Lima Life #9: Final Thoughts and Machu Picchu (and Toews, too)

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Hello from Lima! I’ve just arrived back at the beautiful Edificio Bolivar from our weekend in Cuzco and Machu Picchu. What a place! Cuzco is a great little city way up in the Andes that, I think, offers a more authentic Peruvian experience than Lima…or, perhaps, just a “different” experience of Peruvian culture and life.

Plaza de Armas - Cuzco
Plaza de Armas – Cuzco

Jim and I spent Friday night and Saturday exploring Cuzco, learning about the Incans, and trying not to have asthma attacks. Also, we ate an Alpaca burger (definitely recommended, but only once).

Sunday, we took a collectivo (a small van) to the town of Ollantaytambo, an Incan town, to catch the train to Aguas Calientes.

Main Square in Ollantaytambo
Main Square in Ollantaytambo
Peru Rail: Metra of the Mountains
Peru Rail: Metra of the Mountains

After spending some time on Peru Rail getting to know some awesome Indian-turned-Canadian Catholics, we arrived in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, and settled in for the night.

Aguas Calientes: The Camino in Spain meets the Wisconsin Dells
Aguas Calientes: The Camino in Spain meets the Wisconsin Dells

We woke up at 4am on Monday and were in line by 5….people had been lining up for the buses (which don’t start until 5:30, by the way) since 3:30am! The early morning is one of the most popular times of day to get to the park in order to see the sun come up over the mountains.

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So yeah, we saw the sun rise.

Then we hiked and hiked and took it all in. If you want to see more pics, here they are.

Then, this happened. But you already know the whole story. (In case you don’t)

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It’s weird to think that Lima is almost over. As anyone who’s been following these updates for the last 9 weeks knows, I was not excited about coming and it was not all conejos and rosas. I was very sick for about 3 weeks and there just other “day to day” struggles that really began to take a toll. Before long, I was “at my wit’s end” as they say.

Non-coincidentally, the exact same thing happened in Rome, for the most part. By the time the last month rolled around, I was ready to pull my hair out (you can see that I did, in fact, attempt it). But then I went on pilgrimage to France with the other seminarians and our chaplain and experience a total rejuvenation of spirit, body, and mind. Something very similar happened while on the trip to Machu Picchu. God’s providence was obvious in so many ways. He protected us from harm, made sure everything went smoothly, but most importantly put people and experiences into our path that had a profound impact on me and really helped me to refocus and remember Who it is I love.

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces.” C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain 

God is love. He’s not just a nice deity, or a loving dude. He is love itself. And he loves us through his creation. God loves me through ice cream cones and fun nights at Chilis and beautiful nature. This week, he loved me through the Andes mountains, the two couples we met on Peru Rail, an Alpaca burger, and even a hockey star.

After this trip, I’m learning in totally new ways not to take anything for granted, but to see God and his will and his provident care in everything. I do not worship Him out of obligation or fear, but out of love…because I love Him and He loves me and I want to be able to love the world and the people of God I will serve one day as a priest as He has loved me: personally, perfectly, passionately, perpetually. This is my hope, and this my prayer.

Once more from Lima, may God bless you and guide, and be with you wherever you go.

In Christ,
RA

Lima Life #8: “…He Made a Hippo that Weighs a Ton”

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Another week over, a new one just begun.

Can you believe it? Tomorrow starts the last week of Spanish class at El Sol, and I must admit that it will be a little sad to leave. I have had such an awesome time getting to know the other students from all over the world and having the opportunity to be taught by some of the best professors (laughing our heads off all along the way, of course). I think leaving the school and my host family will be the two reasons that leaving Lima will be sad. I can do without the noise and pollution and, while the views and ocean are very nice, for me it is about the people. Places and things pass away, one by one or sometimes all at once, but it’s always the people who mean the most to me. Even if there are people that I don’t particularly like, I’m stronger and better for having known them. And it’s the memories of the time I spend with others that make the best souvenirs.

Yesterday, Jimmy and I went to the zoo! We were joined by a new friend from Indiana who is also studying at the school. The place is enormous and there are all kinds of neat animals. Lots of the usual suspects, but also a lot of cool Central and South American animals, especially birds. Very tiring for me to walk around the place but certainly vale la pena (worth the pain).

We also took a trip to “the Centro”, aka downtown Lima where a lot of the historic, colonial buildings are. I’ve been down there a number of times already but yesterday was the first time I was able to see the Cathedral Museum which featured a little exhibit of my patron saint and spiritual grandpa SAINT JOHN XXIII.

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Last week I finished reading a biography of him by some priests from his home diocese of Bergamo in Italy. It’s the second biography about him I’ve read and this one was definitely my favorite. We are so blessed to know so much not just about what happened in his life but we are also offered a glimpse into his mind and heart through his personal diary, Journal of a Soul. It’s the only document of its kind in existence; it is the personal diary of Angelo Roncalli (John XXIII) starting from the time he was 14 as a high school seminarian in Bergamo and ended with his death as Pope John XXIII in Rome. It’s a huge book…I’ve been working on it for over two years. Not really a very good “afternoon at the beach” kind of book, but well, well worth it.

Here’s a glimpse at what’s ahead: This week we will finish classes. Every friday the school has a little graduation ceremony for each of the students who are leaving that week. I’m looking forward to it, especially because there’s always Pisco. Immediately after that, Jimmy and I head to the airport and fly to Cusco, where we will spend Saturday exploring. Sunday we take a bus (read: home-school van) to a town with a very odd name (Ollantaytambo) where we will catch a train for Aguas Caliente, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. Monday morning we will enter Machu Picchu and spend the day exploring. We hope to catch the sunrise from there, so please pray that it works out. Monday evening we trek it back to Cusco via train and fly back to Lima on Tuesday. Tuesday night and Wednesday will be spent packing and saying goodbye to our friends and host families in Lima as we head to the airport Wednesday evening for our overnight flight to Miami. Jimmy and I will arrive in Chicago around 9:00am on Thursday, July 30.

Please keep us a in your prayers this week. I’d love to keep you in mine.

#LimaWhileYouWorkIt

In Christ,
RA

*A note about the title: it’s a line from a children’s song we teach at Totus Tuus, which is a Catholic day camp. I thought it was relevant cuz we went to the zoo. Don’t judge me.

Lima Life #7: “All of My Children are Dead”

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Hello from Peru!

I want you all to know that I was well, physically speaking (still not sure about the ol’ brain), all week! How wonderful. Sunday we went to Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Lima, celebrated by His Eminence Juan Luis Cipriani, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Lima.

On Saturday, we said goodbye to one of the other Mundelein seminarians studying here with us. His host mother was kind enough to invite us over for a bit of a goodbye dinner. She informed us that one her friends who is “muy, muy, muy” Catholic would be stopping by to meet the famous “padrecitos”. This woman did come by and was so funny to meet and chat with. She spoke very good English which made the conversation very natural.

One thing led to another, and she began to tell us about her family. She said, “I have had five children. All five of them died….all of my children are dead.” She told us what their names were and when and how they died. She was strong and rooted in faith, but still full of anguish as she recalled, maybe for the thousandth time, the loss of each of her children.

Then she said something that struck me very profoundly. She asked, “What was Mary’s greatest moment of sorrow?” Our minds all turned to the moment of the crucifixion, Mary seeing Jesus die. Our friend said, “No. Look at the pieta. That is the moment of Mary’s greatest sorrow…holding her dead child in her arms knowing there’s nothing she could have done.”

Then she said this: “I consider it my greatest honor to be able to participate in this sorrow of the Blessed Mother.” 

I couldn’t believe it. Here is a woman who has experienced so much pain and considers it and honor to share in the greatest sorrow of Mary, uniting her suffering totally to Jesus. So, so moving.

I’ll leave for you the great blog of my friend, Lizzie, who you might remember from an earlier post. She’s just posted about something very relevant to this woman: the human’s yearning for eternity. We’re not made for this world. Let’s unite ourselves to the suffering Christ and to our suffering Mother who leads us to Jesus.

2 more weeks to go!

In Christ,
RA

Lima Life #6: A Scary Sneeze and the Guy with the Gun

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Hola de Lima! The time is really flying and is beginning to wind down…only three more weeks to go!

The last week was certainly an interesting one. It was only a four day week since Monday was a national holiday in Peru as the country celebrated the great Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul. “But wait,” you’re thinking, “that’s a religious thing! A national holiday for a religious thing?” Absolutely! Of course here the Church and state are separate, but can you really ever separate yourself from the driving force of your life and culture?

Entonces, thanks to all who have been sending their well-wishes for my health and asking for updates. For those who haven’t: seriously? We’re moving through the various stages and types of sicknesses. We’ve had the food poisoning and the vomiting and “tummy issues” and the fevers and the body aches. Currently we’re in the midst of the common cold. The climate in Lima and I do not get along. It’s technically winter here as I’ve mentioned before so the weather is very sporadic. It is cloudy and misty in the morning and sunny and hot after school. Or it’s real sunny in the morning so I don’t wear a coat and then it’s windy and raining for the walk home. We’re also being impacted by El Nino which I first learned about in an episode of something on the Disney Channel when I was probably 9, and so it’s neat that I get to experience it in real life.

The common cold is just that: common. Everybody gets a good ol’ cold once or twice a year or so and there’s not usually anything special or alarming about it. But when you’re away, as I’ve been blabbing on about over the last 3 weeks, being sick absolutely sucks. Suddenly the sneeze that you write off at Mundelein becomes a sure sign of Cholera while living in Peru. Ryan, tranquiillllooooo. Who’d have guessed that even a sneeze could be scary? I’m just ready to be done being sick so I can get out there and enjoy the last few weeks.

To celebrate the fourth of July, we all took a trip a la Embajada de los Estados Unidos in Lima and, man, what a compound. That place is massive.

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There was a friendly Peruvian soldier stationed out front who was clearly watching us very closely even though we were practically the only people on the block. Then we tried take a picture with the sign but we got a little close and we got yelled at. What a compound. What a gun that guy had. Makes you feel good to be an American, actually. In a weird way.

No comments about my hair, please.
No comments about my hair, please.

Anyway, after that we had a nice dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe – Lima where I had my PULLED PORK and COCA COLA YESS followed by a too-legit-to-quit BROWNIE SUNDAE. It was a perfect night.

And to top it off, Jimmy got interviewed for a university documentary regarding his views about posting ads for prostitution in the newspapers.

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Now all’s well that ends well I suppose. Here’s hoping this cold takes a hike so I can get back out there and enjoy the time that remains.

Please keep me in your prayers and I would love to keep you in mine.

In Christ,
RA

Lima Life #5: Clinica Javier Prado and the Fountain

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Lima Life #1, #2, #3, #4

Greetings all:

This week featured the final demise of last week’s illness, although it did not go out without a fight. While the details are literally disgusting, I did earn a nice little trip to the fantastic Clinica Javier Prado in the San Isidro district of Lima. In Peru, there are public hospitals and private clinics. The hospitals are generally overcrowded so the wait is very long for care that is not often very good. The clinics are private so if you’ve got the cash, that’s where you go. Naturally, I was pretty nervous about all of this because when you’re abroad anywhere, the clinic is the last place you want to be going. When we travel, we try to make sure that everything is ready and will go according to plan; we’ve set up flights, trains, hotels, car services, host families…..and while all of these things might fall through, there will always be another flight, another train, another taxi, another sunny day for the trip to the beach. But what about when your body fails? When a health emergency comes up? Because there won’t always be another body. When you meticulously plan every detail and then it’s….your body that doesn’t work? You have to be kidding!

But that’s happened to me twice now, and both times I got to experience a foreign health system. Both times I was petrified and ended up being pleasantly surprised. This time around, the director of my school took the morning off to personally take me to the clinic. I couldn’t believe that. She was so helpful in translating everything for me and making sure I understood. The doctor was a total boss (he reminded me of one of my uncles) and was super helpful and nice. He gave me some awesome meds (yes!). Before I went to the doctor on Friday I could not walk very well or sit down (long story) but now, Monday night, I’m running, sitting, and lying on my back like never before. Thanks, doc!

Earlier in the week we went to the Parque de la Reserva which is home to the Circuito Magico del Agua; basically it’s a big park filled with awesome fountains. At night, all of the fountains have awesome lighting and there is a huge show with the fountains synched up with music. Very neat. It was a great way to get out after being cooped up all of last weekend being sick and a great way to celebrate being halfway done with the program.

Went in the middle of a fountain, took a selfie, and lived to tell the tale.
Went in the middle of a fountain, took a selfie, and lived to tell the tale.

I’m sure what is in store this week, except for our super patriotic 4th of July plans…..but you’ll have to wait until next week to hear about that.

Just a reminder that if you have prayers or questions, anything is fair game.

#LimaWhileYouWorkIt

In Christ,
RA

Lima Life #4 (a Little Late): Chelsea Dagger and the Little Things

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Lima Life #1, #2, and #3

Greetings, all. Sorry this is a little late this week, as I know so many of you sit and wait all weekend at your computers for these little updates. Sorry to disappoint but we’re back on track.

Did you hear? The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup! It was awesome! A few of us went to our usual American sports bar for some Hawks and some Cusquena. Both were of very high quality. There we so many Hawks fans and only a handful of Lightning fans. We were not alone among the “regulars”: Americans living in Lima who came out for pretty much every game of the series. Of course, all those people who weren’t from Chicago but cheered against Anaheim in Game 7 ended being Bolt’s fans and they became less and less cordial as the series went on. But we couldn’t see their frowns due to the shiny silver of Lord Stanley’s Cup. It was great to feel at home for such an awesome moment in Chicago sports history.

Lima is not, quite honestly, feeling like home but it does feel good to say that it’s not the big, confusing city it was a month ago. Tomorrow (6/24) is not only one month in Lima but also marks the halfway point of our Spanish classes. Hard to believe, but I’ll take it. We’ve finished 80 hours of Spanish in 4 weeks! In my Spanish class in college we only did about 50 hours over the course of 15 weeks. It’s fast, it’s intense, and it’s flying by.

I was pretty sick over the weekend, hence the late post. It was gross, it was uncomfortable, and most of all it was grace-filled. I literally cannot stand being sick. I like to think that I’m not like a typical sick man: whiny and needy (or moreso than usual), but I absolutely hate being sick and it puts me in the absolute worst mood. It’s so boring! So somewhere between the fevers, “gastrointestinal difficulty,” and bad attitude I was able to find what I really wanted and have been craving: love. The love of God, of course, through prayer and in the works of his people especially my host family. But also say a little prayer for my poor mother who has the hardest of it all when I’m sick and abroad.** Her concern and her constant texting and desire to be with me and helping me is not just proof of her love, but is itself her love for me from 3,779 miles away.

Not a very exciting week, but hey….that’s life sometimes, right? Sometimes it’s just the little things, you know?

Til next time!

In Christ,
RA

**If you don’t know about the time I got kidney stones in France, don’t ask.

Why We’ll Never Understand Pope Francis

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The fact that we’re seeing headlines about Republicans rejecting Francis’ encyclical because of this or that, or of “mainstream science” responding in this way or that way, or Rush Limbaugh calling him a communist are themselves proof about why we will never understand the thought, the motives, the actions, the speech of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis is not a republican, democrat, independent, member of mainstream this or out-of-touch that; he’s not Marxist, communist, socialist, or capitalist. He’s Christian. You don’t have to be a Christian, but if you want to understand where the Pope is coming from on anything, you have to learn to think and see the world like a Christian.

What does that mean? Basically, in terms of the encyclical, it means that the world, indeed the entire universe has a single creator. God is not a bad high school father who creates and runs away. God is a provident creator, profoundly in touch with his creation because he himself is found within his creation. Creation reveals God to us; not just the created persons who are created in his image and likeness but everything, even rocks and trees and the ozone layer and flies and rabbits and cows. Everything.

What’s more….God gave man dominion over all of his creation.

God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earthGod also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food. And so it happened. Genesis 1:28-30

The implication of this is startling and indeed troubling to a world that has lost touch with its Creator. Instead of praising the Lord for his goodness and for giving us this beautiful planet that is, by virtue of its origins, sacred, we as a society cry out “I AM SACRED!” We have come to believe the lie that humans are the center, humans are the means, and humans are the end. We believe that we’re it, we’re the best there ever was and ever will be. This is why, I think, instead of really trying to find solutions (for any other reason besides political/economic gain), we are more content with pointing fingers at one another. It’s become a race to prove whose idea is not just sacred (because I came up with it after all, duh so of course it’s sacred) but THE MOST SACRED.

But the pope, yelling by means of an encyclical into our frenzied chaos, is saying “HELLO OVER THERE! We already know who is the most Sacred! We already know where all of this came from! And thanks to modern science, we’re beginning to understand what is happening to His creation and why.”

The Pope knows that if climate change is true, and he asserts that it is, big companies like Fossil Fuel providers and the people who support them could lose billions of dollars in business and maybe have to close. I’m not sure the Holy Father is really very concerned about that. To be fair, I’d guess he’s concerned about the economic well fare of the leaders and employees of those companies (remember, people with whom we disagree are still people, too).

So as long as we continue to point fingers and yell at each other, nothing is going to get any better. We see this as merely a political issue; it’s not a political issue…it’s a politicized issue. The pope is not coming at this from the vantage point of political gain but from his role (one among all of us, btw) given to him in Genesis 1:28. He’s a steward of the earth. I’m a steward of the earth. You’re a steward of the earth. Hilary Clinton is a steward of the earth. Rush Limbaugh is a steward of the earth. And since it’s the Vicar of Christ’s place to write encyclicals and teach the faithful a thing or two, he’s trying to do just that. But when I’m the most sacred thing in my life, or my business is the most sacred thing in my life, or when anything besides What is Truly Sacred is the most sacred thing in my life, is it any surprise that we don’t understand when someone tries to tell us about Him? St. Francis of Assisi cared for the environment not because he was a hippy, but because he knew personally and gave a damn about the Creator, the most Sacred.

All of this politicizing gets us nowhere. People wheeling and dealing on this issue are not stewards of the earth, but mere stewards (I’m so politically correct, watch this:) and stewardesses on GoinNoPlace Airlines: Proudly Serving the Golden Calves.