español y ayudar en la “Experiencia Oblata de Málaga” y en la “JMJ de Madrid 2011”. Los estudios fueron bien, pero lo que desde luego no esperaba era poder obtener de primera mano una visión de nuestros inicios Oblatos –cuando las cosas eran duras pero al mismo tiempo frescas para Eugenio y su pequeñísimo grupo en sus primeros años juntos- simplemente conociendo a las “Misioneras Oblatas de María Inmaculada”. Quizás hayáis oído hablar de ellas. Son un Instituto nacido recientemente -10 años desde la aprobación diocesana- que comparten nuestro espíritu Oblato, carisma e incluso Constituciones y Reglas casi al pie de la letra. Mi relación con ellas comenzó en Málaga cuando el Padre Tony Ortiz, OMI, y yo fuimos asignados a recibir a los peregrinos Oblatos procedentes de Estados Unidos junto con dos de sus miembros: Raquel Toro, OMI, Vicaria General y directora de formación, y Katherina Ramrath, OMI, una “juniorada” alemana estudiante de medicina.  El resto de hermanas -21 en total- también se encargaron de ayudar con los diferentes grupos nacionales. Todas estas mujeres dedicaron su tiempo de vacaciones a ayudar, y es debido en gran parte a sus esfuerzos por los que la “Experiencia de Málaga” en su conjunto pudo llevarse a cabo. Incluso en medio de la locura que era Málaga, la mayoría de nosotros Oblatos nos dimos cuenta inmediatamente de que estas Oblatas estaban repletas del carisma de san Eugenio, completamente disponibles para nuestra misma misión, e increíblemente cercanas a la gente. Eran las primeras en levantarse por las mañanas y las últimas en irse a dormir, siempre hablando con los chavales y asegurándose de que las cosas iban bien.

Una vez terminada la “Experiencia”, me imaginé que volvería quizás a ver otra vez a estas mujeres en Madrid para el almuerzo o cualquier otra cosa. Pero, como a menudo ocurre, Dios tenía otros planes en mente. Efectivamente sí que almorcé con ellas después de la JMJ, pero durante esta comida su Superiora General –Marimar Gómez, OMI- ¡me invitó a asistir con ellas a un retiro que tendría lugar en el precioso norte de España! Así que, después de recibir los permisos pertinentes, me dispuse a pasar una semana en un convento de Carmelitas Descalzas (a 10 minutos andando desde la playa) junto a diez Oblatas con voces angelicales y corazones radiantes de alegría. Desde el primer momento con ellas, me sentí como un hermano entre hermanas queridas y quedé impresionado por cómo incluso esas pequeñas cosas que los Oblatos hacemos de alguna manera se manifestaban en sus costumbres –como por ejemplo, una devoción tan fuerte hacia la práctica de la “oraison” y una curiosa dificultad por permanecer en silencio durante largos periodos de tiempo (salpicados por aleatorios estallidos de risas durante comidas en silencio). Pero lo que fue aún más conmovedor fue escuchar su historia y darse cuenta de que realmente están viviendo lo que San Eugenio buscaba para vivir en aquella primera casa en Aix –la falta de recursos materiales y una vivienda estable, el constante problema de cómo pagar las facturas- pero a pesar de todo ello, una paz pura y una alegría que es casi palpable. De alguna manera, durante esa semana, mi corazón se abrió a una expresión femenina de nuestra querida Congregación, una cuyo único objetivo es vivir al máximo nuestro misma carisma Oblato y siendo la única ambición de sus miembros el dar la vida por la misión. Para resumir la experiencia, siento en lo más profundo de mi alma que tengo 21 nuevas hermanas cuyo fervor y profundidad en la caridad promete renovar y reforzar cómo vivimos nuestra misión Oblata y nuestro carisma.
Así que, ¿has visto alguna vez germinar una semilla y alzarse hacia el cielo? Yo sí, y es por ello por lo que mi esperanza para el futuro es más fuerte que nunca.


Sunday, October 9, 2011


Before the summer officially ends and I begin school tomorrow, I want to share a couple of final stories from the summer (which is obviously extends later than the US summer..). 
So, (we’re back in Madrid now, ok?, around the middle of August…time got away from me..) it was Monday morning and WYD had just ended the night before.  I was supposed to go back to Spanish classes but felt a slight temptation to self-indulgence (in which I whole-heartedly indulged) in the form of skipping school that morning for a much needed rest.  While relaxing in my room after a little sleep, one of the Oblatas, Emma, came by the house and, seeing my lazy state, invited me to lunch with her community.  Having no previous engagements, I went along for the ride and enjoyed a nice lunch (which somehow turned into a whole-day event with supper included…I told you Spain was great!)


My other lunch (and supper) companions: Cristina is in the on

Now, sometime during the lunch several of the other Oblatas stopped by on their way to a retreat up in the north of Spain.  Greeting them and giving a small voice to my lack of ganas (‘want to’) to return to class, the Superior General, Marimar, invited me on retreat with them, saying that the first couple of days would just be vacation time and that Cristina was coming up on Wednesday with the retreat preacher so I could ride with her.  So, not being one to miss a good opportunity, I told her I would check with my superior and let her know.  After the 3 hour lunch (and the unforeseen late supper), I went home and decided to go to class the next morning to try it out.  And in two words I can tell you the result:  BORING and POINTLESS!!  (I had been speaking Spanish fluently for 3 weeks and returning to the grammar was just going to confuse me.)

That problem solved, I emailed my superior, got his permission, packed my bags, and set out on a 5 hour ride to the north.  Somewhere along the way I fell asleep and woke up to the most beautiful, green, and misty landscape I have ever seen.  For a second I thought that we crashed and that I was in heaven!  But no, I am still alive to tell about the beautiful week that followed.  Eventually we arrived at our retreat house (a Discalced Carmelite Convent on the Camino de Santiago, a short 10 min walk from the beach!) after a few missed turns during a rosary (praying and driving is sort of like praying and talking on the phone but with a quicker upward route, btw).  We greeted our long lost sisters who we hadn’t seen in a day, had a loud, familial, very Oblate meal, and went to bed ready for the next day’s silence. 

The beauty

Now, I won’t go into the details of the whole retreat, but I will tell you that it was absolutely, without a doubt, the most intense and yet most beautiful and spiritual retreat of my entire life.  I literally cried every single day, sometimes from the beauty of the moment and singing (women’s voices can really touch a man’s heart after a whole year of deep, manly voices in the house in Rome), sometimes from the memories of the previous year (with many, many changes and challenges), but mostly from the enormous interior work going on.  Even after almost two months, I can tell you positively that something very important changed within me and that a very large vocational step was taken during that blessed time.  The atmosphere was refreshing, the retreat director (a diocesan priest who works with the Oblatas) was really good, and the company of 10 holy, Spirit-driven women somehow proved pivotal and life-changing.  All in all, I came out a new man and wholly renewed; God in his Providence knows what He is doing.  Btw, I don’t want to sound chauvinist (hey, nobody’s perfect, alright!) but my Spanish also GREATLY improved since women (even religious) have a delightfully difficult time staying silent (we went to the beach almost every day in groups :). 

Me! (and the Atlantic Ocean)

Katerin, Raquel, and I out for a drive

Good, homemade Spanish food

Then, as all good things do, the week ended and we returned to Madrid for the Mass for renewal of vows for two of the sisters (but not before I bought the complete works of St. John of the Cross in Spanish, which I can actually read without much trouble even though it is one of the masterpieces of the Spanish language).  I served the Mass in full liturgical get-up (cassock and surplice which, as you know, looks pretty impressive) and finished off my precious time with the sisters in a blaze of glory (hopefully God’s). 

Here we are! (I should learn to pay attention..)

I then had three days to relax and finish visiting Madrid and some friends before finally returning to Rome on Saturday, September 1, but that not before having one last lunch with the sisters on Friday (which also turned into supper and getting home at 10:30PM!).  So, I returned to Rome completely renewed in my vocation, reinvigorated by the many, many new profound friendships I had made, and re-gung hoed (is that a word?) to begin my second year in Rome. 

Thank you, God, for an unforgettable and life changing summer!

P.S. After all my rambling about the Oblatas, you might be interested to find out something more concrete about them… look on their website here:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Aftermath of WYD

So, the craziness that was WYD is finally over.  I survived and, after it was all said and done, I had a fantastic time and came out with a lot of good stories and memories.  Let me explain:

To begin, it was wonderful to return to my nice, relatively comfy bed in Madrid.  I was finally back in community with my beloved brothers, but in reality, those first couple of days were absolute madness.  There were 250 kids staying in the house and in order to feed so many mouths, the community had ordered a catering company to make a picnic lunch and supper that we could tote around town during the events of WYD.  Sounded nice, but they turned out to be very small and not very good.  That means that I ate breakfast and then not too much after that!  So to get to the fun stories…

My good friend and brother Oblate, Grzegorz from Poland, works for the Vatican Press Office and seeing that his Press credentials would work for the WYD events, he invited me one afternoon to the Press Office to see what would happen.  So, bullying his way to the front desk with his official looking Vatican ID card, he demanded that we be given press credentials so that we would have access to the big events.  The trick worked and the poor, scared little volunteer helped us out right away and within 30 minutes we were issued our Press ID cards without a single official piece of paper in our hands!  This was my first introduction to the world of diplomacy where confidence and good BS matters more than an official document.  (The closest thing I come to any sort of Journalist is this silly blog!)

Now, having completed our task with ease, I felt a little guilty about having my pretty card that gained me up-front access to events with the Pope.  But, not one to let a good thing go to waste, I decided to go on Friday with Grzegorz to the Pope’s Stations of the Cross in spite of my guilt.  We went back to the press office, and after waiting a few minutes for our Event Pass, hopped in line to board the buses that would take us to the Plaza de Cibeles.  After arriving in our nice, air-conditioned buses with police escort at the square, we were seated in the press bleachers at 5PM in the hot sun.  The event didn’t start until 7 so we had to wait a good 2 hours in the hot sun.  At one point I started feeling kind of sorry for myself until I looked down to see the huge crowds of people that had been there almost all day and were cooling each other down with water bottles!  After that I quit complaining..

Pilgrims cooling down from the 95 degree heat.

 The Pope finally showed up around 7PM and started the Way of the Cross.  It was a nice event, especially considering how many people were suffering through the heat and dehydration just for an opportunity to see the Holy Father, something that I take for granted living in Rome.  So, in the end, I left with a sense of gratitude for the blessings that the Lord has showered on me by allowing me to be theologically formed so near to the center of Catholicism. 
  Crowds at Way of the Cross (see the Popemobile on the left?)

Then came Saturday and the famous WYD All-Night Vigil… 

As I said last post, I had made excellent friends with the Oblate Sisters during the Malaga Experience so I made plans with one of them, Raquel, to hang out with them during the Vigil and for the Mass the next morning.  Accordingly, I went to their house at 4PM Saturday afternoon and had coffee while they got ready to leave for ‘Cuatro Vientos’ (Four Winds) Airbase where the events would take place.  We set out on our journey with our sleeping mats and bags (along with backpacks full of water and food) around 5.  The 1.5 million-plus crowds being what they were, we got as close to the airbase as we could by metro.  After seeing that the lines had shut down, we set out on foot for the first trek of the day..  It ended up taking over and an hour and a half because when we arrived at our gate we found out that it was completely shut down and that we had to walk over a mile around to the back gate.  With joy in our hearts and a decent amount of energy despite the heat, we trekked another half hour before arriving at a desolate spot with no view, no television screen, and almost no sound (from the speakers at least).  So, we found a nice spot, sat down, and shared some food before the craziness started.

Walking it out..

Now, almost as soon as the Pope started speaking, it started raining, lightning, and blowing like mad.  I had brought a half broken umbrella that I found along the way, and thank goodness I did because it saved us from getting completely soaked.  The wind blew around 50 miles an hour for a good 30 minutes and, for that, Cuatro Vientos sure lived up to its name that night!  Even though we couldn’t hear a single word of the Holy Father, we had a pretty interesting time just watching people’s tents blow around and huddling three people under a tiny little umbrella…truly an event to remember!

When the official part of the ceremony finished, we realized that it would have been pointless to try to sleep there if was going to rain all night.  Luckily though, one of the Oblatas and one of the lay women with us both had a house that we could stay in for the night and they were ‘just a 30 minute walk away’!  Famous last words…

So after ONE HOUR AND FORTY-FIVE MINTUES of walking…we showed up to a warm bed and a cold shower.  Even though I was almost dying after having walked so far, I was grateful to have a nice bed and to get almost 4.5 hours of sleep (a decent amount for that crazy week..). 

The next morning we set out anew for Cuatro Vientos, but this time luck was with us because one of the ladies drove us almost all the way there!  So we got to our gate only to find out that they were not letting anyone in or out…the police had shut down the entrances completely due to the chaos that had reigned during the night.  But here is where my Press Card really paid off:  I was able to get in without too much of a problem with a stern face and purposeful step; I even got in two of the Oblatas!  But that was when trouble started…one of the girls was too timid to push her way in and ended up getting stuck in the crowd outside the gate after we had entered.  Not being willing to simply leave her to fend for herself, I approached several policemen, even the boss, with my Press Pass (all while maneuvering between English and Spanish to keep them on their toes) to try to get her in…all without success.  We had stood around for about 20 minutes trying to figure out what to do when a official looking guy in a suit walked up and, recognizing the authority of my pass, let our lost sheep, Teresa, in without too much of a problem!  Finally, my conscience was eased; my slight play on the truth in order to get this Press Pass finally paid off in spades!  I was finally able to use it for someone else’s good.

My trusty Press Pass (see it??) :)

So we entered the Airbase while it was still dark and most everyone was still sleeping.  We then waited another 2 hours for the Mass to start while just enjoying each others’ company.  And finally, Mass began.  It was a beautiful moment; looking back at the crowds it seemed like an army encamped and prepared for battle.  
The crowds prepared for battle (Spiritual Battle, hopefully)

All were here to celebrate the closing Eucharist with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI and the atmosphere was charged with a profound peace and reverence for the sacredness of the moment.  What amazed me even more was that when it was all over there was no rush for the exits but, rather, only a slow and steady pace: God was truly present that morning!

 The peaceful exit

That evening I decided to make one last use of my beloved Press Pass by going to the Pope’s meeting with the 20,000 volunteers.  There turned out to be very high security, and after what could have been a slight problem but which I smoothly maneuvered out of (I didn’t have the correct Press Pass Code for the event), we entered the building with about 7,000 youth volunteers.  

The sea of green volunteers

This turned out to be one of the more interesting events because I was blessed to see the Pope from about 15 feet away!  

My view of the Pope!

He said some touching words about the dedication of the volunteers and was off in his PopeMobile.  I also headed for home after a good 28 hours on the streets. 

Y colorín, colorado, este cuento se ha acabado:  The Spanish equivalent to ´Happily Ever After´  A nice end to a tiring, dehydrating, but touching and beautiful World Youth Day-Madrid 2011. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011


What an experience! …And it’s not even over! :)

On the 5th of August I hopped on a bus from Madrid to Malaga and my body hasn’t stopped moving since!  Down in the south of Spain, my congregation (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate) held a week long event for the youth of our parishes from around the world.  There were Chinese kids, Australians, Africans, and a LOT of Italians, Americans, and Polish. 1,200 in all.  It was a sort of pre-game experience for our Oblate youth in order to introduce them to kids from around the world in a more personal manner and just to share our Oblate charism with them. 

I went down as a volunteer about 5 days before the event began.  I got lucky because the guys from my house in Rome were able to stay with a beautiful family; very religious and generous.  So, thinking that I would just be doing a little translating and ‘gopher’ stuff, I went to the first days meetings with a light heart.  But then reality struck…

The Spanish Oblates had assigned each of us to a group of pilgrims to act as a coordinator and to keep them happy.  They assigned me to the almost 200 member strong American group.  After looking at the schedule that they gave us for the events, I realized that the Americans would go absolutely insane with boredom…there were too many free times with nothing to do!  Having done some youth ministry in the US, I knew that in order to keep the kids happy they needed to be kept occupied.  So I and my trust partner, Fr. Tony, started to make a schedule of events so that they would be able to see the city and spend time at the beach. 

                Fr. Tony and I were lucky enough to have several Spanish volunteers assigned to work with us.  They were all from the north of Spain and were an amazing group!  During those days of preparation, I was able to practice my Spanish and learn a lot of new phrases from these youth.  ;) 

 A couple of the brave volunteers (Mapi, Salva)

Our crazy little chinita, Elena

And so the Americans arrived in full force and at unexpected hours.  My group was assigned to sleep on the floor of three parishes in the worst neighborhood in Malaga.  Needless to say, they had to be kept moving and out of the barrio in order to keep any bad things from happening.  After a couple of days of rough sailing due to massive problems with showers (sometimes a simple waterhose outside!) and mosquitoes, things settled into a daily schedule of Mass in the morning, long walks to downtown (we tried to buses once and that took more than 2 hours!), hours at the beach, and nice evenings of relaxing. 

Even though I had a heavy schedule and caught a lot of flak being the man everyone came to, it was an extremely blessed moment.  I was able to cultivate personal relationships with a bunch of the youth, to spent time with my brother Oblates from the US, and most importantly for me, to see how much I have grown and matured in my time in Rome.  This was the first time that I was basically in charge of a group of this size, but I never once felt nervous and the right words would come at the right moment and I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit working through the events.  What a powerful feeling!!

The Americans in Mass

But the best, the absolute best part of it all, was meeting the Oblatas!  They are a newly formed religious community of sisters that share in the exact same charism as we Oblates (even the same rules) and their spirit matches perfectly with that of the congregation I have come to love over these last 4 years.  They are 20 amazing women firmly rooted in Christ and dedicated fully to spreading the gospel and evangelizing the poorest of the poor.  What marvelous creatures!  I developed several very close friendships with them over just a few days and I feel honored to have met them.  I’m still hanging out with them here in Madrid!

Three of the most beautiful souls I have ever met! 
(Sisters Katerina and Raquel my partners, and Emma) Oblatas or OMI

Emma, me, and Raquel in a John Paul II exhibit in Madrid 

And so, after 10 days of near exhaustion and solid work and responsibilities, I returned Monday to Madrid with all 1,200 kids from Malaga.  Although I was hoping to find some rest here, it has not happened since I was given the responsibility of giving tours of our house in which 22 of my brother Oblates were martyred in 1936.  Beautiful but tiring with all the events with the Pope, I am praying for a break sometime soon…maybe when I’m dead!

So its Thursday, the Pope just arrived and I will just keep on trying my best until Sunday when this craziness is over!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

An Amazing Adventure with New Friends!

Man, have I got a story for you!  I just had the most interesting and adventurous day in about 6 years!  Let me explain…

It all started last Monday when I started going to a very lively and Spirit-filled parish near our house.  It reminds me a lot of St. Mary’s back in College Station…lots of youth, simple but beautifully done daily Masses, and lots of seminarians!  From this particular parish, there are 8 seminarians currently studying for the diocese of Madrid.  On Monday, despite having just met them, several of the seminarians invited me to go and watch a movie with them.  Even though I was hesitant because of the language, I went anyways and understood basically everything from the Pirates of the Caribbean.  Nice guys, too.

Fast forward to Friday afternoon:  one of the seminarians, Arturo, a tall, lanky guy about 21 in his 4th year of seminary, comes and asks me if I would like to ‘go up to the mountains with them for the night.’  Without much explanation as to the details, I said: ‘Sure! Why not?”  So they picked me up at 10PM with my bag full of swimming trunks, water, and a little pizza left over that I found in the house.  At first it was just me and Arturo, but soon we picked up one of his friends from college, Luis-Miguel (Luismi), and then one more, Alfredo.  Both seemed like really likable guys, brimming with energy but very obviously attached to their Catholic faith.  Good guys.. 

So, up we go into the mountains by car until we get to a lake (this is 11PM, by the way) and park the car to find a place to camp out on the beach.  After marching up and down the deserted beach for a little while, we finally found a nice place in a grove of trees to pitch camp.  Oh, and ‘pitch camp’ just means lay out a sleeping bag on the ground!  Anyway, we messed around on the beach for a while before finally getting in our sleeping bags around 1AM.  Remember, this is ALL IN SPANISH and these are young guys speaking extremely rapidly with their own mannerisms and expressions!!  My poor little mind just couldn’t take it anymore.  At one point, one of the guys asked me something and even though I understood, I couldn’t get a coherent word out.  After that I just sort of passed out. 
 Our 'Camp'...

The next morning around 7:30, I woke up to several fishermen with their rod-and-reels strung out all over the beach.  The other guys were still sleeping pretty hard so I just left them to go pray a little while in the woods.  After they had woken up, we had some cold pizza for breakfast (they really didn’t know what to think about that!) and I realized that my capacity for comprehension of the language was much improved.  Satiated and ready for more adventure, we packed up in the car and headed up to a famous basilica/royal palace situated at the base of the mountains.  San Lorenzo del Escoriál is a major tourist attraction in these parts and deserves all of the attention it gets.  Beautiful and peaceful, it is a monstrosity of a monastery and sports works from masters like El Greco and one of the largest collections of relics in the world! (Relics are the bones of holy men and women of the Catholic Church.) 
The altar of San Lorenzo del Escorial (Saint Lawrence of the Skewer...roughly)

We wandered around for an hour or so before mounting up again and heading in search of something called ‘the Chair of King Phillip II’.  Now, by this point I had realized that my companions had given me very little information mostly because they had none themselves.  They were simply looking for adventure!  Luckily, I am pretty spontaneous when I want to be so things were working out fine. :)  Once again without much information, we headed up the mountain and asked directions from a couple of old guys who looked pretty local.  Having finally found the park and knowing full-well that we could have driven all the way up the mountain, we parked the car and set out on foot.  Once again, luck won out and we took all the right turns to arrive at the seat after only 25-30 minutes of hiking.  You can see for yourself below how beautiful the view was!
 My hiking companions

The view!

Next, we got back to the car and started heading down the mountain.  Somewhere along the way my newfound friends realized that we came to the mountains and slept next to a lake without getting wet at all; therefore, it was decided that we stop along the road in order to hike down to the river.  This is where things got hairy..  There was absolutely no trail and the brush reminded me of the mesquites near San Angelo, Texas: thick and not very forgiving.  After several near misses with sliding down the steep embankment, we made it to the water after ANOTHER 30 minute hike, this time filled with thorns.  The water was slightly brackish but after that grueling descent we weren’t about to turn around dry so we got in and swam for a little while.  To be honest, that was the first time in a year that I have been swimming!  I needed that!

Now, to return to the car from the way we came would have been absurd so we found another way around and made it up the hill in only 5 minutes…a route we wished we had known about before…

Back in the car and thinking ‘Finally, this fun but exhausting adventure is over!’, I was surprised to hear that one of the guys had a friend throwing a barbeque nearby!  Without much choice but excited to meet more Spaniards, I agreed and we went to his friend’s house.  There were several young people hanging around, cooking and swimming (in water even more green than the river we had just exited…), so we introduced ourselves and kicked back with some excellent barbeque and a nice glass of Sangria!

After about an hour of relaxing we decided to head home.  However, not before visiting a convent in which lived a friend of another one of the guys!! One more adventure to go!  We found the convent and knocked on the door.  Someone let us in but there was no one to greet us…we just kind of hung around for a while (it was a huge complex, actually) until the two friends (both in full habit!) came out and talked to us for a while.  They invited us to pray with them for a while and we entered the chapel full of young, vibrant nuns.  A beautiful sight! 

Finally finished with our adventures, we headed home, praying a rosary to finish off a beautiful, enjoyable, and slightly unexpected trip with some great newfound friends!  Oh, and my Spanish did improve a little bit! :)

More Studying!!

You know, I thought that it would be difficult to continue studying this summer and to begin another language right after having started to feel comfortable with Italian, but in reality it has been much easier than I thought!  After only one week of simply talking to some old Oblates who happened to be on retreat in the house in which we are staying and another week of language classes (they placed me in the highest level...strange huh?), I understand about 95% of what is being said (except when they mumble or speak EXTREMELY fast!) and can express many basic ideas!  Several of the guys in my house have wondered how I was able to pick it up so quickly, and my best response is this:  I think somehow during all those years of listening to Spanish being spoken – along with two years in high school of Spanish class – I lacked only the grammatical structure to put together to missing pieces of the language.  And after having learned Italian, I now possess that structure and so now all that is lacking are the words (which happen to be so similar to Italian words that I get confused) and a habitual use of them.  And viola!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Quick Update!

I guess it’s been quite a while, huh? 

In that case, I suppose that a quick update is in order.  I finished my first year in Rome a couple weeks ago after a grueling semester.  I don’t know why, but it seemed like I worked a lot more but wasn’t as satisfied as I had been with the first semester.  I think part of the problem was that I took the school work too serious and didn’t make enough time for other extracurricular activities. :(  Hopefully, I can call that a lesson learned and do a better job next year! 

After I finished my last exam on the 17th of June, I was able to relax a week and spend some quality time with a couple of beloved brothers who were finishing their tour of duty in Rome and preparing to head off into the wilderness of priestly life.  Over the year I developed some very good relationships with them, and next year will be MUCH different without them. 

After saying several tearful good-byes, I set off for Madrid, Spain where I am spending the summer trying to learn Spanish.  Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a scorching heat of around 100 degrees which wouldn’t be so bad if air conditioners had gained in popularity!  But, unfortunately, this was not the case and I am stuck sweating it out with a little fan that I picked up in a local hardware shop.  It has cooled some and is now staying in the mid to low ‘90s…much more bearable!  

I don’t want to make this post too long, soo…More to come tomorrow!