Sunday, December 06, 2009

St. Nicholas, part 01

We were invited to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas at the Church of Saint Nicholas in a little town not far from here yesterday. The Eve of the Feast is a big deal among the ethnic Albanian Catholics in these parts, and it was an honor to be invited to concelebrate the Mass.

There were so many Soldiers who wanted to come along we managed to get a 'Bluebird' (Army school bus, essentially) to move us all there. Since many of them had never been to a Mass before, let alone one in Albanian, I printed up some programs to help them understand what was going on during the liturgy.

SPC C and I had taken some Euros from the local Knights of Columbus to the parish earlier in the week, so they'd be able to make sure all the of children would have gifts from Santa, who was making an appearance after Mass. And were there a lot of children in that church!

There were also an unbelievable number of women and men in that church, too. It was packed, to include people standing four abreast about two-thirds of the way down the center aisle. The men sat on one side of the church, and the women on the other, for the most part. I was surprised that there were so many adult men attending Mass; I'd expected there would be far more women than men, but that was definitely not the case.

I'm indebted to my friend Al, who kept my camera for me while I was participating in the liturgy.  Without him, I'd have no photos of the experience.  I guess I figured it might be a bit 'touristy' of me to be snapping photographs from the altar while saying Mass....

There was one very old woman who'd brought a small stool to sit on, in the aisle, near the front, so she'd be able to see, and to have a seat.

Throughout the whole liturgy she held a lighted candle in her left hand. One could read the hard history of southeastern Europe in the features of her face, perhaps made more prominent by the light of that candle.

As I stood in the sanctuary during Mass, understanding only a few words of what was said and sung, now and then, I none the less felt very connected to those people and their prayer.

I was far from home, but felt at home.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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