Some Memories Never Fade
by Shaun M. Silagan, CSsR
Memoirs of the Alphonsian Spirituality Course
The existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that “life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forward.” This phrase speaks deeply not only about my life but also about my experience in the Spirituality Course in Rome in July and August this year. Visiting the places where St. Alphonsus and the early Redemptorists lived and conducted missions was so inspiring. I could not imagine the hardships and sacrifices that they had to make. The lectures and our visits to some significant places gave me new perspectives that would help me in the way I should live religious life now and in the way I should handle issues in my personal life.
Upon arrival in Rome, Frs. Ryan, Jing and I were greeted with affection by our confreres, Frs. Joshua and Brendan. We felt their warmth and affection and their longing for Cebu Province. It felt good to see them in Rome with their respective responsibilities.
The three of us from Cebu Province and Fr. Jing from Manila Vice-Province immediately explored Rome like we were little children. It was a completely different world as we fed our eyes with art, architecture and history. The Churches and other structures were overwhelmingly amazing. I think I had art indigestion while in Rome. The entire city was like a Museum; perhaps the oldest Museum in the world. Centuries-old structures, art and sculptures were everywhere. I didn’t have time to process them all in my mind.
The Spirituality Course was held in 3 venues; a few days in Rome, 8 days in Mater Domini, then another 8 days in Ciorani. According to Fr. Petr, a Polish Redemptorist and the coordinator of the Spirituality Center in Rome, Ciorani has a population not much different from the time of St. Alphonsus; that’s less than a thousand people even after 250 years. Mater Domini and Ciorani gave us a glimpse of Southern Italy culture.
Among the things that struck me was the siesta. After lunch, all stores were closed and the place was like a ghost town. Our visits to Mater Domini, Marianella, Naples, Pagani, Scala, and Ciorani helped deepen my love for the Congregation and our charism. As the Course progressed gradually, I realized again what a great treasure we have in St. Alphonsus. I have rediscovered my admiration for him as well as the other Redemptorists at the beginning of the Congregation.
I cannot forget the famous pulpit in the chapel in Pagani where St. Alphonsus stopped a Redemptorist at the middle of his homily. I admire St. Alphonsus’ courage in correcting his confrere albeit offensive.
While others were busy taking pictures, I could not help but wonder if St. Alphonsus would also stop me at the middle of my homily. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it is not easy to preach when there are confreres around.
Of the many significant experiences in the Spirituality Course, our short meditation at the cave in Scala ranks first in my memory. The birthplace of the Congregation refreshed my relationship with God, with St. Alphonsus and with the Congregation. It was a “put out into the deep” experience for me. God invited me to trust Him more, and to rely on His blessings each day.
St. Alphonsus is a gift to God’s people. He was a genius with a heart for the poor. He used his God-given gifts in music, in painting, and in writing for the mission. His love for the people especially the less privileged in the society was exemplary. It is just right that his statue at St. Peter’s Basilica is at the main aisle. Vincent Van Gogh said “there’s nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” St. Alphonsus is, indeed, a true artist for God’s people.
These are just some of the important things that I learned from the Spirituality Course. Our travels to other places in Europe after the Course were also amazing and exciting.
I felt I was not just a tourist taking pictures and appreciating the magnificent places and art works that I’ve seen in the movies and have read in literature – I was and am a pilgrim collecting memories of God’s goodness and love. The experience helped widen my horizons and understanding about life.
I feel blessed to have attended the Spirituality Course. However, the next challenge after the course are the fruits that should come out in the way I live my life as a religious. They are proofs that the Spirituality Course and the travels afterwards have helped make us become better ministers of God in the Redemptorist way. I pray that my insights and learning would last a lifetime.