Christmas gifts


Report from afar


Some final notes on our trip (so proficiently handled by 206 Tours of New York):

I didn't know, but perhaps you did, that Saint Anthony of Padua was not Italian. He was born and reared in Lisbon, Portugal, and in fact on the first evening abroad we had Mass at Saint Antonio Church there in Lisbon and visited the crypt beneath that marks the place of his birth.

Saint Anthony is huge in Portugal and every year the whole country stops for a national holiday on his birthday. Wouldn't that be something if every year the U.S. or Canada stopped on the feast day of a saint (say, Mother Cabrini or Andre Bessette)?


Sanctuary NDL 3.jpgIronically, a couple of the largest and most modern-style churches in the world are at Lourdes and Fatima, right near two of the world's most elegant old-style basilicas (the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima and the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes).

You can see the juxtaposition here. On the left are the old-style structures, and on the right the new ones, built to accommodate many more in the pews. The "new" Lourdes basilica (it was actually completed back in 1958) is underground and bears similarities to a massive parking garage. A large stage-like platform is at the center and allows four Masses to Plan large sur la foule des pèlerins lors de la messe internationale à Lourdesbe concelebrated at the same time, each facing a different direction. A very modernistic Crucifix adorns the altar, and there are no statues to speak of. At the request of John Paul II, large posters with the likenesses of saints (including Padre Pio and Therese the Little Flower) were hung.  It can hold up to 25,000 (more than Madison Square Garden) and is shaped a bit like an upside-down ark.

To give you an idea of size: the Crystal Cathedral recently purchased by the Diocese of Orange near Los Angeles seats 2,700 and Saint Pat's in New York 2,400.

Fatima plein.jpegThe new Fatima basilica, which is circular in shape (representing the Host, right), is likewise spare and bare with few statues and the likeness to a massive college auditorium. It  can seat 9,000.

There is a large intriguing mosaic behind the altar (depicting Mary and other holy figures, including the seers), and a very unorthodox Crucifix with a face unlike any we have previously seen of Jesus (he looks almost Cro-Magnon). Outside is a large Crucifix in modern style, composed of twisted metal for both Cross and Corpus, as if taking a cue from the new Lourdes basilica, which preceded it. The Fatima basilica, which cost $80 million, and was built under the direction of the rector (completed in 2007), is meant to encourage ecumenism. It raised controversy more than a decade ago, apparently before formal completion, when it allowed Buddhists to hold a service there, replete with an icon of Buddha on the altar.

It is now emphasized that by "ecumenism" they mean different Christian denominations. It is the Church of the Holy Trinity.

We'll opt for the Gothic and Byzantine styles of the older churches [see video of Fatima's below], but the new ones are utilitarian.


Speaking of old versus new, there was a rarefied ambience at Loyola in the large old church there also (the Sanctuary of Saint Ignatius, built over his birthplace, left) and in a chapel in the castle-mansion where he was reared. It may have been the most beautiful altar we saw, although the church at Laus in France, while small, is very difficult to exceed in the feeling of holiness -- not only due to its exquisite interior designs but in large part because Mary appeared at this spot (many times) to Venerable Benoite Rencurel in Church-sanctioned apparitions. The seer is destined for canonization. Like other mystics, her apparitions were often accompanied by stigmata and abilities such as the reading of souls.

The little home where she lived and died -- tiny, really -- is enormous in the Presence of the Blessed Mother. No need for an auditorium. I will always remember standing next to the bed in which she died, as one also recalls the spare, dark, and small living places of seers such as Bernadette and those of Fatima. God honors humility and sacrifice, for certain.

-- Michael H. Brown

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