Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Full "Seven Churches Tour" Report

The first public San Diego Tour to the Seven Churches has come and gone, but the memories of the experience will doubtless continue to reverberate well into the new year. Though participants numbered but eight, they demonstrated the fullness of heart that come from attachment to the Saint of a Joyful Heart, Philip Neri. This report has been distilled from a personal letter describing the event, so for any variations in the form of address, I trust the reader will be forgiving. Perhaps the occasional “I” as opposed to the third person, will help to make the event seem even more immediate, as it remains in the minds of the participants. Here then is the full report on the 2008 Tour to the Seven Churches…in San Diego!

As we left Holy Cross we went out singing "This is the saint of Gentleness and Kindness", which was appropriate as Fr. John Caronan's homily for the fifteenth Sunday after pentecost was all about gentleness. After mass, at which we all communicated, Father came out to meet us in the retro-choir, and read the prayers to St. Raphael, and then the prayer for travellers from the Raccolta over us, and blessed us with Holy Water as we knelt. Before leaving the immediate vicinity we also sang "True Sons of Philip", serenading some cars who were waiting to turn right as we were waiting to cross an intersection. We got more than a few waves. After that, as we negotiated the perimeter of Mt. Hope Cemetery (down Market Street to the west from Holy Cross), we sang the Litany of the Saints, since this portion of our prayers were dedicated to the Dead. We then sang "Vanita di vanita" (from the St. Philip film, "State buoni se potete"), about three times over, as we rounded the south-west corner of this large, old civic cemetery. David Latorre can never get enough of that song, and nearly danced as he walked!

As we approached St. Jude's, we saw that Mass was about to begin, and were prepared to move right on, but were waved over and decided to so stand in the shade of the church and introduce ourselves. This little church was rebuilt in the 1970's but the original stained-glass windows were reincorporated into the building, and are - as a collection - the best in the diocese. They're by Meissen, I think, made in Germany. We were welcomed and directed to the parish hall as a place to sit down. The parish priest joined us shortly and we introduced ourselves and sang "Lodate Maria" for him and for the various parishioners. In fact, he sang with us, and told us to come again when we were to again make the walk.

After watering at St. Jude's (we were at pains to prevent people from plying us with complementary fresh pineapple drink and Jamaica, a Mexican Hibiscus punch, explaining to their astonishment that this was a penitential pilgrimage) and saying prayers to St. Jude on behalf of those suffering from grave illness, in particular AIDS sufferers, and for the indulgences (assuming we qualify even in a metaphorical sense), we moved on crossing under the 805 freeway, singing the pilgrim "Ave Maria" marching tone, pausing for the Angelus at 12:00noon on the bridge over Chollas Creek.

Up a hill and making a right turn took us straight to Christ the King. We were welcomed by a deaconal candidate (Fr. Jennings was on vacation), and the candidate even went and brought us some bottles of cold water. We stepped into the little church (which has a surprisingly live acoustic), and sang the hymn "Ave Maris Stella", knelt, made the collect prayer from the Feast of Xst the King, and said the pilgrim prayers.

Moving back outside, Tom Gray read a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was very appropriate as it dealt with sacrilege and outrage. Quite a few people, at Holy Cross and elsewhere, had heard of the outrage at London, and were profoundly saddened by it. They offered much moral support both to us and to the Fathers in London.

After Christ the King we moved on towards St. Anne's. This part of the route was quite direct, and took us a long way down Commercial Street, a broad expanse with fully two freight tracks running down it (now occupied by trolley cars), and lined with industrial businesses and auto wrecking yards). In truth it's a rather barren stretch, cleaner than it used to be, and all but abandoned on a Sunday afternoon. We were getting closer to the downtown now, but we had to go south and north again, before we would get to the home stretch. The broad street however, and the fact that we were marching west towards the bay afforded us a refreshing (and strong) ocean breeze. Cassocks and rosaries flapped in the wind as we said the Joyful mysteries. We were picturesque.

This was one of the shorter legs of the Tour, along with the walk from St. Jude's to Christ the King, and the twenty five minutes was just enough time to say the five decades. Arriving at St. Anne's we found a strip of shade and sat down. Mass was going on in the church, so we said prayers to St. Anne for families, and after five minutes rest, moved on, saying the Sorrowful Mysteries. I might mention that the rosary was said in Latin throughout. When we were just starting out someone said, "English or Latin?" and after the briefest pause, we all said, "Oh, Latin." So that was that.

The next leg was not much longer than these last two, taking us north towards Golden Hill and Our Lady of the Angels, a lovely brick church built in 1906 and surviving quite well. A convenient fire behind the altar allowed for a "renovation" in the 1980's, which brought the altar forward and created a wooden-screened Blessed Sacrament Chapel behind. Hardly undo-able. It's a very attractive building with a bell-tower and spire, and perched on a promontory overlooking the city and quite visible beside the 94 freeway. It has a convent building (a large Victorian-styled house) dating from the same period, and a medium sized school on the same property. Wouldn't make a half bad Oratory, I can tell you!

As we approached OLOA, we availed ourselves of the catering services of a local Fast-Food restaurant called Jack-in-the-Box, very like McDonald's, but this branch is built into an adapted Victorian house, and is the most tasteful burger-joint you ever saw. We ate modestly, in the air-conditioning (as no park was conveniently at hand), and removed to the church steps for prayers for the unborn. Our prayers here were directed to the Guardian Angels, on behalf of the unborn, however I noted that my edition of the Raccolta has no prayers for unborn-children, as when it was printed, such a need was not even conceivable, no pun intended. We've come a long way since (depressingly). Still. We struck up "Lodate Maria" as a chorus, sang a few verses standing still to build up momentum, then moved off singing, crossing highway 94 and heading left down Broadway into the heart of downtown San Diego.

The walk down the hill towards the city to State Street is about a twenty five blocks, and we would have to stop for stoplights, so I made the suggestion that we start our Rosary when we had crossed 11th Avenue, singing the Paters and Ave's to the simple tones. This was what we did, and it worked splendidly. Imagine you're standing at a crosswalk, when suddenly a group of eight people singing the pilgrim Ave Maria are suddenly standing next to you waiting to cross the same street. It happened time and time again, to wonderful effect.

Eventually we reached State Street, only a few blocks from the water, and turned north towards Our Lady of the Rosary, my former haunt as organist, currently looked after by Barnabites. In fact, my timing was just a little bit off, and we only managed four decades between 11th Avenue and OLOR, so we decided to save the last decade for after Vespers, and the short walk up to St. Joseph's. Outside OLOR we prayed Marian prayers in accordance with this portion, and made our pilgrim devotions.

Diagonally across the street from OLOR is a small oasis called "Amici Park." It's an interesting construction, not of grass but concrete, with two dirt Bocce lanes at one end, and on the corner an amphitheatre which rises five rows above street level, divided at intervals by columns, which are in turn linked by pergola spans, on which grow Bouganvilla vines. The "performing space" is towards the street corner, with a half-circle of tall cypresses to its back. Under the circumstances, it was our Janiculum Hill. We put on cottas, and sang outdoor Vespers under the pergola. Then followed outdoor exercises.

Br. Rhone Lillard. seminarian of the FSSP, began the fervorini, offering sympathetic observations on the desecration in London, going on to say that if there is any good in it, it is that it inspires people like these to "bend the stick back in the opposite direction" and make such splendid witnesses. He said that we must pray for these perpetrators the more, and I interjected that the devotions to Our Lady of Pompeii were begun by a man who had been a notorious atheist (and Satanic Priest) it turns out, and that if his heart could be turned by Our Lady, there was hope for anyone.

After about twenty-five minutes of such round-robin discussion and reflection, we headed off towards the completion of the tour. The walk from Our Lady of the Rosary to St. Joseph's is only about 8 minutes, and that's including waiting for a stoplight! To our delight, as we approached the stoplight on Front Street, what waddled out from an apartment building on the corner, but the smallest, curliest, fattest little ten week-old white poodle-pup, certainly the very image of Cardinal Sforza’s dog "Cappriccio" from the days of St. Philip's own walks around Rome! Certainly close enough in breed for our purposes ("Cappriccio" was probably a Pomeranian), the only thing missing being the cushion to carry him on! I’m sure any of us would have happily served as Tarugi and carried the little fellow the rest of the way, but such a dog-napping, even for inspirational purposes, would have been too difficult to explain on the spur of the moment!

Nevertheless, we sang our Ave's and arrived to the strains of Day Set on Rome, finishing this excellent Victorian chestnut at the very foot of the Cathedral steps. We completed our prayer intentions, praying for the Church and the Holy Father, and making the pilgrim devotions. We didn't go in, as we hadn't arranged to beforehand, but perhaps next time. Nevertheless we finished by singing “Vanita di Vanita” once again, and the Hymn to the Madonna dell'Olmo from Portomaggiore in Italy, where Roberto Lionello's parents live. Roberto is thrilled that we're actually singing the hymn of this very small town's devotion, and is convinced that when the locals find out we have done so, some kind of civic demonstration may erupt in Portomaggiore, involving the Mayor and fireworks. Well, we do aim to please.

We may try to make the Tour quarterly, or on a trimester basis. All agreed that this was a truly wonderful experience, and that there is massive potential for growth. For my part, I see no reason to dispute this, and when I went out running a couple of errands Monday morning, which took me past downtown San Diego, I felt an enormous sense of grace, in that these familiar streets and ways had been turned into the footsteps of the saint, and though it was for only a short span, the reality endures. Like grace, I suppose, for those who seek after it.

Amazingly, we seem to have pulled it off, this formal but informal pilgrimage, without annoying anyone, which is a happy thing, since no one knew we were coming. Just so you know, we obviously wanted to make a public statement, but rather than march in our Brother's collars, we wore cassocks, over dress shirts and turned the collars out, in “stilo primitivo,” as it were! Not official habit, the Pittsburghians not withstanding, but joyfully reminiscent of Our Saint in his time…and in ours!

But I think the full measure of the public accomplishment is in this-wise: I noted during the fervorini, that there had been a constant theme running through our presence in the neighbourhoods of the old hispanic "barrio" (which is Spanish for neighbourhood, and implies concentrated ethnicity. Even today, these aren't the zones of the city that your average middle-class gringo (like me, and I use the term self-deprecatingly) goes meandering through. The barrio is not nearly as gang oriented as it was even fifteen years ago, but there could probably still trouble to be found if you go looking for it. Still, everywhere we went on this Sunday afternoon in summer, around every corner, we heard the inevitable tinkling of the bell of a street vendor with an ice-cream hand-cart. I had been saving this observation all day, because it set of a chain of reminiscent associations in my mine. It reminded me first of the scene in the film "Lust for Life", the story of Vincent Van Gogh, when Gaugin arrives in Arles on a blustery night, the mistral blowing a gale. As he first beholds the "yellow house with the green shutters" where he is to live, he must first wait in order for two altar boys bearing lanterns, and a priest carrying a ciborium, and another altar boy ringing a little bell, to pass before he can enter. Christ Himself is passing by, going about, doing good.

This in turn reminded me of the introduction to a book I borrowed from a professor at San Diego State called "Music in Mediaeval Bruges, and which introduction is concerned in large part the various external musical expressions of the church to be encountered randomly and outdoors during the course of a day. Bells ringing the Angelus; endowments for certain peals during the course of a day; guilds performing mystery plays; and of course the coming and going of the Blessed Sacrament Himself; mostly bells, but the unmistakable announcement of Christ's presence, beyond the confines of the physical church itself.

Likewise, I was reminded that until recent years, if the wind blew from the west, I could hear the carillon at St. Brigid's above the noise of traffic of an afternoon, fully a mile from my house. Even at St. Anne's itself, I recently (around Philiptide) unblocked the bell-rope and rang before mass and at the consecrations, as I learned to do at Corpus Christi in Maiden Lane, but which practice is unknown here. I wanted to announce Christ with that bell to at least those neighbours who could hear it (and at least one person was drawn to the church wondering what was happening!). I asked Tom Gray, "who is doing that in my absence?" "No one" came the reply.

My point being (quoting myself), "Who is ringing out Christ presence here in this city today? You are. You are manifesting Him, helping others to see Him and hear Him. You are "bending the stick back in the opposite direction", to quote Br. Rhone [Lillard]. And the next time YOU hear that tinkling bell, maybe it WILL turn out to be the Blessed Sacrament passing by. But even if it's not, you will now expect it. And through you, others may as well."

Such was the Tour to the Seven Churches in San Diego in August, 2008. Hopefully one day (in the not too distant future) you, reader, will make it in our company.

By: A Brother of the Little Oratory

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