Alumni Chaplain Rev. Charles Allen, S.J., reflects on a recent trip with Fairfield alumni to London and Paris
God is good! Having stayed up late on October 30th to watch the Boston Red Sox pummel the St. Louis Cardinals and, once again, carry off the World Series trophy, I felt energized for a nine-day alumni trip to London and Paris.
In the fall each year, the Office of Alumni Relations coordinates a tour especially for Fairfield alumni and friends, who enjoy the camaraderie while visiting sites around the world. I have been privileged to serve as co-leader, guide, and chaplain on many of these trips, and this was no exception.
In spite of the misty November weather, it was a glorious trip with my 33 fellow travelers. In London, we enjoyed a walk along the south bank of the Thames from Blackfriars Bridge to Westminster Bridge. We visited Westminster Abbey, and the Mall, the Strand, and Fleet Street. That evening we gathered to celebrate the Mass of All Saints, enjoy a delicious dinner together, and thank God for his many blessings.
In my role as a guide, I was able in to point out some of the most important Jesuit sites in both London and Paris, such as the Tower of London, where so many Jesuits—including St. Edmund Campion, S.J.—spent the last days of their lives, and the modern-day Church of the Immaculate Conception Farm Street, where the Jesuits serve a vibrant community of believers. In Paris, we drove through the Latin Quarter where Ignatius of Loyola lived as a student and the Sorbonne where he later studied. We also visited Montmartre, where Ignatius and his six companions vowed their lives to a life of service to the Church—the beginning of the Society of Jesus.
Traveling is a wonderful form of education. It opens up one’s eyes to how people of other lands live, rejoice, and suffer.
You do not have to walk far in either London or Paris to find monuments to remind one of how these cities have suffered through many moments of war, death, and destruction. In London, I returned to Hyde Park Square and to the bronze statue of a fallen artilleryman. This image of a World War I soldier lying dead on the ground, covered by a simple sheet of tarpaulin, brings home so quietly and vividly the horrors of war.
In Paris, the group stopped in the Place de la Concorde to enjoy the magnificent view of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. But we also heard of the French Revolution and of the many souls, including King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, who quite literally lost their heads to the guillotine where now stands the obelisk of Luxor.
London and Paris are wonderful places to visit, but after the autumnal rain and gloom of these northern cities it was a delight to return to the bright sunshine of a glorious fall weekend in Fairfield. As we returned, we heard in the news about the horrifying Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. It was just 30 years ago this fall that the Jesuits sent me to spend six months there as a part of my final year of Jesuit studies. I came to love the people of this most Catholic of Asian countries, and to see the massive destruction wrought by the typhoon makes me realize how fortunate we are as Americans and how much we can do to help others in their moments of tragedy.
Here on campus, Fairfield students are already beginning to think about final exams, and many of us are beginning the preparations for our Thanksgiving services, celebrations with our families, and then the passage of the four weeks of Advent leading to Christmas and the coming of the Christ into our lives.
At a time when there is both so much beauty and so much tragedy in our world, let us thank God for the many gifts that he has given to us, to our families and to our country. And let us be mindful and generous to all who are not so fortunate.
My best wishes and prayers for a most holy Thanksgiving and meaningful Advent!