Monthly Archives: May 2011

Blessed John Paul II’s home parish spotlights First Communion in unique way

Fish figures announce First Holy Communicants inside the Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wadowice, Poland. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

WADOWICE, Poland – Blessed John Paul II’s home parish in Wadowice has an interesting way of spotlighting children receiving their First Holy Communion.

Names of first communicants are shown on fish figures inside the Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wadowice, Poland. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Inside the Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – the same church where the future pope received his own First Holy Communion – dozens of fish-shaped figures stand near the sanctuary. Each yellow or white marker bears the name of a child who is receiving the Blessed Sacrament for the first time. Ornate calligraphy spells out names such as “Michal,” “Filip,” “Norbert,” Natalia” and “Marcelina.”

All the fish “swim” alongside a boat whose sail is stamped with a red symbol for Christ. The boat’s course is set firmly on the altar, the place where bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

The display is rich in meaning, with the fish serving as an early symbol of Christianity, and the boat – the “Bark of St. Peter” – representing the Church that can sometimes be tossed on a sea of disbelief, yet remains fixed on Christ.

It’s a pretty cool idea – and one that I suspect a lot of American parishes might like to imitate.


Ascending the mountains with Jan Pawel

The Tatra Mountains are seen through the fog May 28 in Poland. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

ZAKOPANE, Poland – Even on a dreary, rain-filled day, few vistas are as spectacular as the Tatra Mountains in Southern Poland.

A 26-member Baltimore pilgrimage group, led by Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, made it to one of the mountain peaks via a cable car May 28 – catching glimpses of the snow-dotted terrain through raindrops and fog. It was the same route Blessed Pope John Paul II had taken during his 1997 visit to his homeland. In his youth, the Polish pope often hiked and skied in the Tatras.

A plaque commemorates Blessed John Paul II's 1997 visit to the Tatra Mountains. (George P. Matysek Jr.)

The resort station, which attracts visitors from throughout Europe and around the world, has numerous tributes to the late pope. A large plaque commemorates his 1997 visit, portraying the pope pointing his cane skyward to his beloved mountains.

When the pope was asked to write in the guest book during his visit, he wrote, “Benedicite montes dominum” – “You mountains, bless the Lord.”

He signed his name, “Jan Pawel II.”

VIDEO REPORT: One way to fight the plague

BUDAPEST – One of the most fascinating pieces of artwork in Budapest is found in Hungary’s castle district. An early 18th-century monument built for the dual purposes of remembering victims of the plague and safeguarding the city from future diseases, the Baroque column is dedicated to the Holy Trinity.  Check out this video report:

VIDEO REPORT: Infant of Prague has surprising tie to Baltimore

PRAGUE – Sometimes you have to travel half a world away to discover local angles to stories.

While visiting the magnificent Church of Our Lady Victorious in Prague this week, I learned that there is a connection between Baltimore and the Infant of Prague – the much-loved statue of the Christ Child located inside the famous Czech church.  Here’s a video report on that surprising link, along with some background of the statue.

7/14/2011 — UPDATE – Also check out this blog about how images of the Blessed Virgin Mary are crafted from butterfly wings.

Greetings from Prague

Can't go to Prague without tasting a Czech beer.

PRAGUE – Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski’s pilgrimage to Europe has landed in Prague.  I haven’t had a free moment to post, but stay tuned for a video report on the Infant of Prague, located at the Church of Our Lady Victorious.  Should be up later today.  (The pilgrimage group has been going strong for two days straight without any sleep!)

In the meantime, enjoy a few photos from the church posted below.  Prague definitely lives up to its billing as one of the most beautiful cities in the world!

The Infant of Prague, located inside the Church of Our Lady Victorious. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski celebrates Mass at the Church of Our Lady Victorious in Prague. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Baltimore pilgrims pray inside the Church of Our Lady Victorious in Prague. (CR/George P. Matysek Jr.)

That's all for now. Much more to come!

In the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II

Our Lady of Częstochowa

Tomorrow morning, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski will lead a pilgrimage to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.  I’ll be reporting on the spiritual journey for The Catholic Review — both on this blog and in the print edition of the newspaper.

Over the next two weeks, be sure to check The Narthex for updates, photos and video reports from Europe. I hope to provide a glimpse into the deep spirituality and strong Marian devotion in that part of the world. I also hope to gain some insights into the holy sites that shaped Blessed John Paul II, while experiencing Catholicism as it is practiced more than two decades after the collapse of Communism.  They’ll be some surprises along the way, I’m sure.

It’s a special honor for me to report on this particular pilgrimage. My grandparents on my father’s side were both from the Czech Republic and my grandparents on my mother’s side were both from Poland.  My dad grew up speaking Czech at home, just as my mom spoke Polish.  It will be a bit of a homecoming for me.

Stay tuned.  Much more to come.

Our Lady of CzęstochowaOroduj za násPray for us.

Thumbs down on new pope statue

A newly installed, hulking statue of Blessed Pope John Paul II is getting big-time thumbs down in Italy.  What do you think?  Is it really that ugly?  I haven’t seen it in person, but the AP photos seem to confirm the criticisms.

A giant bronze sculpture portraying Pope John Paul II is displayed outside Rome's Termini train Station. (AP Photo/Marco Guerrieri)

A new, modernist sculpture of Pope John Paul II is turning into a monumental bust. The Vatican on Friday slammed the giant artwork outside Rome’s Termini Train Station, saying it doesn’t even resemble the late pontiff.

Some Romans and tourists say the bronze statue looks more like Italy’s wartime dictator Benito Mussolini than the widely beloved pope.

“How could they have given such a kind pope the head of a Fascist?” said 71-year-old Antonio Lamonica.

As he pondered the statue in the bustling square, his wife muttered: “It’s ugly. Really ugly. Very ugly.”

The artist, Oliviero Rainaldi, depicted the pontiff as if he is opening his cloak to embrace the faithful. But the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said the effect of the nearly 5-meter (16-foot) statue bears “only a distant resemblance to the pope.”

Artistic intent aside, “we find ourselves in the piazza before a violent gash, like a bomb, that ends up assimilating a cloak that almost looks like a sentry box, topped by a head of a pope which comes off too roundish,” critic Sandro Barbagallo wrote in Friday’s L’Osservatore.

“Altogether, the result doesn’t seem to reach the intent,” the newspaper said, noting that it wasn’t alone in its criticism.

Check out the rest here.

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