Friday, April 17, 2009

Spain Trip - Part II: Maybe There's Life in Europe Yet

As promised in my former post (Spain Trip - Part I), one of the more significant--and delightful--surprises on our recent trip to Spain was a pro-life march that we, literally, ran into on our first night there, in the town of Alcalá de Henares. We attended the 7:30pm Mass at the Cathedral and then headed back in pouring rain down the main street of the old town in search of supper, where we encountered a crowd of about 200 people (pictured above) carrying a banner that read, "¿Y yo?... ¡Protege mi vida!" This translates as "And me?... Protect my life! On either side of the banner are side-by-side photos of a human baby and what looks like a linx kitten. The rest of the banner reads, "March for Life/Diocese of Alcala." They were headed for the Cathedral, apparently; we had, in fact, seen flyers in the Cathedral with the same words and photos on them. Cold, wet, and hungry as we were, we decided to follow them. This was clearly something not to be missed….

It took a while for all of us to filter through the rather narrow west door of the Cathedral, which gave us a chance to inspect the crowd. It was not unlike pro-life events I have encountered here in the US – people of all ages, including lots of young people, families with several children, extended families, and a few handicapped people, too. We settled into a pew on the left side and waited.

The banner was set up behind the altar, as pictured below. A succession of speakers went to the lectern to speak, then to offer prayers, and in between we sang praise and worship music, most of which I didn’t recognize. When they set up the monstrance on the altar, however, which you can see in the photo below, the song was “Majestad,” that is, “Majesty,” in English. (The first line is “Majesty, worship his majesty….”) Bernie and I are very familiar with this evangelical standard, so we sang along in English.

Those of you who have read my blog know that I am not overly fond of evangelical praise & worship music as a rule – at least not for use at Mass. But this one is one of the better ones, I think, since the focus is on Him rather than on us. And indeed, this was not a Mass, it was a Holy Hour, and somehow that song made much more sense to me in this context than it ever has before. After all, His Majesty was right there on the altar! It was really quite moving.

We decided to slip out at about 9 p.m., while the bishop (Bp. Ibáñez, to the left in the photo) was still speaking, since we were pretty exhausted and had not eaten supper yet. His topic, as nearly as I could tell, was the Annunciation. Annunciation Day had been the previous Wednesday, after all.

The next day – Sunday – we took the commuter train into Madrid, and who should get on the train after us but a small group of people with a rolled up banner that looked something like the one we had seen the night before. I screwed up my courage and approached a young woman in the group. Neither of us spoke each other’s language, but I did manage to ascertain that they were with the group we had seen and that they were on their way into Madrid for another pro-life rally there – at the Ayuntamiento (the Town Hall) – at noon. Bernie and I decided to make that one of our first stops after we took care of our tourist business at Atocha Station.

I should pause here to explain the occasion for the demonstrations: Spain’s Socialist government, under Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, came to power several years ago in the wake of terrorist bombings, the worst of which destroyed part of Atocha Station. True to form, Zapatero’s government has introduced legislation to liberalize the country’s historically restrictive abortion laws, and hundreds of thousands of Spaniards turned out to protest and to declare, “There is no right to kill, there is the right to live,” as the banner below proclaims. For more on the march see the Life Site News story from March 31. The march was organized primarily by four major Spanish pro-life organizations, Derecho a Vivir (Right to Life), Hazte Oír (Make Yourself Heard), Doctors for Life, and ProLife Madrid. Reportedly, an estimated 100,000 people participated in the Madrid march. Having witnessed it myself, I would say that is no exaggeration. The crowd was enormous! It was stretched out over about a mile, at about 20-people wide.

By the time we arrived it was about 1:30 p.m., and the march was well underway. We stuck around long enough to take a few photos, which I have posted above and below.

It was a great encouragement to see so many like-minded people marching in favor of the right to life, especially in Western Europe, where it often seems that many countries are determined to commit cultural and demographic suicide. Many of the families we saw that day had three or more children, and I saw many expectant mothers – not the norm in modern Europe, where some countries are resorting to paying families to have more children. It was a joy to see that there is a sizable remnant in at least one country who are willing to draw a line in the sand.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spain Trip - Part I: Alcalá de Henares

I am back to the U.S. after my brief trip to Spain (arrived Saturday, returned home Wednesday). My husband and I got back late on Wednesday night from Madrid after a rather long trip, due to the usual delays and missed connections. Fortunately, we were bumped up to Business Class on the trans-Atlantic leg, so we were not quite as tired as we might have been.

The focus of this post is the town where we stayed, including some of my photos. More in a later post re. the "Jornada por la Vida" (March for Life) we encountered on our first night there.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my husband had to go there on business, so I tagged along for my first trip to Spain. The town where we stayed is Alcalá de Henares, the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, among other claims to fame. The photo above was taken outside of the "Casa de Cervantes," and I am the one in the middle--between Sancho Panza and Don Quixote.

The town is also notable as the site of the first meeting between Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand & Isabella, to discuss Columbus' plans for a voyage West to the East Indies. The site of that meeting, the Archbishop's Palace, was also the birthplace of Catherine of Aragon, youngest child of Ferdinand & Isabella and, of course, the first (and true) wife of King Henry VIII. The palace served as the seat of the Archbishops of Toledo from the 13th to the 19th centuries
, including Cardinal Cisneros, who founded the university there in 1499. An outside tower of the palace is pictured to the right. Unfortunately, the palace itself suffered extensive fire damage in 1939.

The town is also famous for its storks, which are protected by law in the town and which seem to have nests in nearly every available tower or rooftop in the town. The photo below is of a stork on the roof of the Convent of St. Bernard (San Bernardo), next door to the Archbishop's Palace.

Since we arrived on Saturday we decided to attend the Vigil Mass at the Cathedral that evening. The Cathedral, built on the site of the tomb of Sts. Justus and Pastor (Justo & Pastor), two young boys who were martyred for their faith during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in the early 4th century. It is known familiarly as the Catedral de lost Santos Niños (the Cathedral of the Holy Children). Below is a photo of the west front entrance, an example of Isabeline Gothic (late 15th cen.). My husband is in front on the left, reading the Mass schedule.

When we left the Cathedral after Mass in search of something to eat, we found something we did not expect--a pro-life march through the main street of town. More about that in my next installment (Spain Trip - Part II). It deserves a separate entry.

Not surprisingly, the town of Alcalá is full of references to Don Quixote, including the statues outside of Cervantes birthplace, pictured above. There is also a statue of Cervantes in the main square of town, the Plaza de Cervantes. (See the photo below left.)

As I mentioned above, the town is home to a university. Founded in 1499 at the beginning of Spain's "Golden Age" by Cardinal Cisneros, among its distinguished list of faculty during the 16th and 17th centuries are St. Ignatius of Loyola, Lope de Vega, Ginés de Sepúlveda and Tomás de Villanueva. Renowned for its traditional humanities curriculum, it is well-regarded in the Spanish-speaking world for its efforts to promote Spanish language and literature. The prestigious Cervantes Prize is awarded each year by the University to honor writers who follow in Cervantes' footsteps.

Our hotel, the Hotel El Bedel (below left), is located next door to the original University building (below right), which now houses the university admissions office.