From what we learned on our short tour, the city of Terezin was originally built as an army fortress to protect the area and prevent the Prussian Army from getting to Prague. It was repurposed as a prison and work camp during WWII. Although it was not death camp like Auschwitz, many people died there due to disease. Some of the earlier tombstones have names on them, but as the numbers in the camp grew and disease swept through many were originally buried in mass graves. Their remains were later moved to this memorial site so the majority have only numbers on the grave markers. As the sisters at Doksany told us it was a very sad time in the history of this area and they continue to pray for healing.
Hans drove us to the top of the hill above the Prague Castle but after that the entire tour was on foot. Fortunately it was all downhill from there! We followed Marcela and her peach colored scarf on a stick as we made our way through all the historic sites with several other groups of tourists.
We saw the changing of the castle guards and then spent some time seeing the the St. Vitus Cathedral from all angles, although as you can see almost everywhere you look your eye is drawn upward!
Bonnie and Eliot Elfner were representing SNC and Green Bay for us nicely, pictured here at one of the scenic overlook stops on the path down to the Charles Bridge from the castle complex.
I thought this was a cool view and it shows how really steep this hillside is, so I stopped to snap a photo.
Above is Bill Hyland posing in front of St. Norbert’s statue on the Charles Bridge, and below is the view looking back up the hill. You can see the twin towers of Strahov Abbey almost in the center of the photo. We’ll be going back there tomorrow morning for a tour and lunch before we leave for Berlin.
I’m actually writing this post from Prague, but this photo was taken last night shortly after I returned to the hotel in Vienna. As Murphy would have it, the first completely free day on our itinerary was mostly cloudy with sporadic showers throughout the day. That didn’t deter this group though! On the bus today everyone was recounting their adventures in Vienna yesterday, which included shopping, museums, gardens, and of course more churches and cathedrals …. along with a lot of walking through the city and learning the subway and streetcar system!
The bus ride to Prague was about 4.5 hours, with one short rest stop in the middle. After arriving and checking into our hotel we barely had an hour to unpack and freshen up before we met our local guide, Marcela, for a walking tour of the city. It was hot and sunny here today, so we are all very thankful that our hotel is located right in the heart of the city on Wenceslas Square and the AC and free Wi-Fi seem to be working for everyone! After our city tour we only had a short time to get ready for our next adventure, which was dinner and music at a traditional Czech folklore restaurant. Photos to follow tomorrow!
Our trip to Slovakia started with Hans driving us on our bus to Schwedenplatz, a large dock area where all the boats leave Vienna for cruises on the Danube River. As you will see in the following photos, we rode a high-speed catamaran from Vienna to Bratislava, Slovakia. (I’m uploading them as a gallery to save time, but if you want to see any photo more closely just click on it to enlarge and then use the “back” button on your browser to return to the blog.) Hans met us in Bratislava with the bus for the rest of the trip to visit the sisters in Slovakia. We only took the boat one way, but it was a really fun experience. Even the bravest among us had to retreat to the salon below (or the “saloon” as the captain called it!) when the wind up on deck got to be too much. This trip was no float down a lazy river, that boat was fast!
We spent most of the day yesterday in Slovakia with the most amazing group of Norbertine sisters in the village of Vrbove, about an hour drive north of Bratislava. The convent there has a very large garden and a small retreat center. About half of the 54 sisters currently at Vrbove are retired, but as Norbertines they are “active” sisters. Some work in schools or hospitals in the surrounding communities, while others perform social work or take the Eucharist to old or ill people in their homes. They also have a growing family of Norbertine Associates which now numbers almost 200.
Sister Hermana, pictured above with Fr. Sal and Steve and Nancy Jakups, is the Superior General of the Premonstratensian Sisters in the Czech-Moravian and Slovakian Provinces. Her office is at the Generalate in Trnava, about 20 km south of Vrbove. We made a short stop there on our way back.
In the photo above is Becky Welch with Sister Norberta, who is now 91 years old but previously worked in the farms and gardens for more than 40 years.
Because I cannot remember the names of all the sisters (and even if I could I’m sure I would never get them spelled right!) I am going to just share a few of their photos here along with some scenes from their beautiful chapel and gardens.
Once again we were treated to a hearty lunch, which in this case included a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits grown and canned by the sisters from their gardens. This wonderful soup was just the starter. It was followed by a just-picked lettuce salad and warm turkey and gravy served over rice.
And just when we thought we were done after the coffee and cake, they brought out an extraordinary ice cream cake for a second dessert course!
After lunch we moved to the other large table for some more conversation, with Sister Hermana translating for the rest of her community. She studied ESL at St. Norbert in 1998, and since then six more sisters from this community have followed in her footsteps! Some of the other sisters have studied some French, German and Russian, so a few of us were able to carry on conversations with them using our rudimentary German too.
The sisters were also happy to show us their photo albums and reminisce about the times they spent in DePere at the abbey and St. Norbert College!
Sister Aquina drove ahead of us and somehow got all the cars parked in front of the Generalate in Trnava to move so we could park our bus there for a short visit!
Mike Dockry was happy to see Sister Siarda, who studied ESL at SNC in 2004!
This house was taken from the sisters by the communists in 1950, and when it was finally returned after the fall of communism in 1989 it was literally in ruins. Today only a half dozen sisters live at the house, but they have managed to renovate the living quarters and this small chapel.
Recently the sisters had the opportunity to purchase the 300+ year old house next door so they can expand their presence and their ministry in Trnava, but as you can see it is still a work in progress and it may be several years before they have enough money to finish all the needed renovations.
By this point we were pretty sure the sisters would not let us leave without one more dose of radical hospitality, so we were not surprised when they invited us into their dining room for another little snack and some more conversation.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s short post, it was really hard to leave this place. We were so inspired by these women and wished we could somehow do more to advance their work, but they simply asked us all to pray for them so I ask everyone reading this to keep these sisters in your prayers as well.
We all learned a few simple greetings in Slovakian today, the most important being “until we meet again!” We had such a wonderul time visiting the Norbertine sisters in Slovakia that it was very difficult to leave, so it turned out to be a very long day. But we are all back in Vienna safe and sound now, and we are happy to know that Sister Aquina (pictured here with Fr. Sal) will be with us in DePere for the Norbertine General Chapter in July!