All of our gang together
As Joe and I were rendezvousing after the conferences we met up with this neat couple from Kansas and a religious sister from France. Although she is from France, she is actually a US native who is now with the Jerusalem sisters who are in France. Since Joe and I were hungry, and so were the others, we joined forces and all went out to eat. They took the helm and led us to the craziest market-eating place I had ever seen. Shop after shop lined the inside of this place and people swarmed from place to place. As we wandered through the sea of people the thought came to me, if I get separated from these people, I will never find them again. And, if I get lost, I might not find my way back out. Nevertheless we found “the spot”, which, to me, looked like every other restaurant, and ordered our sandwiches. Although Philly is known for its Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches, the Philadelphians come for a different kind of sandwich. This restaurant is known for its roast beef sandwiches with sharp white cheddar cheese on which they add either sautéed onions or a broccoli sauce. Hungrily awaiting our Philadelphian treat, we left the restaurant zoo and headed for a place to sit and eat.
Eventually we settled on a slight ledge on the side of a closed street. The five of us sat and devoured our sandwiches as onlookers took pictures of the strange sight. Frankly, I don’t blame them; we seemed like something that would begin a bad joke. A sister, a couple, a seminarian, and a deacon were eating by the road . . . or a sister, two people, and two seminarians . . . You can pick your joke. We chatted for a while about the conferences and were having a lot of fun. This couple was amazing! They really cared about family issues and desired to start programs to assist married couples. They mentioned that in their diocese they are implementing a new program, which has been received well, focused on preparing couples for marriage and providing good principles to begin a strong marriage. They said that many non=Catholics have attended these programs including atheists and other Christians. The program is called Living in Love.
Sadly this wonderful couple had to depart, but this didn’t end our adventure. Instead Sr. Susannah was planning on going to the sights that we were planning and hoping to visit. So she became our new tour guide. We headed down the street a few blocks to the viewing of the body of St. Maria Goretti. Yes, her body. Much to my disappointment the caretakers of her body (relics) had covered her bones with clothes and her face with a mask so that she looks like she is incorrupt – that her body has not suffered the effects of decay. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this great saint. Maria Goretti was born in 1890 in Ancona, Italy. When she was 12, Alexander Serenelli, a man who helped at her parent’s house, attempted to rape her. She said to her rapist that she would rather die than be raped. At which point he began to stab her. A neighbor grabbed her body off the front steps of her parent’s house and took her to the hospital. While in the hospital she forgave her rapist just before she died. Alexander was later caught and sentenced to 30 years in prison. While in prison, Maria Goretti appeared to him in a dream and began to hand him roses symbolizing her forgiveness to him. Maria handed him 12 roses, one for each of the stab wounds he inflicted upon her. Alexander later repented and became a Capuchin friar and dedicated his life to prayer. Some people have opened his cause for canonization. Maria Goretti is the youngest canonized saint.
The shrine they had set-up for the viewing of the body of Maria Goretti was in the basement chapel of a local church. The line to get to view the relics stretched a quarter of a block. The inside of the crypt chapel was lined with posters explaining her life and booths to purchase souvenirs. Once we got up to the glass casket that holds her body, we were allowed to spend 15 seconds with the body and couldn’t take pictures.
Our next stop after seeing Maria Goretti was to walk across town to view the body of St. John Newman, the first canonized saint from the United States. In order to get to this church we needed to walk around 2-3 miles to the parish. The streets were rather barren. We saw a handful of people and most of them were army reserve agents who were keeping the area safe. Sr. Susannah was happy to have companions especially since some of these streets could be rather dangerous. As we walked we would greet people, we prayed the Rosary, and chatted.
The church was beautiful. Unfortunately they were celebrating Mass in both the upper and lower chapels. So we prayed a little bit. Outside the lower chapel was a foyer with a water fountain and a few benches. As I sat praying, Joe came over and saw behind me a small reliquary with a relic of St. John Newman. As Mass continued, Joe was downstairs during the Consecration. He noticed as the host was held up for the elevation that the body of John Newman was underneath the altar in a glass case. While they finished celebrating Mass, we went upstairs and viewed the upper church. It was beautiful! Deep maroon and gold colors lined the walls and give it a royal color. The great pillars and columns gave it a grand and expansive feeling. The décor reminded me of a king’s courtroom. Below this chapel was the body of John Newman. As we came downstairs to venerate his body, a Redemptorist priest, the order that staffs this church, was telling stories about the saint. We missed the majority of the stories, but we were able to see the body. The body looked so life like that we thought it might be incorrupt. After asking one of the priests he told us that this was not the case. We stayed and prayed a little, then left the chapel.
St. John Newman was born in Bohemia in 1811. Since his bishop had too many priests, Newman looked for another place to be accepted and ordained a priest. Thus he came to America. Desiring community life he joined the Redemptorist priest. He was appointed the bishop of Philadelphia and began to organize Catholic education. He is the founder of Catholic education in the United States.
After walking all day and the excitement of everything, we were rather exhausted. Therefore we decided to take a cab back to the train station. As we were trying to figure out how to call a cab or which bus lines would take us where we needed to go, a taxi cab pulled up and agreed to take us. Upon leaving the taxi, we parted ways with Sr. Susannah and departed for the train station.
Joe and I both remarked that, in this one day, we started at the convention on the family where they encouraged us to stand as strong witnesses to the joy and beauty of family life. Then we journeyed to visit two saints who stand as strong witness who stood strong and defended truth and justice. We went from being empowered to seeing those who were empowered. It was truly an incredible day!