I returned yesterday from ten days of wandering around Spain and Prague.
Prague is just downright awesome, one of the most beautiful and interesting places I have ever seen. Now I know why it’s called “The City of the Spires.” Unfortunately, I had only two and a half days to spend there. As usual, however, I moved at a very rapid pace. With the help of an excellent six hour walking tour, I saw as much of the city as is reasonably possible in such a short period of time. The castle complex (the third largest in the world), Wenceslaus Square, the old Jewish quarter, New Town, Old Town! It’s all just incredible. I really need to go back and spend at least a week there.
I went to mass Saturday evening at Our Lady of Victory Church, the home of the original Infant of Prague statue. I didn’t like the original any more than I do the reproductions. There’s something about Baby Jesus dressed up in royal robes, a dress and a crown that fails to inspire me. I noticed that in the gift shop there were at least nineteen outfits you can buy for your own Infant statue! Strange stuff!
The mass was interesting, and probably a reflection of where the church is in central Europe. It lasted thirty-six minutes and the homily took four minutes. The presider was a young Hispanic priest (a missionary?) who, I thought, did a fine job (but I can’t understand a word of Czech either either). I counted forty-two people in the congregation. The cup was not offered to the congregation (par for the course here in Europe) and there was no collection.
I really enjoyed the week in Spain. After sending my last blog I spent a day each in Segovia and Toledo, two cities that are rich in history and tradition. Segovia is the site of the most perfectly preserved of all the ancient Roman aqueducts (the city’s official symbol). In the second century AD it was an important Roman military base, so the Roman engineers found a way to move water nine miles from a mountain stream to the camp below at the rate of sixteen gallons a second. I was impressed.
Toledo is El Greco’s city, and so, even though I’m not really a museum person, I visited the El Greco Museum. I also saw his great masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, at the Church of Santo Tome. Also, Wednesday night in Madrid I saw Picasso’s Guernica at the Reine Sofia Museum. Of all the churches I’ve visited here in Europe, the Cathedral of Toledo may get the prize!
While I was in Spain I was always aware of the depression and the twenty-five per cent unemployment and the suffering they have brought about. At the same time I personally saw few signs of that suffering. Suffice it to say that for typical tourists like me that’s all very well concealed. It’s there, however, and it’s very real.
I had heard a rumor a couple of weeks ago that Bishop Tobin would be appointed Archbishop of Indianapolis, but I didn’t pay any attention to it. Here in Rome you hear rumors about this sort of thing all the time. He has certainly had a delicate and difficult assignment at the Congregation for Religious: bringing to a soft landing all the turmoil that resulted from the Congregation’s decision three years ago to “visit” various women’s congregations in the United States. By all accounts, he has done the job well and has earned high marks from many of the leaders of those congregations. It looks like the Holy Father has taken good care of us. I am glad that I will be back for his installation on December 3.
It is good to be back in Rome. I have missed the Institute for Continuing Theological Education of the North American College and the thirty-one really neat priests with whom I live and study (we lost one; he had to return to the States for medical reasons).