Tag Archives: catholic church

Heraklion – the end of day 3

8 Dec

This post is part of our adventures in Greece in the fall of 2013, for other posts in the series, please click here.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we got back into downtown Heraklion.  The next day we were heading on the early ferry to Santorini for three days of white buildings nestled on cliffs.

We decided to find the main square and look at the church there and then wander back down to the port.  Unfortunately when we arrived the church was closed for the afternoon, but after poking around we were able to find out it would be opening soon.

Scouting the church before it opened

Scouting the church before it opened

We settled in the square outside to wait.  It was a perfect afternoon and Heraklion has free wifi throughout the city so it was a painless process.  After a thirty minute wait we went inside.  It was worth the wait.

The Greek Orthodox churches we visited during the trip are incredibly ornate – the murals, lamps and decoration all much more elaborate than the Roman Catholic churches of my childhood.  This one in particular was not that large but very grand.

First view of the inside of the church

First view of the inside of the church

Close up of the chandelier

Close up of the chandelier


To make it even more special, the stained glass windows colored the foyer shades of the rainbow as we left.  Outside in the square they were setting up for a concert to celebrate the end of the World Tourism celebration.

Light streaming in the foyer

Light streaming in the foyer

On Sunday, most of the shops were closed, but we followed a crowd of people to a square with a view of a fountain and went to try some special Greek sweets.  We both had a glass of fresh juice and delicate doughnuts dipped in honey.

Fresh juice, sweets and the lion fountain in the square

Fresh juice, sweets and the lion fountain in the square

Sated from the treat we wandered back to the port.  The sun dipped low in the sky washing the seaside with warm light.

Flowers for sale as we wandered through the streets

Flowers for sale as we wandered through the streets


It was a magical evening.

Viewing the sunset

Viewing the sunset

After walking along by the old fort, we headed back for dinner – a lamb schwarma meal right off another square.  As we ate a tumbling club set up their mats in front of us and we were treated to a thirty minute performance of ribbon gymnastics.


Smiling from the enthusiasm we started to wander back to the hotel, but stopped again at the site of yet another concert with traditional Greek music.  A night market had sprung up and we swayed and danced with everyone else in the square.


Go to Crete and go to Heraklion.  The city will draw you in, like it did us.  We went there on our honeymoon, but will have memories forever and it seems fitting to write about the trip given we just celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

The trip, however, wasn’t over – we had much more to see.  More to come.


Church in China

9 Sep

Stained glass window at the church in my hometown

When I’m in Shanghai, I am a regular visitor at the international Catholic parish that is close by my apartment.  Close may be a relative word – it’s a very fast 15 minute walk or a more leisurely 25 minute walk.  Given the heat that we’ve had lately it certainly seems longer.  When I first came to China I wasn’t sure about going to church.  As a Catholic I had heard stories about the Chinese government taking a cut of the donations, about them not accepting that the Pope has ultimate authority in the church, about priests being appointed by the government instead.

When I finally got up the nerve to go though, it’s a pretty normal catholic church experience – I go to mass in English and the majority of the congregation (I’d say at least 50%) is Filipino.  Like going to any new parish, I don’t recognize all the songs and at the beginning there were certain local customs that took a while to get used to, but perhaps the universality of the church does conquer everything.  There is one thing that is different than most mass experiences in the US or Europe in that the average age tends to skew much lower because people over 65 can’t get work permits to live in China.  Senior citizens tend to be the largest group back in more developed countries, but here it’s only if they are visiting someone who already knows where the church is.

There have been times when I have felt a little uncomfortable.  Every once in a while the priest will start complaining about Chinese government intervention and I always feel like looking over my shoulder to see if we’re being observed.  Even though I’ve now attended for a couple of years, it just seems that any one of the chinese faces  (and they are not many) could be a spy.  I am likely just paranoid as the Chinese government has far larger issues, but who knows?

In general though, church focuses me, allows me to put faith in something larger than myself and allows me to continually straddle the western/eastern world that exists in Shanghai.  I feel lucky to have my faith – especially because so few people born here are provided that luxury.

Have you ever gone to church in a foreign country?

Exploring Shanghai – Sheshan

24 Jun

My original impression of Sheshan was that it is an amusement park.  There are signs in the subway advertising Happy Valley – Shanghai’s answer to Six Flags or Cedar Point.  It is much easier to get there now – there is a Sheshan subway stop off of Line 9 and from there a free bus to the park.  Line 9 is new – just two years old – so before that if you drove it was over an hour and a half to get there.

A couple of years ago Li and I went to the big Dinosaur Amusement Park in Changzhou and while we had considered going to Happy Valley, the fact that Li tends to feel ill on roller coasters and the high admission price meant that we had taken a pass to date.  So, I was pretty surprised when a couple of weeks ago Li asked me if I wanted to go to Sheshan with him and his parents (they were in town).

It turns out that Sheshan has had a long history in Shanghai – it was the site of one of the first Catholic churches, dating back to the late 1800s and it also was the site of the first astronomical observatory in the Shanghai area.  She Shan (She Mountain) itself is actually the highest point of land in the surrounding vicinity which was why the observatory was located here.  The park houses a museum with the original telescopes and a great collection of space photos as well as the church and surrounding grounds.  It also includes photos of the original founders – they were all French brothers and priests who came to Shanghai in the late 1800s and early 1900s, that is until they were all “asked to leave” in the 1940s.  At that point there was a large gap in the history of the observatory that picked up in the 1980s.  Entrance was free (rare for Shanghai) and there also is a small amusement park there, but the big Happy Valley Park is 20 minutes away.

We got there with no problems with the main difficulty being the weather.  It was hot – over 90 degrees and climbing steps up a mountain in that type of heat is not fun.  I had two bottles of water and a popsicle by the time I made it to the top and another bottle and two more popsicles before I made it down.  At the top where the cathedral was it was a little cooler and we filed into the church to look at the windows and altar.  In the middle of all of the hubbub a group of people came in and started performing a mass – complete with a guitar player.  It felt very intimate and I stayed for the first 10 minutes or so before joining Li and his parents outside for a few more photos.

After our climb up and down we all needed lunch and so we had a late lunch at a small restaurant just outside the gates of the park.  At that point my jet lag and the heat caught up with me, so I gave my regards and headed back to the subway station alone.  On the train back to the city center the air conditioning blasting I had to rummage through my bag for a big scarf to cover my shoulders and avoid freezing.  Ironic.

The day trip was a realization that close to home there are a lot of different things for me to see.  I would go back, but choose a cooler day for sure.  Any similar experiences when you’ve traveled with visitors?

Exploring – churches in Bohol and Cebu

1 Mar

While in the Philippines we had the opportunity to see some of the oldest Catholic churches in the islands, both on Bohol Island and Cebu City.  The presence of the Jesuits was seen in full force with monuments and plaques.  The churches themselves are impressive, but European style architecture and the heat and humidity that occurs in a place like the Philippines means that constant care and uptake are required.  The architects were clever with the usage of local building materials – Baclayon church is the oldest coral stone church in the region, dating back to 1727.  In Bohol especially though, the moss and mold and vines were creeping to places unknown.

The Baclayon Church was part of our whirlwind Bohol tour that I wrote about in two previous posts a few weeks ago: Exploring – Bohol Island, Philippines – a river cruise and chocolate mountains and Exploring – Bohol Island, Philippines wildlife.  The church was a different type of tourism and so I thought that I would combine it with the views from Cebu.

In Cebu we went to the place where they had placed a replica of the Cross of Magellan – a heavily symbolic site where Magellan supposedly made the first converts to christianity on his famous voyage around the world.  We then went into the huge Santo Nino complex which includes lovely cloisters, a convent, museum and the Santo Nino – a replica of the child Jesus.  One thing that I found interesting about the Sto. Nino is the large murals, painted in very bright colors that are on the ceiling and the walls surrounding the complex.  It reminded me of the stories that I heard in Spain where initially the vast majority of people who came to church were illiterate and so they used the pictures to explain the stories of the bible.  I’m sure that it was similar here as well.  Literally across the street from Santo Nino is the modern Cebu cathedral with its tasteful interior and a wonderful exhibit on the life of Mother Teresa which absorbed me for the better part of an hour.

With the Mother Teresa exhibit in a prominent place, in Cebu another key thing to note is the poverty.  After we visited the cathedral we walked around the downtown and while I didn’t feel unsafe, it was not an area that I would like to be in by myself or after dark.  It is very important that we have individuals who strive to make a difference in developing countries.  One of those is my father’s good friend who is heavily involved in an organization called The Lingap Children’s Foundation in Cebu.   It is an orphanage and surrounding programs that is based in Cebu where street children are cared for and provided opportunities.  I knew that the organization was based in the Philippines, but it wasn’t until I came back and was talking to my father did I realize that I was very close to their headquarters and didn’t go.  The programs that they have provided the area over the years have served a very important purpose.  I would strongly suggest checking out the link to the foundation that I provided above to read about the wonderful works and accomplishments they have made.

Any thoughts about religion and travel?  Visiting new places and seeing where people worship – from temples to churches to mosques can be another way of understanding your own spirituality.

With this post, this is my final post from my Philippines trip.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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