I arrived last night in Rome from Frankfurt, very fortunate to be able to get a flight out Frankfurt because of the Lufthansa strike. Maybe now I can slow down a little. These last seventeen days have been non-stop action.
Living in Paris for eleven days was just pure, good fun. They were also a reminder of how little I know about the French church and the different spiritualities that have emerged from that church. As one who has never been overly drawn to St. Therese of Lisieux, I was surprised to find a statue, and usually a chapel, of Therese in virtually every church I visited. Therese, I gather, captures the soul of French Catholicism in a way that only a few of the great saints, like St. Vincent DePaul, have been able to do. Two of the real surprises in France were the cathedral at Amiens and the Basilica of St. Denis, one of the patron saints of Paris, in the city’s northern suburbs.
Brussels was just so-so. That’s the way I remember it from a weekend I spent there in 1970. I would really like to have gone to NATO Headquarters or the European Parliament, but those aren’t places for tourists.
Bruges, however, is another story. This was my second trip to Bruges in three years. What a fantastic city! The churches, the canals, the convent known as the Grand Beguinage, the food! Brussels is just a great place! For what it’s worth, I was lucky enough to visit the Basilica of the Sacred Blood on a day when “The Relic” was displayed for veneration. “The Relic” is a cloth supposedly containing drops of the blood of Jesus that Joseph of Arimathea caught in the Holy Grail on Good Friday and then brought to Bruges. While all that strikes me as less than historically probable, I was moved by the reverence with which the people approached “The Relic.” I think we modern Catholics are too quick to dismiss these things. Whatever their origin, they are a part of our Catholic experience. I have no doubt that in honoring and venerating them they have the power to lead us to Christ.
Sunday I returned to the site of an army base in Gelnhausen, twenty-five miles east of Frankfurt, where I spent a year and a half in 1969 and 1970. After President Clinton retired the 3rd Armored Division in the 1990s, the base was thoroughly converted into an industrial complex and an administrative center for the city. This was the first time I had been there in almost forty-two years and, as you can imagine, I was filled memories, almost all of them good. Monday I took a train to Cologne and visited, for the fourth time, the medieval cathedral that allegedly contains the three wise men. I’m sure that I departed from the tourist script in Cologne when I sought out and prayed at the tombs of St. Albert the Great and Bl. Duns Scotus, two of the great theologians of the Middle Ages. Finding the tomb of Scotus came close to being a wild goose chase. Fortunately, I came across a Franciscan priest (Scotus was a Franciscan) who was able to give me directions.