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One Solitary Life

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of His divine manhood.

While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was his coat. When he was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.

JAMES ALLAN FRANCIS, One Solitary Life, pp. 1–7 (1963).
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My loving tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

I am a person who does not like crowds, so you would think that attending the Feast Day celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on December 12 would be something I would avoid at all costs.  After all, well over one million (some estimates say 5 million) people pack the shrine on the Feast Day.  And yet I have always relished the times that I have been blessed to attend.

Join me as I reminisce about my first visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. On the evening prior to the Feast Day, those of us in our tour group who were more adventuresome decided to taxi to the Basilica. Traditionally many famous Mexican singers, performers and high ranking politicians show up for the festivities that start around 10:00 p.m. This lovely tribute goes on deep into the night and the love songs (Las Mananitas”) sung to Our Lady and the devotion the locals show for her is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  These are memories I’ll hold deep in my heart forever.

On the Feast Day itself (December 12th) we excitedly boarded our tour bus to take us to the Basilica.   But what a surprise was waiting for us!  Buses were restricted from getting too close to the shrine and we had to be dropped off quite a few blocks from there.  At this point we walked the rest of the way….something that turned out to be a blessing.  As usual, God’s plans are better than ours.

The Feast Day is a family event..here a man brings his young child to the Basilica.
The Feast Day is a family event..here a man brings his young child to the Basilica.

As we walked along with throngs of others all headed in the same direction, we experienced a real feeling of pilgrimage; unity with our fellow Catholics.  Those alongside us were mostly Mexican pilgrims, both individuals and whole families, carrying placards of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many had walked for miles, and sometimes for days, to get here.  We passed young people rousing themselves from sleep as they had camped out overnight.  These heartwarming images help you to appreciate how universal and vibrant our Catholic Faith is.

There is more to the Shrine than just the Basilica that contains the miraculous Tilma of Juan Diego, although that is certainly the high point.  I think many of us were surprised that the grounds encompass both the new and old Basilica (now leaning as if it will fall any moment).

You can also see the room where Saint Juan Diego lived out the rest of his life after the apparitions and his simple grave.

Upon entering the grounds where the Basilica is located, we were presented with a kaleidoscope of sights.  We were greeted by descendants of those original Aztecs dancing in the ancient dress as would have been worn at the pagan festivals prior to the apparitions to Juan Diego. The dancers reverently process in to the Basilica symbolizing the shift from the old pagan religion to the new religion of Christianity that they now so enthusiastically embrace.  The colorful dancers add a festive atmosphere to the Celebration of the feast day.

Mount Tepeyac overlooks the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Mount Tepeyac overlooks the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

But what moved me the most was that in the midst of it all was the Monastery built atop the Hill of Tepeyac.  This is where Juan Diego first encountered Our Lady!  The climb is steep, but unlike the time of the apparitions, there are now stairs to make the climb relatively easy (remember you are at a high altitude, so go easy if you have breathing problems).

Even the youngest get to join in the dances.
Even the youngest get to join in the dances.

It might seem more like a carnival than a religious event….. because the Mexican people do not pigeon-hole their faith in to just one hour on Sundays.  It is a part of their daily life.

One of the native dancers
One of the native dancers outside the Basilica.

Faith, culture and daily life all come together in this magical land, and nowhere is that more evident than here on December 12th each year.

If you can’t make it to the Shrine on that date, try to find some of the many festivals nearby celebrating this Patroness of the Americas.  Or maybe you can catch some of the action on one of the Spanish-language TV networks (don’t even need to speak Spanish to enjoy the celebration)  or perhaps one of the Catholic TV networks such as EWTN.

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Many European Christmas Markets cancelled in 2021…but some are open

European Christmas Markets closed by policeThe resurgence of Covid in both Austria and Germany have also forced the cancellation of most of the Germany & Austria’s Christmas markets in 2021, the second year many of the markets have been forced to close over COVID.  These markets generally run from late November up until Christmas.

The closures in Germany include Munich, Nuremberg, Passau, Regensburg, Brandenburg, and the Dresden market, along with Austria’s Vienna (Dream Christmas Market), and more.

Because of this, a number of tour operators have made decisions to either alter or cancel their Christmas Markets itineraries, including river cruises that have been increasingly popular in recent years.

 

Christmas Market in PragueThere is some good news!  Some European Markets will be open.

The Market in Budapest, Hungary will be open from Nov 19 through Dec 31.

The market in Prague, Czech Republic will be open this year from Nov 27 through January 6..

Also, it appears most, if not all,  the Christmas markets in France will remain open!

 

If you know of any others please send us an email so that we can update our list.

 

2021 Quebec Christmas MarketFor those in North America, the Quebec European-style  Christmas market will be open from Nov 25 thru Dec 23.

If arriving from other countries be sure to check the entry requirements for Canada.

 

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Why all the interest in Garabandal?

Garabandal:  A warning and prophecy for our time?

Garabandal, SpainLately we’ve noticed a lot of interest in the tiny village of Garabandal, Spain which is located in the province of Santander and high in the Cantabrian Mountains of Northeast Spain.  Garabandal was a sleepy village in 1961 when reported apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary (preceded by Saint Michael the Archangel) to four young girls took place. Important messages for the world were also given to the girls at that time. Not that long ago…and yet the messages or apparitions have not been approved, nor disapproved, by the Church.

The “bottom line”, from what we understand is:

1. A worldwide warning where everyone sees their soul as God sees it (an illumination of conscience).

2. A miraculous sign to be left at the Pines here in Garabandal within 12 months of the warning.

3. A final chastisement if mankind does not repent.

For those not familiar with Garabandal, check out our page here.

But why all the interest now, some 60 years later?

Perhaps it lies in the fact that so much of what we took for granted in the world has recently been turned upside down.

For example:

Covid-19 response:

In some countries churches have been closed under the guise of “preventing the spread” of Covid, but bars and clubs providing so called “adult entertainment” have remained open.  Meanwhile economies have been destroyed, families torn apart and people live in irrational fear (ever seen a person driving in a car alone with a mask on?).  Australia has set up “internment camps” for those with Covid-19, in England people have been arrested for holding outside church services and we could go on and on.

Destruction of traditional Christianity:

Homosexual behavior is being normalized and even encouraged, especially to vulnerable young children. The U.S. non issues passports for non-binary people….you don’t have to declare yourself male or female. They want you to “follow the science” but not when it comes to physical reality, apparently.

Socialism and Marxism are promoted as ideals, even though there is no evidence that either has ever worked.  No..countries such as Sweden are not Socialist…you can read this article from a former President of Sweden.

In the U.S. racism is raising its head in the form of “anti-racism”, which is in itself a form of racism, since everything is seen through the prism of skin color.

Attacks on the family:  everything from our schools to our society aim to diminish the importance of fathers and the family unit.  The first target of the Devil.

Division within the Church:

Even within the Church there is division:  why did Pope Benedict XVI resign, why do not more priests and bishops speak out against the sin of abortion; why does the Vatican some times seem to embrace ideologies not in keeping with Catholic beliefs?  Why do some Catholics not believe in the True Presence of the Eucharist?  Why does the U.S. have a nominally Catholic president who pushes abortion?  The list goes on and on with no end in sight.

 

So what has this to do with Garabandal?

It is no surprise that people are beginning to think that these things cannot continue and that we are approaching a time when God will intervene in a way similar to what has been foretold by the children in Garabandal.  Of course, this is not unique to Garabandal, since others have predicted such events as well.

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Cardinal Sarah celebrates Mass at the 2021 Medjugorje Youth Festival

Youth Festival in Medjugorje 2021 crowd
The huge numbers at the Mass for the 2021 Youth Festival

Every year in August, Medjugorje hosts a youth festival which draws over 50,000 young people from around the world.  This year’s event was no exception, drawing probably a record number.  It should be noted that the apparitions of the Blessed Mother reported here have not yet been officially approved by the Church, the Church has approved Medjugorje as a pilgrimage destination.  Priests are encouraged to accompany pilgrims to provide spiritual guidance.

 

Cardinal Sarah celebrate Mass in Medjugorje
Cardinal Sarah in Medjugorje

Evidence of this was made clear by the main celebrant of the Mass here:  Cardinal Robert Sarah (pronounced sar-ahh).  Noted as one of the potential candidates for the Chair of Saint Peter, it is certainly a sign that the shrine of  Medjugorje has achieved some acceptance by the Church, even though the apparitions themselves have yet to be approved.

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What’s it like to travel during a pandemic?

We borrowed this post from Select International Tours….a company with a solid financial history and reputation for outstanding Catholic pilgrimages.

Is it safe to travel? How are airlines and airports ensuring the health of their customers? What are the different state and country requirements for arrival – is there testing or quarantine involved?

These are all questions I recently asked myself (and Google) before I armed myself with many masks and bottles of hand sanitizer and embarked on my first domestic and international trips during the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel of course looks very different right now, and our own health and comfort levels should be carefully considered before booking a trip. However there have been many changes to airline and airport protocols during the pandemic to enhance the health and safety of travelers, some of which will likely be maintained even after COVID-19’s peak has passed. Ultimately my domestic trip from Washington, D.C. to Florida, and my move abroad to Rwanda both went smoothly and allowed me to compare what different airlines, airports, and destinations are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Prior to Travel

Booking flights was a bit more challenging than usual because there are less options due to reduced airline service. The usual flight I take to Florida was temporarily suspended, so I booked a United Airlines flight out of Washington Dulles Airport. We’ve learned this year that things can change very quickly – whether it’s flight schedules or incoming passenger requirements – so it is important to have a plan in place to accommodate these changes. Booking through a travel company like Select International can take the stress out of this process since they work with so many airlines and are always familiar with the most up-to-date policies of each.

I was sure to check baggage requirements far in advance. United Airlines still allowed one carry-on and one personal item, however, I flew Turkish Air to Rwanda and they only allowed a personal item in the cabin to avoid congestion in the plane’s aisle, and so they checked my usual carry-on for free.

I also looked up entry requirements for Florida and Rwanda. Florida had none, but Rwanda, like many popular destinations including Israel/the Holy Land, required a negative COVID-19 test within 3-5 days of departure (as well as an online form to be filled). I’d heard many different stories about testing requirements and the timing of receiving results that it was difficult for me to identify a clinic that could promise the quick turnaround required for travel. I ultimately received a recommended list of clinics from the D.C. Department of Public Health and had to pay out of pocket for an expedited test. This was a very difficult and frustrating pre-departure step that might have been avoided had I booked through a travel company!

At the Airport

Checking In

For my domestic flights, I was grateful to be able to check-in online prior to arrival in order to avoid the crowded check-in/bag-drop area. For my international flight, because Rwanda required certain documents, I had to go to the desk to get my boarding pass and check my bags. Social distancing was observed while waiting in line to check-in, but because the desks are so close together, it got very crowded when I was working with the ticketing agent. I had to show a variety of documents (negative COVID-19 test, completed Government of Rwanda form) to the ticket agent, so it was good that I had printed out everything ahead of time. I would recommend arriving at the airport early because every country has different entry requirements and so the check-in process takes a long time for everyone – I flew through Istanbul to Rwanda, and because Istanbul is a hub, each of my fellow travelers’ end destinations were different and required varied check-in procedures.

TSA

 

Passengers in the check-in line maintained social distance.

 

I experienced TSA both with and without Precheck and was pleasantly surprised with both. Passengers respected social distancing while waiting in line, although not so much when placing/removing their items from the conveyer belt – but I figured that might be the case! However, Precheck had the large advantage of not having to remove my shoes or electronics, which significantly sped up the whole process and reduced the number of bins I had to touch. If you have TSA Precheck, be sure to let your travel company know so they can indicate that with the airline when they purchase your ticket!

Gates and Lounges

The airports were definitely less crowded than normal, but of course, the gate areas were a bit busy. Many people tried to distance by sitting in gates that didn’t have any scheduled flights – this was easier in the bigger airports and in the evenings when less flights were scheduled. I checked out the Turkish Air lounge in Dulles to see if it was less crowded (I assumed they might be limiting the number of entrants).  The main area of the lounge was actually quite crowded, but thankfully I found a back room that many others hadn’t discovered yet.

Flights

Boarding

Airlines are trying to board as efficiently as possible, which for United meant telling customers to ignore the boarding groups on their boarding passes and to listen for their row to be called. This created confusion because the screens still said the boarding groups, so what resulted was a bunch of people crowded around the boarding door – the exact opposite of what they were aiming for! My international flights seemed a bit more health-conscious: Turkish Air took everyone’s temperature before boarding and gave us all a hygiene kit containing masks, hand sanitizer, and antiseptic wipes (United also gave one antiseptic wipe when boarding). Despite these differences, it’s clear that all airlines are working hard to protect passengers and staff, and this is clearly a very new world that we are all learning to adapt to!

In-flight

 

In-flight hygiene kits are a new addition on some airlines.

 

Flight attendants constantly reminded us to keep our masks on unless we were eating. Passengers on my international flights followed this rule much better than those on my domestic flights. Each flight gave us snack bags (domestic) or meal bags (international) with no other options for food or drink. The United snack bags contained water and biscuits, and the Turkish meals included a sandwich, dessert, water, and juice. Both airlines also provided more antiseptic wipes with the food, and Turkish continually passed out additional water bottles throughout the flight. I decided to wait to eat until the people around me had finished so that we didn’t all have our masks off at the same time. As for other amenities, we were given individually wrapped headphones on all of the flights, and the international flights provided individually wrapped blankets, but no pillows. Neither airline seemed to be restricting middle seats; about half of my flights were almost completely booked, and half were at about 50% capacity – it seemed to just depend on the demand for each flight and the size of the plane.

Deplaning, Luggage, and Immigration

All flights were deplaned orderly by rows. One of my United flights gate-checked all rolling bags because of the small plane, which led to a lot of congestion on the air bridge to retrieve our luggage. For international travel, every country will have different health and immigration rules, but I imagine some will be similar to my experience in Rwanda. Immediately on arrival a health official took my temperature and pulled up the form I had submitted prior to travel. He confirmed that I had not been experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, and then I was able to pass through to immigration. Everyone socially distanced in the Kigali airport for immigration and luggage pick-up.

My Takeaways

Overall my recent flying experiences went very smoothly. Because of my own precautions – lots of hand sanitizer and continual mask-wearing – I felt safe on these flights (and thankfully I can now confirm that I remained healthy after)! My main tips for anyone traveling would be:

  • Check updated airline rules and procedures – many have changed their luggage policies, and all have specific mask guidelines. It’s also helpful to get a sense of the meal service (or lack thereof) so you can plan ahead.
  • Bring a surplus of masks and hand sanitizer – although airlines provide some items, it’s best to bring your own to be safe.
  • To the extent possible, avoid congested areas of the airports – you can do this by checking-in online, using TSA pre-check, and potentially by obtaining lounge access.

As vaccines roll-out and travel begins to increase again, many countries are opening back up with specific entry guidelines in place to keep their citizens and visitors safe. However, no two countries are the same. For example, starting in April, Israel/the Holy Land will begin welcoming visitors who have received a negative COVID-19 test within 3 days of departure and who have obtained comprehensive health travel insurance; which while similar to the requirements I encountered for Rwanda, are not identical. Therefore, choosing to book your upcoming travel with a tour company like Select International is a great option to reduce the stress of figuring out each country’s and airline’s requirements and to ensure you have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable trip!

(Please note that these trips were taken between September-November 2020; the details provided are accurate of my experiences during that time, however airline and airport policies may have since changed).

About the Author

Gracie Rosenbach is an international development professional who is passionate about travel and loves experiencing the beauty of Catholicism all over the world. Working in international food policy by day and sharing stories of the Universal Church on her Instagram and blog by night, Gracie hopes that her experiences meeting new people and visiting Catholic sites around the globe will inspire your wanderlust and help you to grow deeper in your faith

 

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2021 proclaimed a Holy Year in Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, site of the tomb of Saint James (often referred to as Saint Jacob in Spain). has proclaimed the year 2021 a Holy Year at the shrine.   The last time the Holy Year was celebrated here was in 2010……it will not occur here again  until 2027.

A Holy Year is proclaimed when the 25th of July (Commemoration of the Martyrdom of Saint James) falls on a Sunday, which happens to occur in 2021.  This originated in 1122 with Pope Callixtus II, and was later confirmed by Pope Alexander III through the Bull “Regis aeterni” from 1179, granting it perpetuity.

On December 31, 2020, according to the rite…after the reading of the pope’s message… Archbishop Julián Barrio knocked on the door three times with a hammer and the door was opened.

According to tradition, pilgrims who walk to Santiago de Compostela during a Holy Year and Pass through the Holy Door of the Santiago Cathedral are granted a plenary indulgence.  To gain this indulgence you must not only walk through the Holy Door in Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral to the Apostle’s tomb, but also confess your sins, pray for the Pope, attend Mass, and take communion.

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Free Eye-Opening conference Sunday to support Christians in the Holy Land

You know how passionate we are about supporting Christian families in the Holy Land, who suffer persecution and are, sad to say, a minority in the land of Jesus’ birth.

Please join a FREE 90-minute online conference called Renew Hope for the Holy Land on Sunday, November 15, 2020, at 7 PM EST to learn about our Christian brothers and sister living in the Holy Land.

Registration for this event is FREE and during it, you will hear from Christians who are living in the Holy Land right now as well as Jeff Cavins, Gus Lloyd, Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio and many other prominent speakers, evangelists, and authors.

This will be an eye-opening introduction to the situation our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land face every day and will end with a time to ask questions. Learn more at https://selecttogive.org/hope/

Again, registration is free, visit https://selecttogive.org/hope/ to learn more and register for FREE.

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Hopeless? Turn to Saint Philomena

One of the most popular saints among Catholics is Saint Philomena, patroness of impossible causes.  As Saint John Vianney said: “To Saint Philomena God refuses nothing.”   Or as Pope Gregory XVI said:  “Whatever you ask from her, she will obtain for you”.

Her shrine in Italy at Mugnano de Cardinale, Avellino, is a short distance from Naples.  Churches around the world will honor her on her Feast Day August 11th.

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Confused about the Great Pardon of Assisi?

August 1 & 2 are the dates to obtain a plenary indulgence through the Great Pardon of Assisi. 

If you are confused about how to obtain the Great Pardon of Assisi, you are not alone.

Various websites have various versions:  Some say the great pardon of Assisi cannot be obtained at just any parish church, but must be at a Franciscan church, while others say it can be any Catholic church.  We have confirmed that you can receive the Great Pardon of Assisi at any Catholic church in the world.   Originally it was confined to those who could actually visit Assisi or any other Franciscan church, but in many cases this is not possible, and so it was later changed to include any Catholic church.(subject to the usual conditions, of course).

 

To learn about the Great Pardon of Assisi, check out our page here.