Traveling fool & JPII

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I will get an update about Rome up here eventually...! I got home Monday night and immediately booked a weeklong tour through Central Europe and left on Friday morning. I am traveling with my friend Salima, a fellow Hoosier studying in Europe. Right now we are in Prague, Czech Republic (where the original Infant of Prague statue is!). Budapest and Vienna are also on the itinerary. This will make three consecutive weekends of traveling - the hard life of a study abroad student ;) After this I'm done with big trips until after finals.

Moving on to more important news...Pope John Paul II is being beatified (another step closer to sainthood) tomorrow in Rome! I was a freshman in high school when he passed away, I still vividly remember the details about that day and watching coverage of his death and the following papal enclave in the high school cafeteria at lunch. Our principal was Catholic so I guess that's why he put the TV in the cafeteria? Anyway, I love John Paul and I was able to pray in front of his tomb last week in Rome. When I was in Rome the city had put up 30,000 banners and posters all over town advertising for the beatification. Everywhere I went (buses, metro, on the streets) JPII was smiling back at me :) One of my last stops in Europe will be Krakow, Poland to make a pilgrimage to all the John Paul-related sights.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!

Benedict & JPII...buds :) 

Pro-Life Hungary

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Last Monday, April 18th, Hungarian Parliament passed a new Constitution which focuses on God, Christianity, the Holy Crown of Hungary (shoutout to King St. Stephen!), and traditional families. The new constitution is 100% pro-life. It bans abortion, restricts in-vitro fertilization, and will ban/limit access to emergency contraception. Praise God!! Hungary will have the only constitution in Europe which protects life from the moment of conception. I think this is fantastic news, but of course the European Union, Hungarians, and many NGOs are having a fit because they think the constitution violates international and European human rights standards, is undemocratic, and limits women's reproductive rights. The constitution also defines marriage as God intended, being between a man and a woman. President Pal Schmitt signed the new constitution into law on Easter Monday and it will come into effect January 1, 2012.

Under Communist rule until 1989 abortion was allowed without restriction and was paid for by the state since the 1950's. Hungary's current abortion rate is 30% of all pregnancies, one of the highest in Europe. It's very evident too, I rarely see pregnant women or babies. I didn't realize the lack of children until I traveled outside of Hungary. Families with more than one child are even more rare. The fertility rate is 1.39 children born per woman and the population growth rate is negative.

Article 2 of the new constitution states: "Human dignity is inviolable. Everyone has the right to life and human dignity; the life of a foetus will be protected from conception."

Article 3 of the constitution goes further in protecting the personhood rights of all humans by protecting humans from trafficking, medical experimentation and human cloning.

Pray for Hungary and an end to abortion!

"A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope."
-Blessed John Paul II


Roma preview...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

While I sort through my photos (5 days & 600 photos) and reflect on my trip, I'll give you a sneak preview of what my Easter Sunday was like. Can you see me?! I'm by the arrow. Buona Pasqua!! Alleluia!

Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi Blessing


Palm Sunday, Hungarian style

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Today is Palm Sunday, which marks Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week. I attended an extraordinary form Mass at Belvárosi Plébániatemplom (Inner City Parish church), which was built in the 14th century. Note: Extraordinary form means the Mass is celebrated in Latin according to the 1962 Missal that was used before Vatican II. I love going to Latin Masses in Hungary because I actually know the hymns and the responses, as opposed to not being able to respond back at Hungarian masses. However, I am slowly beginning to learn some of the Mass parts in Hungarian :) Palm Sunday Mass in the extraordinary form is incredibly beautiful and incredibly long. Not only did the Mass start an hour later than usual, but it was a 2.5 hours long! The first hour or so was the blessing and distribution of the palms and the procession around the block. The second half was the actual Mass, including the entire Passion being chanted in Hungarian (not sure why it wasn't in Latin).

The Catholic church is universal, but there are slight cultural/regional differences. It's been very interesting for me to observe these differences. For example, instead of palms pussywillow branches are used. When the Church originally expanded to Eastern Europe, palms were not readily available during March and April. Hungarian children don't get to fold their palms into crosses or braid them into fun patterns, so sad!

Hungarian "palm"
Instead of just grabbing a handful of palms on the way into church like at home, we received them from the priest. After he blessed all the palms we filed up to the communion rail and knelt to receive a palm. As the priest extended the palm, I kissed the palm and then kissed the priest's hand. We kiss the priest's hand because they are the hands that consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ on the altar. I wasn't really sure what to do but I just watched everyone else and followed suit. First time kissing a priest's hand...check! Yes, I realize I am a huge nerd. Deal with it!

Kissing the palm
After everyone received a palm we processed out of the church and down Vaci utca, where all the tourists flock to buy overpriced souvenirs. It was awesome. At the front of the procession were about 50 kids from a children's choir, the schola, all of the altar servers, and the priest. The tourists on Vaci and in front of Elizabeth bridge were having a heyday taking pictures!

Walking down Vaci utca
Passing Elizabeth bridge on the Danube
Sweet biretta action *{]:-)
Every knee shall bow...
I am so excited that it is finally Holy Week!! I fly to Rome Wednesday evening and I'll be there for all of the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday) and Easter Monday. I cannot believe I will be in Rome... for a second time...for Easter...and that I have tickets to Easter Sunday Mass with Pope Benedict. I will literally be partying with the Pope come Sunday ;)

If you have any prayer intentions please leave a comment or email me so I can pray for them in Rome!

Side note: last week I saw Hungarians form an orderly line for the first time. Where at? The confessional :) Funny because the communion line is a free-for-all! Be good, be holy, love the Lord, and GO TO CONFESSION before Easter!

Another Hoosier in the house!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

He's always enthused to hang out with me, obvi
I just found out my little brother will be attending IU next fall!! I've spent the past few months trying to convince him to come to IU instead of Purdue and he's finally seen the light. I'll have someone to mooch meal points off of. That's right Joe, we are having family dinners at least once a week. In return I'll let you borrow the car once a month. Fair enough? ;)

4 Whitmores. 4 IU degrees. Go Hoosiers! 

True story: Joe is so cool he once gave me a cardboard box full of water bottles and all the money he had in his wallet ($11) for my birthday. Haha. 


A Very Hungarian Weekend

Monday, April 11, 2011

I spent the weekend in Budapest and was able to do and see several things around town that I've been wanting to accomplish.  Other than my first week here I haven't done many "touristy" things. Plus, the weather was glorious! It seems like overnight everything turned green and the flowers began to bloom. Budapest was really gloomy during February and most of March, so I am so happy to see sunshine and blue skies! (PS - be sure to read to the very end for exciting news!)

Friday evening I went to the Hungarian State Opera to see Bánk bán with my friend Rose. The opera was sung in Hungarian and the supertitles were in German...ha. I was so impressed with the Opera house - it was even more ornate than the one in Vienna. Our tickets were more expensive since we had seats in a box, but you can get tickets for as low as 500 forints ($2.75 USD).

Opera House
Gold & red velvet - plush! 
Frescos and chandelier in the center of the Opera 
Saturday morning I woke up early (10:15 am haha) to meet a classmate at Margit Island to go for a walk. Margit Island is in the middle of the Danube and is basically a large park with walking paths and plenty of green space for picnics and pick-up games of futbol. The island named for St. Margaret of Hungary, who is buried there. There are medieval ruins of Franciscan and Dominican churches and even a small zoo! It's a welcome escape from the gritty city. Our plan was to go power-walking for some exercise...but we were distracted by a street vendor selling langos. Langos is a Hungarian specialty; it is deep fried flat bread covered with various toppings. I orderd langos tejföllel és sajttal, with sour cream and cheese, the most popular and traditional langos.

Margit Sziget
Mmmm langos!
After Margit Island I met up with two Mexican friends to go the the House of Terror, a museum documenting Hungary's Nazi and communist history. The building the museum is in was the former Hungarian Nazi and Communist headquarters, located on Andrassy Avenue. Hundreds of victims were tortured and killed in the basement of the building. The first three floors of the museum were kind of disappointing because most of the exhibits were labeled in Hungarian. The basement of the museum had reconstructed prison cells and interrogation rooms, including a wet cell  where detainees were forced to sit in water. It was creepy, to say the least.

There was a large exhibit on religion during communism (I just did a presentation on the effects of communism on the Catholic church last week) that focused on Cardinal Joszef Mindszenty. Cardinal Mindszenty was appointed head of the Catholic church in Hungary in 1945 and was an outspoken opponent of communism. In 1948 he was arrested on bogus charges after the communists forced him to confess crimes such as planning a third world war and planning the theft of the Hungarian crown jewels. Mindszenty was imprisoned until 1956. Soon thereafter the Soviets invaded Hungary and the cardinal took refuge in the American Embassy, where he lived for the next 15 years without ever leaving the building. In 1971 the Hungarian government allowed him to leave the country and emigrate to Vienna, where he died a few years later. The exhibit had some of Mindszenty's torn clerics and one of his vestments.

 Mindzenty was imprisoned (and probably tortured) at
the House of Terror for 39 days
Small section of the mural of Andrassy ut 60 victims
Picking Stalin's nose. Mature ;)
Budapestian sunset
Sunday morning I went to a Latin mass in the ordinary form at St. Stephen's Basilica. I go to a different church almost every Sunday. The bells at St. Stephen's are the most spectacular ones I've ever heard. The sound was resonating so loudly through the square it sounded like an organ blasting. Glorious! The second mass ended all the tourists flooded in and the peace and reverence evaporated. I said a prayer in front of my favorite side altar to Christ crucified, lit a candle for all my family & friends, and peaced out.

Reason #188263345 why I love the Catholic Church
Szent Istevan Baszilika
After Mass I spent the rest of the day with my friend Sister Blandina, whom I met on the Lenten retreat. Their convent, an adorable pink house, is a 30 minute commute from my flat. There are three sisters at the convent. Sr. Blandina, who is Indonesian, a Polish sister (I got the lowdown from her on all the best JPII sights in Poland), and a spunky Hungarian sister who is 84! It was such a blessing to spend the day with them. I ended up staying for adoration and evening prayer (their breviaries are in Hungarian!) in their little chapel and dinner. The sisters made me drink lots of tea and gave me cold medicine since I'm sick, then put me on the tram and sent me home with a few small birthday presents. Have I mentioned how much I love nuns!? The sisters told me to come back soon and next time to spend the night, but they promised if I spend the night they won't make me a nun ;) Haha.

Blessed Joszefa Convent

To put a cherry on top of my fantastic weekend, my dear friend Alicia M. booked her flight to Budapest. It's official...Miss Munchel and I will be Eurotripping from May 23rd to June 9th!!!! So far we've been to Chicago, D.C., and East St. Louis up: conquering Western Europe! Another friend from IU/St. Paul will join us for the first week before she heads to Athens, Greece, for a summer study abroad program. I AM SO EXCITED :D And to make my life even more fantastic, my mom confirmed that my whole family is coming to Budapest after Joe graduates high school on June 3rd. Pretty sweet graduation gift for a highschooler!

I am incredibly blessed to have this opportunity to live abroad and travel with my family and friends. Thank you Jesus  And a heartfelt thank you to everyone at home who has been praying for me.  I know the blessings being bestowed on me are in part due to your prayers.

Stopping by Scandinavia!

Friday, April 8, 2011

I turned 21 last week and celebrated with a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark! Why Denmark? My friend Kristen is studying in Denmark, so she was my host for the weekend. Kristen and I met freshman year in the dorms and have been friends and roomies ever since. If you remember, I met up with K during my misadventures in Berlin back in February. This trip, however, was much more successful ;)

Oresund Bridge
Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in the world ($5 for a one way bus ticket, $8 for a bagel sandwich), so I flew into Malmo, Sweden on Friday. When I landed in Malmo and asked the information desk where the Malmo train station was, I was surprised to find out Malmo city was actually 40 minutes from the airport...and that I had just missed bus that runs to the city every hour. Blessedly, I ran outside and caught the bus right as it was leaving. At least I got a short tour of the Swedish countryside? From the train station I took a train across the Oresund bridge, the longest road/bridge in Europe that connects Denmark and Sweden.

I had a little bit of trouble finding my way to meet Kristen because none of the street signs are in logical or convenient locations, but a kind Dane approached me and asked if I needed directions. Good first impression of the Danish people :) A few other things I noticed immediately is that windows on the ground floor of buildings are not barred like in Budapest, there are a lot more children (higher birth rate than Hungary?), and Danes look like they walked off the pages of a J.Crew catalog. Actually the whole city could be straight out of a J.Crew photoshoot set. Copenhagen is significantly smaller than Budapest. Copenhagen's actual city population is about 500,000 compared to Budapest's 1.7 million. Copenhagen had a surprising number of American retail stores. I even saw a Build-a-Bear workshop; I had no idea that was international. Danes are also apparently very trusting people. Mothers leave their babies in the stroller outside the store while they shop inside!!! Europeans make fun of Americans for super-sizing everything, but Europeans use GIGANTIC baby carriages. They are seriously like Hummers for babies. It's kind of obnoxious since the sidewalks have not been super-sized to accomodate such big carriages.

J. Crew catalog or streets of Copenhagen?
Anyway, I found Kristen and she took me for an authentic Danish pastry. After paying $5 for my first bus ticket, I managed to avoid paying again by getting on at busy bus stops and having Kristen slip her pass back to me. In Budapest you can hop on any bus without having a ticket, though you risk being checked at random by transit officials. That night her study abroad program was throwing a party with free gourmet cupcakes (we are talking $15 cupcakes!). Free cupcakes, free wine, and karaoke - Hungary take note! Kristen's study abroad program and housing is all Americans. It was really strange being around so many Americans again and hearing American accents. I saw a classmate from IU who was on my Target case competition team while we were at the bar. I haven't seen him in Bloomington since our case presentation sophomore year and then I see him in Denmark. I'm still waiting to run into someone from Kokomo... ;)

You could only enter the bar with a Danish student ID, so I pretended that I had lost my ID. The guy checking IDs didn't care but started asking me questions about how I got into the dorm building and told me I should really get it replaced soon, haha. It appears I'm turning into some sort of traveling scam artist. Anything to save a few euros. Pro tip: you can ride the metro in most cities without buying a ticket if you are going a short distance, tickets are checked infrequently.

Belting out some vintage B. Spears
On Saturday Kristen showed me all around the city. We toured Rosenborg Castle, which was King Christian IV's summer palace and is where the Danish crown jewels are housed. Rosenborg paled in comparison with the Habsburg's summer palace in Vienna, but the crown jewels were spectacular! We climbed the Round Tower attached to Trinity Church for a panoramic view of Copenhagen. All the churches looked like they could have been Catholic, but were actually Lutheran. 81% of the population is Lutheran. Fun fact: the Danish Constitution states that the royal family must belong to the Danish Lutheran Church. The second largest religious group, interestingly, is Muslims.

Danish bling - King Christian IV's crown
After climbing the tower we stopped for a Danish and then went on to my favorite part of Copenhagen, Nyhavn Canal. I am obsessed. It's unbelievably picturesque. Nyhavn is lined with brightly colored 17th and 18th century townhouses, bars, and cafes. We took a leisurely boat tour of the canal and saw several important Copenhagen landmarks. After the canal tour our last stops for the day were Amalienborg Palace, where the Queen of Denmark lives, and Hans Christensen's Little Mermaid statue.

On our way home we walked past the US Embassy. As Kristen started taking pictures I remembered how an Embassy employee in Budapest told me you are not supposed to take pictures of US Embassy's because taking photos could compromise the building's security (our embassies are the most secure buildings in every city)...or something. Right as I realized I should probably warn Kristen, a guard came running out of the Embassy. First he asked if she took a picture of him (yeah, we totally wanted a picture of the rent-a-cop working security) and I told him we just took a picture of the flag. Then he made Kristen show him the two pictures and delete them. Sorry for being a patriotic American and wanting to take a picture of our own flag! Oh and for the record I found pictures of the Embassy online...and I probably just got flagged by the US government for talking about this online. Hi Uncle Sam!

Nyhavn Canal
The Little Mermaid!
On Sunday we went to Mass in Danish at St. Ansgar's Cathedral. I was hoping to see the bishop, but no such luck. There's only one diocese/bishop for all of Denmark. That's how small the Catholic population is. According to Wiki, only 36,000 of Denmark's 5 million inhabitants are Catholic. We visited a few more churches, including the Marble Church, whose dome looks exactly like the cupola of St. Peter's in the Vatican. Most interesting was visiting Christiania, an autonomous town within Copenhagen with 850 residents. Basically it's a large hippie commune. Christiania has its own rules (no hard drugs, no violence, no weapons...but selling/buying/smoking weed is fine!) and residents don't pay Danish taxes. It was strange because everything about Christiania was the complete opposite of what the rest of Copenhagen was like. For example, the streets of CPH are immaculately clean and there was trash everywhere in Christiania. Christiania actually reminded me of the hippie areas in Bloomington, ha. You can walk along Pusher Street, where all the drug dealers have set up shop, but photography is strictly prohibited.

Entrance to Christiania
No hard drugs but smoke all the weed you want!
After hanging with the hippies we walked around Strøget, a long pedestrianized shopping street. The best of Strøget: $7 "Hello Kitty" flavored gelato (full disclosure: I've been a huge HK fan since I was a kid), visiting the Lego store (Lego is a Danish company), and browsing a candy shop with a "Taste of America" section of imported American goodies. A bag with one serving of Doritos was about $4. My favorite though was a jar of strawberry marshmallow fluff. If you are American and have ever seen a jar of strawberry fluff in the grocery store, please let me know.

Strawberry & white chocolate = Hello Kitty
I give Copenhagen two thumbs up and would definitely recommend visiting if you are ever in Scandinavia! It's not a city I would have ever picked to visit for a vacation - but it's very charming and there's lots to see and do. Scandinavia is so different from Central/Eastern Europe! I fixed my photos on facebook so now all my travel photo albums should be open to everyone to view even if you don't have a FB account. Click here for all of my Copenhagen photos! Next adventure: Rome in 12 days for Holy Week and Easter!!!!

Quaint cafes 
High Altar in a Lutheran Church