Monday, January 31, 2011

An Amazing Two Days

I returned to La Sainte-Baume this afternoon after a wonderful two days as the guest of Bishop Dominque Rey of the Diocese of Frejus-Toulon. As you recall, I met him during my first week here while he was on retreat with the priests of his diocese. M. et Mme. Garde came for me Sunday morning in time to bring to the Mass at The Basilica of the Royal Convent of St-Maximin. The pictures that follow were taken by M. Garde in the Basilica before and during the Mass.

We arrived at the basilica to find a street fair going on. Men and women dressed in period costumes, playing ancient instruments, flutes, drums, percussion. Others were dressed in a kind of military regalia with capes, hats, ribbons with large metal medallions. I got a good look at one of the medalions a genlteman was wearing. It was the heraldic emblem of a local vineyard. In a short time I figured out what was going on. I had not been told that I was invited to the feast of St. Vincent Martyr, patron of winegrowers, in Provence. (It really isn't my fault - or my intention - that much of this whole blog seems to be about food. Celebrating food and wine is simply everywhere around here. It is totally unavoidable.)

Anyway, here are a few pictures of the events of the morning.

The altar and choir screen of the abbey church. In typical fashion, the screens like this one were built across the nave. Behind it were the choir stalls for the monks or sisters. The moderns altars are usually placed in front of it and so the area for the modern community occupies only the front half of the church. In this church, half of the nave is behind the screen.

The entrance procession with the winegrowers in their ancient guild regalia. These decorated cloaks with the medal date back to the 11th century when guilds were begun as a kind of cooperative of producers. The medals around their necks are the heraldic symbol that are so often found on the labels of pretigious vintages. Only those growers who have achieved a level of expertise are granted entry into the guild and permitted to design a heraldic symbol for their vineyard.

The statue of St. Vincent Martyr being carried into the church. He has been recognized as the patron of winegrowers since the 4th Century. Notice the cluster of grapes in his right hand. This feast is celebrated in the very end of winter a short time before the buds start to appear on the vines. (Yes, January is the very end of winter in the lower coastal regions of Provence.) The festival begins with Mass and prayer to St Vincent for good weather and favorable growing conditions, and especially a good harvest.

Mgr. Dominique Rey, Bishop of Frejus-Toulon, the former pastor of the Basilica St-Maximin to the right, the Current pastor to the left, and your's truly in the wings.

After Mass, the Guild is on the stage for speeches, giving awards to exceptional vineyards, and the naming of the new Guild members selected for that year.

Following the ceremonies everyone is invited into the cloister of the former monastery, now a 5 star hotel. Tables are setup by all the vineyards around the entire cloister for the annual "degustation" of the wines now ready for market. In the former refectory of the monastery, food is offered by invitation only. As a guest of the Bishop, I was privy to the additional feasting inside.

Bishop Rey is an amazing man. While most of the church in France is languishing with little church attendance, no seminarians, he has churches full and 70 seminarians in his own seminary for his diocese. I consider myself a rather good "pastoral schmoozer". This bishop has perfected this to heights I can only dream of - a veritable art form. He worked the crowds in this room for 3 hours while his driver, (you will meet a bit farther along) and I watched in amazement. Of course this gave Matias and I time to get to know each other and time to taste everything.

Some of the tables for the "degustation".

Bishop Rey and his driver, Matias Zulueta (wearing the bishop's hat.)

As Bishop Rey was working the crowds, he passed off his hat to Matias and walked away. Now Matias was faced with a dilema, use one of his hands to hold the hat, which of course would make tasting that much more difficult, or put on the hat and continue the feasting. Smart young man he that is, he chose the latter. A while later when the bishop saw Matias wearing the hat, he burst into laughter (He is one of the happiest bishops I know) and insisted on this picture. I was happy to oblige.

We returned to the bishop's residence via the seminary to give me a little tour. I was told we would return tomorrow to give me the opportunity to meet some of the seminarians. A nice dinner at the bishop's house and a comfortable night.

The following morning, we celebrated Mass in the chapel of the residence, the bishop, his secretary - Pere Jose, Dominique - a friend from Paris, Matias, another young man I did not get to meet, the bishop's house staff - an Italian husband and wife team - he cooks, she is the housekeeper, and me. The following picture is remarkable.

This stole is a relic. It is the stole worn by St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars - an amazing gift to the Diocese. It is placed in front of the altar in the chapel of Bishop Rey's residence.

After Mass, I was taken to the seminary by Fathers Sean and David, two Irish priests incardinated into this diocese. They belong to an order of priests whose apostolate is to promote Eucharistic Adoration. We arrived at the seminary - you guessed it - in time for lunch. Mgr. Rey has drawn young men from all over the world to study here. I met of course French, and Italians, SriLankan, Chinese, Vietnamese. On Mondays, they seat themselves for the noon meal by linguistic groups. When I was introduced as a priest from the USA, some of the seminarians came over immediately and invited me to sit with them at the "English" table. They were 3 French and 2 SriLankan. They had all spent time in England for summers, or a pastoral year, so they were quite fluent. Nevertheless, they were glad for the chance to practice. I spoke more English today than I have in the past two weeks. It was a great time. Fun conversation. The rest of the refectory was heading for desert and we were still on the first course. In the middle of the main course, the rector stood up for the blessing after meals. The rector allowed us to remain a bit longer. After lunch the men go for a walk through the seminary grounds. It's a beautiful place. I'll explain more after the next picture.

Left to right, Matthieu, Charles, and Luc
Luc, Charles, and Matthieu

Je suis desolee mes amis. Si vous lisez ce blog, ecrivez moi avec le e-mail que vous avez donner. Je fera les corrections.

Please note the rows of grape vines behind the men. Yes, the seminary is in the middle of a vineyard. What a wonderful symbol for these young men preparing for the priesthood. The entire estate, called Chateau de la Castille, was given to the diocese many years ago. All the wine producing continues on the property, although not the most profitable as Charles said to me, it does all belong to the diocese.

Gathered with seminarians in front of the original chateau of "the Castille"
These English speaking men asked what are the chances of them coming to the USA for a summer.
Well, folks, could we host them at St. John Neumann? I'm game.

I'm back at the retreat center tonight. Matias drove me back. We had an another hour in the car together to talk and get to know each other more. He is a deeply faithful young man. Although he's convinced he's not being called to priesthood, (and the bishop teases him all the time about it) I can see in him the kind of faith that will lead him to be a man of the church, whether he is ordained or not.

He had not seen La Saint-Baume.  I could see he was very moved by the sight of the grotto up on the side of the cliff. He had many questions about how to get up there. I suggested that he ask the bishop for a day off and and comde back. We can hike up there together before we both leave this place. I have a feeling this bishop will say yes.

Matias Zulueta
After Matias left to return to Toulon with the bishop's car, I went to my room. The bells rang for vespers. I went down to the chapel. I was alone with the Dominicans again tonight. I felt at peace and at home.

A demain, mes amis.