I knew that this trip was going to be great but itâ€™s truly turning out to be more enlightening and inspiring than I expected. Our experience at Roggenburg yesterday and particularly today has really left an impression on me.
This morning we met Ulrich for a tour of the abbey church. The church itself is 70 meters long and is dedicated to the assumption of the Virgin Mary. An interesting fact: As you move from the back to the front of the church, there are subtle changes in the tone of the white paint used. The closer you get to the altar, the whiter the paint gets because you are, in essence, â€œmoving toward the light.â€
Four of the side altars of the church contained relics of early Catholic martyrs whose skeletons were transferred to Roggenburg from Rome. Each year, the Norbertines at Roggenburg have a celebration wherein they parade around the abbey grounds with the relics. Many of the people in the surrounding community have a strong sense of faith and join the Norbertines in this celebration. In front of the tomb of St. Laurentia, Ulrich gave a really moving explanation of why these relics are important today and how they influence his life as a Christian.
First off, the saints who have found their resting place in the church date back to the early years of the church, reminding us of not only the deep heritage of the church but also that we are not alone in our faith. He noted that the saints pray for us and they pray with us so one should never feel alone. Also, one should never be afraid of death because the saints stand as testament to the fact that a life well lived lives on long after our mortal passing. Of course life is full of suffering and sorrows but it is also filled with so much joy and so much hope for the future. Ulrich said that he hopes the church at Roggenburg is a place of hope for all who come. Christ crucified appears in the center of the church to remind visitors that it is because of him that we have hope and promise of heaven.
I think we were all really inspired by his talk. The lack of a language barrier really allowed us to connect in a way that we havenâ€™t thus far. With a Norbertine community that is so full of hope itâ€™s no wonder vocations arenâ€™t suffering in this Abbey. It was almost as if you could see inner peace just oozing out of the Norbertines we met during our time there.
Following our tour of the church, Roman gave us a tour of the rest of the grounds including the cultural center and the formation center. First we toured the cultural center that houses exhibits aimed at helping people discover the possibilities of creativity. Presently, the center is housing an exhibit dedicated to Dr. Theo Weigel, the former finance minister of Germany who is a generous friend and ally of the abbey. Weigel has assisted the abbey in many ways. He was instrumental in helping the Norbertines develop their formation center and he aided in positioning it such that there would be government monies available for the construction and the operation of the facility.
We learned that Weigel sometimes goes by the name of â€œfather of the Euro,â€ because of his substantial role in pulling part of Europe together to use a single currency. That said, you can imagine the influence and power he has in the country and how helpful he has been in the flourishing of the Roggenburg Abbeyâ€™s formation operation. When we were touring this exhibit in his honor, there were several gifts that Weigel had received from foreign leaders including china from Bill Clinton and a nativity scene made in Bethlehem from Yassir Arafat.
Roman shared that during the Christmas season last year, the center had a nativity scene exhibit that drew 10,000 people in 4 weeks.
Housed nearby in the same structure as the cultural center were the villageâ€™s primary school, the city hall and the fire brigade, so the area was a bustling place when the kids were switching classes.
Next we ventured over to the formation center. The formation center houses activity rooms and accommodation areas for the families who come to participate in the different programs the center offers. The programs focus on issues including the environment, strengthening families and culture.
The formation center has been constructed using cutting edge environmentally friendly technologies. For example, holes in the ceiling collect warm air that rises and pulls the energy from this warm air to power other units in the center. No oil or gas is burned, only wood. The emissions from the wood burning are filtered such that they arenâ€™t harmful to the environment. You canâ€™t really ask for a better area in which to teach respect for the environment and creation.
Ninety school classes come through the center each year and they stay anywhere from 3 days to a week. Families are also invited and there are apartment-style accommodations for 4-person families and more.
Although the classes at the center donâ€™t focus on the Catholic faith, it tends to well up with the Norbertine presence. Roman recognized that green initiatives of the abbey are deeply connected with the Order because the global energy crisis is a social justice issue. Some countries have excess, others have none and wars are being waged over limited resources.
The whole experience at Roggenburg was really enlightening and what their doing there is really pretty extraordinary.
After leaving the abbey we stopped in Ulm to see the tallest church tower in the world. The exterior was pretty impressive. Some of the folks went in but thereâ€™s a chance that I may have ventured into a few shops. Those of you who know me are in no way surprised by this. (Sorry, Mom!)
We spent the better part of the afternoon on the bus and I got some much-needed rest. An accident on the highway caused us to get into our hotel at SaarbrÃ¼cken much later than expected.
Dinner was great tonight. We went to an Italian restaurant near our hotel. There were a lot of laughs, some tiramisu and maybe some grappa.