Studying Theology in the Midst of a Suffering World

It was a crisp Autumn morning in the fateful year of 1939. In shock, the world watched as the ravings of a mad man beguiled an entire nation, and plunged the world into the unthinkable: another World War. It was under the dark shadow of the Third Reich that the calm, intelligent face of an Oxford Don looked out over a gathering of young people –who could have no way of imagining the horrors that were about to be unleashed upon them and the rest of the world –and explained to them why what they were doing was still worthwhile.

Ever one to see past the first impressions one might have of an event, or writing, or anything really, C.S. Lewis had a keen insight into the fears and hopes that must have gripped the souls of the young people of that day. A wounded veteran of the First World War, he had some idea of what was at stake, and what could be expected. He assuredly asked the questions that were in the minds of all his hearers from the start:

“What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing? Or,  even if we ourselves should happen not to be interrupted by death or military service, why should we — indeed how can we — continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?“

CS Lewis

How piercing these questions must have been! How piercing they are now! We too are studying during dark times. We too are engaged in “placid” occupations while we see the lives of Christians and others throughout the Near East torn asunder, or ended utterly. Indeed, the dire situation of Christians of the Middle East in particular was brought to the forefront of the thoughts and minds of ITI students during the Dies Natalis Keynote address by ITI board member Graham Hutton. We sat riveted as we heard stories of the works of evil men, and glorious martyrs who opposed them. “Shouldn’t we do something?”

The simple answer to this question is this: We are doing something. In Lewis’ words, applicable now as they were then:

“A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God at present is the learned life.”

For the Christian, discernment is always urgent. We are always in the midst of a battle “against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.”(Eph. 6:12)

As Lewis points out:

“Thus the omnipresence of obedience to God in a Christian’s life is, in a way, analogous to the omnipresence of God in space. God does not fill space as a body fills it, in the sense that parts of Him are in different parts of space, excluding other object from them. Yet He is everywhere –totally present at every point of space – according to good theologians.”

Class 3 best

So, yes of course we should be aware of the circumstances of the day and attentive to the needs and concerns of the world around us. And thanks in part to Mr. Hutton, we are better aware. Our desire is not to dwell in the proverbial Ivory Tower.  We have come to the ITI to serve God. It is not always in active participation in relief efforts for those suffering present ills that we serve him. The time may come when we should serve Him thus, and we must be always ready. But for now, we can give thanks to God that we are able to take this time to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures and Fathers under the guidance of St. Thomas Aquinas and our Patroness Thérèse of Liseux, and participate in our little way to the furtherance and preservation of the teachings of the Church.

And we can pray.

Walking Pilgrimage to Stift Heiligenkreuz

(by Nataliya Veresh for the Centre of Eastern Christian Studies)

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious, Holy and Life-Giving Cross continued for the ITI community on Sunday the 15th of September with a beautiful pilgrimage. More than 60 people of the ITI community including priests, professors, students and children walked from Trumau to the Cistercian Abbey, Stift Heiligenkreuz, which is dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Cross. After a 7 hour walk, we attended the Mass in honor of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross  celebrated by Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg. ITI’s Rector, Msgr. Prof. Dr. Larry Hogan, and three ITI Byzantine priests concelebrated along with Abt Maximilian and fifteen other priests. At the end of the celebration, the ITI pilgrims had the opportunity to venerate and to be blessed with the largest relic (north of the Alps) of the true cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was a moment of true grace.

Community, language-learning, and, of course, apfelstrudel

Theresa, an Austrian Studium Generale student who started her studies here this fall, has been hosting, with some friends from the ITI, Tuesday night common dinners–with a catch.  All attendees need to come prepared to practice their German!

Theresa, a Studium Generale student, is from Linz, Austria.

Theresa faithfully and joyfully prepares traditional Austrian food with her roommate and some other generous souls every week for up to 2o hungry fellow students, often completed, like last night, with a well-known Austrian dessert such as Apfelstrudel.  It is thus well-attended, and a welcome break from studies as students laugh over their varying levels of German.  There are some whose German is close to perfected, some who are confident in the necessities, and some still struggling to ask for the salt.

It is the perfect atmosphere for students to engage the German language–an element of many of the ITI’s programs–and to come to love the nuances of a different manner of speaking.   The learning takes place in a semi-immersion atmosphere with no judgment or pressure and a lot of laughter, so it’s an optimal place to expand vocabulary and expression.

It is also a great sign of the life at the ITI.  As a small community, an individual’s gift to the community life has a notable effect.  The group of girls hosting this event tangibly add to the goodness of our time here.

May they reap one-hundredfold of the opportunity for joy and community they are offering to so many!

Movies and the Properties of the Resurrected Body

Watching a movie is never a simple thing at the ITI.  First, you have the differences in native languages…so subtitles are a must.  Second, you have the problem of different senses of humor according to cultures.  Some jokes just don’t translate.  Third, you have to face the problems of likes and dislikes.  Fourth, people have different sensitivities.  It is a wonder we watch movies at all.

Despite all these differences there is one thing you can count on…discussion of the movie.

These are not normal discussions either.  For instance, a simple viewing of this Superman scene erupted in a discussion of the properties of the resurrected body.


How many can you name?

Way of the Cross

Dr. Gotia and the Restored Crucifix

There are lots of little Wayside Shrines dotting the Autrian landscape.  They are a lovely reminder to stop and pray.  Dr. Andrei Gotia would pass one such shrine in Trumau regularly on the way to the parish Mass.  He noticed that the crucifix was looking a little shabby after who knows how many years of weathering every storm.

Restoring the Crucifix in its Original Position

Dr. Gotia does a little wood-working in addition to his Latin and Greek professorship at the ITI and so he decided to do his part to help the town of Trumau and clean the crucifix.  He got the necessary permissions, took the crucifix down and began the loving process of making it new again.

The crucifix is now back in its original position, newly cleaned and stained to withstand hundreds more years of wind and weather.  Dr. Gotia also made a new “INRI”  sign to replace the one which had gotten lost over the years.

The Wayside Shrine with the Restored Crucifix

Little things mean a lot.  Now those who pass by can greet Our Lord anew.

“The Mystery of Christmas Reveals the Mystery of Man” – Retreat in Vienna


Parishioners thank to Fr. Yosyp Veresh for the retreat

From the 8th to the 10th of December 2011, Fr. Yosyp Veresh, the Director of the Centre of Eastern Christian Studies (ECS), gave a retreat at the Greek-Catholic Parish of St. Barbara in Vienna with the theme: “The Mystery of Christmas Reveals the Mystery of Man.” The retreat started on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (the Conception by St. Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos). During these three days of prayer and meditation, participants of the retreat considered the various aspects of the theme with these questions: Who am I and what is my state today? How can I harmonize my relationships and what kind of healing do I need? What is the will of God for me now and how shall I realize it in my Christian life?

Divine Liturgy in St. Barbara in Vienna

The faithful had the opportunity to participate in the celebration of Divine Liturgies, prayer services and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The youth organization took part in a special meeting and a lively discussion ensued over questions of particular importance to young people. The retreat concluded with a Pontifical Liturgy on Sunday, the 11th of December.

Bishop Bohdan Dzurach

Bishop Bohdan Dzurach of Kyiv, Ukraine presided.

One of the missions of the ECS is to organize retreats and thus to contribute to the spiritual growth of different Christian communities and of individuals. It was a wonderful time to experience the grace of the Holy Spirit at work during this spiritual retreat!

Children of the parish of St. Barbara in Vienna

Keeping the Spirit of the November Papal Intention

ECS celebrates the Divine Liturgy in Vienna at Sts Cyril and Methodius Parish







“That the Eastern Catholic Churches and their venerable traditions may be known and esteemed as a spiritual treasure for the whole Church.” 

13 Nov 2011 – ITI graduate Deacon Joseph Bolin invited the ITI Center of Eastern Christian Studies (ECS) to celebrate Divine Liturgy (Byzantine Rite Mass) at the parish he serves in Vienna, Sts. Cyril and Methodius. 

Deacon Joseph proclaims the Gospel during the Liturgy

Deacon Joseph’s idea to invite the ECS coincided perfectly with the Pope’s intention for the month of November.  

Time stops and we experience Heaven on earth

Father Joseph Veresh, ECS Director, gave an introduction about the Divine Liturgy and explained that during and through the celebration, time stops and we experience Heaven on earth.  The Liturgy was enthusiastically attended by 300 parishioners – most of whom were seeing a Byzantine Liturgy for the first time in their lives. 

Many of the parishioners had never experienced the Byzantine rite before

ITI Meets Patriarch of Syrian Catholic Churches

His Beatitude Patriarch Igatius Youssif III with ITI representatives of ECS

10 Nov 2011 – The ITI Center of Eastern Christiaan Studies (ECS) went to a lecture in Vienna given by His Beatitude Patriarch Igatius Youssif III, the Patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Churches.  The lecture was organized by Pro Oriente and was part of a special synod for the Bishops of the Middle East.

 His Beatitude spoke of the suffering of his people in theMiddle East. 

His Beatitude speaks of the suffering of Christians in the Middle East

He said that their main task is to give witness to the Gospel…to spread the Good News, but how can they do this, when their very presence is against the law?  He wanted to send a wake up call to the EU and UN about their suffering.  He said he finds it hard to encourage his own faithful to return, or to remain in the face of violent attacks.  It is one thing to decide to remain and sacrifice yourself.  It is quite another thing to demand this same sacrifice of your children.

ECS representatives speak with the Patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Churches

After the lecture, the ITI was presented to His Beatitude and was able to visit with him and the other bishops and representatives who were present from the Middle East and India.  This event helped us to deepen our understanding of the situation of the Christians in the Middle East.  Since some of our students belong to the Syrian Catholic Churches, it was a great gift to be able to meet His Beatitude in person and to build up relationships with these representatives in the hope of future collaboration. 

ECS representatives visit with a Syrian Orthodox Bishop after the lecture

Pilgrimage – Humility and Joy

Bus Times

We just returned from a wonderful pilgrimage in Italy where we went with many intentions, but primarily to give thanks to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina for a donation we received that has helped us to get through these difficult financial times.  During our trip, there were many signs that Padre Pio was watching over us.  We carried all you ITI students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends and benefactors in our hearts and in our prayers to each shrine.

Loreto - House of the Holy Family

We began the long trip from Trumau on Friday night and “slept” on the bus.  The bus was full of students, faculty, staff and families.  The kids gave the right spirit of joy and enthusiasm.  I am always amazed at their willingness and trust.  You say to a child…”Do you want to go in the car?”  “Yes!” they gleefully reply, and they don’t even know where you are going, for how long, or what it will entail.  I wish we could be that way with God’s plans for our life.  Accepting things with humility and joy.  In a way, that is how our pilgrimage turned out.  We knew something of what lay ahead, but not everything, and had to humbly say, “yes!” to whatever was in store, and God had many beautiful things in mind that gave us a joyful heart.

Our first stop was Loreto where the house of the Holy family was carried by angels to preserve it.  Padre Pio said that Our Lady only appeared in other places, but here she still walks.  We attended Mass at the shrine and prayed in the Holy House that welcomes you with an embracing peace.

Norcia Crypt

Next stop was Cascia, where we were able to visit St. Rita and the lovely city that was glowing with sun and exploding with fall colors.  We then travelled to Norcia to see our dear friends and alumni among the Benedictine monks there, and to sleep there for the night.  After praying in the crypt that houses the birthplace of twins, Sts. Benedict and Scholastica, we explored the town for a bite of their famous Norcia wild boar ham and salami.

Monte Sant'Angelo Chapel

After early Mass in the crypt on Sunday, we drove to Lanciano, home of a Eucharistic miracle and resting place of St. Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced Christ’s side with a lance.  Even though the place was about to close when we arrived, they let us in and told us to close the door when we left.  So we had our own quiet special time to spend there with Our Lord.  In a church across the street, we discovered the relics of St. Pantaleone, doctor and martyr.

Monte Sant'Angelo Church

As the sun set,  we climbed high into the hills and then deep into a cave to see the church of St. Michael the Archangel at Monte Sant’Angelo.  St. Michael appeared here and many saints have visited to ask his intercession in the battle against evil.

We curled further into the mounains and reached San Giovanni Rotundo where we lodged for two nights.  Here we found another gift from Padre Pio.  Our hotel upgraded the whole group!  The Hotel is called Pace, V7.  V stands for the family name and 7 for the children of the family.  Padre Pio told the father of the family to buy land and build a hotel there.  They did not have the money at the time, but did so, and the money came for the building. 

On Monday morning we got back into the bus, which had become our second

Divine Liturgy at the altar of the relics of St. Nicholas

home, and drove to Bari to see St. Nicholas.  We were supposed to have Mass at noon, but traffic in the city made us an hour late.  But this was turned into another gift!  Because we were late, we were allowed to celebrate Divine Liturgy in the crypt of St. Nicholas, over his relics, instead of at the main altar. 

Child venerating relics of St Nicholas

Normally, you cannot approach the relics, as there is a big gate surrounding them.  Because we were allowed to have Divine Liturgy there, we were all allowed to venerate the relics of St. Nicholas. 

Divine Liturgy in Bari at the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra

After lunch and photos by the sea, we made a short stop at the tomb of Luisa Piccarreta a servant of God, and then returned to San Giovanni Rotundo where we explored the surroundings, and happened upon a choir concert of different Ave Marias in the new big basilica.  The architecture there by Renzo Piano caused a huge discussion about art, architecture and sacred space which continued into the late hours in the hotel lobby.

Divine Liturgy at Altar where Padre Pio would say Mass

On our final day of the pilgrimage we brought our thanks and petitions and yours to Padre Pio.  We were allowed the honor of having Divine Liturgy at the same altar that Padre Pio would celebrate at daily. 

Mosaic by Padre Pio's Tomb done by Rupnik

Then we visited his tomb and venerated his relics and toured the mosaics by Fr. Marko Rupnik.

We started the 18 hour return bus journey with full hearts.  Thank you Padre Pio and all the great saints we visited on this trip for your many blessings!

ITI pilgrims with our fearless bus drivers

Another Ordination!

Ordination of Br. Basil Nixen, OSB

A group of ITI faculty and students jumped into cars to speed down to Norcia for a quick weekend to witness the ordination and first Mass of our beloved Don Basilio.  He was ordained by His Excellency Renato Boccardo, on Saturday, September 24, 2011.  After he graduated from the ITI, we all eagerly awaited news of his ordination date.  Br. Basil is now Fr. Basil and the weekend was a treat not many of us will forget.  As the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica, Norcia is a pilgrimage place – also know for its great prosciutto!  We prayed and feasted and then jumped back into our cars to arrive home just in time for classes.  Fr. Basil, you will be in our prayers as you carry out your ministry!