Last week SPC C and I were invited by one of the bigwigs on Post to go to a local town to their celebration of their Feast of St. Joseph. March 19 is the occasion for a big party in many European cultures, as it turns out. In the small Catholic enclave we visited, this was certainly the case!
I brought along vestments, just in case it might be possible to concelebrate the Mass.
We'd finally started having some beautiful weather, and that morning was no exception. It was a beautiful day! Lots of sunshine, and it was almost warm. Spring was definitely on its way, it seemed.
I do say, "HOOAH!"
The elevation where I live is at about 500-some meters; this town is on a hillock, and the church is at its apex, at about 840 meters or so. The views from up there were lovely. We were somewhat closer to Mount Duke in that town than we are on Post, and it dominated the horizon in that direction.
Before Mass, the Pastor insisted that we Americans plan to stay for lunch after the liturgy, despite the fact that our VIP had planned on going to lunch in the town, at the restaurant where I've enjoyed some excellent food on a few other occasions. The other priests seemed intent on this outcome as well, so we stayed for lunch.
Near the end of the Mass, the Pastor acknowledged the presence of the U.S. personnel with gratitude, and became quite choked up as he attempted, in English, to express his affection for Americans and what the United States has done in the region. That was really quite moving.
Most of the ethnic Albanians -- whether Catholic or Muslim -- with whom I've had conversations (usually through an interpreter!) over here have expressed similar sentiments. That's been very gratifying.
Lunch was served in the Rectory by the nuns who had prepared it. (I suppose one might rightly call them nun-Catholics...) The room was rather narrow and quite long, heated by a pot-bellied stove. The parts of the building we walked through were much colder than the current outdoor temperature, so the heat was welcome. As is the custom of the region, one of the first orders of business once the group was assembled was to pass around the local rakia -- from which we Americans demurred, as General Order 1 prohibits US military personnel assigned to KFOR from drinking alcohol.
I didn't much mind, to be honest, though I thought I detected a couple of rather wistful, longing glances on the faces of some of my confreres.
Besides the pastor (who'd spent a year living at a parish in Detroit), only one of the other ten local priests who showed up could speak some English. Unfortunately for me, we'd not brought along our Albanian-speaking interpreter, Mr. A. (It was a Friday, and he has Fridays off so he can worship.) We Americans were at the far end of the refectory, about to sit down, when the Pastor insisted that I move to the other end of the room, where I sat at table surrounded by the Albanian-speaking priests.
I could only pick out a few words of what they were saying now and then, as they engaged in a rather spirited conversation.
SPC C and the other guys whom I'd accompanied were at the far end of the enormously long table, and were at least able to speak English with one another. The nuns sat at that end of the table as well, and were from Croatia, so the Serbian interpreter who'd come along with us was able to understand them. Thus they all had an interesting and lively conversation, while I sat pretty much like a lump during most of my meal....
As it turns out, the priests were discussing a priest from Kosovo who'd been living in the United States for many years, whom most of them knew. That guy had engaged in some rather inflammatory rhetoric a couple two or three years ago which had been captured on video. For some reason unknown to me, the YouTube video of those comments had become suddenly 'popular' several years after the fact, and were causing quite a stir over here in Kosovo.
I found myself wishing I had had the chance to take the college-level Albanian course offered here on Post last November! (It had conflicted with the Philosophy course I taught during the Fall Semester, so I didn't sign up for it. Sigh.)
Evidently the Bishop of Kosovo dispensed the locals in that town from the Lenten proscription against meat on Fridays, because of the feast, as we had some rather yummy veal chops, in addition to the spectacular fresh vegetables, cheeses, rice, and hush-puppy-like somethings-or-other. Dessert consisted of sumptuous pastries.
The nuns who work in that parish really can cook!
Given how poor everyone is in that town (there's no work to be had, and the Catholics in that region have almost no voice in civic matters, as they're such a tiny minority of the population), it was pretty clear to me that this luncheon extravaganza clearly represented a huge monetary outlay on the part of the Pastor.
I slipped him the money I'd planned on spending on lunch for myself and the Junior Enlisted personnel in our party (since I believe they shouldn't have to pay when they're out and about on account of what Officers have decided).
Thanks, Dorothy B!
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ