Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Catania Conference and Agrigento Ruins

The city of Catania rests at the foot of smoking Mount Etna
Conference in Catania - the highlight of the week.
No doubt about it, missionaries love Conferences, and the mission conference scheduled for Sicily's eastern city of Catania was going to be a good one. President and Sister Waddoups would be there along with Elder Patrick Kearon of the Quorum of Seventy.

Photo bomber Barrow 
Our Zone rounded up in Palermo and we set out at 4pm for a 3-hour bus ride, arriving in Catania at 7pm.  (Right) This is what happens when you try to take pictures of Mt. Etna from the bus going to Catania with Elders. Anziano Barrow (serving in Trapani) photo bombed the shot. Nice, Barrow.

The eastern coast of Sicily is defined by the looming presence of Mount Etna, the largest most active volcano in Europe. Remove Barrow's head, and you'd actually see smoke coming from the mountain.

Next generation of missionaries: Anziano Peachey and me
Peachey-Keen Reunion
We had a nice reunion that evening with a bunch of missionaries from the "old days."
     Anziano Wortham - from my first transfer. 
     Sorella Rossell & Sorella Felice - from the MTC.
     Anziano Peachey - his dad and my dad were
        missionary companions in Honduras, and his
        grandfather, Jim Peachey, was in our stake 
        back in California (Peachey is now serving 
        in Malta).
The next day, we gathered in the Catania building where even more people were waiting: Anziano DiCaro and Hurlburt, and Sorella O'Connor. We had the greatest pow-wow (pics coming).

Connections with the Visiting Authority
Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy
1st Counselor in the Area Presidency
Elder Kearon is from England and has a super sweet British accent. Turns out, he is married to Jennifer Hulme from Saratoga, California (my stake at home). Small world!

Double Fun Fact: My dad has just begun working for her uncle, Paul.

Triple Fun Fact: Her father, Dr. Russell Hulme, delivered my mother into the world!  Thank you Hulmes!

Elder Kearon greeted us all personally (hence my knowledge of his wife). Then he gave an AWESOME addestramento.

"Always Do Finding"
He talked about Finding.  "Always do finding! Never stop. Every day go on the search. Always testify. Always teach!"

"Speak of the Spirit"
He talked about the Spirit and spoke of his own conversion experience when he was in his mid-20s, and how we need to describe the feelings of the Spirit clearly.  "What are the words your investigators use when they speak of the Spirit?"  Answers: Warm, Peaceful, Like Home, Familiar, Sweet, Happy...
"The Spirit is overwhelming at times to those who have never felt it.  They don't often know how to identify it because it is a startling new feeling to them.  Be sensitive to that."

Break the Pattern
"Break the Pattern"
He talked about the importance of planning as a means to fulfill goals. "However," he said, "Don't get so caught up in the rigidness of schedules that you follow the same pattern all the time. Break the pattern!" He said this more than once. "Don't be robots. You are human missionaries, you know."

I totally agree. Missionaries must keep themselves open to the flow of the day, the random opportunities, and casual interactions.  How else can we follow the Spirit?
     If we're sticklers with schedules, we'll miss the Spirit's guidance.  
     If we're solely driven by Day Planners, we won't find those who are seeking.
     If we betake the day with blinders, we wont see detours leading to who is ready for our message.
Most of the time, the greatest successes are when people and situations just happen to emerge amid the schedule. So the moral of the story: Plan the day, but be open to throw it all out the window and follow the Spirit's plan.

"Follow-Up and Be a Friend"
He talked about us needing to follow-up with people every day. Follow up with investigators and the newly baptized - especially. "If you do not follow-up, you are shallow, fickle, poor Christians." True. Missionaries aren't just serving for numbers. We are here to befriend.

Great Conference all the way around. Lots of really good thoughts and inspiration, but the biggest thing I got from it was that I need to be more diligent in my schedule in getting out precisely on time everyday. And, I need to be better about Finding. Those are the biggest changes I need to implement.

By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
Speaking of befriending. Gaspare says he knows the Plan of Salvation is true. "And," he says, "I know the Book of Mormon is true. Not because I have read it all, but I know it must be true because of the fruits.
Like it says in the Bible: By their fruits ye shall know them."
Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,
neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.
Matthew 7:17-18, 20
"I can see from watching you," he said, "that this must be true." Sweet Gaspare.

Let's Swap: Urchins for English Course
Francesco and Mario, Urchin handlers
Marsh and I wanted to talk to our local seafood vendors, Francesco and Mario, about the gospel, so we meandered over to their stand. As we approached, they simply cracked open two sea urchins and handed them to us.
     "You lick them out," they said.
     "They are soft," they said.
     "They are like eggs," they said.
Oh boy. Never tried sea urchin before. We couldn't offend them, so...down the hatch! It was salty, fishy, slimy, weird. Since we tried their product, we invited them to join our English Course. We'll see if they're brave enough to try it.

Pasticceria Mille Luci

With mouth essenced with raw fish, no better time to cleanse the palate - and no better way than with a cannoli. Besides, Marsh had never tried one, so we headed over to Mille Luci Bakery.

Mille Luci is famous for its Mafia cannoli, so named because the Mafia has been seen ordering them en mass here.  I can see why the Mafia would be bingeing on this little delectable cream and cheese filled pastry. They're dangerously excellent!

Day Trip to Agrigento
Monday for P-day, we ventured south to the city of Agrigento. AWESOME.
A bit o' History:
Today's Agrigento was originally the Greek city of Akragas, which was settled by people from Rhodes and Crete around 582BC,  and quickly became prosperous in the cultivation of olives, grapes, and cereal, among other things.

At the height of its glory days, this area was one of the most important and most culturally advanced Greek cities in the Mediterranean.

However, as it grew more successful, so did its rivalries with other Greek colonies. And, for the next several hundred years was conquered and ruled by a variety of cultures and rulers.

The goal for our day's outing was not the actual city of Agrigento, but the site just outside of the city that holds some of the most amazing ancient ruins: The Valley of the Temples.

Valle dei Templi - The Valley of the Temples
The plateau on the right is the Valley of the Temples
Valley of the Temples (which is somewhat of a misnomer since it is not in a valley at all, but on a mountain ridge) is a large sacred area holding 7 monumental Greek Doric Temple ruins built during the 5th and 6th centuries BC.  Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece.

The fact that Sicily is home to Greek ruins should come as no surprise.  After all, the island was once a critical component of the Greek Empire. However, we were told that what was surprising is the quantity and quality of these ruins, so we were anxious to step back in time.

A smooth 2-hour train ride from Palermo dropped us off in modern, bustling Agrigento where we took a city bus for a 4 km journey to the site of the ruins.  I've got quite a few pictures - are you ready?

The Temple Ruins
Temple of Concordia, built 430BC, with statue of Icarus
Upon entering the site, we were greeted by the fantastic Temple of Concordia - one of the best preserved Greek Temples in the world.  The majority of the 34 columns are still intact, standing 22 feet high, and spanning 4.5 feet wide at the base.

Legend says that this was the location Icarus fell to the earth. The massive bronze Icarus sculpture (a modern one) supposedly marks the spot of his fall.
Inner structure was built when they converted the Temple into a Christian Church 500AD (100 yrs after it was built)
Mikesell, me, Jackson, Marsh.  I love these gals.
Temple of Juno, built 450BC
All temples face east, according to Greek and Roman criteria, so that the cella (Holy of Holies) could be illuminated by the rising sun.  Interesting, huh.

Back in the day, this thriving ancient city had, apparently, attracted poets like Simonides and Pyndar who described it as "The most beautiful of mortal cities."
Temple of Heracles (Hercules), oldest temple
A Telamon (Atlas) at the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Although the Temple of Olympian Zeus is all but gone today, a particularly evocative part does remain: one of its Telamones (known as the Atlas). Dozens of these huge stone figures once held up the temple roof.
Temple of Castor and Pollux
Even though they are "ruins," what remains is nothing but exquisite rugged elegance.  The Temples are nestled among ancient olive and almond trees on a ridge near the sea.
This ancient Olive Tree dates to the time the temples were built.  It is over 2,500 years old.  Crazy!
Didn't someone say, Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel?  Looks like a Flintstones wheel to me, "Wilmaaaaa!"
Part of the ancient city wall
In the Necropolis (burial tombs): Elder Romano (from Boston) and Elder Adams (fellow Sard from my 1st District)
Necropolis (burial grounds)
My awesome sisters: Mikesell, me, Jackson, Marsh
This week:  Rich in the Spirit. Rich in connections. Rich in history. Rich in blessings.

Grazie All for your Love and Support,
Sorella Ashley Nef

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