Monday, August 22, 2016

Calling all Wanderers

Frassati Essex:
A Loose Association of Wandering Characters

4AM Departure to Journey to the Site of the WYD Vigil and Closing Mass with Pope Francis

WYD Krakow Pilgrims are forming a group called, Frassati Essex.  In the footsteps of Saint Pope John Paul II and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the group follows the simple principle that human beings were made for freedom and need to create zones of freedom in order to grow and live their faith.  In that regard, this is not a group with weekly meetings, directors, or set structures of any kind, but a loose association of friends that stay in contact and meet up when they can for any number of simple activities, such as hiking, skiing, movies, or charity work.

Pier Giorgio Frassati was born to an influential family in Turin, Italy.  He was a witty, handsome, athletic, engineering student, who combined a deep spiritual life and lively sense of humor with his social life, works of charity and political activism.  He died young of polio at 24 in 1925.  At his funeral, to the surprise of his family, the streets of the city were lined with a multitude of the poor and needy, whom he had served unselfishly throughout his life (Learn More:­-biography).  Frassati Essex will follow this example by taking the Frassati Pact to pray the “Prayer for the Courage to be Great” and to do one small act of charity every day (­-pact-­).

The Vision:

We chose to be the Loose Association of “Wandering” Characters because of our partiality to travel.  Not just any travel, but exploring creation with God to become closer to our Lord Jesus Christ and learn His will for us.  Although that may be our group’s personality, we hope many Frassati groups will be born throughout Vermont.  There is no limit to the number of groups. Nor should they be mutually exclusive; they can overlap and coordinate in any number of ways. Ultimately, we will encourage one another to make charity part of our everyday lives, whether done individually or as a group.  Life giving action will become central to all we do, from the simple kind word to helping people in need.  These acts, big and small, will help create more life in ourselves and in those around us, so we all can be fully alive.

We are just one group, but we also believe this life giving activity will create more Frassati groups.  Like the beginnings of all life, it starts with one cell and multiplies.

The Great Need:

The need for many of these groups is real in our modern society.  As Pope Francis calls out in his encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel,

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of His love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ…I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter them;” (5-­6).

Saint Pope John Paul II did exactly this as a young priest living in communist controlled Poland after World War II.  He, rather unconventionally, was active with the youth, playing soccer, going on hikes, kayaking and more.  In a time of communist government repression of the faith, these trips created a free space in which one could feel safe to express themselves and experience creation, faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  John Paul II’s efforts undermined and eventually brought down communism in Eastern Europe; however, we face a more sinister challenge today.

Unhealthy capitalism, the economy of exclusion, individualism, and idolatry of consumerism, money, comfort, and entertainment are engendering a covert repression of the faith.  If you doubt this, ask yourself how comfortable you are talking about Jesus in the grocery store or at school or work.  We also need free space in which to discuss and experience our faith and enter into “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.”

That is our goal, pure and simple; I hope you will join us or another Frassati group near you.  If you want more information, please email

Christopher Dawson

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jerycho and Walls

The Days in the Diocese Theme: Jerycho,Tearing Down the Walls of Division

If you are looking for a well written introspective as I look back on our adventure, skip to another entry.  I'm not a professional writer, and I don't know how to do this.  These are the thoughts of a guy who would rather "talk" to machines, uses logical process as a crutch and consistently writes in bullet lists; becoming quiet adept at that for the past 30+ years.  It keeps my walls in place, people at a distance and any personal vulnerability to a minimum.  I'm safe.

Truthfully, this is my second attempt at writing this.  The 1st pass was actually a set of bullet points, and I spent a portion of the time preparing it trying to keep the reader from being able to identify me as the writer.  I really don't get where society has gone with all this facebooking walls, insta-this-that and snap the other thing. But, after I sent my reflections on to our group leader, I began to reflect why I originally presented my thoughts on this WYD pilgrimage as I did.  Why did I not want anyone to know its me....

Dang this is hard.  The WYD pilgrimage may have concluded, but the journey has not.  For me, this is harder than the physical difficulties we endured.  Reflection, discernment, self assessment; things I don't do well, or more accurately things I avoid.  I feel like I just had the experience of a lifetime with my son, but now I struggle with relating that experience to others. It's like when you've read the best book ever, and the teacher gives you an assignment to write a book report discussing all the thematic elements of each and every subplot. The reality is I'm hiding behind my walls protecting myself.   

I could not begin to relate all the memories; from Sunday dinner with Father G. and his family, to the chapels in the salt mines, to just wanting to hit pause on the experience of two million lit candles on the hillside at the Campus of Mercy during the Saturday Vigil.  Oh, and I have to name drop.  One evening we were in the lower level of the arena that hosted the English speaking center, I was being a bit of a wall flower when Cardinal Dolan walks by me, punches me in the shoulder and says "How's it goin' ?"  How cool is that?   Yes, I've since washed that shoulder.  Beautiful awesome memories and more not listed we will always have.  Another thing, teenagers try so hard to be independent.  I was trying too hard I guess to let my son be just that.  Early on in our time in Wadowice, I hear "Dad, your are being just another pilgrim. Sometimes I need you to be my Dad."  Bitter-sweet message for sure, I can be so thick at times but I heard; and Dad was there when needed later.  Another cherished moment for me.  

Since arriving home, the most common question is: Has it been the trip of a lifetime? Absolutely has been my answer, but then thinking on it, reflecting on it if you will, something was missing.  Missing was my life long partner, my wife.  So the answer is now absolutely with an incompleteness in my heart.    

Being upfront about it, the primary motivation for me making the pilgrimage was to give my son the opportunity to go, he was not old enough to go on his own.  That said, my own faith had stagnated and needed a jolt of resuscitation.  Well, jolt received, in spades. First the people of Poland, a people often invaded in their history, but stubbornly, always rose above, to be open, accepting, friendly, warm and caring people.  How you might ask?  Being there it's clear.  Their Faith.  Secondly, 2 million people predominately youth coming together in the name of Jesus can't help but be inspiring and the power of it overwhelming.  The stagnation of faith I referenced above; it's my belief this power is getting me to reflect, to self assess, and to the sacrament of Reconciliation one evening at the arena.  It's easy to be Catholic when with 2 million+ other Catholics in a country that 95% of its people are Catholic. 
Mass with Icon of Our Lady of Koden, Mother of Unity

So now what?  Right?   Where do I, where do WE go from here????  How to take that jolt, that energy, that shot in the arm and grow our faith back in the real world.  I'm am not sure how many readers spend parts of their days on conference calls.   But those that do, you know when you're on conference calls, you don't always recognize the speakers until after you've attended and listened through 2, 3 or more meetings?  I need to hear the voice of Our Lord more, so when He speaks I recognize Him.  I need to bring down my own walls, to let people in, to be vulnerable and trust in God.

The Polish people have given us a great lesson in solidarity; we need to destroy the walls that separate us and be together as one.

Mike Davis
Essex Junction

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bring It On: An Indoors-y Introvert's Perspective On World Youth Day

You don't know what a million people is like until you're in the midst of them, and even then, you'll never see them all, but you're constantly seeing new ones. The chatter of the crowds comes in from every direction, stretching from horizon to horizon. Nine tenths of the people you see wear red, yellow, or blue backpacks with the WYD logo. Groups sing, clap, and shout together; strangers talk with each other like close friends; sometimes there's hardly room to breathe; and in the midst of it all, you think, 'Why did I decide to do this?'

As someone who values her alone time and prefers quiet to chaos, there were times when I felt woefully unprepared for the challenges and road blocks (sometimes literal) that the events of World Youth Day brought. The sun beating down, the large crowds all trying to get to the same place as you, vying for the best spot in front of whatever it is you all want to see; late nights and early mornings in a gym full of teenagers who leap at the opportunity to stay up as late as they want and don't care that their laughter echoes throughout the whole room at eleven o'clock at night, preventing others from getting to sleep. Locker room showers with limited privacy. An introvert's nightmare.

I remember watching a video on Youtube, not long ago, of Jim Caviezel describing his experiences while filming The Passion of the Christ, and his testimony kept coming back to me during our pilgrimage. His body endured many stresses during filming, including a dislocated shoulder, an accidental gash during the scourging scene, getting sick and developing pneumonia, and even being struck by lightning—but he refused to stop or take a break because he knew Jesus had endured so much more for him, and he wanted to show that to the millions of people who would eventually see the movie. During those tough, brutal scenes, all he did was pray and think, 'Bring it on.'

Mr. Caviezel’s words helped me keep my experiences in perspective. Yeah, I had to wait in the hot sun in the middle of huge crowds of people; yeah, I had to stand in overcrowded busses and trains after kilometers of walking; and yes, I think there was even a point where I wished I hadn't come on this trip. But my faith and my connection to God was more important than all that. This pilgrimage was worth being a little uncomfortable, and honestly, what are my discomforts compared to the pain and suffering that Jesus endured for us? So, in those moments of stress and discomfort, I prayed, and I thought, 'Bring it on.'

. . . Perhaps foolishly. I say this as if I've greatly matured over the course of our pilgrimage and am ready to endure anything and everything the world throws at me, in the name of Jesus. Unfortunately, I can say with certainty that I'm not. I'm still afraid, I'm still rather shy, and I prefer to spend my free time indoors, in a comfy chair, in the midst of as few people as possible. I'm happiest in my bubble of quiet and convenience (which, ironically, is something Pope Francis encouraged us to move out of and away from). However, I will say that I think my experiences at World Youth Day have better prepared me for any suffering or discomfort that will inevitably come my way. At least I can weather the storms better, even if I can't avoid them all.

Mr. Caviezel said, "If you want to be a Christian. . . you're in for it." Now, more than ever, I think that is true. In fact, it's something we hear frequently in church. The path to God is not an easy one. But, once you get through that suffering, that discomfort, the rewards on the other side are so much greater. I walked through the Sanctuary of Saint John Paul II. I visited the Divine Mercy Chapel and venerated the relics of Saint Faustina and the Divine Mercy painting of Jesus. I prayed before Our Lady of Czestochowa. I saw the Pope up close.

“Worth it” is an understatement.

Renate Dubois
Williston, VT

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Pilgrimage is just beginning…

We are all back from World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. Even so, the journey has just begun for us.  The theme of our pilgrimage was all about mercy, and as a group coordinator, my highlight was seeing acts of mercy spread like a contagion.  Somehow we all had become super aware of each other’s needs.  This really shined through in the final trek into and back from the Saturday Vigil and Sunday Closing Mass with Pope Francis and almost 3 million people!

We walked 3.5 miles to the campus of these events, spending the whole day in blazing hot sun, but complaining was not what I observed.  I saw pilgrims carrying other pilgrims' bags and food, sharing umbrellas as shelter from the sun, paying attention to those needing rest, collecting water, building shelter from the sun for others, enduring difficulties, sharing with neighbors, waiting in hour long lines to bring coffee to the group, complimenting each other, and if an impatient word escaped one’s lips, nobody got offended.

 Our site for the Vigil and Final Mass
3 million people

Sure we can support big causes, but Jesus gives us countless opportunities to practice mercy every moment of every day.  No opportunity should be wasted, and these small acts of mercy will form the basis of everything else in our lives.

Our departure from the Closing Mass was not so easy either.  The shortest route back had come to a complete halt in a human traffic jam.  So, we took an alternate route.  Aside from getting stuck in a rain storm, when we all worked together to keep sleeping bags and important items dry, 3.6 miles later we were to the point where we might be able to catch a bus.  It was not looking good.  We had a few minor injuries in the group, and there were no buses to be found, just masses of pilgrims.  We had no choice but to continue farther.  The group persisted in spite of exhaustion and pain.  Just about when I feared mutiny, a half mile later, we saw it!  The bus we needed, our ticket home.

So, we are home now, but these lessons of mercy are built into our lives.  This is the true pilgrimage; Krakow 2016 planted a seed that will grow and blossom over the rest of our lives.  We will post pilgrim reflections here over the next several weeks…please keep checking back.  You won’t want to miss them.

Prayer Request Update:

After the Closing Mass, we returned to Wadowice, and that night, the resting place for your prayer requests presented itself to us.  After all the trials of the journey, we placed the bundle of prayer requests at the feet of Saint Pope John Paul II.  He will watch over them, and may many be granted in accordance with the will of Jesus.

Monday, August 1, 2016

We made it!

We're en route home in Warsaw right now.  Initial reports say there were 2.5-3 million people at the WYD Closing Mass... it definitely felt like it.  We'll report more when we're finished traveling, so keep checking the blog.  ~ VT WYD Pilgrims

Friday, July 29, 2016

Last Catechesis in Wadowice

We had an amazing catechesis this morning with English speaking pilgrims from the Philippines, Ghana, Canada, Australia, Singapore, the USA and more.  Pilgrims are loosening up and starting to feel the power of being many but also united as one under God.  The Ghana pilgrims performed on stage to get the morning started, and the crowded exploded in cheers and dancing.  Cardinal Se├ín O'Malley from Boston spoke to us about how individualism is plaguing our world and the only cure is Love.  Merciful Love that gives wastefully to those in need and to those we find most troublesome.  Our civilization cannot persist without Love.

Our WiFi access has been intermittent… many stories (photos, videos) will have to be shared when we return.  Tomorrow, we start the last leg of our journey to the site of the Saturday Vigil and Sunday Closing Mass with at least 2 million people and Pope Francis.  Since we are in Wadowice, we have to leave at 4AM!  We will sleep outdoors at the Campus of Mercy.  Hopefully you can catch some of the Vigil and Mass on TV or online.  We will have no WiFi… So that is all we can report until Sunday at the earliest.

We bring your prayers with us. 

~With Love from the Vermont Pilgrims  

Posing with Ghana and Singapore pilgrims in the morning