Jul 29, 2010

Rubbing Elbows with the Archbishop

Still reflecting on Litmanova and hope to complete the series soon: Until then, here's a little dity.

I've been attending the Early Music Festival in Prague for the past few days with some extraordinary world class musicians descending on the city to give us the benefit of their marvelous artistry. Last evening I attended the violin concert of Harmonie Universelle from Germany, playing early Baroque pieces of composers Biber, Schmelzer and Muffat. Can't say I've ever heard of any of these folks, but that's always the wonder with these kinds of concerts, presenting to us long hidden, neglected masterpieces by composers who never made the superstar list. I'm always in awe of the remarkable dedication of these musicians, devoting so much of their lives to hidden works of art of unknown composers. How do they make a living doing stuff like this?

The concert took place in the recently renovated Dominican Convent Refectory, one of the secret little enclaves in this golden city - and we have so many of these hidden treasures. Here are some photos:

I sat in the second row, directly behind Prague's recently appointed Archbishop, Dominik Duka O.P., who was imprisoned during the communist years for a time and served as both novice master and regional provincial of the Dominican order. Seems like a decent caring fellow, but obviously plugged into the ecclesiastical system.  Sitting next to him was the Papal Nuncio, Msgr.Diego Causero. And filling up the rest of the seats - the upper crust of Prague society and the hoity toity, dressed elegantly for this warm but sprinkly summer evening, the occasional wandering tourist - and me. So life goes on as it has for centuries at these kinds of events, with the wine flowing freely and the canapes presented adroitly, with the Archbishop and the Nuncio and we.....Did I forget to mention that the concert was glorious - beyond glorious and the musicians were dressed in blue jeans and t-shirts! Dress jeans and stylish T shirts, to be sure, but casual wear all the same. Summer in Prague. 

Tonight I'm going to St. Agnes Convent (no longer under the auspices of the Catholic Church, very much de-consecrated,) to hear the world renowned Bruce Dikey play the cornetto (the who?), accompanied by Paulina Victorina van Laarhoven on the viola de gamba, together with the ensemble La Violetta, also playing cornetto, harp, harpsichord and organ, playing ornamented madrigals of Ortiz, Lasso and Rossi. The Archbishop, I fear, will not be in attendance.

Jul 27, 2010


I'm still trying to catch my breath after the last posting and waiting for the right moment to continue the reflections on the Marion Shrine of Litmanova, which, by the way, celebrates its 20th anniversary on August 8th, less than two weeks away, when more than 200,000 pilgrims are expected to ascend the holy mountain in the company of the two original visionaries. The very generous young priest in charge of the shrine, Father Vasil, has invited me to the event and offered to let me stay in his house in town. I'm still praying over that invitation at the moment.

However, because this is an inclusive blog, dedicated to openness and appreciation of other faith traditions, I felt that I should go on record and say (before I get too carried away with Marion apparitions) that I believe that "Jesus and Mary" exist within a much larger universe of spiritual beings, far, far more expansive and mysterious than orthodox Christianity is yet capable of comprehending. To make this point, I offer this brief anecdote.

Two and a half hours south of Bangkok, Thailand, is the beautiful seaside resort of Pattaya, the nearest major beach resort to the capitol. During the thirty years I lived in the country, I made frequent trips to the resort, usually staying south of the main city, far away from the honky tonk atmosphere. Apart from its spectacular scenic beauty, Pattaya is also notorious for its vital, heart pounding sex industry, with thousands of young women and several hundred boys working the hundreds and hundreds of go-go bars. However, one can find secluded, beautiful beaches south of the city with beautiful hotels surrounded by the assortment of pizzerias, souvenir shops, tailors, 7'11's, so that one need never leave the area.  My favorite location was Cozy Beach and the Cozy Beach Hotel (one of ten in the area -and I can hear my friends gnashing their teeth and saying, "No, no, don't give the secret away!).

To the north of the city, however, is located the five star hotel, The Dusit Resort (which has since changed it's name to the Dusit Thani Pattaya Hotel) one of the most aesthetically beautiful hotels in all of Thailand. I've visited here frequently, dined here many times, stayed here a few times because it is quite pricey. But every time I've walked into the grounds I've been overcome by a sense of profound sacredness and this feeling has increased in intensity as one walks through the grounds and heads out past the swimming pool to the point that faces the expansive Pattaya Bay. Every single time I've been out here, I've felt the presence of a divine feminine being, who seems to be watching over the thousands of young women working the sex trade. The sense of presence was so holy and compassionate and profound, a presence that seems to envelop all who come here. My good friend, John McConville, whom I've known since our Jesuit novitiate days in the 60's, has also felt her presence on numerous occasions and we both 'know' that she is distinct from the 'Blessed Virgin Mary' of the Catholic tradition. Who could she be?

Living in  Thailand at the time was a good friend of ours, Len Cranmer, who was a practicing psychic of recognized spiritual gifts - though Len hates the designation 'psychic,' because he feels it gives people false expectations when they meet him that he is some kind of fortune teller. He prefers the term, "metaphysical healer." Len is a 'spiritualist,' meaning he believes that Jesus is a radiantly enlightened being, but not the only such figure in human history, and he believes not only that we reincarnate many times on this earth, learning numerous lessons each time, but that we choose the circumstances of each incarnation. So I decided to invite Len to the Dusit Resort for dinner and rather shrewdly, I didn't tell him my motivation for doing so. However, being a very gifted person, Len caught on that something was afoot. When I walked him through the grounds, he said simply, "This is a sacred place and it has a sacred history." When we reached the swimming pool, before walking out to the point, he stopped and said - as if it were the most natural thing in the world - "Oh, there is a goddess here." I said, "really." He smiled, looked at me, and said, "Yes, but you knew that already, didn't you." We walked out onto the point and Len said, "Oh, she is very powerful and she is here to watch over the many women who suffer in this city. Very powerful indeed," and he remained silent for a while, wafting in her atmosphere, almost like the aromas of a fine cigar ( a crude image, but the best I can do.). After dinner, Len wanted to explore the matter a little, so we walked up to the front desk and asked the lovely Thai staff if they knew anything about the history of the point where the resort was located. We received many lovely smiles and looks of incomprehension. No, they didn't, they told us, but maybe we should ask the personnel manager, Khun Saowapa, who would be in her office in the morning. She had been with the hotel since its founding, almost thirty years ago! We thanked the Thai staff and made a resolution to have breakfast in the hotel the following morning and have a chat with Khun Saowapa. 

The following morning, after indulging ourselves at the fabulous breakfast buffet, replete with fresh lobster, giant prawns, smoked salmon, oysters in the half shell - and champagne, we made our way to the front desk and asked to speak with Khun Saowapa. We were greeted by a very charming older Thai woman in her 60's, wearing beautiful garments of Thai silk and a magnificent hand wrought silver necklace. When we said we wanted to ask her about the history of the hotel, she took us downstairs to her office. Following his instincts, Len went right to the point and asked Khun Saowapa if she had ever experienced any kind of special presence in the hotel or out on the point. Being a timid soul myself, I was aghast at his effrontery. Wasn't there a more tactful way of approaching the subject? Wrong! Khun Saowapa's eyes lit up and she said, "Oh, have you felt her? She doesn't make her presence known to just everyone, you know." Len said, "Oh, you mean the goddess on the point." Khun Saowapa explained, "Yes, but we don't like to speak of her too openly. Thai people are very superstitious, you know,  and very afraid of ghosts, and they would hesitate to stay here if they knew. Even the Thai staff are rather nervous about the experience, but I can assure you she will do no harm. You see, many years ago, there was a small Indian shrine dedicated to the Hindu god, Ganesha, on this point, and it was favored by the sea gypsies who were fisherman at that time, long before Pattaya was discovered as a resort. A young girl (and we don't know the exact circumstances) was brutally murdered by her lover on this point and her body was tossed into the sea. But the waves, instead of taking her far out to sea, brought her back to the shore, where she was eventually discovered. We don't really know who she was, but we feel her presence every day, and I've gotten quite used to her. That's why I've stayed at this hotel for so many years, it's a holy place to me. And if you look outside at the entrance to the hotel, you will see a large shrine dedicated to Ganesha, the Elephant god, with many flowers and gifts placed around it. Those are placed there mainly by the Thai staff, who are both grateful for the blessings of the Elephant god and the 'goddess of the point,' as you call her, as well as a little bit nervous about her, She seems to confirm for us the Thai belief that the 'world' is populated by spirits we cannot see, some benevolent and benign, some not so kindly disposed."

Len and I thanked Khun Saowapa for her graciousness to us and went for one final walk out to the point, where we both said a silent prayer to the goddess. Len was quite calm, as if nothing we had learned was particularly unusual, but I was completely taken aback. This was my first really intimate, personal encounter with a 'sacred being' completely outside the Christian, Catholic universe.  I had experienced the sacredness of many Buddhist temples, but never that 'personal' touch that usually characterizes our encounters with the Blessed Mother of Jesus.  However, I walked away from this conversation not sure of what was the more extraordinary element in this story, the presence of this gentle, compassionate 'goddess' who had manifested herself spiritually to us or this wonderful, gracious, cultivated and utterly civilized Thai woman who had served at this hotel for over thirty years because, as she explained it, she felt called to serve the secret mystery of "the goddess of Pattaya."

Jul 22, 2010


(Update: I'm not sure why the original photos included with this post are no longer visible, since most of them were my original photos taken on site.  But I have 'deleted' the remnants of them, to remove the distracting exclamation points!)

I have just returned from four days in the utterly sacred, mysterious, hidden Marion shrine of Litmanova high in the mountains of northern Slovakia on the Polish boarder. Allegedly, (and for myself there are no doubts) the Blessed Mother appeared to two young peasant girls on August 5th 1990, announcing herself as Immaculate Purity, and continued her visitations until August 6th of 1995. The young girls should have been attending Mass at their parish church in the town, the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, (under the auspices of the Greek Catholic Church, which practices the Eastern Rite). The young girls were playing in a dilapidated, abandoned cabin on the holy mountain of Hora Zvir when they were startled by a loud crashing sound and a white light out of which emerged a beautiful woman who gazed at them lovingly and then walked across the floor of the cabin and sat down on a little bench.  The girls said they were flooded with the most profound peace that put all their fears to rest. Ivatka has said, "I didn't feel I needed to ask her anything. Just her being here with us was enough." That bench has now become the most sacred object in the shrine and the sight of many 'healings.' A sacred spring behind the cabin has now become a source of healings as well, and pilgrims draw water from it freely.

I'm afraid I'm still too overcome by the visit to adequately describe it, except to say I felt touched by an all encompassing Love more intimate to my being than my own heartbeat. It is truly a holy place, and with every breath of my being during those four days I felt in  intimate union with the Blessed Mother of us all. Thank you, dear mother, for the grace of Litmanova. It is the Marion shrine that all of us have been searching for in our hearts all our lives. A remote mountain village of peace and harmony, touched by Mary's grace and completely unspoiled by any taint of commercialism. High in the mountains of northern Slovakia, hidden away from the world and known to very few pilgrims outside the Slovak and Polish Christian communities. It is pure gift and pure grace.

A much fuller report to follow in a few days.
Jayden Cameron

Jul 14, 2010


(Update: I'm not sure why the original photos included with this post are no longer visible. Perhaps they have disappeared from the original site? But I have 'deleted' the remnants of them, to remove the distracting exclamation points!)

Through a mysterious chain of coincidences, prompted first by an email from a friend and unraveling over the past 24 hours, I am now on my way to Slovakia and the sight of the 1990-95 Marian apparitions in the hillside village of Litmanova on the Polish Border. One of the minor, lesser known Marian shrines in the world, I know not what to expect but it feels like a grace.  Clearly I am being led, since this whole adventure unfolded so rapidly with an unexpected invitation this morning from one of my young Czech friends, whose parents live in the area, and whose grandmother was a frequent visitor to the site.
A report to follow.

Jul 11, 2010


 I am still reflecting on my recent retreat in Medugorje and hope to post further comments at a later time. One of the facts that recently came to my attention is the role of the Old Catholic Church in the area, a role that has both disturbed and outraged the local ordinary, Bishop Ratko Peric, who refers to the OCC as a "schismatic sect." Apparently some breakaway parishes in the area together with defrocked Franciscan priests are attempting to link up with the Old Catholic Church, inviting their bishop to perform confirmations. I can certainly understand how this would be seen by traditional, faithful Catholics as a countersign of 'disunity,' but since I have great regard for the OCC as an alternative and very spiritual witness to a different way of being 'Catholic,' my own view is more open-minded. I'm definitely intrigued by these developments. At this point in history, and this is only my marginalized view, we are going to witness far more of these breakaway, spirit-filled alternative communities, living authentic Catholic lives on the margins outside the formal control of the institutional Roman Church. Splintering and fragmentation, chaos and disunity? Perhaps, but my own faith tells me these are the signs of the times, the dividing walls are  dissolving, and tribal distinctions in religion are no longer necessary or important. Genuinely sincere spiritual seekers are being moved to form alternative communities of Catholic belief, while other equally sincere believers are being given the strength and charism to remain within the larger tent and struggle for reform from within. There seems to be both a place and a dire need for both alternatives. The Old Catholic Church in Bosnia Herzegovina, where Medugorje is located, has already gone on record acknowledging its belief - not in the authenticity of the original visions - but in the simple fact that 'Our Lady' is at work in Medugorje in a powerful, spiritual way. Whether or not one can accept the authenticity of the original, charismatic experience - which is still ongoing - it seems hard to deny the extraordinary spiritual fruits of this very holy place. To make my point, here is a beautiful reflection from Cardinal Schonborn, explaining how he made the decision to come to Medugorje last December. The statement is remarkable, not only for the Cardinal's views on the whole phenomenon, but for what it reveals about the deeply spiritual, fair-minded, and balanced character of this very unique prelate in the Roman Catholic Church. The future pope? One can only hope and pray.

I cannot explain exactly how this happened. I have known about Medugorje for many years, not personally because I have not been here before, but I have experienced the fruits of Medugorje in our diocese and even further. I always used to say what Jesus has said in the Gospels, “You will recognize the tree by its fruits.” When I see the fruits of Medugorje back home, I can only say that the tree is surely good. I will just mention two little examples.

At the Security Check point at Vienna airport, one of the guards recognized me, looked at my ticket and asked me if I was flying to Zagreb. I confirmed this and added that from Zagreb I was going to Split and then to Medugorje. His face immediately changed and he said, “I was in Medugorje before!” And with much excitement he began to talk about his experience of climbing Holy Cross Mountain and the spiritual atmosphere he experienced there. A security check point guard talks about Medugorje! Another example, early in the morning I was standing at the local train station. The manager of the station recognized me and we started talking and he confided in me the deep pain and loss he felt when his wife died of cancer. But he immediately added that his friends took him to Medugorje and that strengthened his faith even more. His face reflected such joy.

Those are just two little examples among many, many experiences I have had about Medugorje. I will just repeat what I once said in one interview: if there was something wrong about Medugorje, we would have to dismiss half of our seminarians, since so many of our priestly vocations are both directly and indirectly related to Medugorje.

How, then, did it happen that I decided to come to Medugorje? I always used to hesitate, and being a Cardinal, I am a very exposed person in the Catholic Church. Since there are many controversies, I did not want to start additional discussions and in my opinion, Medugorje is already well known. But this summer I visited the community of Cenacolo in Saluzzo. I have known Sister Elvira for the last couple of years, I love her and respect her as an extraordinary witness of the  Risen Lord and I am aware of the deep relationship the community of Cenacolo has with Medugorje. In Saluzzo, I was able to experience a very strong feeling of interior security: my time to go to Medugorje had arrived! I would say that it was a kind of interior encouragement. I expressed a desire that my visit remain confidential. I simply wanted to spend time in silence and prayer. I did not want to hide my intention to come, but also I did not want that to be the main subject of discussions. I just wanted to come to the place where Our Lady gives so many abundant graces. Besides that, the visionary Ivan Dragicevic was in Vienna last year and I spoke with him, and with Marija Pavlovic Lunetti this year, they were both in the Cathedral of St. Stephen and I gave my permission for those events. Both of those encounters have impressed me so much, primarily because of the modesty, simplicity, clarity and warm heartedness of those two visionaries. That only strengthened my decision to quietly and simply come to Medjugorje.

Read the Cardinal's full statement (in very rough translation) here. 

Here is a video of the youngest visionary,  Jakov Colo, receiving his annual apparition on Christmas day in Medugorje this last December, four days before the arrival of Cardinal Schonborn.

Jul 7, 2010


I have just returned from a pilgrimage/retreat to Medjugorje, but at the risk of seeming melodramatic, I'm still a little too overcome by the power of the experience to be able to reflect and write about it adequately.  I hope to do this at a later time, so these are just preliminary notes and reactions. of a rambling nature.

As a summary of the experience, I would have to say that not since my earliest childhood have I felt so profoundly and unconditionally loved by a maternal divine presence, a love that penetrates to the most intimate recesses of one's being. I was taken into a place of such profound peace, and was sustained by this peace for the full four days of my visit. There were 'messages' that were relevant to my own personal spiritual life, but the peace 'surpassed all understanding.' Medjugorje, above all, is a place of profound peace. There is the usual commercial aspect of the place as a major pilgrimage site, but I was not a bit offended by the numerous souvenir shops around the town center, they seemed appropriate (though their numbers seemed excessive). It was only on the pathway up to 'Apparition Hill" that the souvenir shops seemed quite offensive and out of place.  Likewise with the many guest houses, pensiones and hotels about the place, they simply give the whole town a festive, holiday air, very much like a beach resort in Thailand. Prices were far above (or below) being simply reasonable. My own family-run pensione in the countryside outside the town center charged me 20 euros a night for a double room with ensuite bathroom. Dinner was 9 euros and included a double portion of soup, home made bread, a huge salad with fresh ingredients from the family's garden, a main plate of chicken, potatoes, cucumbers that was large enough to feed three truck drivers, a generous plate of fruit and a half litre carafe of wine from the family's own vineyard. For 9 euros! This beautiful Croatian family offers rooms in their home as a service to pilgrims, not as a money making operation. So no one is really making any fortune off of the pilgrims, that I can see. Pensiones closer to the town center were charging 40 euros a night for room with bath, which is still more than reasonable. A meal in one of the fancier open air pizzerias right across from the church grounds cost me ten euros for soup, pasta, side salad, two cokes, cup of gelatto and espresso. 10 Euros, and it doesn't get more expensive than that. A week later I was dining in a simple pizzeria in Milan's Galleria and the same meal cost me 50 Euros! Is any of this relevant to the spiritual significance of the place? Indeed it is, because a lot of rather vicious gossip has been spread about the 'money making machine' of Medjugorje. I certainly saw no evidence of this, quite the contrary, though the Franciscans are undoubtedly receiving large and generous donations.  Medjugorje is also set in a spectacular location of astonishing beauty, lush green farm lands surrounded by blue misted mountains in the distance. It makes for a wonderful holiday retreat and at such prices.
Once one crosses the threshold of the sanctuary proper, however, it is as if an impregnable wall has been erected that keeps out all of the commercialism and carnival atmosphere. The sanctuary is a place of prayer and within the church I was carried into such a place of deep interior peace I felt I was back in my aunt Helen's kitchen ( she raised me until the age of 4) and could smell the peanut butter cookies she always baked for me.  It was so hard for me to leave the church, especially on the final day. Something within me wanted to linger within that profound spiritual security and peace. What about the crazies? Yes, some individuals have that special gleam in their eye and numerous persons wear rosary beads around their necks. But they seemed to be in the minority to me, with the majority of pilgrims looking like quite ordinary folk hungering for spiritual sustenance, which is so hard to find elsewhere in the contemporary church. No wonder they are coming in the millions to this very special place.  Thankfully, I didn't run into any hard core conservative cases, using the shrine as a weapon to bolster up their own traditional viewpoints. Undoubtedly such persons exist but it was my good fortune not to run into any.  I did run into two delightful ladies with rosary beads draped around their necks, Martine from France and Esther from the USA. They had that special gleam in their eye and seemed to be enjoying the wacky role they were playing, but they were such great fun to be around and were clearly equipped with the ability to critique their own daffy religiosity with some healthy self awareness. I enjoyed them immensely. They showered blessings on me when we parted, literally....extending their hands and arms and waving spiritual energy my way and laughing and smiling at the same time. A real treat and they both made me feel genuinely blessed. I also met a pair of Lesbian ladies when leaving, Kathy and Janet, waiting for the bus that would take them all the way back to Munich. They were on their way to a teaching gig in Saudi Arabia of all places and said they came here to receive some spiritual fortitude for the ordeal that lay ahead of them. I should say so. Lesbians in Saudi Arabia? I shudder to think. They had a wonderfully dry sense of humor and wanted to know if I would come back to Medjugorje. When I said, oh yes, with pious unction and tears in my eyes, they grunted their approval.

The messages of Medjugorje certainly have a 'radical' tolerance and openness about them, the Blessed Mother of the visions remarking that all religions are the 'same' in God's eyes in so far as they lead us to reverence and respect the divine. This has outraged some conservative Catholic groups who fulminate against the site on their blogs, calling it all an 'invention of diabolic inspiration.' One could see why they would be miffed. One of the visionaries, when asked what she had learned from the experience, said she had learned that "Mary is our mother, Jesus is our brother and companion on the way, and God is our loving father." Simple statement, to be sure, but a striking example of "Christology from below," with no exalted claims made for the Divine Master from Nazareth that would imply a superiority of Christianity over other faiths. As with the apparitions in Spain at Garabandal, the messages also contain a somber warning of future suffering, trials and contradictions. For anyone disturbed by this dimension, I would ask them to revisit the prophetic warnings of Jesus in the gospels about the destruction of Jerusalem. While scripture scholars once believed these warnings were written into the mouth of Jesus by the evangelists, based on the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the consensus of opinion has now swung the other way and the majority of scholars believe these prophecies originated with the Master himself and formed a major element in his preaching - warning of the consequences of violent hatred of the Roman occupation. The apocalyptic language used by Jesus himself is very similar to the tone and imagery of these Marian apparitions and give them a very somber dimension. I came away with the very strong conviction that the 'Blessed Mother' of Medjugorje is very serious about her call to penance, prayer, fasting and conversion. Very serious indeed. I have now adopted her requested practice of fasting on bread and water every Wednesday and Friday. Let us hope my will power holds out.

Speaking of radical openness, one of the English masses I attended in the beautiful church was celebrated by a very witty Irish priest on the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. His entire sermon was focused on the profound betrayal of Jesus and his church committed by  both of these great apostles and that this should always soberly remind us that our leaders and the church in general were always in need of profound and radical conversion. He ended his sermon with a prayer to the Gospa (as the Lady is affectionately called here) for the continuing conversion and repentance of our church leaders. Wow! Contrary to most progressives' suspicions, Medjugorje is anything but a bastion of conservative, traditional Catholicism. There is indeed room for everybody.

These are my rambling thoughts and I've managed to skirt around the more serious, spiritual issues and the impact the visit had on my own inner sense of vocation and calling as a Christian in the Catholic tradition. The visit was a very special grace for me, affirming on so many levels. I will definitely go back. A place of great holiness and peace, and I have no doubt as to is 'supernatural' origins. Just to prove my point, I was not all surprised to hear that Cardinal Schonborn, who appears to be very much the man of the hour these days, paid a visit to Medjugorje last December,  a visit which annoyed the local bishop of Mostar considerably. Here is a quote from the Bishop's letter of complaint.

On Nov 16, 2009,the Catholic News Agency published the news story: “Cardinal Christoph Schönborn will visit Medjugorje, the small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina where six young people have allegedly been witnesses of apparitions from the Virgin Mary. But according to the Archdiocese of Vienna, the trip is 'completely private' and does not imply a statement from the cardinal on the veracity of the apparitions. It was supposed to be a completely private visit, it was not supposed to go out to the Internet,' said Fr. Johannes Fürnkranz, personal secretary to the Archbishop of Vienna.” 

4.      On December 29, 2009, Cardinal Schönborn arrived in Medjugorje. The media accompanied him the next day and on others as well. According to the news, he delivered a speech at the church of St. James the Apostle that highlighted the mercy of God the Father. In that speech, he said: Who could put these things in motion? Who could invent them? A man? No, this is not the work of a human being.”

On December 31, 2009, journalists transmitted: “While some were expecting that the Cardinal’s visit to Medjugorje would be private, he has nevertheless surprised the locals by being very visible. He has spent time celebrating Mass at the Church of St. James the Apostle, walking up the hill where the apparitions occur with the visionary Marija Lunetti, praying in the silence of Adoration, and perhaps the most significant thing, delivering a speech at the parish church in the company of the Franciscans.”