Yes, I did it again. I was abroad and came back before you even noticed I was away:)
This time it was Holland, a natural place to go to for the first time after my first trip to Belgium quite precisely a month ago. This time I was sent by fr. Manuel to represent him at a meeting of European university chaplaincies.
The evening before the trip I didn’t really know where I was supposed to take the train, when and by whom my stay would be paid for and other such issues. Anyway I made it to Amsterdam and from there to Heerlen by train and then by taxi to Kerkrade where I stayed at an amazingly beautiful medieval .. well, abbey-hotel-seminary-church-whatever else-building owned by the diocese of Roermond, whose auxiliary bishop (and a great one at that!) welcomed and sort of hosted us. Unfortunately I’ve lost the photos from the first half of the trip it seems. Anyway this is what the accommodation looked like.
On Friday we introduced ourselves, listened to a couple of lectures and speeches, celebrated the Holy Mass with the chairman of the Dutch conference of bishops and had an excellent dinner. Here are my French friends – exceptional in many ways (laypeople like me in a mostly clerical meeting, good Catholics even though from France, and ENGLISH-SPEAKING – imagine that!). And the girl was actually the sister of a friend of a friend of mine. Her brother had spent a year in Finland – the world is small. Similarly I met an Italian Salesian whom I’d already met in Rome – I attended his guided tour at the catacombs during Holy Week some 4 years ago. And now the French friends at dinner.
Before going to bed the super-bishop led us to the secret areas of the seminary and gave us beer. As the only two people to know Spanish I made friends with a Jesuit from Madrid, also an exceptionally good one at that:)
On Saturday we began with Holy Mass and Laudes in three languages (Latin, Italian, English). We had two Byzantine Catholic priests with us which was a new experience for me, one from Hungary (on the left in the photo below) and another one from Ukraine.
After breakfast we got to work and started a full session discussing challenges, describing situations, planning all kinds of future events, etc. There was a slight problem with the language and so we were trying to balance and translate the Italian and the English, sometimes even the Spanish and the French (spoken by a Pole rather than the French:). Some of my notes (et. al.:) in the program (appropriately enough for Holland, printed in orange).
After lunch we headed toward the city of Maastricht (pronounce that with a STRONG throat CH!:) where the superbishop showed us around, taking us to all kinds of privileged places where other people weren’t allowed (church towers etc), offering us coffee and pastry and getting us a superguide who’d further show us some of the most interesting things in medieval churches etc. In the basilica of Maastricht there were all kinds of high-ranking relics – of the Holy Cross and of several Apostles as well as Mary Magdalen, and even some alleged possessions of the Blessed Virgin.
So that was the MaastriCHt basilica:) And here is my absolute favourite photo – this was somewhere in the more priviliged places where the superbishop took us and it has such an idyllic medieval / surreal movie-like air/atmosphere to it…
Here, then, is the whole group (except for those who decided not to go to MaastriCHt). Many people gave their cameras to a stranger to take the photo, and my camera happened to be in the hands of another person in another place than most other cameras. And so I’m basically the only one looking at my camera while the rest are looking at theirs. Also, I’m almost the only one (and definitely the only so outstandingly visible) wearing clothes other than black (not least because almost all the others were priests).
After dinner we went to bed because the following night we’d be adjusting our clocks and moving to summer time and thus sleeping an hour less. In the morning we celebrated Sunday Mass led by a Polish bishop from Poznan. Behind you can admire the beauty of the medieval church we had the privilege to have in the same building with our hotel rooms.
After Mass it was time for the last breakfast. On the left chaplains from Slovakia and Poland, on the right the above-mentioned bishop (in the photo below). We had a Polish-speaking table together (add the bishop from Slovakia portrayed above and we had 5 Polish-speaking people:). At the end I took some video greetings from these fathers to take back home to the Spaniards, Slovaks and Poles in Finland. After the last meeting it was time to pack, have the last lunch and go to Heerlen again, this time in the car of the French – getting a nice taste of what traffic in Paris must be like:D
My trip back was of course not without its intrigues. First I dropped my train ticket on the railroad. I was wondering if I should try to pick it up while the train was still waiting (no chance for ticket to fly, but possibly risking injury or worse if the train suddenly started moving) but finally decided to wait till the train had gone. Luckily the ticket didn’t fly and I picked it up, at the cost of being rebuked by some officials immediately afterwards. I had to change the train in Eindhoven and I took about half an hour to see the city centre. Unfortunately I’ve lost those photos too, but there was not that much to show anyways, the weather was bad and the main churches were closed (on a Sunday!!!!!!!).
At the airport in Amsterdam I found out my flight was overbooked. The 7th time this has happened to me when flying stand-by on ID tickets (Rome, Milan, Rome, Damascus, Damascus, Brussels) and so far the score has been 3/3 and so it was basically 50/50 whether I could get on the flight or not. Just a few moments before boarding I got to know I’d get a seat (I suspect the divine mercy Sunday had something to do with it) and so I got home safe and sound Sunday evening. Finis.