Odds & Ends

Filipinos on Jupiter - Were there a lot of Filipinos on Eden Hill for Divine Mercy Sunday this year?

We can answer that by referring to a quip from Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC, Marian provincial superior, made before going to the text of his prepared homily:

"If anyone ever lands on Jupiter, there's going to be a group of Filipinos there."

The line brought laughs and cheers from the crown of 18,000.

Nothing in Tow - The day began early for most of those involved in staging Divine Mercy Sunday on Eden Hill. For example, at 6:30 a.m., Carol Scott, whose title is Events Director but who on Divine Mercy Sunday becomes "Generalissimo," got on the blower to Fr. Dan Cambra. Carol told the Marian provincial superior, who later gave the homily at Mass, that the silver Impala he drives was about to be towed.

Father Dan let out with a belly laugh that shook the walls. Why was he laughing?
It wasn't his car.

Also at 6:30 a.m., the Marians celebrated Mass in the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy for any volunteers who wished to attend. Even before that, the cafeteria at the Marian Helpers Center was dishing out breakfast to volunteers, fortifying them for their long day.

On the Sunny Side of the Street - The weather couldn't have been more ideal. Mostly sunny skies dominated, with a light, refreshing breeze. Temperatures hit the magic zone of the low 60s: warm enough to be pleasant but not so warm as to cause heat-related problems.

Mother Nature may be on a roll. Last year, Divine Mercy Sunday also enjoyed sun, albeit with cooler conditions. That was balmy compared the Divine Mercy Sunday of 2008, when a freakish ice-and-snow storm almost caused cancellation of the event for safety reasons. The year before, icy winds prevailed, and in 2006, unrelenting torrential rains pounded Eden Hill. The spring weather in the Berkshires is, to understate, mercurial.

The Right Stuff - Frank Rizzo, volunteer director and overall troubleshooter who puts out organizational fires on Divine Mercy Sunday, went out of his way to praise the lovely women who served so beautifully in the information tent in front of the National Shrine: Monique, Ruth, Lisa, and Paula.

They are among the first people with whom many pilgrims interact. They literally help "put a face" on Mercy Sunday.

Frank, who's retired from a long career in upper-level corporate management, says there's a lesson here: "If you put the right people in the right job, it works. These women did such a great job I didn't have anything to do as far as supervising them. The best thing a manager can do when he's got the right people is get out of the way. So I wandered around making sure there were no fires out of control."

Semester's End - Quick visits with Marian seminarians reveal lots of hard study with relief in sight. With about one month left in the semester, they face exams, papers, quizzes, papers, reading assignments, and - did I mention? - papers.

Brother Richard Mary Dolan, MIC: "The semester is going well. It's lots of hard work, especially the papers. I finish one and the next one is due." I offered to ghost write his assignments as our Secret Plan B, guaranteeing him a string of "A"s or his money back. He declines, but Rich accepts my invitation to "toss the pill." That's code for when this former college baseball star and this Warrior with Great Glove (me) have a pass with a hardball.

Brother Angelo Casimiro, MIC: "Just one more month left, but there's a lot to do before that. Things have been good this semester, though." Brother Angelo shares the news that he will be spending the summer on Eden Hill, serving pilgrims. Many people will get the benefit of contact with this solid man of God.

A Babe Shall Lead Them - Marian novice Alan Alexander carried the cross that led the procession of prelates, priests, deacons, seminarians, novices, and other men to the altar to begin Divine Mercy Sunday Mass on Eden Hill for 18,000 pilgrims and millions watching on TV. As we were passing through the basement, I reminded him: "Put your game face on, Alan."

He didn't respond.

"Did you hear me? Put your game face on."

"Yup," he answered, then I realized: He didn't hear me the first time because he had put his game face on. Good man.

Alan is the type of person any organization needs, whether it's a baseball team, a business, or a religious congregation. This "type" is described by many names: class clown, court jester, comic relief, and more. These people function as pressure valves, coming through with jocularity at the right moment to relieve tense situations and remind people not to take themselves so blasted seriously.

If you team Alan with Fr. Bob Vennetti, MIC, you'd have a modern-day Laurel and Hardy, with Alan as the portly Oliver "Babe" Hardy and Fr. Bob as the befuddled Stan Laurel. To younger people, the names Laurel and Hardy may be unfamiliar. A simple Youtube search will bring up film of these two comic geniuses. Be prepared to laugh.

Keep It Simple, Stupid - Two priests and three brothers of the Franciscans of the Primitive Order from Lawrence, Mass., donated their time and services on Eden Hill for Mercy Sunday. The "primitive" refers to their way of life. They try to get back to St. Francis' original rule of strict poverty, the detachment that produces freedom. For example, if they need to get someplace, they hitchhike.

You'll recognize them by their tattered gray tunics, nearly shaved heads, and long, untrimmed beards.

Brother Pio, speaking of their "look" - "When we hitch hike, we get rides, either from other hitchers or from people who are curious about our appearance. Many see us and think we're part of some Eastern religion or a New Age cult. Some are disappointed when they learn we're simple Catholics. Others think, 'Wow, if they look like that, they must know something I don't.'

Brother Pio tells me this between laughs. That's one thing that's immediately apparent with the FPRs: they laugh a lot, seem happy, and appear to enjoy life. There's something to that "simplicity" bit.

Arrested Development - About a half hour before Mass, Bishop Timothy McDonnell, was vesting in the TV room off the library in the Marian Monastery, along with Fr. Dan Cambra and others. This writer wanted to go in and get a quote from the bishop. Standing in his way, one of the prettiest security guards we can recall seeing, and we've seen our share.

As I approach the door, she told me: "You can't go in there."

"Yes I can," I said, showing her my "all access" press pass.

"I'm sorry, but you can't go in there without permission from either Fr. Anthony or Fr. Kaz. "

Seeing neither of them in the vicinity and determined to "get the story at all costs" in the finest tradition of the Fourth Estate, I replied, "I'm going in there. I need a quote from the bishop. He knows me. I'm covering this for the Marians."

"You can't go in there," she said politely.

"One way of the other, I'm going in." If I had let "official" types have their way by rolling over and playing dead, I wouldn't missed many stories in my career.

I started to open the door, and she grabbed my arm. Just then, Bishop McDonnell opened the door to see what was up. He saw me. We have spent a good number of times together as writer and interviewee. He laughed.

"It's OK," he tells his security. "He's harmless."

I thank the bishop for my rescue, although I must confess to some curiosity as to what would have happened had the guard felt to need to slap on the cuffs. I either would have decked her or would have sat back and enjoyed it. Once inside the sanctum sanctorum, Bishop Tim is still enjoying the incident, even making a joke of how he would have been good for my bail. A prelate with a sense of humor: What's not to love?

Yo, Vinny - For both days of Mercy Sunday Weekend, the VIP area featured a long spread of delicious food: breads, turkey slices, salami, roast beef, veggies, salad, desserts, and beverages. The heroic work of the women in the kitchen needs to be acknowledged. Also, a culinary tip of the hat goes to Deacon Vincent Ricciardi Sr., a Marian Helper from Manchester Township, N.J.. Deacon Vincent participated from the altar in the Sunday Mass.

As prelates, priests, deacons, seminarians, and novices gathered in the monastery library to begin their procession to the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine, we chatted with Vincent. He speaks with a Martin Scorsese, "mean streets" Noo Yawk accent, a tough guy with a golden heart.

Vincent had a hand in providing the wonderful food for the host Marians. He said he basically doubled what people thought they needed. Now that's mercy. Vinny - I just have to call him Vinny - put the full court press on this writer and ace photographer Felix Carroll to cover a Divine Mercy Conference that will take place at his church in July.

The Peanut Gallery - Father Joe Roesch, MIC; novices Bart Lapus and Anthony Fischer; and Novice Master Fr. Mark Baron, MIC, watched the Mass in the TV room at the monastery. Father Joe, on a break from his hosting duties for the EWTN broadcast, reviewed his TV playbook. Bart and Fr. Mark provided a running commentary for the broadcast, including the laugh track when the cameras would focus on Marians.

There was heckling, good-natured needles, and appreciation, especially during Fr. Dan Cambra's homily. When Fr. Dan mentioned the "fantastic men" in formation, Bart, Anthony, and Mark clapped and cheered. Mark raised his hands in the "Rocky" victory salute.

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