05 September 2011

Our Lady of Victory Church

Hey friends! It's back to D.C. for another semester of church visits. Yesterday I went to Our Lady of Victory Parish in Northwest D.C. It's in a cute neighborhood east of Georgetown which is also home to George Washington University's Mount Vernon campus. Instead of taking the shuttle to Mount Vernon, I walked to OLV along the C&O Canal path.

Our Lady of Victory is a relatively small church perched on top of a grassy hill. The brick building had a pentagonal facade and had relatively bare walls on the inside. Colorwise, the church was dominated by blue, white and brown, with blue carpet, a blue velvet apse, and brown support beams. There was a very cool looking medieval-style painting near the front as well.

Music was provided by an organ and a choir of about half a dozen people. It was refreshing to hear their traditional hymns after slacking off on church attendance this summer. In his homily, the priest discussed the beginnings of the Church, and said that it formed a "body" of which the Pope was the "head." He compared the body of the Church to a symphony, which despite being made up of diverse "instruments" and "voices," is able to make beautiful music because they read from Christ's score.

View DC Churches I've Been To So Far in a larger map

02 August 2011

A Couple Links

Here's a new blog project I'm working on before I go back to visiting D.C.'s churches in September. I'm doing 20 different hikes every day from August 1-20.


Do you know about the Power of Love Foundation?
Power of Love is an innovative non-profit that works with communities in Africa struggling with the AIDS epidemic. In order to create healthy, self-reliant communities, Power of Love (1) Trains women to care for their HIV-infected children and orphans, (2) Provides women with micro-loans and business training to generate income, and (3) Provides food, medicines, and a package of life-saving healthcare services to the children in their care.

power of love  

My good friend Annu wrote some great blog entries about her experiences visiting the Power of Love's care center in Lusaka, Zambia earlier this summer:


Click below to read more about the Power of Love, sign up for the e-newsletter, and donate. POL does important work that Catholics and non-Catholics should be eager to support. Thanks so much!

15 July 2011

St. Brigid Catholic Church (Los Angeles, CA)

A few weeks ago, I took my mom to St. Brigid’s Catholic Church in Los Angeles. After two years of stories about D.C.’s black Catholic churches, I figured we should try to visit an African-American parish in L.A. St. Brigid is located southeast of downtown Los Angeles and it is famous for its Gospel choir.

We came for the 10:30 AM Mass, which didn’t end up starting until around 10:50. The procession was led by three young men beating on drums with their hands in African-style rhythms. The priest, Father Frank, began the Mass by pouring water into a small plant and calling on the parish to remember their ancestors. I asked him about this later, and he said that it derives from West African tradition, which begins religious worship by calling on ancestors. Watering the plant is a symbol of life.

The church had some very pretty architectural elements, though it didn’t appear to have a unifying theme. There seemed to be a lot of African-inspired design elements, as well as a lot of dark green features. I did notice that while the left side of the church had a very cool looking stained glass window, the corresponding window on the right had nothing. I actually like it when churches are left partially unfinished (even unintentionally) because it’s a great symbol for mankind’s inability to achieve perfection.
The choir consisted of around a dozen members, and they did a nice job. On this particular Sunday, Beau Williams, a Gospel singer, came by to sing a few songs and sell some CD’s. He had a great voice, but I still found his rather transparent attempt to promote himself was a little bit inappropriate for Mass. After getting some applause after his first song, Beau tried to get permission from Father Frank to sing a second tune. “Later,” the priest said.

In his homily, Father Frank said that the Body of Christ is present not only in the Eucharist, but also in the church members who come together to worship as one body in Christ. Altogether it was a wonderful Mass. At the end of the Mass, visitors were asked to stand. I introduced myself, and told everyone that I had brought my mother with me. After church, a few shocked parishioners told us that they thought she was my sister. Pleased, though not surprised, my mother said: “They sure know what to say to make you want to come back.”


28 June 2011

Pittsburgh Catholic

A few churches I found in Pittsburgh while visiting my family a few months ago...

St. Mary of the Mount Church

St. Stanislaus Kostka Church (Polish Parish)

Heinz Chapel (Non-denominational)

The stained glass in the Chapel included figures from American history.

St. Paul's Cathedral

18 May 2011

St. Martin of Tours Church

For my final church visit of the year, I asked my good friend John, who’s gone with me to a bunch of different churches, to pick which church he’d like to go to. I also wanted him to do it because he’s not coming back to GW next year as a FOCUS missionary, since joining the seminary to study to become a priest next year. At any rate, he picked the 9 AM Mass at St. Martin of Tours in Northeast Washington. After trying to figure out how long it would take to take the Metro there, a trip involving several transfers and a considerable walk to the church, I suggested that we just walk the entire way from Foggy Bottom. It was about a forty minute walk up Rhode Island Avenue, and John, Loreto and I got to enjoy a beautiful day in Washington.
            St. Martin of Tours is in an interesting location, situated on hill right next to a bridge going over North Capitol Street. It was hard to distinguish a single architectural style on the building, it seemed to embrace neo-classical Greek and Roman architecture. The interior of the church had mostly plain white walls, with blue stained glass windows. At the front of the church were two banners, one depicting human figures dancing, and another showing a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. At the rear of the church, below the choir loft, there were two quilts hung with African-influenced patterns. The area behind the altar had a large wooden frame and a golden cross; it had a very modern feel.
            There was one cantor singing accompanied by the powerful pipe organ. The Mass was interesting because not all of the pews had kneelers, so rather than kneeling, the parish stood up. I asked Deacon Robert about this after Mass, and he said that the standing was also something the parish chose to do regardless of the missing kneelers. Father Michael gave the homily, and discussed the appearance of Jesus to the men on the road to Emmaeus. He reminded us that these fellows were leaving Jerusalem disappointed before Jesus appeared to them. While they may have given up on Christ, but Christ did not give up on them. Father said that our mothers often do the same thing in our lives, and then called the church’s mothers up to the altar for a Mother’s Day blessing. When he did, a long line of mothers formed that went all the way to the back of the church.
John, Loreto, and I went downstairs after Mass for a fundraiser for the parish youth group’s production of The Wiz. We had a nice time talking with Deacon Robert and our new friend Irene, a nursing professor at Georgetown University who supervised a service-learning project at St. Martin of Tours. It was a great way to end the semester.

St. Martin of Tours Website (The noisiest church website I've ever been on)


Churches I've Been To So Far:

View DC Churches I've Been To So Far in a larger map

St. Mary Mother of God Church (Tridentine Latin Mass)

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow Knight of Columbus Peter suggested a trip to St. Mary, Mother of God Church in Chinatown to see their Tridentine Latin Mass. I jumped at the chance to go, as did several other friends from the Knights of Columbus and the Newman Center: Christina, Francisco, and (another) Michael. I had been to St. Mary Mother of God before to see their 11:30 AM Mass in Cantonese (Chinese), so I already knew what it was like to sit in that church for an hour without having any idea what was going on.

The Tridentine Latin Mass is the Mass that was performed in the Catholic Church before the 1962 Vatican Conference, which produced a new order of the Mass (known as “Novus Ordo,” or “New Order”) and allowed Masses to be given in vernacular languages. I have previously seen a “Novus Ordo” Latin Mass, a Mass in which the post-Vatican II Mass was given in Latin, but it is much rarer to see the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Latin Mass, which can only be performed with the permission of a local Archbishop.

St. Mary Mother of God was the same neo-Gothic church that I had seen before, except for a worn down shrine section of the church, which had since been improved with a navy-blue background and a large metal image of the Virgin Mary. The congregation was very conservatively dressed, with men generally wearing suits, and many women wearing veils. There were a lot of elderly folks at Mass, but a few families as well, like the one with five or six children that sat in front of us. Nearly everyone at the Mass was Caucasian.

The Mass itself was a very interesting affair. For much of the celebration, the priest, had his back to the congregation. He would chant a verse of a prayer or reading, and a response would come either from the congregation or the fantastic choir sitting in the loft at the rear of the church. The choir was fantastic, and their wonderful songs and chants filled the space with a very uplifting ambience. I was pretty confused as to what was going on throughout the Mass because, of course, I failed to grab one of the Latin Missal booklets located at the front of the church. I didn’t realize that nearly every section of the Mass was sung either by the choir or the priest, including the first two readings. I thought I had missed the entire Liturgy of the Word until the priest read the Gospel (in English).

The priest, who wore some sort of hat during the Mass (it looked like a beret) and spoke with a British accent, said in his homily that if we do not actively engage our faith, we become passive spectators to a grand spectacle, like the British Royal Wedding. He said that to avoid doubt, like that of the apostle Thomas in the Gospel reading, we need to work our faith out like a muscle. Part of exercising that faith, he said, was receiving Holy Communion, which preserves Christ’s resurrection over time. Later in the Mass, the congregation received Holy Communion in a manner that I’ve never seen before; we knelt before a small wall in front of the altar, and the priests and Eucharistic ministers distributed the host to our tongues as we knelt. It was a very interesting end to this very traditional Mass. Personally, I didn’t really feel connected to this Mass and some of my friends felt the same way. I think it is great that this tradition is kept alive, but I can also see why the Church moved away from the Tridentine Latin Mass and began to allow Masses in the vernacular. 


(This shrine has been recently refurbished) 

24 April 2011

St. Augustine Church- Easter Mass

For Easter this year, I decided to go one of my favorite churches in Washington, St. Augustine Church on U St. (Click here to see my original post on St. Augustine from December 2009).They're famous for their fantastic gospel choir and energetic pastor, Father Pat. I invited my friend Mike from work to come with me, he's a student from Ohio spending the semester interning in Washington, D.C. We thoroughly enjoyed the spectacular music and the wonderful atmosphere. Happy Easter everyone!

Assumption Catholic Church

On April 3, my good friend Dan and I visited Assumption Catholic Church, in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast Washington. It’s been a few weeks since that visit, so I’m having a hard time remembering the finer points of the Mass, but I can affirmatively say that Dan and I absolutely loved this church. According to a parish history given to me after Mass, the parish was formed in 1916, and their current church building was finished in 1933. The church building reminded me a lot of the chapel at St. Anselm’s Abbey because of its pentagonal face, brick walls, and slanted wooden roof.

There was a small choir providing the music, made up of six or seven ladies and a man accompanying them on the piano. They seemed to incorporate a gospel style of music, but their hymns were less fiery and energetic than those of, for example, St. Teresa of Avila parish or St. Augustine parish. I enjoyed this calmer form of worship, which seemed appropriate for this small, intimate church.

Undoubtedly, my favorite part of the service was Father Montgomery’s homily. He was incredibly entertaining, charismatic, and delivered some clear, important messages from the day’s Gospel readings. He started off by questioning the validity of televangelists like Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn. If these people really have such a great connection with God, he asked, why do they continually face health and marital problems? He then jokingly suggested that he could bring in as many donations as these televangelists by holding a “healing,” where he would slap his parishioners around and then send them running into the street yelling, “I’m healed!!” He then discussed the day’s Gospel, in which Jesus healed a blind man. In Jesus’ time, many saw blindness as a punishment from God for sinning, but Jesus refused to speculate on the man’s past and relieved him of his blindness anyway. This was evidence, said Father Montgomery, that our God is not a vengeful God, but a God of “compassion and mercy.”



Churches I've Been To So Far (29!)

View DC Churches I've Been To So Far in a larger map

05 April 2011

St. Anthony of Padua Church

Last week, I went to visit St. Anthony of Padua Church, a small parish located near the Catholic University of America. I always wondered whether this parish struggled to draw people in for Mass, since I imagine many people close by would go to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception nearby. This church, however, seemed to be quite lively and functioning. My good friend Dan once again decided to accompany me. 

The front of the church was orange-brownish and had a pentagonal shape. Inside the church, a series of large, blue-tipped arches covered the worship area. The walls were mostly white, with carved wood panels surrounding the church. The church had some beautiful stained glass panels along the side of the church. One side depicted the life of St. Anthony of Padua, the other the history of the Catholic Church in Maryland. 

Mass was fairly mellow, with a single cantor accompanied by piano taking the musical duties. In the homily, the priest discussed the dialogue Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well, comparing it to the scrutiny given to candidates for Baptism. He also asked us to take up a self-scrutiny, asking ourselves, “Who are we?” and “How did we get here?”



16 March 2011

Newman Hall/Holy Spirit Parish (Berkeley, CA)

Thank goodness it's Spring Break! I spent the beginning of my vacation in the Bay Area, visiting a friend from high school at UC Berkeley. On Sunday, I figured I'd check out UC Berkeley's Newman Center for Mass.

The Newman community at Berkeley has a huge facility close to campus. Their worship space is like no church I've ever seen, with stark stone walls, as well as a stone altar and podium. There was a large stone cross that appeared to be incorporated into the wall. I thought the stone was a very interesting choice, it reminded me of the biblical verse where Jesus tells Peter to build the church upon a rock.

There was a small student choir giving hymns at the Mass, and instead of hymn books, the lyrics to the hymns were displayed on a sharp-looking projection screen above the choir. I couldn't figure out exactly why they were doing this, but my guess was that not having hymn books was a way to save paper. All in all, a very cool, modern place to worship.

Cal Newman Center


Catholic Churches I've Visited in California:

View Catholic Churches I've Visited in California in a larger map

06 March 2011

Holy Redeemer Church

This has been a very busy semester for me, but I knew I should get back to this blog so as not to worry my regular readers (and by regular readers, I mean my mother, Fr. Blaise, and my loyal Catholic reader Patsy Anne, from Texas!). This week, I visited Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, near the border of Northwest and Northeast Washington, D.C. It was a short walk from the Mt. Vernon Sq./Convention Center Metro stop.

I was actually a little bit late for the 12:00 PM Mass, but it didn’t appear to matter. As I walked in, I found the entire church empty, except for myself, the woman setting up the Mass, and another parishioner who walked in the same time I did. They told me that the 9:15 AM Mass was more well-attended than the 12:00 PM one was (I made a note to come back and see the 9:15 Mass). They ended up starting the Mass around 12:15, and there were about six people present for the Mass, including the priest. The small crowd made for a very intimate service. My favorite moment came when everyone gathered in the aisle of the church building and held hands when praying the Our Father.

The church itself was reasonably sized, with a brick exterior, and a pentagonal shaped fa├žade with a circular window at the center. The inside of the church wasn’t overly decorated, with patterned white walls and a tabernacle of a variety of different types of stone and marble. They had stained glass panels along the sides of the church, but only a few at the front were really carved out. It appeared that they were a work in progress.

Father Bava gave what I thought was a fairly long homily for such a small audience, but he had some interesting things to say nonetheless. In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples to build their faith upon rock, not upon sand. Father Bava told us, too, that we should base our actions on our faith in God, and not our desire for money or attention.

Holy Redeemer Church


Churches I've Been To So Far:
View DC Churches I've Been To So Far in a larger map

23 January 2011

Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family

This week, Dan, Loreto, and I took a trip out to the Ukrainian National Catholic Shrine of the Holy Family, a beautiful church near the Catholic University of America. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is an eastern-rite Catholic church, meaning that they are in communion with the Holy See, but are not part of the Latin Rite, which encompasses most of the Catholic Churches in the United States and around the world. Thus, members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church are Catholic, but not “Roman” Catholic. More on this later.

The church building doesn’t look like any church I’ve ever seen before. Built on a sloping hillside, the church appears to resemble some sort of military battleship. Above a few feet of vertical wall is what appears to be a giant, sloping roof, topped with golden sphires, a distinctive feature of Slavic architecture. On the inside, the church had mostly plain white walls, with several Byzantine-style icons all around. The windows located on the slanted part of the church were designed to allow the sun to shine into the church differently during the different seasons, and to shine directly on the altar one or two days of the year. There was also what appeared to be a big golden fence with several icons on it in between the altar and the congregation. During the Mass, a set of gates in the center of the fence was opened, but much of the action of the Mass was still covered from view.

The Mass was, of course, in Ukrainian, and the three of us had no idea what was going on most of the time. We tried to follow along in the bilingual liturgy guide, though it was tough to keep track of what page we were on. We kept looking over the shoulder of the gentleman sitting in front of us to see what page we should be on. There were a few things I noticed while trying to follow along. The first was that there was very little talking, and a whole lot of singing. The three priests would chant out a verse, and the congregation, along with the choir, located in a loft above the parishioners, would respond. Unaccompanied by any musicians, much of the Mass was done in this purely vocal, call-and-response form.

They did a few things that reminded me of Our Lady of Lebanon, the Maronite Catholic Church I visited last spring. The first was their use of incense at several points during the Mass. Roman Catholics generally reserve incense for special occasions. Another was the way they presented the Eucharist. Whereas most Roman Catholic Churches offer a small wafer as the body of Christ and wine as the blood of Christ, the Ukrainians offered a cube-shaped piece of bread that was soaked with wine. Mixing bread and wine, a practice known as “intinction,” is considered a big no-no in the Roman Catholic Church, but is still practiced in some Eastern churches. Rather than directly placing the Eucharist in our hands or mouths, the priests at the Shrine of the Holy Family stuck the Eucharist in our mouths with golden spoons. I joked to my friends that it was the first time I had ever been “spoon-fed” the Eucharist.

After Mass, we spoke briefly with the Grand Knight of the Holy Family’s Knights of Columbus Council, Brian. He introduced us to one of the priests, who explained some of the Ukrainian Catholic traditions and symbols. Normally, he said, the church would have icons all over the walls, but they simply didn’t have the money to put them in right away. The big golden fence in front of the altar was called an “icon screen,” and when the priests moved outside of it to distribute the Eucharist or read from the Gospel, it symbolized the way God moves toward us to awaken the spirit inside of us. Altogether, quite an interesting Mass. 



Churches I've Been To So Far (26!)

View DC Churches I've Been To So Far in a larger map

21 January 2011

DC Catholicism in the News: Shriver's Wake

Sargent Shriver passed away a few days ago, and his wake was held today at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown. According to AP: 
 WASHINGTON (AP) — Former colleagues and admirers of R. Sargent Shriver are gathering to offer condolences to the family of the first Peace Corps director and 1972 Democratic vice-presidential nominee.
Hundreds of people streamed into Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. Friday evening for a wake for Shriver, who was the brother-in-law of President John Kennedy.
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd and journalist Bill Moyers were expected to eulogize Shriver.
Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton are expected to speak at the funeral Mass on Saturday. First lady Michelle Obama will also attend.
Shriver will be buried late Saturday in the same Hyannis, Mass. cemetery as his wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. He died this week at age 95 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

A Link to the Story Here

17 January 2011

Holy Name Church

Today, I went to church with my good friends, John and Loreto. In honor of our friend Kate, who moved back to Illinois from D.C. last month, I decided we should visit Holy Name, a church she told me about a while back. Holy Name is in Northeast Washington, near Gallaudet University, where Kate was attending school.

The church building wasn’t overwhelming. The red, rectangular-shaped building looked more like a barn than a Catholic Church. Outside is a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary welcoming people into the building. The worship space is actually on the second floor of the building, with a parish hall on the first floor. This arrangement looks a little bit funny from the outside: the second story has stained glass windows, while the first floor has no windows at all. The actual worship space was pleasant, with plain white walls and patterned stained glass. It felt a lot like some of the other African-American parishes that I’ve visited, which have sort of a Southern Protestant feel.

The singing duties were performed by a small choir accompanied by the piano. Though certainly not as energetic as the choir at St. Teresa of Avila, this group got me swaying and clapping my hands a few times during Mass. Father Villanueva talked about the phrase “Lamb of God” during his homily today. He said it conjured three familiar images: that of the sacrificial lamb of the Old Covenant, that of the sacrifice of the Passover and the blood of the lamb that was to be smeared on the door of the chosen people, and that of a lamb going peacefully to be slaughtered. Father called on us, like Jesus, to become sacrificial lambs by loving and forgiving without condition.



Churches I've Been To So Far (25):

View Churches I've Been To So Far in a larger map