Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A weekend in Minnesota

For almost 2 years I have been waiting to watch my favorite band and one of the greatest of all time play a concert at the new TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Last summer they had to cancel their world wide tour due to emergency back surgery that their lead singer needed to have. Well almost 2 years was well worth the wait. On Saturday night I went to the concert of a life-time, the legendary U2 did not disappoint.

I was attending the concert with a group of 12, which I soon found was a tough number to keep together at the concert, or even getting to the concert. The opening band stopped playing around 8, that was also the time that we entered the arena. I had hoped to get there a bit earlier to get nice and close to the stage, so at this point we were going to try and get as close as possible. We wondered up to the right hand side of the stage and got about 10-15 rows back from the catwalk type stage that extended and formed a circle around the main stage.

I looked to the right and noticed people filing in to another area. I realized that these people were going to be inside of that "catwalk". I went over and ended up knowing the guy that was counting people that were allowed into this area. I asked him how he was doing and then asked how you got to be one of the people to get in that area. He told me that anyone could go but that he was allowed to let 400 go and he only had a few spots left. I told him that I was with a group of 9 people, he shrugged and said I can only let 4 more people through, there are x number of spots around the stadium and each spot can let 400 through. I looked at him for a second and begged, I've got 9 could you let us through? To which he replied, hurry up and get them. I later realized that I had mis-counted our group, there were 12, but we all made it through. And ended up about 5 rows back from the main stage. And had the concert event of our lives. We spend the first 15 minutes in complete awe, really just shocked, and so excited. The 4 band members entered the stage area at about 9pm and the place exploded. They calmly, stoically, almost without emotion strolled out, they know how cool they are. As the began their concert with 3 tunes from an album they released in 1991 we began to sing our hearts out for the next 2 plus hours. Once the concert started I did not check the time until 10:40pm.

This is a look up at the "claw" from where we ended up

A look up at Bono from our viewpoint

< Even amidst weather short of a torrential downpour we sang, jumped, and danced the entire time. The band never even hesitated in the weather. They went along as I'm sure they planned, light up jackets and all. At one point Bono was on the stage with an American flag umbrella and sang "Rain" by the Beatles and several times sang "Singin in the rain". One of the highlights of the night was when they played Beautiful Day, Elevation, and Pride (In the name of love) in a row. Especially the intro to Beautful Day which was recorded but given by astronaut and husband of Gabrielle Gifford.

As the band left the stage we ran over to where they would walk of the stage and were about 10 feet away as we waved and screamed an they looked in our direction and letf the stage area. What a night. We left completely drenched after the steady rain all night. But we were too excited to care. As we walked to find a taxi back to our hotel a few of us were quite sore from all the excitement and movement during the show.

Overall a great weekend and great show.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Alan Alda and 2 World War II battle tested vets

Yesterday I had a great day of spreading the mission and vision of FOCUS. I was visiting with an 87 year old man in Illinois. I set up an appointment with him last week on the phone, the whole time we were on the phone he tried to talk me out of visiting him, how he was just an 87 year old man, he didn’t want me wasting my time by visiting him. I assured him that I would be happy to meet with him to not only share my work with him but visit with him and learn about him and his family. To give you an idea of how our meeting went I showed up a few minutes before 5:30 and left at 7.

Before I knocked on the door we had never met each other and had only spoke on the phone a few times. One other time than the time I mentioned above. During our previous conversation I learned that he had a big family and that many of his children would be visiting him on July 4th. Not long after I arrived at his home yesterday I learned that he and his wife had 10 children. You think he’s Catholic?

Our conversation was all over the place but it was great. We talked about Vatican 2, although my perception and understanding of it is much different than someone who lived through it. My 87 year old friend did not seem particularly happy with Vatican 2, but it was clear that not only is he proud to be Catholic, but he really lives out his faith. He showed me a few books that he particularly enjoyed about the Catholic faith. Both by the same author, one titled “Papal Sin” and the other “Why I am a Catholic”, he strongly suggested both of them to me. Then he got up to look at his book shelf and handed me “Rediscovering Catholicism” by Matthew Kelly, and said that it presents a different angle than the other books he mentioned. He told me to keep it. I’ve never been to an appointment where I am supposed to be presenting the gospel and sharing the Catholic faith where I have been given a book about the faith. I thought it was a very kind gesture. He told me that he usually orders that book “by boxes, about 100 at a time” to give away to his friends and then they usually call asking him to send more so that they can give a copy to their children. I told him it was quite a ministry he was running, he shrugged off my compliment. Then he started to tell me about his 10 children and that he gave each of them a copy. He shared with me where a few of them were at in their faith lives; one of his sons is now a Catholic Deacon after being out of the Church for 30 some years!

I was really enjoying our conversation, but finally my friend said, “Well what am I doing all the talking for, you’re supposed to be talking to me.” I smiled and began to tell him about my work with FOCUS and Varsity Catholic. I told him about the importance of my work with male student athletes and one particular baseball player that I had the privilege of working with this last year. When I finished he said that he had heard of FOCUS before and that he knew about it and was impressed with it. He went on and said that when I started talking about Varsity Catholic he wasn’t sure about the need for it, but after I told him more about it, he said he got it. He understood why it is important for college athletes to make faith a part of their lives, because of the positive impact they could have on their teammates, peers, and community. This gentleman had invested in (supported) a missionary before, so he told me, “What you do is not easy and I would be glad to give to this cause. If you send an envelope here each month, I will send you a check each month.” I told him that I would be honored to have him investing in me each month.

Before I left I used the restroom and on my way out I noticed a giant poster of Alan Alda and another poster full of pictures from MASH. I asked him about these two posters because they seemed out of place on the floor leaned up against a wall full of family photos. He said that he had found them rolled up in the attic where one of his kids left them. He pulled them out and put each one in a frame so that whoever they belonged to could have them. He said he did this because one of his children told him they might be of value. Then he talked about how he was in Korea during the war. Then I told him about something my grandma had given me earlier in the day. My grandma gave me a photocopied article of my grandpa’s hometown newspaper when he was honored for his service in World War II (while he was near the end of his service)Here’s what the article said…. “Sgt. Albert Garcia Receives Promotion Mr. and Mrs. Albert Garcia have received word that their son, Albert Garcia, Jr. was promoted to technical sergeant May 24, in Germany. He has been in combat for ten months and is up for decoration. He holds the good conduct medal, combat infantryman badge, five battle stars and the presidential citation ribbon for the rescue of the lost battalion at Mortain, August 16, 1944. Four other sons in the service are, Tony in the Marines in the Pacific, Anselmo in the Army in Germany, Mike in the Army and back from overseas, and Adolph in the Navy at sea.” As my friend read this about my grandfather he said wow over and over again, he said how impressive it was, and how proud our family should be of him. I had no idea since I was 9 when my grandpa died, asking him about World War II was not of much interest to me back then, I wish it was.

Sharing the mission and vision of FOCUS is another one of the great things I get to do as a FOCUS Missionary and imitator of Christ. I am so thankful for opportunities to do so and grateful for the families that invest and become a part of this incredible work happening in the Church today.

Please say a Hail Mary for the intentions of all those who make an investment with FOCUS.

And if you’d like to become a part of my mission with FOCUS, remember that it is just a click away above in the box titled “Join me in my mission” above on the right hand side of the page.

God bless you.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

14 for a Week

From last Sunday through this Friday I had the opportunity to lead a group of middle school students at “Madison Missions”. I spent the week at Blackhawk Church in Middleton, WI. For 3 or 4 weeks each summer Blackhawk Church hosts Madison Missions and each week is a different age group. There was something special about the week that I was there. There were about a dozen visitors from Honduras. Our friends from Honduras ranged in age from 18-29 and it was a joy to serve with them. Once every few years Blackhawk sends a group of youth to work in Honduras, this year they returned the favor.

So here’s how it worked. We were split into 10 teams, each team had a leader from WI and from Honduras, and each time had 4-7 students. There was one all male team and one all female team, the rest of the teams were a mix. Team 8, the team that I co-led had 3 boys and 2 girls. 2 of the boys of were twins and the other was a friend of theirs, they were all from Mount Horeb, WI. The girls played on a summer softball team together. All 5 were 14 and will start high school this fall. My team co-leader from Honduras was Carlos who is in college in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

The first time we all met was Sunday night at our teams first devotional time. I felt like from the beginning that we would have a good week together. We started our service together Monday morning by dropping off bags around a Madison community asking for goods for new mothers and their babies, we were collecting items for a place called Care Net, a place where mothers who are not sure if they should have their baby go for help. Care Net provides health and parenting education for these mothers as well as a place to live and raise their child for 9 months. The plan was to drop the bags off Monday with a list of goods Care Net needs for their mothers and at the also on the list was a time that we would be back to pick up the bags.

Below is a picture of Team 8 on Thursday, pick up day, people were very generous and Care Net was grateful!

We did many service projects that ranged from ringing a bell outside of a grocery store for the Salvation Army’s “Christmas in July” to spending the day with residents from nursing homes with Alzheimer’s and different forms of memory loss. I think that the kids enjoyed hanging out with the residents of the nursing homes the most. We spent one of our mornings together at a nursing home playing cards with, talking to, and playing putt-putt with the residents. On another morning we met a group of women with Alzheimer’s right next to Monona Lake in Madison on top of building overlooking downtown Madison. There was a beautiful view of the capital building from where we were. We enjoyed a children’s program with the women and then had lunch together. It was very eye opening for me and I think the kids would say the same. I think it put life into perspective for the kids. For some of them I know that it was the first time they had interacted with a person with Alzheimer’s.

The devotional and large group times were a lot of fun. There were a few scripture verses that guided our conversations. Here are a few of them : James 2:14-17, Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 Cor 13 and a few others. The church I volunteered at is not the church that I attend, it is a non-denominational church. I think it falls under the category of "Mega Church" but I could be wrong. There are so many people that love the Lord there and the youth there are vibrant, it was a great community to be part of for a week. I was a bit surprised when I saw those few verses in our devotional time, those are common verses that Catholic apologists use when non-Catholics confront Catholics about their beliefs. I enjoyed the week so much, but it did start off a little slow and that was my own fault.

At the beginning of the week I really felt that I needed to share my beliefs about the truth and beauty of the Church that Jesus established, the Catholic Church. Eventually I realized that most importantly I needed to share the love of Christ with the kids and if the opportunity came up I could share what I wanted to about the Church. That opportunity came last Wednesday night when each of the team 8 group members shared their testimony. Since most of my testimony and conversion story has a large part to do with the Catholic Church I was able to share with the kids about physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, Adoration, Our Blessed Mother, and the Rosary. Nothing too in depth, but I got to just mention and share about those truths, planted some seeds.

Our group had a great time together. Carlos and I really felt like we bonded with the kids. They were hard working and very mature for their age. The kids did not complain at all during the week and a few of our work projects were not the most luxurious. I look forward to keeping in touch with the kids and seeing how they live out their faith.

Here is a picture of our group on our last night together.

Please pray for me these next few weeks as I work hard to be fully funded so that I may continue to spread the love of Jesus Christ and truth of the Catholic Church at Seton Hall this fall and into the future. Please comment and post any of your prayer requests and I will gladly take them with me as I go before the Lord this week and pray.

God Bless you, VERSO L'ALTO

Friday, July 8, 2011

WI Holy Family Pilgrimage 2011

What a week. Coming off of FOCUS New Staff Training I had mixed feelings. It's hard to leave such a strong, faithful, and encouraging community. It's easy to be faithful to attending daily mass and a daily hour of adoration while at training but it becomes challenging to stay committed to that during the summer once missionaries are scattered back across the country. But as I end my first week away from my FOCUS family I am very encouraged.

On July 5th & 6th I had the privilege of attending 3 of the most Holy and Catholic sites in WI. I was lucky enough to share my experience with 4 great people. Fellow missionaries; Nick (serves at Ball State University), Kelsey (will serve at North Dakota State University), Mario (serves at Ramapo College in NJ), and my girlfriend Janet whose mission field is at the Mayo Clinic as a nurse.

We began our adventure at about 10am on the 5th and began a two and a half hour drive to Champion, WI to visit the only Marian Apparition site in the United States. On our way we prepared ourselves by praying the Sorrowful mysteries. We also read about the history of the site in Champion, which is just east of Green Bay, WI. What a story. In 1859 a young girl, Adele Brise, had visions of Our Blessed Mother on her way home from mass, she had these visions only a year after the apparition occurred in Lourdes, France. At first many people did not believe Adele. Adele would become a sister and teacher of the Catholic school in Champion. Many local priests and religious thought she was crazy. These priests went as far as to deny Sister Adele the opportunity to go to mass. In fact she once went and the pews were blocked off for her use, so she knelt the entire mass in the aisle. What a witness! There was also a great miracle after Sister Adele saw our Blessed Mother. Here is a quote from the Shrine's website, know that the town the Shrine is in has changed names and here is referred to as Robinsonville.

"Much has been written about the great Peshtigo Fire, which claimed an estimated 2500lives; 10 times more than the great Chicago Fire, which occurred the same day. Our intent here, however, is to show how this tragedy played an important role in the events which occurred at Robinsonville.

In early October of 1859 Adele Brise received her first vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the following Sunday, October 9th, when the Blessed Mother appeared to Adele for the third time, she warned:

“If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”

We do not propose to pass judgment on the reasons for this catastrophe, but, one day short of 12 years after the Robinsonville apparition, on October 8, 1871, the great calamity fell and a tragedy begat a miracle. The Belgian colony which embraced a large part of the peninsula and included Robinsonville, was visited by the same whirlwind of fire and wind that devastated Peshtigo.

When the tornado of fire approached Robinsonville (Champion), Sister Adele and her companions were determined not to abandon the Chapel. Encircled by the inferno, the Sisters, the children, area farmers and their families fled to the Shrine for protection. The statue of Mary was raised reverently and was processed around the sanctuary. When wind and fire threatened suffocation, they turned in another direction to hope and pray, saying the rosary. Hours later, rains came in a downpour, extinguishing the fiery fury outside the Chapel. The Robinsonville area was destroyed and desolate…except for the convent, the school, the Chapel, and the five acres of land consecrated to the Virgin Mary. Though the fire singed the Chapel fence, it had not entered the Chapel grounds. Those assembled at the Chapel, realizing that they had witnessed a miracle, were asked by Sister Adele to retire to the Convent, where they were made as comfortable as possible for the rest of the night."

Please see more for yourself here:

We spent close to three hours on site at the Shrine and loved every minute of it. We began in the Chapel, which is not the large but beautiful and some stunning images and statues. From the Chapel we began towards the crypt where Sister Adele had the visions and we were feet away from Sister Adele's grave. Before we went down to the crypt, we sang the Salve Regina. Our first time down we spent maybe 10-15 minutes there, and it was 10-15 minutes of deep and meaningful prayer. When we left the crypt we went to pay our respects to Sister Adele, a few of her fellow sisters, and some of the children they taught who were orphans. On our drive up as we read about the history of the Shrine, we read that Sister Adele passed away on July 5th! What a day to visit! At her grave we prayed for her intercession and the intercession of Our Lady of Good Help. We prayed for each of our own ministries, the mission of FOCUS, for our families, and for the conversion of sinners-especially those in Wisconsin. I dubbed her the patron Saint of Wisconsin born missionaries, read her story and you will know why. (As far as I know the cause for Sister Adele's beatification is not in process).

Next we prayed the Rosary around the Rosary walk which was on site at the Shrine, we prayed the Glorious mysteries. As we finished it began to rain so we went into the gift shop, where we spent about a half hour and a good amount of $$. After this we met up with another missionary, Kyle (serves at the Naval Academy) who was there with a student he works with. Together we prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

As we got ready to leave we went through the Chapel again and visited the crypt one more time. This time we entered 5-10 minutes of intense prayer. Kneeling before the very spot that Sister Adele saw our Mother, we offered prayers up to Mary to go and beg her Son on our behalf. What a gift, that as Jesus was leaving this world, he would leave something so great and precious for us, His Mother. Telling his beloved disciple from the cross, to take this woman as his mother, as our mother. (John 19:26-27)

We left Our Lady of Good Help to go to mass in De Pere, WI to St. Joseph's National Shrine. We made it in time for mass and then explored St. Joseph's Shrine. We learned a lot about the Order of Norbertines and how the Shrine was established and recognized by Pope Leo XIII in 1892.

We spent close to an hour praying next to this statue of St. Joseph and baby Jesus. There were about 6 relics at the altar behind the statue. Some of well know saints like St. Therese and some lesser known Norbertines like Blessed James Kern and St. Herman Joseph. St. Herman Joseph has a great story and I enjoyed reading this about him, "Feeling that the work had left him too little time for prayer, Mary appeared to him and consoled him with the words, "You have no higher duty than to serve your brothers with love". There were also about 12 altars surrounding the statue of St. Joseph with stories about several different saints including St. Augustine, St. Terese of the Child Jesus, St. Monica, St. Mark, St. John and several others. We ended our time in the St. Joseph shrine by praying the Joyful mysteries.

At this point we were ready for dinner. We went to a place that some Wisconsinites would consider a 'pilgrimage site', Lambeau Field. Lambeau has a few dining options and we chose Curly's Pub. We had a great time recapping the day and already planning another WI Pilgrimage for next year. On the 2 and half hour drive home we thanked God for our day and prayed the Luminous mysteries.

The next day and final day of our pilgrimage we went to Holy Hill and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians. I have been here several times before, but learned quite a bit about the Shrine on this visit. The Shrine is run by Discalced Carmelites.

Just as we were about to leave the Chapel we asked a visiting priest for a blessing. He spoke to us for almost 10 minutes, he did not know that we were missionaries, but he encouraged us to be bold, to love our families, to look to reconcile with our families, and to pray deeply to our Mother for her intercession. After this touching blessing we explored the grounds. We climbed 187 steps to the top of one of the steeples, prayed for the intercession of St. Therese, and prayed at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Then we were headed for the gift shop when we ran into the priest that gave us the blessing. Fr. Bernard spoke to us this time for close to 10 minutes. He told us that he had been visiting the United States for 3 weeks from Italy and he told us how much has noticed the sad state of our culture in the short time he has been visiting. He talked about the lack of faith in our culture as well as the self serving attitude. He shared something interesting with us about praying for signs from God. He said so many people look for signs, for their rosaries to turn into gold or to have visions instead of knowing, learning, reading, and living the Gospel. He just questioned why people don't turn to the the Gospel, why people don't turn to Jesus. This man had a great zeal for souls, he was so expressive and sad as he spoke to us. But he was so grateful that we did stop to talk to him.

Our 1st Annual WI Holy Family Pilgrimage was a success and like I mentioned earlier I am planning to do it again and pray that it will be even better.

Our Lady of Good Help, St. Joseph, Our Lady Help of Christians, Pray for us. Jesus, have mercy on us.

Here is a link to the Facebook page with other pictures"!/media/set/?set=a.10150695713985394.705539.570665393