Saturday, February 04, 2017

Hangiálegg and other related drama

This is an addendum to the previous travelogue entry "The Flower Station"

Source: Kjarnafæði
Okay guys. Some of you might just be thinking of heading over to Iceland, having heard our swashbuckling accounts of eating sandwiches at the foot of Snæfellsjökull and baking pizza in the middle of a snowstorm. I have to warn you that, through most of its history, Iceland has rarely been a land of plenty and people here have rather different views on what constitutes a delicacy during the lean months around Þorri.

During this trip I unintentionally bought this thing called Hangiálegg from the convenience store and sullenly slid it into the baguette as I thought about the wallet I had locked into the car after I had returned it. I remember suspecting, in that distracted state, that the airport was on fire.

But no, that was just the Hangiálegg, and a burning airport just so happened to be what Hangiálegg was supposed to taste like. I watched in amazement as Vanessa dispatched her share without so much as a comment. And my poor wallet continued sitting in the locked car just outside, then just out of reach but soon even further away as I leave the country.

One and a half weeks later, I received the wallet again from the car rental. The name of the person was Michal Lubowski and I rather like to think that he saw the Polish prayer cards that were sitting in the wallet as they found it. Vanessa is right and good people exist in this world.

The other Icelandic delicacy is kæstur hákarl, the partially-rotten flesh of the Greenland shark, left in the sand to soak in the brine (6-12 weeks) and then in the shack to hang dry for a solid number of months. It was 3 years ago when they served this to us in dainty frozen cubes.

Doesn't it look nice?

Well, I thought it tasted like pissrags. Eating it made Derek lapse into a deep funk and raised a furore with the rest of us. The waitress wasn't having any of it either. We let the annoying American bankers in the next table have it, then ran off as fast as we could.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Flower Station

I arrived in Europe again to spend Christmas and New Year with the girlfriend Vanessa, who studies in Scotland. This is a very hasty overview of our story. We were at Denmark, Scotland, Iceland, then Scotland again and were very happy, and collected many memories and stories. I record them here so that we can have a look at them on gloomy days.

This is Vanessa. She is very nice and is also my host / travel companion for these two weeks.
Photo credits to Vanessa (mostly)

Part 2. Iceland

I have actually been here before, being very much impressed by the country in summertime, I have decided to come here again during the winter so that Vanessa can see Iceland. That being said, Iceland during winter is very different from Iceland during the summer. Here are some of the new things I learned or experienced about the country this time:

1. Road conditions are crazier during the winter, with complications ranging from icy roads, blizzards, gale-force winds and cars being snowed-in. The thing they tell you about opening car doors cautiously actually applies during the winter.

The gales came to Reykjavik on the evening of 27 Dec, and continued through the next day when we took the car to Borgarnes, being at its worst when we passed the Akranes peninsula, when visibility was down to just a few metres. There were no pictures for proof, as we were gripped with a general sense of peril. However, when we were finally vomited out from the blizzard into the town of Borgarnes, we were welcomed into what was another universe altogether:

This is tour-de-force hygge, enough to make every Dane gnash their teeth in envy.
Katrin, who runs this guesthouse/cafe, calls this location the Flower Station, or Blómasetrið. The cafe is named Cafe Serenity - Kaffi Kyrrð, where the serenity factor has been played to the limits of human imagination. There was a guestbook reserved for positive vibes, a statue of Buddha, lots of cushions, and a dog. And the gale continued to blow into the fjord outside.

When I was not trying very hard to not get us both killed, the drive was pleasant and the view breathtaking, something Iceland does very well. Vanessa took the liberty to give nicknames to some of the very many mountains we drove past, in Norse settler fashion.

2. There was no way to plan a trip for winter and stick to it to the letter.
We had forfeited one day in Reykjavik and two days in Akureyri to stay in Borgarnes for four cozy nights, with no regrets whatsoever. Iceland from within a cozy house was still Iceland, so we figured. The second day and half of the third day were spent experiencing this.

Funny thinking how I passed by this town three years ago without a thought, and now it was almost like a home! The weather changed every five minutes, ranging from sunshine to snowstorm as we watched, thought about going out, and thinking better about it. While that happened we had a lot to eat, both from our own stores and from the previous guests who left things behind in the drawers and fridge. The well-stocked kitchen was a real blessing.

Something's cooking!
3. The tap water at Borgarnes tasted like rotten eggs. That was very annoying. Boiling the water did not solve it, and also made the tea taste off, but turning the tap to the coldest side solves it.
Actual eggs are too expensive! A small stack would cost eight times higher than the same in an Edinburgh market. In Reykjavik, things in general would be even more expensive.

4. Stuff about Egill Skallagrímsson, Snorri Sturluson, and how little incidents in the 8th century are cherished memories after many centuries.
Suddenly touring the museums made a lot of sense.

Going to the museum
Borgarnes seemed to be the perfect place to designate as a base of operations in the country in December (which evidently is also high season), being not in Reykjavik where hotels tend to be booked out around New Year, and also because of its proximity of the haunts of Egill Skallagrímsson (Borgarnes) and Snorri Sturluson (Reykholt). Here, museums are set up to tell their stories and the living descendants of Egill and Snorri are here ready to help.

The history of Iceland since settlement in the 800s are an old story, well told and freely available in Wikipedia. Something new that showed up in Borgarnes was that the several farmsteads set up by Egill's men during the settlement are still present today. There were pictures of these same institutions, with modern-looking buildings and modern furnishings and also a thousand years old.

The man at the museum front desk told us that everyone here was related to Egill Skallagrímsson, and if we had something bad to say about him, he would hit us with a traditional Viking battle-axe. And then he laughed lamely.

The Settlement Center at Borgarnes also had a restaurant. They fed us bread and whipped butter topped with black flakes of "lava salt". Tough luck, it's black because of charcoal! But I bought some home for Mom.

The bread is basically Vanessa's favouritest thing ever!

In Reykholt, we were told that a certain Þorbjörg Bjarnardóttir attacked a certain Sturla Þórðarson with a knife in the 11th century, and people and Reykholt still remember the exact location where it happened. The private swimming pool that Snorri Sturluson built has also been lovingly preserved, and today tourists visit it and throw coins into it. And certain utterances of Snorri duirng his life has been dug out and put on a pedestal for some reason.

Vanessa and Snorri's awesome best swimming pool ever
4a. Snorri is Iceland's Lenin

5. How to survive at Snæfellsjökull and environs.
Snæfellsjökull is a mountain at the end of a very long peninsula sticking out into the Atlantic to the west. It is very captivating and appeared many times in famous literature. Due to the very rugged nature of this area and its towns, coming here in the winter is a wee bit of a survival test. This time, our objective at Snæfellsjökull turned out to be to find the toilet, and then have lunch.

Arnarstapi was devoid of life and toilets. All the facilities at Hellnar were closed until March. Then we stalked a tour bus to another scenic spot, where the public toilets were locked and a busload of tourists had to go without (or use the boardwalk as some sort of substitute, as their tour guide flippantly suggested). The toilet was finally found in Malarrif, whose existence seemed only to be justified by a lighthouse, a visitor's centre, and a house that probably belonged to someone; there was no way of knowing.

The oddly intense Malarrif Lighthouse
Snæfellsjökull changed colour every 5 seconds during the winter. At times the illumination seemed to come from the north, behind the mountain, which I found very unsettling. Sometimes a blizzard came in from somewhere and enshrouded it. We sat and watched the drama unfurl, and ate the sandwiches.

During the summer 3 years ago, the top of the mountain would be adorned by a cloud, so one could not tell where the mountain ended and the cloud started. It was pretty neat.

5a. The toilet was me all along

6. How to survive Reykjavik on New Year's Day.
Reykjavik had a blast for New Year's eve, a thing well known for tourists, who flock to Reykjavik to see fireworks while our neighbours in Borgarnes took out their own stockpiles of fancy explosive things and spent the whole night one-upping the other towns around the fjord. On New Year's day this translated to an entire city ankle-deep in muck and firework residue. Other than that, public services were scant, the public toilet was down (again) but the only minimart still open in town had very good business.

Mass was settled at Landakotskirkja aka Christ the King Cathedral, with Fr. Juan Carlos, in Lithuanian. Alas, the place has not averted the craze about fireworks, and the stuff covered the churchyard and mingled with the melting snow.

I guess it was fitting to wrap up this trip in the city pond, which was a pretty place with many birds.
Time to rest.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Baltering Across Copenhagen

I arrived in Europe again to spend Christmas and New Year with the girlfriend Vanessa, who studies in Scotland. This is a very hasty overview of our story. We were at Denmark, Scotland, Iceland, then Scotland again and were very happy, and collected many memories and stories. I record them here so that we can have a look at them on gloomy days.

This is Vanessa. She is very nice and is also my host / travel companion for these two weeks.

Part 1. Denmark

Denmark is a small-ish country sandwiched between Big Bad Germany to the south and Big Bad Sweden to the north. It has a peninsula and many islands, one of which is home to the capital city Copenhagen, where Vanessa's friend Stephanie lives. The country is also source of a mysterious export called hygge. None of the Danes we asked knew what exactly hygge was, but we agreed that it was awesome. It is probably one of those things that one felt, rather than knew.

Our hosts, found over airbnb, were Liv and Kristian, who stay at Strandboulevarden 36. They run a well-stocked guesthouse, armed with loads of hygge (and a kitchen, which is great because we cooked most our meals). Also staying in Amager were Stephanie and her boyfriend Christopher, and they brought us to the theme park Tivoli, a special holy place to which all Copenhageners make a pilgrimage during Christmas (everywhere else is closed, evidently).

This is Tivoli, featuring very traditional Danish architecture.

Tivoli also provided free hygge at designated points around the park.
Stephanie and Christopher were nice and got us mulled wine, non-apple applepancakeballs (æbleskiver), and churros because Stephanie is part Spanish, and missed churros.

Also in our neighbourhood were the star-shaped fortress that the locals simply called "the fortress" (kastellet) and the Little Mermaid, which was little. We figured out where the little mermaid was by looking where there was an abnormally huge crowd of tourists, and joined them.

I don't know whether the crane and sad robot statue were touristy or not, but they seemed more fun

We nicknamed the fortress the Starfish, since it was how it looked like on the map. On the ground, though, it looked better.

Christmas vigil mass was in St. Ansgar's, downtown, across the street from St. Alexander Nevsky's. It is nestled in a city block and seemed to be of a lower profile than the other cathedrals in the place. Stepping into the church felt like stepping into a treasure chest.

Danish mass was nice but I should try not to arrange for masses in languages other than English, unless extraordinarily pressed (such as in the following Sunday). Also, the pews had doors. We found that an extremely novel feature.

That's all for this short travelogue! I'll keep you posted with the other two countries.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Maps of Catholic Church Top-Level Jurisdictions (Latin and Eastern Rites!)

I made a map of the top-level divisions of the worldwide Catholic Church based on Sasha Trubetskoy's earlier work, fixing a few of the errors in the earlier map by delineating some of the new (and old) missionary territories in basically all the continents.

Here also is a map wherein the different types of top-level jurisdictions are coloured by type.
UPDATE: The Ethiopian Latin church territories are delineated in this map and the Alexandrian Rite is shifted to a new map.

Points of ambiguity:
Macau: The Diocese of Macau today only administers the Macau Peninsula, not the inland Guangzhou Province areas.
China: The approximate Vatican-recognised diocesan map of China is taken from this link. The de-facto organisation today follows the present provincial boundaries more closely e.g. the Archbishop of Changsha also administers the other dioceses throughout Hunan province, even the exempt Prefectures.

Click to enlarge
Kenya: The Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo is taken to cover the district of Isiolo
South Africa: The Apostolic Vicariate of Ingwavuma is taken to cover the uMkhanyakude district in KwaZulu-Natal. Interestingly, the websites quotes this area as suffragan to Durban Province.
Libya: No sources are available on how the territories are split up between Tripoli, Derna, Benghazi and Misurata.
Nigeria: The map takes the Apostolic Vicariate of Bomadi to cover Delta State and the Apostolic Vicariate of Kontagora to cover Niger State. The real boundaries are most likely different (Bomadi also has parishes in Rivers and Bayelsa States).
Ethiopia and Eritrea: Eritrea has no Latin rite jurisdiction. The Alexandrian Eparchies of Ethiopia do not overlap with the Latin Apostolic Vicariates (and Prefecture) in the country.

Norway: Approximate boundaries drawn between Oslo, Tromsø, and Trondheim with reference to this map.
Hungary: The Abbacy of Pannonhalma has a number of very small exclaves, which I have not included in this map.

Other changes added to original map:
Mission Territories in Central and South America: Delineated boundaries for Apostolic Vicariates in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Guatemala, Chile (Aysén) and Panama (Darién).
Missing jurisdictions: Added Province of Papeete (French Polynesia), Province of Malta, Mission Sui Iuris of Saint Helena, Ascension and Trista da Cunha, Diocese of São Tomé and Príncipe, and Apostolic Vicariate of San Andrés y Providencia to previously empty ocean.

China: Xinjiang, Xining, and Hainan are independent territories, whereas Tibet is under the Diocese of Kangding (Chongqing Province). Again, I referred to this link for the many changes.
Bhutan: Bhutan is part of the Diocese of Darjeeling (Calcutta Province)
Switzerland, Laos, Cambodia, Timor-Leste: All dioceses and territories are exempt.
Indonesia: Riau Archipelago islands are under Palembang Province (earlier map mistakenly mis-assigned islands to Medan and Kuching). The Diocese of Weetebula (Sumba Island) is suffragan to Kupang (previously mis-assigned to Ende).
Pakistan: The Apostolic Vicariate of Quetta is exempt.
Thailand: The Diocese of Chanthaburi is suffragan to Bangkok.
Scotland: Glasgow Province occupies a very much smaller territory (previously also mistakenly included Galloway and Borders areas).
Faroe Islands: part of the Diocese of Copenhagen (previously mis-assigned to Province of Edinburgh and St. Andrews)

Australia: The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn occupies also a sizeable part of NSW, and the Northern Territories are covered under Diocese of Darwin, which is in turn suffragan to Adelaide.
Sakhalin: The Apostolic Prefecture of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is exempt (previously included in Moscow Province).
Italy: The (very small) exempt territories in the vicinity of Rome are delineated (previously included in Rome Province).
Greece: The Apostolic Vicariate of Thessalonica is exempt.
France: Metz and Strasbourg are exempt.
Argentina: The Archdiocese of Mercedes-Luján is exempt.
St. Pierre and Miquelon: The Apostolic Vicariate of Iles Saint Pierre and Miquelon is exempt.

Eastern Rite Catholic Church Maps:

Byzantine Rite: Albanian, Italo-Albanian, Bulgarian, Belarusian, Greek, Hungarian, Macedonian, Melkite, Romanian, Ruthenian, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian and Byzantine (In Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia) Catholic Churches

Alexandrian Rite: Coptic, Ethiopic and Etitrean Catholic Churches, each with their own province

Armenian Rite: Armenian Catholic Church

Antiochian Rite: Maronite, Syrian and Syro-Malankara Catholic Churches (with detail)

Syro-Oriental Rite: Chaldean and Syro-Malabar Catholic Churches (with detail)

Sasha Trubetskoy: Catholic Provinces: Redux
Dominus Vobiscum (Sina)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Johnny's Lament

Is this Johnny?

A small fable.

Johnny cries out in confusion:

I have dated her for a year and more
But still I don't understand her thoughts
Whenever we are together, she licks her lips hungrily.
She comments on my scent, my taste, my seal of freshness.
Whenever we go to the kitchen, she tries to shove me into the microwave.
Who am I to her?
Am I to her a serving of microwavable lunch?
Specifically, the meatballs that you could buy in IKEA?

I am confused, because who am I?
Am I Johnny, who lives, works, plays and loves?
Or am I fifteen balls of mincemeat
So succulent and full of Swedish goodness?
Does she love me for who I am?
Or does she love me because I go well with lingonberries?
Am I in the wrong that I resist being reheated?
Was I born to be served with gravy and mash?

And the one who made Johnny replies:

Johnny, look, I am in the business of making meatballs
And you are certainly not one of them
It is not in your blueprint to merely taste savoury and delightful
Look! I gave you a family to love and a beating heart
I gave you eyes to see and ears to hear
I gave you hands to wield axes and make ploughs
Do you understand? I made you to fell forests and raise nations
Meatballs past their expiry date will surely be cast into the dark
But you, Johnny, you shall come back to me and live.

And so Johnny replies:

Blessed is today that the blueprint is revealed to me
Here is who I really am, my purpose and my heart's desire.
I will shed my deceitful carton, my brand, my nutritional info;
I shall disregard the lewd liars in the street
Who call me names like KÖTTBULLAR and GRÄDDSÅS
And walk in my maker's wonderful light.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Putorana plateau, 2013 [source:]

Whenever one went southwards from the Rumelian lands, one thing which would swiftly become apparent was that there was good reason why no one, even those who lived in the furthest south of the realms, would venture back in the direction their ancestors came by. It was a plateau which, at the place where Irannika's grandmother lived, loomed over the lowlands as a huge cliff wall stretching many hundreds of miles. The ones who had come to Rumelia during the Settlement of the North must have had arrived here after a large detour around the landform, and had probably since forgotten the way back. In any case the plateau itself was a place of serious taboo; the land yielded scant life, being in most places a rocky terrain covered in most places by a blanket of lichen, and it was said to be infested by ghouls, pripyatines (people of an untouchable caste), mutants and the few bandits who remained undaunted by the previous, making them all the more ghastly and formidable. The demon Lenin, who in his living days had cursed Rumelia three feet into the sod since the days before the Settlement, continued to hover over the plateau as a perennial, malevolent presence.

What the Rumelians miss, since they were so intent of looking elsewhere, was that this barren highland housed a place of sanctuary. If you asked anyone living there and was lucky to find a human being who also happened to speak in human tongues, they would know it as the Abbey of Saint Francis of Amatodate, the Amatodachi Piran-senpashe Kerka. The abbey is immediately recognisable as a cluster of hewn-rock buildings, almost a fortress, always next to a freshwater lake somewhere in the featureless landscape. It was unique not only as one of the rare few sedentary establishments in a country ruled by life of the more nomadic sort, but also a place of mystery that some looked to as solace and other looked to with incomprehending dread.

It is useful to think of the abbey not simply as a building, but as a group of people who maintain it: an order, if you will, of men and women who vow to follow the way of Saint Francis of Amatodate and to maintain a place of refuge in a cruel country, giving protection to people threatened by violence and food for the starving. The members of the Order of Saint Francis of Amatodate follow a curious double life: one one hand, an intensely contemplative life of masses, hourly prayer and adoration, centered on the worship of the Yeshua; and on the other, a rugged tenacity, and a special bloodlust reserved for any miscreant who would come to upset the peace of the sanctuary. And miscreants were all too common, for among the brigands circulated a legend that the abbey housed a cornucopia, in the form of an pot, a basin, a silo, or even a small cup (no one is really sure) from which the Order can readily procure any amount of edible grain as was asked. By this rumour, the legendary object became the object of greed and a target of plunder of the people across the region.

Procuring this cornucopia, however, was no simple feat. Few attempts at overrunning the warrior monks, armed to the teeth with vicious improvised weapons, actually succeeded. There are few among the pripyatines who hear of the cornucopia to cast a curse on those who have acquired it by force; only the Order could reap any benefit off it, and it provided only as much as asked for. The raiding party who seized the cornucopia would invariably be confronted with an empty, useless vessel with no discernible powers whatsoever. There was once a group of brigands who had reached the cornucopia, then in the form of a grain tower, after murdering the entire Order in their sleep. When it became clear that no more food was ever to be found springing from the silo, they became so disgusted and enraged that they had the cornucopia, and along with it the abbey itself, doused in vodka and burned to the ground. The pripyatines say that they have never heard from them since, not that they're sure that they had even left the abbey when its buildings were completely consumed by fire, it seemed.

Curiously, the abbey always restored its presence, even after instances of complete extinction. A new abbey would always emerge, built by human hand not too away from the ruins of the previous abbey and always next to one of those beautiful lakes in the mountains. This would always be accompanied by a whole new posse of divinely inspired individuals who often seemed to appear out from nowhere and who were ever armed with a fervent focus on peace and charity, carrying the torch of Saint Francis of Amatodate. It was through such inexplicable reincarnations that the Order propagated itself through the ages.

A clue as to whence these people came from could probably be found in a story told by the pripyatines which dated to the earliest days of the Order, back to the days of the Settlement. The first Order of Saint Francis had been a group of Korean monks and sisters who built the abbey by a glacial lake in to remember their former abbacy, wrested from them by the fiend Lenin and his minions in a period of great spiritual strife in Korea. After a few years, these first members of the Order were then murdered by a group of Japanese-speaking robbers, who took over the abbey and took to maximising its capabilities as a fortress, hoping to use it as a defensive ground against rival gangs. After the leader died, his charismatic next-in-command was ushered in to lead the band. The new leader was who people later named the Piran-senpasha, since it was he who compelled his compatriots lay down their arms, convert to the Christian faith, and thenceforth lead dedicated lives of prayer and charity.

The abbey had been named Vuokuan by the Koreans, after the location of one of their locations back in the country. This was changed in Piran's generation to Amatodate, a name alluding to the ancestral homeland of the abbey's new owners. Even though since that time, for three thousand years, vagrants, exiles of many tribes and races had taken their turns to repent and answer their life callings in the Order of Saint Francis of Amatodate, the names themselves have been preserved to the present day, and the conversion of Piran and his fellow murderers at the abbey continues to be recounted in local folklore, being at once a sign of defiance and a thorn in the side of the fiend Lenin.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Kraków Pilgrimage Story, told in Flags

I was away on pilgrimage in Kraków and the surrounding areas for the previous two weeks. Today I am still reeling from the spiritual hangover and jetlag. Never mind. I shall write about the pilgrimage and see if it is any help.

This is my second pilgrimage (after Lithuania in 2012) and also my first serious one. I went with 170 pilgrims in my group and 3 million from outside of the group. Putting this kind of number into a city designed for 700,000 is insanity and we are all very grateful to be alive at the end of all this. That aside, seeing the whole world packed into an open field, waving their flags, and celebrating mass together is quite a sight to behold. I meant especially the flags, because I am a huge flag nerd.

Yes, World Youth Day Kraków 2016 gave me a sensory overload.
It only makes sense, then, that my short pilgrimage reflections should be told with the help of flags.

1. Singapore

This is our flag. It is very pretty.
We had ~three of these things, plus the flag of the Archdiocese. I thought it was overkill at first, but later it proved useful to keep the 170 of us together in times of extreme moshing. It is also useful as a tool to explain to people that we are a sovereign country.

Someone asked me what the crescent meant, and I gave the politically correct answer.

2. Kazakhstan

This is the first flag I saw after stepping onto terra firma at Warsaw. A small group of people were wearing t-shirts printed with this flag. I was excited to see Kazakhstani folk in real life but also surprised that there were Catholics from there at all. It turns out that this country houses 1 archdiocese, 2 regular dioceses and an apostolic administration.

I almost shouted Ай болсын! at them. It was not an appropriate phrase for that occasion, and I'm glad that I shut up.

3. United Arab Emirates

I was surprised to see the Pan-Arabic colours alongside ours when we arrived at Żory. It turned out that this group comprise largely of people who were Catholics from elsewhere and were at UAE to find work, not necessarily Arabs.

The Malayalee diaspora was represented prominently in this group and wherever Jesus Youth is involved. Masses at Żory were also graced by bishops from two of the Eastern Rite churches dating back to when St. Thomas was preaching in Kerala, the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara communities. The vestments they bore were ornate and blingy, and they stood out from the others. I received communion from one of them.

4. Bonaire and Curaçao

These flags were spotted at Muchowiec Airfield and stumped everyone, myself included.
The countries are island nations off the coast of Venezuela, and are part of the Dutch crown.

5. French Polynesia

A certain Tahitian religious sister ran into me and talked with me during one of those cultural workshops during the Żory festival. I met her and her group again later at Muchowiec Airfield.

French Polynesia is an overseas country (pays d'outre-mer) of the French Republic and is in the remote South Pacific, roughly halfway between New Zealand and Chile. The main island is Tahiti, made famous to the rest of the world by Paul Gauguin paintings. Getting to Poland from here is a real pain, requiring a series of flights transiting at Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, and Paris. Some of the people there are descendants of Chinese immigrants.

6. Cabo Verde

Spotted at Auschwitz II and also later in Kraków.
These people live on a group of islands off the coast of West Africa, and speak Portuguese.

7. University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Photo Credit: Kevin Clark

I ran into Fr. Benjamin Holdren (left in picture) of the Diocese of Lincoln while exiting the mosh at Błonia Park. Fr. Ben has helped me through tough times during my work stint at UNL last year, and also treated the parishoners to free donuts and coffee every Saturday after morning mass. One simply does not forget these things.

I said hi to him and went away too soon.

8. France and its traditional provinces

The French took a large proportion of pilgrims in this event and regional flags were one way of distinguishing between particular groups.

This is the "Gwenn-ha-du" (white-and-black) flags that identifies the Bretons, seemingly the largest group of French pilgrims.

This is Lorraine with a pretty flag featuring three weird-hawks.

The Corsicans used a variant of this flag with four of these Moor's heads around a red cross.
CORRECTION. Those aren't the Corsicans but the Sardinians, who come from a region of Italy

9. Canada and its provinces

Jeff Lockert, president of Catholic Christian Outreach, came from this province.
Spotted behind a wheelchair in Wadowice.

Québec people are French-speaking and that always gets me excited. They also have a nice flag.
Spotted at Wadowice.

10. Pairs of countries involved in ongoing vendettas but whose flags flew together nonetheless

The Mainland and Taiwanese groups came together to Poland and attended spiritual prep together before we found them, a fact which I found pretty cool. The Mainland is represented by groups from the Beijing, Handan and Macanese dioceses, among others (I hope). They had a bit of trouble coming because of paranoid bureaucrats and funny people showing up at their doorsteps begging them not to go.

I brought Pilgrim Kristin and her friend (both based in Bejing) to see my Archbishop. There we found out that she was a Teochew speaker. This reunion of sorts (Archbishop was also a Teochew speaker) took us all by surprise and cast a warm glow over the dusk at the airfield. One simply does not forget these things.

The Taiwan group was led by a Brazilian brother who spoke fluent Mandarin. He gave to me a foldable fan.

The Russian and Ukrainian flags were spotted flying side by side at Wawel Castle. Like, how cool is that?

A certain Father Laurentius from Flores serves in Volgograd and has been skulking about in Russia from the days of Perestroika. I tried to speak Indonesian with him, but failed. He recounted to Celine and myself about how the church has grown since the Soviet Union days, and invited us to visit him.

Father Laurentius was very boisterous, despite the crowd, and liked to shout Polish words at people. He had the dark skin and stout built of Flores men. I remembered the apparition of Our Lady at Larantuka, not too far away from his hometown, Maumere.

11. Easily confused flags leading to hilarious misunderstandings

The top flag is Hungary, where Pilgrim Julian studied for his Master's Degree and also home to my favourite classical composer (Béla Bartók) and many of the most badass mathematicians in history.

The bottom flag is Italy, where 95% of the pilgrims seem to have come from, so mistaking Hungarians for Italians was quite understandable (though not any less embarrassing).

12. Finland and Iceland

These two groups were small and stuck with each other at Błonia Park during Opening Mass and Papal Welcome. The Finnish group was made up entirely of Filipina ladies from St. Mary's Parish, where I called home for three months, four years ago. I asked them about the parish priest, Fr. Rafał Czernia, but they replied that he was somewhere else in the park.

I asked Oletekko Suomalainen? to one of the Icelandic priests by mistake. He laughed, and then redirected me to the ladies at the Finnish banner. But I still failed, because by then my Finnish language is close to nonexistence.

My favourite author of all time (Halldór Laxness) was an Icelander and also a Catholic for a period of time. One of the rooms at his house at Mosfellsbær, which is now a museum, has a blessing from St. JP2 hanging on the wall. One simply does not forget such things.

13. Sweden

I met the Swedish pilgrims during the mosh after Opening Mass. They were a group of girls from Uppsala. I tried my Swedish on them for two lines, but in the end English was still more practical for communication. Such is life.

14. Pakistan and Bangladesh

I remembered hearing before the trip that the pilgrims who wished to come to Poland from Pakistan and Bangladesh had had their visa applications rejected. However, during one of the moshes in Kraków, I saw these two banners being unfurled again. Good for them. They probably found a way to apply from a third country, like what the Syrian pilgrims did.

15. Lebanon (also Syria)

The dude who bore the Lebanese flag turned out to be from Syria; from Aleppo, a beautiful town. He had managed to come to World Youth Day after applying for his visa in Dubai, because nothing works any longer in Syria. After a while he looked very sad and did not want to talk about anything anymore.

16. Barbados

Note: Barbados is secretly Atlantis.
Spotted at Muchowiec Airfield.

17. Slovenia

Spotted at Campus Misericordiae.

The Slovenians performed an act of charity during the Vigil and Closing Mass. They set up shop at the boggiest corner of our sector and made a cordon of bottles and sticks and raffia strings to prevent the others from stepping into the mud by accident. One simply does not forget such things.

18. Costa Rica

The favourite stereotype bore by the Costa Ricans was the exclamation ¡pura vida! and you could yell that at them just to make them happy.

Sr. Cecilia, who journeyed with a group of us on a mission trip to Tagaytay 2 years ago, is based here now, and probably speaks flawless Spanish.

19. Honduras

Pilgrim Laura from Honduras sat next to me on the flight from Warsaw to London, and we commiserated on the sad state of Polish public transport. Pilgrim Laura studies in medical school in San Pedro Sula. She loves her country, and thinks it beautiful. We talked about many other things.

20. Belarus

This is the flag of Belarus, a country bordering Poland to the east and the last European country (for now) to host a mad dictator.

The Belarusian contingent at Campus Misericordiae also uses the white-red-white variant of the flag, which is interesting, considering the fact that it is used as a protest flag.
During Vigil Night, I shared a most blessed moment with the Belarusian youth, religious sisters, and priests in a tent where the Blessed Sacrament had been exposed.

At first, I had scant intention of going for adoration. I went into the tent really just to keep myself warm in the night, where the alternative was to sleep out in the field without a sleeping bag. I had thought (prayed) a little about it and reasoned that by not bringing a sleeping bag to the Campus, I had in fact betrayed a deeper desire to keep the vigil rather than to get any sleep. I prepared myself with coffee and a warm tub of pierogis from the stall.

I began kneeling outside of the tent entrance, careful to step around the sleeping men next to the tent (who must be so lucky to sleep there, close enough to be dreaming of Jesus even!). I followed the Divine Mercy chaplet sung in a strange language which I assumed to be Polish until I managed to obtain a lyrics sheet.

All the lyrics were in the Cyrillic alphabet. I could not contain my glee.
On closer examination, I spotted the letters
Іі and Ўў
which indicate Belarusian.

The nicest thing about Belarusian spelling is that words are pronounced exactly like they are spelt, in contrast to Russian.

The songs themselves were beautiful and I sang along whenever I could. I made notes on my sheet on which of the songs were sung, for future reference. I even made a few discreet voice recordings. I have never been able to find many of these songs again in recorded form. The songs were probably really just meant to stay with me for the moment only. Such is life.

I expressed profuse gratitude to one of the guys (Pilgrim Viktor, if I remember correctly) who played guitar. I asked to keep one sheet of lyrics and in return I gave him a medallion with an image of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd embossed behind. And the sunrise happened and shone upon the altar and shone upon the Blessed Sacrament.

I used to like to think that I am leading Him by the hand and going to people in need of him. Now I knew that it was He who has been leading me by the hand after all. He led me into this wonderful place and among these wonderful people and I had no idea what was in store for me. What have I done after all? I had only prayed a little, and then watched from the back seat as the scenery unfolded before my eyes.

After this relevation happened, I took some time to collect myself and prepared for Closing Mass. And the Holy Father breezed by in his buggy and life returned to normal soon enough. Just Kidding.