Catholic Destinations for a Family-Friendly RV Adventure

Sadly, summer is now over which means we’ll have to wait another 9 months for unhurried days spent at the pool, kids with tousled, chlorine hair and sticky popsicle fingers. As a stay-at-home mom, I’m busy prepping my four children for the upcoming school year. My youngest starts kindergarten this year, while the oldest is making his middle school debut. Though another summer is over, it doesn’t mean I’m not already dreaming about plans for next year’s summer vacation.

Meeting another Catholic family on vacation this summer, I was inspired by their faith-inspired travels.
Meeting another Catholic family on vacation this summer, I was inspired by their faith-inspired travels.

While we were at Seaside Beach in Florida a few weeks ago soaking up the salty air and refreshing waves, we met a very interesting family from Fort Worth, Texas. They were spending a couple of their summer months touring the country by RV. After happening upon a used motorhome for sale from these Texas dealers in their neighborhood, they scooped it up thinking it would be the perfect excuse to take an extended summer road trip. They spent two months circling clockwise around the U.S. camping at various campsites and National Parks along the way. When we bumped into this family of four at the beach, they were on the last week of their journey.

I struck up conversation with the mother because I saw her reading The Bridal Wreath, the classic Catholic novel by Sigrid Undset. I had just finished the third book of the trilogy over the summer, so I was excited to see someone else was enjoying it as well. The literature introduction led to us sharing all about our lives and our summers with our little ones. A devout Catholic, Serena shared that she and her husband were using their summer of travel to teach their children more about Creation and the Catholic faith. Interest piqued, I asked her to share more specifically with me about how she felt their vacation had accomplished this. She was so kind as to share with me the list of all the stops they had made over the course of the trip. Now, as I’m sitting here dreaming of next year’s summer vacation, I wanted to share some of my favorites off her amazing list:

Chapel of the Holy Cross (Sedona, AZ)

When Serena and her family left Dallas, they first drove through New Mexico and Arizona, stopping in Sedona, a popular summer oasis in the middle of the Arizona desert. Here God’s hand in Creation is abundantly evident. Red rock outcroppings jut up all over the landscape, with crystal clear rivers meandering through the desert, all topped with jaw-dropping sunsets. I’m told that the sky here is like an ever-changing canvas of masterfully painted colors. There’s no better place to observe the beauty of Sedona and offer up thanksgiving to our Creator than the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This Frank Lloyd Wright inspired chapel was built on top of one of Sedona’s mountains, with expansive views of the landscape below. The chapel is open daily except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Good Friday and Easter, with a prayer service held every Monday evening.

Perched in the mountains of Sedona, AZ, the Chapel of the Holy Cross offers a wonderful vantage point to see God's majestic creation.
Perched in the mountains of Sedona, AZ, the Chapel of the Holy Cross offers a wonderful vantage point to see God’s majestic creation.

Coeur d’Alene Old Mission State Park (Coeur d’Alene, ID)

This state park in beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho features the oldest building in the state, which also happens to be a Catholic Mission. Constructed between 1850 and 1853, the Mission of the Sacred Heart was built without nails by Catholic missionaries and Coeur d’Alene native people. Interestingly, the original Jesuit missionaries to this area of Idaho came at the request of the Coeur d’Alene Indians. Not as ornate as some Catholic Cathedrals, this mission was ingeniously decorated using whatever materials were readily accessible. After completion in 1853, this mission became a focal point of the community, an important stop on common trade routes.

Ave Maria Grotto (Cullman, AL)

While not many would think of Alabama as being a focal point of the Catholic faith, there is one particularly interesting Catholic destination nestled here in the small town of Cullman. About 45 minutes north of Birmingham, you’ll start seeing highway billboards for the Ave Maria Grotto. This Grotto is a 4-acre park at the Saint Bernard Abbey, Alabama’s first and only Benedictine Abbey. The Ave Maria Grotto is the work of Brother Joseph Zoettl who lived at the Abbey from 1892 until his death in 1958. Over his tenure at the Abbey, he began building small grottos to sell to passersby. Seeing the skill in his meticulous handiwork, Father Dominic asked Brother Joseph construct a larger grotto. Today visitors may see this “Jerusalem in Miniature”, which in addition to small Holy Land replicas also contains models of various Catholic churches and monasteries. All of Brother Joseph’s magnificent work was made from recycled materials he found nearby, making his incredible feat even more remarkable. This is a great place to show your kids models of some well-known Catholic landmarks without having to fly to Europe.

See holy sites in miniature at the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, AL.
See holy sites in miniature at the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, AL.

There are plenty of other stops that Serena mentions on her list, but this is just a taste of some of the amazing Catholic destinations for your family’s next road trip. I’m already counting down the days until the kids are out of school again and we can take off to see some of these interesting religious sites. Already contemplating how we can find a motorhome big enough for the whole family…

3 Things We Can Learn From the Life of Mother Teresa

In her 87 years on earth, Mother Teresa, born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, faithfully lived out her calling to serve the Lord. Moving away from everything and everyone she knew, she moved to India, first joining the convent of the Loreto Sisters and later moving into Calcutta’s slums. Here she loved and served the poorest of the poor for the remainder of her years. Almost 20 years after she was called home, the Catholic Church will officially canonize Mother Teresa as a saint on September 4, 2016. As we reflect on the figure of soon-to-be Saint Teresa, here are three important things we can learn from her life:

 1. To Love the Outcast

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, not only descended from the heavenly realms to save us, but during His time on earth lived among the tax collectors and sinners, considered some of the morally depraved people of the day. Additionally, he spent time healing the sick, those with leprosy and blindness, complete social outcasts. Here, our faultless and perfect Savior, the spotless Lamb, loved everyone, even those who staunchly opposed him.

Looking to her Savior’s example, Mother Teresa also spent her life helping those much different than herself. She found herself called to live in the poorest slums of India among the greatest outcasts of society. At the age of 36, she felt certain of this calling and spent the remainder of her years attending to those wracked by diseases like AIDs, tuberculosis, and leprosy, feeding the hungry, and caring for orphans. Her organization, Missionaries of Charity, now 4500 sisters strong, continues to carry out her mission of reaching the world’s most downtrodden. We are reminded by Mother Teresa and her legacy of our call to love others, even those different that ourselves.

Mother Teresa will soon be canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church.
Mother Teresa will soon be canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church.

2. not to Focus on the Material

In the U.S., when we are forced to move to a new home, it becomes more apparent to us how weighted down we are by the material things of the world. Moving proves stressful because we have to make decisions about what to do with our overabundance – do we continue lugging it with us, or do we let it go? This was not an issue for Mother Teresa, or for the thousands of sisters who have taken the vows of the Missionaries of Charity. In her life, Teresa obeyed a calling to live among the destitute in the slums of Calcutta. She fully immersed herself in their world, living as one of them, even trading in her normal habit for a simple white and blue sari. Today, sisters are called to follow Teresa’s example of living simply. The typical Missionary of Charity has just a few material possessions to her name:

  • Three saris
  • Two or three cotton habits
  • A girdle
  • A pair of sandals
  • A crucifix
  • A rosary
  • A plate
  • A set of cutlery
  • A cloth napkin
  • A canvas bag
  • A prayer book

All of these items could easily fit in a single box.

In caring so little for earthly possessions, Mother Teresa reminds us of the calling of Colossians 3:2, which says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Our culture’s obsession with material possessions in the here and now easily clouds our eternal mindset. Mother Teresa knew that by living more simply she could be more faithful in her spiritual callings. At her death, she is said to have had just three material possessions – a bucket and two saris.

Mother Teresa spent most of her life caring for Calcutta's downtrodden, including orphans.
Mother Teresa spent most of her life caring for Calcutta’s downtrodden, including orphans.

3. To Feed the Hungry

In the Western world, we have been so materially blessed that few of us have to consider where we’ll get our next meal. In fact, in the U.S., where more than 2 in 3 adults is considered overweight or obese, food is not only taken for granted, it has become sickeningly indulgent. Not only do we have drive-thrus at every corner, you can now have pre-portioned ingredients delivered to your doorstep so you don’t have to bother trekking to the grocery store. If Mother Teresa were to read the posts on sites like Blue Apron review, she would likely be aghast at the sheer indulgence and waste of the modern Western world. The lowest of the meal delivery boxes starts at $10/plate, a figure that Mother Teresa probably could have used to feed an entire orphanage for a day.

Mother Teresa made it a point to care for people’s physical needs before embarking on curing their spiritual ones. She once said that by feeding and helping the downtrodden, she was “feeding and helping Jesus, for that is what he commanded, to help the poor”. In looking to Mother Teresa’s example, we are reminded of the importance to recognize people’s most fundamental human needs. Through food, we can offer the hungry hope, dignity, and health. Possibly then will they see the message of God’s love lived out.


Now Trending: The Catholic Church and Social Media

Pope Benedict XVI made quite the buzz when he became the first Pope to make his debut on social media back in 2012, setting up a Twitter account under the handle @Pontifex. In a matter of six weeks, his account had over 1.5 million followers. Pope Benedict continued tweeting throughout the remainder of his papacy, even sending out a final tweet to his followers right before he left the Vatican in February of 2013. His predecessor, Pope Francis, took over not only Benedict’s position at the Vatican, but also acquired the papal Twitter handle. Today, @Pontifex sends out tweets to more than 22 million followers in 9 different languages, with some claiming he is the most influential world leader on Twitter.

Pope Benedict found a new way to connect with people when he became the first Pope to use social media.
Pope Benedict found a new way to connect with people when he became the first Pope to use social media.

Witnessing to the New “Digital Continent”

The Church’s successful use of social media tells us a couple of things.

First, by using social media, the Pope is able to bridge a gap between the Church and the people, bringing faith-driven messages to those who may not otherwise hear them. Pope Benedict XVI referred to social media as the new “digital continent”, emphasizing the importance of using this new platform to evangelize and share the gospel. Archbishop Claudio Celli, leader of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, indicated that the Church must adopt social media to reach the “fish…outside the aquarium”, or else risk missing an entirely reachable demographic. Moonraker Marketing, an Austin marketing agency, seconds the opinion of Archbishop Celli. “Businesses and brands these days must have a social media presence in order to survive and thrive. Engaging with the most current technology platforms enables people to find you and makes you harder to forget about.” They suggest that the Church is just like any other brand and should utilize social media as a tool to stay relevant with current believers and even attract a new following. This is especially true in the wake of the number of scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years.

Pope Francis' uplifting messages reach more than 22 million followers in 9 different languages.
Pope Francis’ uplifting messages reach more than 22 million followers in 9 different languages.

Secondly, the Pope’s large number of Twitter followers indicates the relevancy of the church in an increasingly secular world. Our broken world craves words of hope, joy, and comfort, which the Pope is able to deliver with his daily dose of 140-characters. Here are some examples of his most popular tweets to-date:

“Care of creation is not just something God spoke of at the dawn of history: he entrusts it to each of us as part of his plan.” –June 5, 2013

“I cannot imagine a Christian who does not know how to smile. May we joyfully witness to our faith.” –January 30, 2014

“The family is the greatest treasure of any country. Let us all work to protect and strengthen this, the cornerstone of society.” –January 16, 2015

These nuggets of papal wisdom get retweeted thousands of times by the Pope’s followers, spreading Christian tidbits to thousands of others around the world who may not otherwise might not regularly be exposed to the Good News.

Social Media in Local Parishes

It’s interesting to note that, although the Pope has garnered quite the Twitter presence, the Vatican has presently opted out of pursuing other official social accounts for the Pope. While Facebook would be the obvious option, Pope Francis does not have a Facebook account because officials say it would be too difficult to “clean” potentially obscene posts made by visitors to the page. This brings to light the question of how and which social media platforms should be used by local parishes.

Social media should never be a replacement for actual face-to-face interaction.
Social media should never be a replacement for actual face-to-face interaction.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put together an entire set of guidelines on social media that apply to church personnel. In this document, they outline three major challenges and opportunities posed by social media:

  • Visibility: Social media is widely used, so it makes sense that it would be used as a communication tool. However, selecting the appropriate social channel to match the needs of a given situation is critical.
  • Community: Use of social media, while beneficial for fostering a sense of community, cannot come at the loss of face-to-face, real engagement.
  • Accountability: Social media must be used responsibly, bearing in mind that social communication is a two-way conversation.

The guidance goes on to give more specific recommendations on how to set up social media, defining boundaries of social media, and adhering to the Church’s Codes of Conduct in using social media. In summary, social media is a valuable tool for the entire Church, from the Pope to the local parish, when used appropriately. The Pope’s pioneering use of social media has given local churches and Catholics around the world an example of how social media can be used effectively to convey light and truth.

Vatican Spotlight: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio

History Past and Present

The city of San Antonio has a rich Catholic history that started back when Spanish adventurers first explored this area in the late 1600s. These Europeans brought with them their Catholic faith, which they hoped to share with the indigenous people they found already living in the area. By 1718, Spaniards had completed a series of five missions along the San Antonio River, which were to serve both the native people and Spanish settlers. These missions still stand today as a reminder of the importance of the Catholic faith in the history of this now bustling metropolitan city.

San Antonio was originally part of the Catholic Diocese of Galveston, and later it became part of the Ecclesiastical Province of New Orleans. In 1926, the San Antonio metropolitan area was elevated to become its own Archdiocese. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio now encompasses a 27,841 square mile area in Texas, serving more than 700,000 Catholic residents who call this area home. The San Antonio Archdiocese is currently overseen by Gustavo Garcia-Stiller, a Mexican-American prelate, who was installed here on November 23, 2010.

Mother Church

The San Fernando Cathedral was founded in 1731, making it one of the oldest cathedrals in the U.S. and the oldest cathedral in Texas.
The San Fernando Cathedral was founded in 1731, making it one of the oldest cathedrals in the U.S. and the oldest cathedral in Texas.

San Fernando de Bexar Church was built between 1728 and 1749 to serve the original Spanish settlers. By the 1860s, the Catholic population of San Antonio had outgrown the original parish, and a new, larger Gothic Revival Cathedral was built around the existing structure to accommodate more churchgoers. Today, the San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest Cathedral in Texas, serves as the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Its prominent location in downtown San Antonio makes it a focal point of the community, convenient for the more than 5,000 congregants that attend mass here every week.

The vast area under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of San Antonio includes 17 Texas counties and some 179 parishes.

Historical Landmarks

Visitors and residents of San Antonio enjoy exploring the many historical relics leftover from the Spanish settlement of San Antonio. In addition to the San Fernando Cathedral, here are some additional historical Catholic landmarks of note:

Not only can visitors tour the Mission San Jose, but they can still attend a centuries old tradition of Mass every Sunday.
Not only can visitors tour the Mission San Jose, but they can still attend a centuries old tradition of Mass every Sunday.
  • The Alamo: Most people have heard of the Alamo, the Catholic mission made famous during a pivotal battle fought here during the Texas Revolution. Visitors can stroll through the surprisingly diminutive structure that sits just a stone’s throw from the nearby River Walk or book an informative Battlefield Tour.
  • Mission San Jose: Now part of the National Park System, this beautiful mission was the largest one built by the Spanish conquistadors who settled here. Beautifully restored during the 1930s, this mission is still an active parish with Mass given every Sunday.
  • Mission Concepcion: No longer a working church, Mission Concepcion still stands firm as a stunning example of Spanish Colonial architecture. Here visitors may view the beautiful frescos painted on the walls of this early church when it was first built in 1755.
  • Mission Espada: Though this mission suffered from Indian raids and poverty, the original inhabitants worked hard to teach the native peoples their crafts, which included brick and tile making, blacksmithing, and weaving. Today visitors can still see the handiwork of the original settlers who worked so hard to make this mission an inviting place of community.
  • Mission San Juan: This agricultural center introduced a rich farming legacy to the area, as the introduction of dams and irrigation systems enabled its residents to grow prolific crops. A planned church expansion was commenced but never completed, though visitors today can still see what work was accomplished.

Being Catholic in San Antonio

San Antonio’s population has been steadily increasing since 2010, making it number 6 in population growth among American cities. Catholic families moving to San Antonio will not only find a resilient job market and affordable living costs, but they’ll be pleased to discover that San Antonio is the perfect place to raise a family up in the Catholic faith.

With a large number of Catholic churches and schools, San Antonio is a great place to raise a family.
  • Logistics: If you are moving to San Antonio, we recommend that you look into hiring a reputable and cheap moving company, like this one. Apple Moving has served the San Antonio area for years with quality, affordable moving services. Many Catholics in the area have been pleased with the comprehensive moving services of this licensed and insured mover. Once the boxes are unpacked, you may want to give the family a great taste of Catholic history in the area by booking a bike tour of the Mission Trail.
  • Churches: There are dozens of Catholic churches in the San Antonio metropolitan area that you and your family can explore as you look for your new church home.
  • Education: In addition to the dozens of Catholic churches to choose from, there are a number of wonderful private Catholic schools where students thrive as they receive both academic and spiritual instruction. The area also boasts three Catholic higher education institutions: University of the Incarnate Word, Our Lady of the Lake University, and St. Mary’s University.

Things You Didn’t Know About the History of the Church

How much do you know about the Catholic Church?  The Catholic Church has a long and rich history stretching back 2,000 years somewhere in the annals of history there are some forgotten facts.  Here are some interesting facts you may not already know.

1. For the first 1,000 years of Christian History, the Roman Catholic Church was the only Christian church in existence. All the other Christian churches come from the Roman Catholic Church, many of these newer churches are less than 200 years old.

2. Roughly 15% of all the hospitals across the United States are Catholic hospitals and in many countries around the world the church provides the only education, healthcare and social services people have access to.

things you didn't know about the history of the Church

3. With a population of only about 500 people and statistically a little over one crime per day, Vatican City has the highest crime rate in the world. Per capita the crime rate is over 100 percent!  You need to bear in mind that Vatican City is only one square mile, but it has more than 20 million visitors annually and most of the crimes are petty offenses done by tourists.

4. The inventor of the printing press Johannes Gutenberg was Catholic and the first book to ever be printed was the Catholic Bible.

5.  The entire composition of the bible, the books that were included how they were organized by chapter and verse was put together by the Catholic Church.  Later Protestant churches removed the books that conflicted with their ideology, Martin Luther removed many books including Tobit, Maccabees, Sirach, Judith 1 and 2 and Baruch.  Martin Luther also tried to remove Revelations and James but his followers were strongly opposed and the books stayed.

6.  The expenses of the Catholic Church are higher than Apple’s revenue. In 2012 the expenditures were more than $170 billion while in that same year Apple earned $157 billion in revenue.  Most of the expenses were largely charity organizations.

7.  There isn’t actually an official number but there are more than 10,000 saints recognized by the Catholic Church. Technically any person who enters heaven is a saint so the number of saints is considerably larger than those that are recognized.  Here is a video explaining how the Church declares saints.

8. In an emergency any Catholic can perform a baptism, if there is someone near death. It’s valid as long as the person being baptized desires it.  There are guidelines that needs to be followed and the practice should be left to trained clergy.

9. The pope’s security service is the Swiss Papal Guard, the uniforms were designed by Michelangelo and they are armed with halberds. Each member of the guard must complete military training in Switzerland, be male and Catholic.  They must be at least 5’8” tall and demonstrate good conduct.  If they are lucky enough to be chosen they are granted a private audience with his Holiness.  The Swiss Guard is the longest serving active military unit in the world, they have been around since 1506.

10. The Pope must be at least bilingual, Latin is the language of the Church and the most must be fluent in order to conduct the day to day business. Since the pope is also the Bishop of Rome he must also be fluent in Italian.

This Week in the Catholic Church

July 24 – July 30

This Week in the Catholic Church

Sunday, July 24 2016

Prayer of the Day – The Prayer for Travellers
Saint of the Day – St John Boste

St John Boste was canonized by Pope Paul the VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs, a martyr of Durham.  Born in Westmoreland St John went on to study at Oxford and became a Catholic in 1576 and receiving ordination in 1581.  John was the object of a large manhunt in Northern England, eventually be betrayed, arrested and taken to London.  In London he was put on the rack and crippled, he returned to Dryburn only to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Monsday, July 25 2016

Prayer of the Day – Each New Day
Saint of the Day – Saint James the Greater

One of Jesus’ first disciples, Saint James the Greater was fishing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with John the Apostle when Jesus came.  Unable to catch any fish all day, Jesus told the fishermen to dip their nets once again and their nets came up full.  James would be one of the three called to witness Jesus’ Transfiguration.  He was later rebuked by Jesus when he wanted to call fire on a Samaritan town.

Tuesday, July 26 2016

Prayer of the Day – Family Blessing at a Gathering
Saint of the Day – Saints Jaoquim and Anne

They were the parents of the Virgin Mary while there are no mentions of them in either the Bible or the Gospels most information comes from legend and the Gospel of James.  The Gospel of James is an apocryphal writing from sometime in the second century.

Wednesday, July 27 2016

Prayer of the Day – Hail Mary
Saint of the Day – St Pantaleone

A famous physician the was chosen by the Emperor to be his personal physician.  Originally from Nicomedia in Asia began his life as a Christian but was influenced by the pagan court that led him to give up his Christian faith.  A holy priest convinced him of the error of his ways and he returned to the fold.

Thurday, July 28 2016

Prayer of the Day – Prayer for Parents
Saint of the Day – Saint Innocent I

Born in Albano, Italy became Pope in 401.  He emphasized papal supremacy and strongly favored clerical celibacy.  When Rome was sacked by the Goths he went to the Emperor Honorius for help.  He stressed to his bishops that all matters of great importance be referred to Rome.

Friday, July 29 2016

Prayer of the Day – Prayer for Doctors and Nurses
Saint of the Day – St Martha

John’s Gospels say that Jesus had a friendship with Martha and her family.  Jesus was often a guest in Martha’s home in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem.  Martha is the patron saint of servants and cooks, hospitality was important in the Middle East as well as to Martha.  When Jesus and his disciples came to visit Martha was often the one serving them.

Saturday, July 30 2016

Prayer of the Day – Family Blessing at Bedtime
Saint of the Day – St. Peter Chrysologus

St. Peter Chrysologus was born in Imola, Italy in 406 it was there he was baptized, educated and ordained a deacon.  He earned the name “Chryologus” for being an excellent speaker.  He rid the area of the last of paganism and ruled over his flock diligently.  He remained in Imola until his death in 450, in 1729 he was named a Doctor of the Church for his simple and clear sermons dealing with Gospel subjects.