Monday, October 5, 2015

Kurban Bayram: The Feast of Sacrifice

Monday greetings from the home office. I returned to the United States on Thursday and have just about recovered from the jet lag.

There is so much I want to share about Turkey. Today I would like to focus on an event that happened to coincide with my visit, the Muslim festival Kurban Bayram, or the Feast of Sacrifice. For Muslims, this three- to five-day feast commemorates Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faithfulness to Allah; essentially the same story in the Old Testament where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac until the angel prevents the killing.

I noticed for several days before the event that, while driving, I was seeing lots of pick-up trucks and trailers carrying mostly sheep and goats throughout the city streets. I was in Antalya, on the southern coast of Turkey, on the day that the feast began. There are two great feasts that are celebrated during the year for Muslims, the end of Ramadan and the Feast of Sacrifice. Part of our little tour group in Antalya included a Turkish man, who helped all of us understand the feast, in which he had taken an active role for most of his young life. He told us that the feast was all about family and charity. Those with the means would purchase a young lamb or goat (sometimes other animals were chosen). Depending on where the family lived, arrangements would be made for the purchase and slaughter of the animal. In rural communities, this would usually be done on the farm or in the yard. We happened to be in Antalya, a city of over a million people, on the first day of the festival. Our Turkish friend found out where the mobile slaughter houses were set up in the city, so we decided to drive to one to witness the event for ourselves.

We arrived in a city neighborhood and found the site, the ground floor of a parking garage. We watched as the pickup trucks and trailers arrived with the animals. The place was filled with people, young and old, and the animals were lined up to face the slaughter.

Being someone who is a city guy and who never really spent much time on a farm or with farm animals, this was a real eye-opener for me. We watched one lamb have its throat slit and die within minutes. As the animal is killed, someone prays a ritual prayer. Then the animal is skinned and the meat and organs are harvested. The entire process takes about 35 minutes and is done with speed and cleanliness.  This was definitely not for the faint of heart. This video does not show the actual slaughter, but it will give you a good idea of the setting.


Traditionally, families divide the meat into thirds, one third for the family, another third for extended family and friends, and the final third for the poor and needy.

As I was walking back to the car, I looked up when I heard this animal "baah-ing."

So, what went on in my mind? I thought about the "suffering servant" from Isaiah 53:6-7:
"We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way, but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all. Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth."

I also thought about how striking the prayer is we pray each time we are at Mass, "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us . . . grant us peace."

Here, before me, was a lamb being led to the slaughter, actually lots or lambs. One of our companions said, "Don't they know what is about to happen? In a matter of minutes, they will be killed." I watched as the young children were petting the animals that were next in line, a look of fascination and wonder on their faces as they watched what looked like sheer brutality to me.

I started praying, thinking of the Lord Jesus, whose own sacrifice saved (and continues to save) me. And I recalled that his sacrifice was once and for all. Unlike the Muslims, we do not sacrifice animals any more; the one sacrifice has been accomplished in Christ; there is no need for animal sacrifice in Christianity.

Oddly, I started thinking also about our upcoming feast of Thanksgiving and the fact that millions of turkeys will be slaughtered in order for our feasts to be complete. Granted, this slaughter has nothing to do with religious sacrifice, but I couldn't help but think of that one turkey that the president "pardons" just before Thanksgiving. There was no "pardoning" in Turkey that day of Kurban Bayram.

Travel brings the cultures of the world right up to our eyes. I felt so privileged to be in Turkey for this Muslim feast.

Tomorrow, I am traveling to Dallas for the annual meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, representing WLP and J.S. Paluch. I want share my experience of two ancient baptisteries and fonts I experienced in Ephesus. Hopefully, all the technology will work "on the road" so that I can share these amazing places with you.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hierapolis and the "Cotton Castle"

Saturday greetings from Bodrum, Turkey, here on the coast of the Aegean. This vacation has taken a decidedly relaxing turn here on the Aegean. I was planning on excursions to some of the ancient sites, but realized I needed simply to rest and soak in the beauty that surrounds this peaceful area.

After the first several days in Istanbul, our little group flew to Izmir (ancient Smyrna), where we picked up the rental car and headed to Pamukkale for two reasons. One, to visit the ruins of ancient Hierapolis, mentioned in Paul's Letter to the Colossians (4:13). In the first century, Hierapolis (the "Sacred City") was part of the tri-city area of Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis. I found out that Philip the apostle moved to Hierapolis before 70 AD, where it is believed he was martyred. His tomb here was only recently discovered in 2011.

Walking (and climbing!) through this very large city was fascinating on many fronts. Its position high on a hill overlooking a vast valley was stunning.

The theater, built against a hillside here in 60 AD, following an earthquake, has a stage that has been reconstructed by archaeologists. A few photos I took while inside the theater.

Walking along the main road.

As is the case with so many of these ancient sites, one could spend days here.

But there was a second reason for visiting Pamukkale/Hierapolis. Just at the edge of the city, forming a kind of cascade down the side of the hill into present-day Pamukkale is a natural wonder, the hot spring pools, terraces really, made of travertine, a sedimentary rock formed by the carbonate minerals in the water that has cascaded over the side of this hill for centuries. This is quite a tourist attraction, as you can imagine. Everyone must remove shoes in order to walk over, around, and in these pools of warm mineral water. "Pamukkale" means "cotton castle."

The whole area resembles a ski area, doesn't it? It was extraordinary.

Since the visit and overnight in Pamukkale, the coast of the Aegean has been the place of rest.

We are privileged to have been here this past week, during the Muslim Bayram, the feast of the sacrifice. I will have much more to share about that in the next post.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

More on Hagia Sophia and Mass in Istanbul

Tuesday greetings from Antalya, Turkey. My apologies for not having posted these past few days. So much to see and do, accompanied by the usual technical challenges. I have been finally able to download the "good" photos from my camera onto a mini-PC, so I can share more with you about the amazing city of Istanbul, which is a city with 14 million inhabitants, certainly the largest city I have ever visited.

I wanted to share a few more photos of the Hagia Sophia, whose history as a Christian church dates back to the early 6th century. Here is a photo of the inner narthex, where I was told those who were being instructed in the Christian faith would gather for their instruction; they were not allowed even to gaze into the cathedral.

Here is the main door into the Hagia Sophia's inner narthex. You can see traces of the crosses that once adorned these doors, which were removed when the church was converted into a mosque.

And the mosaic above the door into the main space.

A closeup of the mosaic.

The interior, the fourth largest "cathedral" in the world, is immense. This photo was taken from the enormous gallery. The scaffolding has been there for over fifteen years; this place needs an extraordinary amount of repair and restoration.

I marveled at the Christian mosaics that had been painted over when this place was converted to a mosque in 1453. Ataturk declared it neither a mosque nor a Christian cathedral in the 1930's. It is now a museum.

As you can well imagine, I was keen on discovering the baptistery. I read in many tour books that it had been converted into a Sultan's mausoleum. Our guide led us to the space. The font was enormous, carved out of one solid piece of stone, with steps leading down on one side and up and out on the other. Some photos.

But to me it seemed like it had simply been plopped there from elsewhere, kind of pushed up against the wall, if that were at all possible for this multi-ton structure.

Not sure if you can read this about the baptistery and font. "It has a square shape plan, covered with a dome, an apse on the east and a porch on the west. Some architectural remains in the courtyard indicate that it may possibly be older than Hagia Sophia (4th-5th century)." I am skeptical about this space and whether or not it was the baptistery or something older, or whether or not the font is original to one of the three churches that were the Hagia Sophia. More research is in order. Anyone out there know more?

On Sunday, I attended Mass at Saint Anthony of Padua, one of a handful of Catholic churches in this massive city. Outside this very Western European styled building, in the courtyard, is a lovely statue of Saint John XXIII.

The parish is made up largely of people from the Philippines and people from Africa. So interesting. The choir was Philippino, as were the lectors and the "commentator," who spoke the directions as to when to sit and when to stand (even though she would say these directions right after we had all instinctively done so). All of the servers were African men. The assembly was made up mostly of African young adult males, Philippinos, and tourists. By the way, even though the prayers were prayed by Father Julius, an African priest, directly from the recent translation of the Roman Missal, the Gloria was the former text. I really loved the music. Here is photo of one of the young African men praying after Mass.

The piety of these African Catholics in front of the tabernacle after Mass was so evident.

And a festive gathering in the courtyard after Mass.

I was saddened to leave Istanbul. Before leaving, I got to cross over the Bosphoros in a ferry to the Asian side of the city; my first time on the Asian continent. A photo of the "small step for Jerry" as I touched Asian ground for the first time!

So much more to share about my visit to the ancient ruins of Hierapolis and Pamukkale, which occurred yesterday, but I am exhausted from writing this entry, and you are probably exhausted from reading it! Until tomorrow,

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Istanbul: Wonderful First Few Days

Late Saturday evening greetings from Istanbul, Turkey.

Travels across the ocean went well; still adjusting to the seven hour time difference. Istanbul is a very large city of 14 million inhabitants; an amazing mix of cultures. This is my first time in a predominantly Muslim country; over 98%.

Spent yesterday at the palace of the sultans here, Topkapi Palace. One of the chamber rooms in the harem is pictured here. Most of what you see are tiles; the tile artistry is beyond belief here.

Today our little group visited the Blue Mosque, which is directly across a grand plaza from Hagia Sophia. This was my first visit to a mosque. All had to remove shoes and women who had arms or legs not covered were given cloths and cover skirts. Men in shorts had to cover their bared legs as well. Frankly, it all seemed strange once we entered because it all felt like a giant tourist area, with lots of talking and photo-taking, with very little reverence at all, given all the machinations we were put through just to enter the grand space, pictured here.

I understand why we needed to do what we did to enter this place, including the removal of all shoes. Perhaps while here I should visit a not-so-famous mosque and see and feel the difference.

Next up today was Hagia Sophia. We hired an English-speaking guide and it was awesome. As we stood in the outer narthex, we were told that that was the location where the city's pagans would gather for instruction. One had to be a Christian in ancient Constantinople (now Istanbul) in order to have any status, in order to vote, in order to be able to be a respected member of society. Our guide told us that it was in this outer narthex that instruction in the Christian faith would take place and that twice a month, those who had completed instruction would be led into the cathedral for baptism. I definitely need to read much, much more about this history to verify this account.

Folks, it was simply amazing standing in this place. I took this photo to show you some of the history of the place. It all began as a Christian temple/church/cathedral, then in the early 1500's it was converted to a mosque and then in the early 20th century was converted into a museum. This is a long and complicated history. Today's Hagia Sophia is a study in that history. It is the third building to stand on these grounds, now over 1500 years old. On the ceiling of the apse, you will see a restored mosaic of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Jesus. To the right and the left are large pieces of calligraphy which, in Arabic, read Allah (on the right) and Mohammed (on the left). So the history is seen right in front of you as you stand in this immense space.

Just a few days here and I have seen and learned so much. We will be attending Mass tomorrow at one of the few Catholic churches here in the city. More in the next few days.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Turkey on the Horizon

Wednesday greetings to all.

Well, this is my last day at work for awhile; I am leaving for Turkey this evening via a stopover in Copenhagen.

You can see the places where I plan to visit on this map.

Did you know that Turkey currently is the home to approximately two million Syrian refugees? It is going to be quite interesting to be in the middle of this unfolding crisis. Turkey issues a kind of visitor status to refugees, but not work permits, which means that these two million people cannot earn a living while in Turkey. This is one of the main reasons why we hear of people trying to cross sections of the Aegean Sea near Bodrum to reach Greece, where their journeys continue in the hope of reaching Western Europe to find jobs and settle into new homes. I will be staying in Bodrum for three nights before heading to Ephesus. I hope to be able to understand more deeply what this refugee situation means for all involved.

Hearing some of the stories just tears at one's heartstrings. I heard one story of a professional man whose offices were bombed one day and his home the next. I often try to put myself in these kinds of situations. I imagine what it would be like if I arrived at our offices here one day and found them destroyed by bombs. And returning home to find my neighborhood in ruins. My heart aches for those in this kind of situation. It helps me to understand why nearly half the population of Syria has fled.

So, folks, please say a prayer for these refugees today and, if I may ask, a prayer of safety for all travelers.

I plan to blog while in Turkey if all the technological pieces come together.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Have You Found the "Key?"

On February 11, 2016, the Church will mark World Day of the Sick.

The Vatican Press Office released Pope Francis' statement for the 2016 Day of the Sick today, which reads in part:

"Illness, above all grave illness, always places human existence in crisis and brings with it questions that dig deep. Our first response may at times be one of rebellion: Why has this happened to me? We can feel desperate, thinking that all is lost, that things no longer have meaning."

"In these situations, faith in God is on the one hand tested, yet at the same time can reveal all of its positive resources. Not because faith makes illness, pain, or the questions which they raise, disappear, but because it offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing: a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side, weighed down by the Cross. And this key is given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way first hand."

As many of you know, my family, like many of your own, has been touched with serious illness. And each time a loved one has been diagnosed with an illness, I have found myself going through what Pope Francis describes: "Why has this happened?" I have often fallen into despair over all of this.

But I have also been given the grace to see, when I get beyond my "rebellion," that discovery of deep meaning of which the Pope speaks. And I often have turned to the Blessed Mother (usually when I am saying the rosary in my spin class at the gym) and pray to her under the title "Our Lady, Mother of the Afflicted."

The Holy Father uses the metaphor of the "key." I am trying so hard at times to grasp for that key. Maybe I need to go the Mother Mary more often to find it.

Have you found the "key?" How?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Monday, September 14, 2015

The Cross at the Center

Monday greetings on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The cross has been at the center of our scriptures both yesterday and today.

On Saturday, I was at Saint Thomas More parish in Elgin here in Illinois, giving a day long retreat to over 100 liturgical ministers and we did lots of talking about the cross in our lives. This group of dedicated ministers spent over six hours together on a beautifully sunny Saturday, sharing their faith and rededicating themselves to their ministries.

Yesterday, at Old Saint Patrick's in Chicago, the song we sang during the preparation of the gifts was Tony Alonso's We Should Glory in the Cross.

This community had not sung it before and they caught on to its great melody quite easily. Afterward, I spoke with the music director, telling her how appropriate it was for the day. She told me that the parish does not have a setting of this Holy Thursday entrance antiphon and rather than have it be a new piece this year at Holy Thursday, she decided to use it this week to get the community familiar with it. Gee, maybe that music director should write a book about creating a plan for parish music participation. Oh, wait, she already did!

These two days provided times for me to think about the crosses I have shared with Christ in my own life. I remember learning, mostly through my experiences at the RCIA institutes sponsored by the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, so much about the cross; as a sign of pain and suffering, and as a sign of victory. I shared some of my own experiences of the cross on Saturday with those ministers and yesterday gave me the opportunity, through the scriptures, preaching, and music, to know that my own Christian journey is one that I do not to alone. That brought me comfort and hope.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.