Sunday, May 14, 2017

Porto: Discovering SR Resources, Harry Potter & Catholic Saints

This week we visited an excellent self-reliance resource fair put on by the Porto, Portugal Stake.  It was 100% owned and organized by the Stake Self-Reliance Committee.  It occurred the same day, May 13, as  the Pope's visit to Portugal to canonize two new saints.  The contrast of the two events was unique. We are glad we attended the Self-Reliance Fair. This also gave us a chance to learn a little more about the history and uniqueness of this northern region of Portugal, including it's ties to Harry Potter.

In the Exhibition Hall of the Porto Self-Reliance Resource exhibit

On Monday morning we were invited by Sister Keyser and her son to accompany them to a few sites in Frankfurt, where Christopher Leonard Rückert, the first Rückert to join the Church, lived and taught the gospel.  He was my grandfather's brother and is the grandfather to Sister Keyser.  We spent a few hours searching for the addresses that were found in historical documents.  This had been researched by her son, Michael, who was visiting her at this time (see May 7 blog).  A few photos and comments follow:

This is the building which is number 222, the neighboring building 224 was where the early saints met for Church meetings at the time that Christopher Leonard was in Frankfurt.  That address corresponds to the open space to the left of the building which tells us that the building no longer exists.

The top floor of this building is where Henry Hergot lived.   He was taught the gospel by Christopher Leonard Rückert and became his de facto missionary companion as the two of them helped the Church get established in Frankfurt.

This is the building where Christopher Leonard and Henry taught up to 200 people about the gospel of Jesus Christ

Monday night in our senior missionary family home evening, we visited the Kurpark in Bad Homburg.  This was a well known Spa, complete with many mineral springs.  Leaders from Thailand, Russia and others came here to enjoy these springs.  It is now a large park full of statues and buildings that reflect that history.

In front of the main Spa.  Women went to the left, men to the right.  King Wilhelm had the section in the middle of the building.  This "New Bathhouse"  was inaugurated in 1890.  Senior missionaries in front of the grounds.

This was one of two Thai-Salas in the park.  This is the only location outside of Thailand that has two Thai-Salas.  The first was given to the town after the King of Siam came to the spa town to cure an illness.  Out of gratitude he gifted this temple.  The other temple was gifted in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the King's stay.
Modern sculptures in the park
The Auguste-Viktoria-Brunnen, a spring named after Wilhelm's wife.  The water from this spring is used to treat gastroenterological disorders.

Beautiful flowers on the side of the site
Missionaries viewing the spring
Elder Rueckert drinking the special spring water

Many visitors from Russia came to cure their afflictions at the end of the 19th century.  Their biggest concern was the lack of  their own Church for their orthodox religion.  The foundation for this Russian Orthodox church was laid in 1896 and completed in the next three years.
We held many more meetings with our missionary couples this week and prepared for our visit to Portugal on Thursday.  Whenever we are in town, we are also able to participate in our Book of Mormon class, self-reliance class (Health and Well-Being), returned missionary lessons and our German class.  These all occurred during the days of Tuesday and Wednesday.  We also continued in preparation for the visit of my (Tom's) mother and cousin, continuing our plans with the different parishes that we will visit.

On Thursday morning we left for the city of Porto, Portugal.  We flew through Belgium and were able to buy some Belgium chocolate and a souvenir spoon while in the airport.  We had not had an opportunity to buy a spoon in our other visits to Belgium.  The chocolate served us for the rest of the weekend, including Mothers day.

During our flight to Brussels, Belgium, we were able to see more of the beautiful yellow rapeseed fields.  The photo below was taken from the airplane as we were approaching Brussels.

Arriving in Porto, we met up with Antonio Paulo, our SRS manager and Elder and Sister Neiswender.  Dinner that night was full of discussions about the self-reliance initiative in Portugal.  Meals always become excellent opportunities to council and learn together.

Thursday morning we met the full-time missionaries at the church and began setting up the tables for the Self-Reliance Fair.  It is always great to have young missionaries around.  Besides being an inspiration, they are great workers and help complete tasks quickly.

Helping put table clothes on, directed by Sisters Neiswender and Rueckert

We took a lunch break and we were treated to a Francesinha, a meal unique to the Porto area.  It is a sandwich of ham and sausage, covered with cheese and a special sauce.  We were told that this was required eating, so we obeyed and enjoyed.

Francesinha with Brasilian Guarana

Inside of the Fransecinha
In the afternoon, the Stake Committee and an additional 10 tables arrived.  
We found out quickly that the Stake Self-Reliance specialist was well organized and knew exactly how things were to be laid out.  There were 32 different exhibitors and we had to organize so that each could have their own table, not a small feat in one cultural hall.

Sister Antonia giving directions
Finally at the end of the day, the exhibition hall was ready for the fair on the next day

Our hotel was close to a university, so we were able to see some of the students.  All university students in this region dress in robes and gowns for their studies.  The photos below are a few that I took from the car as we saw them pass by.  This tradition seems to be the basis for the attire used in the Harry Potter books.  J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, had taught school in Porto before her rise to fame.

A few young women in their robes

A few young men in their study robes

That evening we ate a light meal in the mall and we were able to take this beautiful photo overlooking the city and the Douros river.

The Virgin Mary, Nossa Senhora de Fatima and the Visit of the Pope

I must take a small break to explain a little history of the northern region of Portugal and the Catholic Church.  On May 13, 1917 it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to three young shepherd children on the hills near the small town of Fatima.  This appearance is said to have repeated itself monthly for the next 6 months.  Messages were given to the children.  Based on this appearance there is a religious shrine constructed in the site of the appearances by the Catholic Church.  Each year there are processions and celebrations on May 12 and May 13.

This year was the 100th anniversary of this event.  As such, the Pope came to Portugal to visit the shrine and to make two of the three children official Saints in the Catholic Church.  These two children died in 1919 and 1920 due to health epidemics of the time.    We understand that for them to become saints, it has been verified that miracles have occurred to those who have prayed to these two children.

With the visit of the Pope, this was an important weekend for northern Portugal.  Over a million people gathered at the site on Friday and Saturday.  Even though Porto is an hour or two to the north, it still celebrates in a similar manner.

On Friday night at 10:00 o'clock the candle processions were in full scale at Fatima and in a lesser degree in Porto.  We stopped at the local Catholic Church, saw that they were ready for the procession to arrive and then managed to find the procession on it's way.  The photos below are from that experience.

Flowers arranged at the front of the local Catholic Church

More flowers for Mãe, which means mother, or for the Virgin Mary
The procession that we found, many individuals with their own candles, following the image of the Virgin Mary through the streets
The next morning, before leaving our hotel, we watched a little of the events occurring in Fatima.  The following photos were taken from the television as we watched.
The Pope arriving to canonize the two young children

Pictures of the two young children

An overview of the millions of people at the site with the Pope

An image of the three children

The pope at Fatima, ready to canonize the two children

The Pope

Over a million individuals at the Fatima site
Historic Porto

We didn't need to be to the Self-Reliance Fair until the early afternoon, so Antonio Paulo took us on a small tour of the city of Porto.  The first stop was a world famous book store.  It is very unique and is also similar to the libraries depicted in the Harry Potter books.  J.K. Rowling often went to this book store when she lived in Porto in 1991 and 1992.  It clearly had an impact on much of what she created  in her writings of Harry Potter.

The Livraria Lello, known as the most beautiful book store in the world
View in the inside of the Livraria Lello

Inside the Livraria Lello, halfway up the stairway

Notice the unique bookshelves in the upper levels of the book store
At the base of the staircase

Near the Harry Potter books in the book store
Within a short walking distance of the book store we found two very unique catholic churches, side by side, apparently run by two different fellowships within the Church.  Both of these churches date back to the 17th century.
Sister Rueckert with E/S Neiswender and Antonio Paulo in front of the two churches who are connected.  Not the beautiful tile scene on the side of the church.
Close up of the tiles on the side of the Church

With the beautiful tile images on the side of the church

At the head of one of the churches

Note the two new saints are already highlighted in the churches
In front of the Clergies Tower

We then took a trip to the Dom Luis bridge with it's beautiful views of the cities of Porto and Gaia and the river Douro below.  Some pretty amazing views and an amazing two tier bridge.

View from the bridge.  Porto to the right, Gaia to the left.  River Douro below.

Ponto de Dom Luis I

Boats below with barrels of wine arriving from the Douros Region to the warehouses in Gaia.
View of the Eiffel bridge, designed by the same designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

Self-Reliance Resource Fair

The time finally arrived for the Self-Reliance Fair.  We arrived early to provide assistance, but not too much was needed.  This stake has fully owned this fair and made all plans and preparations.  In any fair there are positives and challenges, but this is the most amazing ownership by a local stake committee that we have seen.  We offer a large congratulations to this committee.

Opening session in the chapel, over 100 individuals in attendance.

Sister Antonia, the Stake Self-Reliance specialist and the architect of this event

After the opening session, 3 workshops were offered for each of the next three hours.  At the same time the exhibition hall was open with many learning from those who exhibited their companies.  In the first workshop, Antonio Paulo and I were in charge of talking about the Accelerated Job Search.  Antonio Paulo's idea was to offer a little bit of many things, leaving them teased to find out more in the My Job Search self-reliance groups.  This was an ingenious approach.

About 15 attended this workshop but were definitely engaged in the topic at hand

As I shared a few thoughts and experiences, I felt prompted to encourage each of them to sign up at that time for a My Job Search group so that they could continue with their desire to prepare themselves for the Job Search process.  The idea worked as they swarmed the self-reliance table to sign up for My Job Search groups in their wards.

Signing up for My Job Search Groups

I have often pondered the importance or role of these resource fairs.  Today I understood the value of providing a few ideas and then leading the individuals to take the full group experience where they can commit and act to do the things that were quickly shared.

We participated a little in the other workshops and also visited the exhibits.  Many were from members who had already participated in self-reliance groups and were experiencing success in their own businesses.  As we have looked at our statistics, outside of Cape Verde, the Porto area has had more individuals start businesses than any other region in Europe.  The photos below are from some of the exhibits:

We fell in love with this little nativity set.  These were not to be sold in the fair, so we asked if we could talk to the maker of the nativity set after it was over.  When we approached her, she gave one to us and would not let us pay for it.  The rock comes form the highest mountain in Portugal.

As the fair came to a close, the stake took full responsibility for the clean up.  We helped all we could but never felt the burden on our shoulders.  What a wonderful experience!

Members of the Stake Self-Reliance Committee with Antonio Paulo

We finished up late, ate dinner and arrived in our hotel in time to Zoom with one of our daughters.  We had a short night sleeping, awakening at 3:15 am to catch a 4:15 cab to the airport for a 6:00 flight back to Frankfurt.  We arrived home in time to catch the end of our Sacrament meeting and enjoyed the remainder of our Sunday meetings.  After Sacrament meeting all mothers received a rose for Mothers Day.  

After our meetings we made a home teaching visit and then returned to the German ward to participate in their sacrament meeting.  Once again, Sister Rueckert received a rose for Mother's day.  The two roses matched in color.  So even though we were not in town to buy Mother's Day flowers, we are blessed with a beautiful arrangement in our apartment.

Happy Mothers Day to all mothers everywhere.  We believe in the power of mothers and their divine calling to nurture the children in our world and make significant contributions to our society!

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