Sunday, 9 February 2014

Pilgrimage to Prague

Pilgrimage to Prague

Sometimes one has to get serious about their prayer intentions - to show God that one is serious we do a number of things: fast, pray more, spend time at adoration, offer up more Masses and also go on pilgrimages.  This was what we decided to do this month.  We had basically been given a cabin to stay in Slovakia for 4 days but we weren't at peace about going.  Then Becca's blood pressure started spiking again and it was time to pray.  So, Winter, Tristan, Benedict and I headed off to Prague to visit the shrine of the 'Holy Infant of Prague.'  

But before we jump into the journey, here are few events in January prior to us going.  


On the feast day of the Holy Magi coming to see baby Jesus is a national holiday in Austria.  And throughout the whole country children from all the parishes gather in groups of 4 (3 wisemen and a star) and they go door to door singing and collecting money for a charity.  It is a national fundraiser and our kids in Trumau raised (I think) around 4000 euros.  Here is Winter with her group coming to our door.

Date with Dad: Wiener Neustadt

It was time to give mommy a break and so I took the 4 kids on the Trumau train (an adventure in itself) to Wiener Neustadt - about a 1/2 hour west of Trumau.  There was no snow (and there still isn't any) so we had some fun playing in the park and looking at the animals in cages.  Here are a couple good photos of the kids.


In Canada we used to travel around every month and collect 200L of spring water.  There are hot springs and cold springs all over Austria.  In fact, all of Vienna drinks spring water from their taps.  We head up to a small small hamlet called 'Talhof' and went to fill up with spring water.  But, alas, the owners had shut off the system bringing the water down the from the mountain.  So we hunted through the woods till we found the source.  We couldn't collect a lot, but we did manage to get some.  Back at home Becca tested the water.  Acceptable parts/million of hard minerals is 100.  Our Trumau water was over 300.  This spring water was 26!  So we enjoyed our little bit of liquid gold!  Here is a bridge on the way to the spring.

 Training Kate

Kate is now 2 years old and it is time to start training her to hike on her own.  So we went to one of our favorite places, Einode, to hike up to the hutte and the park at the top.

Here is Kate walking with daddy.

Here is a picture of Kate refusing to walk with daddy.  Training kids for hiking takes a lot of patience and negotiation and it is slow going.

... and now Kate agrees to walk a few more steps.  She would walk a bit and I would carry her a bit.
We hiked up with Melissa and her new baby Domenic.  It is great to get all of the kids out in the wilderness.

 It was a successful hike.  Kate walked about 1/2 of the way up and almost all the way down on her own.  A few more times and she'll be doing it on her own!

A view from the tower of the hills behind Baden.

Pilgrimage to Prague:

Our prayer intentions were:
- for our friends/family in danger of divorce
- for our friends/family that wanted children but weren't able to have any
- for mommy's blood pressure to go down
- for healing for daddy's lungs
Friday:  Well here we are the train station.  It was a 5 hour trip to Prague (Praha). The trip went by quickly and and we were ready to figure out how to find our hostel without paying for a taxi.

We had decided on Hostel Elf as it was just outside the city centre and was less expensive.  Well, when we arrived the spiky lady with the dyed hair suggested we not take the rooms we booked in the common dorm as it was a Friday night and Friday nights can be 'busy' at a hostel.  So she graciously gave us a private room with beds for each of us (I had booked beds to share in the common dorm) at the far end of the hostel away from the noise and just small increase in cost.  This was very kind and most welcome. Here at the hostel Benedict decided he didn't like the picture of the Elf on their sign.  He was quite upset about it and before he went to sleep on this first night asked if I could talk to the lady at the front to ask why they had such as elf on their sign.  What a funny guy.

Picture courtesy of Winter.

After we settled in we took off to explore and to find our first place to pray.  We really had no clue where we were when we got off at our first stop.  We ended up in the old Jewish Quarter.  Here is an old synagogue.

We asked for directions and found our way to the old town square.  After enjoying the music we climbed the tower for the birds eye view.

Here is the Church of Our Lady in front of Tyn (or Tyn Church) which was the first place we went to pray.  I must say, it always easy to find a church to pray in Europe for they are generally the tallest buildings around - very convenient.

Here is us climbing back down the tower.  The kids are watching the elevator cables pulling up and down.

Then we headed down to see the clock strike the top of the hour.  This famous Astronomical Clock was built in 1410.  It tells the time of day, when the sun will set and rise and the constellations.  It was quite fascinating.

The skeleton pulls the bell and the figures move and the 12 apostles come and show themselves in the doors to you.  The 4 characters near the top (from the left) are: Vanity (the guy holding the mirror), Greed (the miser holding the bag of gold), Death, Pleasure (the Turk entertaining).  Death rings the bell for the hour of death and the other three characters shake their heads that they aren't ready to go.

Sorry the movie is a bit shaky as I had Benedict on my shoulders at the same time.

We met with our fearless Slovak leader from ITI - Katarina and she and her friend took us to the Charles Bridge for the first time.

But the kids were starting to break down in weariness, so we caught the metro and headed to the hostel.


Today was to be the highlight of our pilgrimage.  We were going to head straight to the Prague Castle to pray in the royal cathedral and then slowly make our to the Infant of Prague.  
Here is one of the many bridges crossing the Vltava River.

We stopped and watched these folks filming a movie.  The kids thought it was hilarious how many times the lead actor had to run 5 steps as the cops chased him and then to stop.

Charles Bridge.  On top of the hill, enshrouded in mist, is the castle we're heading to.

Here is the walk way into the castle grounds.  You can see Cathedral stretching high above in the fog. This is the place where King Wenceslas is buried and was his castle at some point.

We went into the royal cathedral, or tried at least.  They wanted to charge us to look inside.  This, to me, is preposterous.  We are Catholic and we have come to pray!  So I told the entrance guard this and he allowed us into a side chapel to pray... BUT that was it!  We were not allowed to see anything else of this house of prayer.  ARG!

The kids were pretty tired already just getting to the castle.  And truly this is the secret in doing pilgrimages with kids: their energy goes in waves.  As it ebbs away you need to find something to bring their spirits high again.  Now, I'd love to say that beauty in itself does this for my children, but alas, my kids are like everyone else's.  Thus we turn to food and treats.  Then they are excited to explore all over again.

Inside the royal cathedral.

The relics of a saint near the altar where we were praying.

We prayed for some of our intentions and it was time to lift the spirits as the beautiful architecture wasn't doing it.  So we walked through the castle grounds - which was really like a village inside the walls.

We watched the royal guards ...

We looked out over the walls and over the city...

And then we found the key!  A toy museum with a 2nd floor completely dedicated to barbie dolls!  Oh my - my kids were so excited.  Winter began to take pictures of every barbie with her camera until I suggested that maybe some group photos would suffice.

Thus, with our spirits lifted we left the toy museum and continued our journey to the next prayer site: St. Nick's Cathedral.  And stopped for some fried taters on the way.

At St. Nick's they wanted to charge us again so we again explained that we were there to pray and that they can't charge us for praying.  So we got in free and laid some of our intentions before the Lord. Then we discovered, that we were just 200m from our destination!  We followed the tram tracks and came to front of the church that we were now familiar with from the books we'd been reading: the Carmelite convent where the Holy Infant of Prague is enshrined.

Now before coming here we had been reading about all the miracles.  It all began when Jesus appeared to a monk as a 2yr old and the monk attempted to make a wax sculpture of the vision he had received. After much toil he couldn't get it right and Jesus as a 2yr old appeared to him again and guided his hands as he completed the wax sculpture.  This was in Spain.  It is then somewhat of a mystery how the statue made its home in Prague. The statue came with a promise from Christ that if the statue was honored great blessing would fall on all.  Well the history of the statue goes up and down and finally after a German invasion the jewels surrounding it are stolen and the hands are snapped off.  For a long time the best sculptures in all of Europe were hired to put the hands back on.  But every morning after their work was done the hands would fall off.  Finally, an unknown young man with a pure heart humbly asked permission to try.  He succeeded and the hands remain on the statue till this day.

It is here that we knelt before the Infant of Prague and petitioned God to hear and answer our prayers.  It really felt like we were unpacking a load of prayers and concerns and leaving them at the feet of Jesus.  We left feeling lighter, hopeful, and heard.

With our pilgrimage duties done for the day we followed our noses and tastebuds.

We made our way back to Charles Bridge and it was quite lovely.  There were many artists and musicians and the kids just loved hanging out and taking it all in. Here is the gateway to the bridge.

There are many statues of saints on the bridge.  This is the memorial of where St. Jan Nepomucky died.  John of Nepomuk lived in the reign of the King of Bohemia Wenceslas IV. He was thrown from the bridge and martyred by the king.  At the place of his death 5 stars hovered above the waters.  
Hence he is always displayed with the 5 stars around his head.  Here is the place he was thrown over the bridge where many ask for his intercession.
Above picture is courtesy of Winter.

This is also a place where couples come to ask for intercession and they leave a lock on the bridge to symbolize their commitment for life.

We continued exploring and found a marionette shop which the kids loved.

Back at the Old Town Square there was lots happening.  Music and this bubble lady.  We spent an hour just listening to music, watching dance and popping massive bubbles.

In this shot the fog has lifted and you can see the castle and the royal cathedral up on the hill overlooking the bridge.


We planned out this day carefully.  Our goal was to go to the St. James church in the Old Town Square for Holy Mass, see the astronomical clock again and still have enough time to have lunch and catch the train home at 14:30.  Oh how the best laid plans can be thwarted!

We started the day at 5am as usual - my kids are early risers (I felt bad for myself and the other hostel tenants - good thing we had a private room, eh?).  We hit the bus stop on time and caught the wrong bus.  It came to a stop and everyone got off but us and there the bus sat.  We were waved off and then rushed around trying to figure out where we were so we could catch the right bus to St. James.  We caught the right bus but time was running out so I jumped off the bus at a new spot and figured I could eye-ball my way to the church.  I succeed actually and we entered the square with a couple minutes to spare.    

At the last second I decided to go the Tyn Church so we checked but Mass started at 9:30am.  No worries we thought - we skipped across the square to St. James.  The sign outside the door said 'Mass at 10am.'  Excellent - or so we thought.  We walked in and sat near the front.  The 4 of us were kneeling at the front offering up the Mass when Winter says in an excited voice, "Dad!  Look the priest is a woman!" My head flew up and I jumped out of the seat and walked up to the front to grab Benedict.  The kids were all "Dad, what?  What is going on?  Why are we leaving?"  In a loud voice, (I was pretty infuriated at the moment) I stated "This is heresy!  There is no Eucharist here today son!"  And with that we walked from the front out to the back with just one more comment about heresy thrown in there to boot. Well, this left us without a Mass to attend.  We searched and walked for 2 hours and finally (after getting lost a few times) ended back at the Infant of Prague at noon.  We figured this is where we were meant to go in the first place.  And in that time we had a great discussion about how a female can't be a father just like a man can't be a mother.  Priests are fathers.

Above: our last meal at the hostel and below: waving adios to Prague!

Sermon from the Vineyard:

This month I've been studying the topic of leisure.  Aristotles suggests in his 'Politics' that leisure is the goal of education.  We need to educate people in what is 'fine and divine' so that when a country is at peace they don't fall into self indulgence and corrupt themselves.  A fascinating concept.  But what is leisure? Leisure is not resting and watching t.v. in hopes of getting enough energy to get up the next day to go back to work.  Leisure is not rest from work.  Far from it actually.  Joseph Pieper in his little book, 'Leisure: the basis of culture' explains that leisure is rooted in celebration and festival.  Leisure is something we participate in with others with an openness and delight and peace.  Now in every culture everywhere (until we hit the good old N. American materialist culture) every celebration was always a religious celebration where the people came together to worship their deity and celebrate.  Worship is then the foundation of leisure.  The question then becomes, well what is worship?  The essence of all worship has to be sacrifice.  If one is singing songs that make them feel good - this is not worship per se - but where do we find worship centred around sacrifice - the holy sacrifice of the Mass: the Eucharist.  Pieper goes to explain that celebrating the Mass is the perfect fulfillment of what is meant by leisure.  But now back to where we started: Aristotle (who didn't have the Mass back then) is stating that the goal of education is to educate the youth in what is fine and divine.  And he's right.  The goal of education in all of our schools needs to not be just to fill our kids heads with knowledge, but rather to participate in those subjects that lead one to be able to identify that which is divine and fine.  Aristotle gives suggestions: music - all youth should be learning an instrument as it prepares not just their skills but their soul as well.  
In conclusion, the challenge for all of us is to look at the schedule we live in a culture that is no longer religious and ask ourselves are we taking time for leisure.  The ancients would insist it is a necessary part of being human.

Kenton's book list:

Our next semester begins on Feb. 10th and runs till June.  One would think I could have a lot of time for relaxed reading, but not this time.  I'm teaching a course called 'Education and Pedagogy' and thus have spent the entire month preparing all the readings, the lessons, and course guide and trying to knock off an essay coming up this semester.  So my reading list was as such:
Leisure: the basis of culture, by Joseph Pieper
Beauty for Truth's Sake, by Stratford Caldecott
Reforming Education, by Mortimer Adler
Principles of Education, by Conway
Meno, by Plato
Apologia Pro Vita Sua, by Bl. John Henry Newman
The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie
Inferno by Dante - but had to quit the one translation and begin again with another one.

Kenton's Courses for this Semester:

Church History II
Metaphysics I
Catholic Social Teaching
Patrology II
Theological Anthropology
Christian Literature
The First 7 Ecumenical Councils
German Level 2

Pictures for the Grandparents


The beginning of every semester is rough as we are given the bill for my tuition payment (3000 euro/ $4482 CAD).  Our prayer is always that God would help us find a way to make this payment.  This past month of January I was given a job on campus that paid some money and teaching this semester will also pay a bit.  So with the work my doing and donations from others we are down to needing only around $1300!  God is so good, eh?  Thank you all for your prayers and support.  Oh yeah, and I personally would love a box of Mini Wheats.

We wish you all a blessed February and hope that you use the snow as an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors or as an opportunity to snuggle up inside and read a great book!

Love, Kenton, Rebecca, Winter, Tristan, Benedict, Kate, and Tavi

  Mailing Address: Schloss Trumau Schlossgasse 21 2521 Trumau, Austria

If you would like to financially support us - the easiest way is probably by paypal.  Our email is Or online via the ITI website: - in the space titled 'notes' just write that the money is for the Biffert family. 

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