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  • Image Credit: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

    BONUS 1: Sweet Easter pie with ancient farro
    By Nancy Wiechec
    Catholic News Service

    Farro, said to be the first cultivated grain, originated with the Babylonians in the biblical lands and later found its way to Rome. A highly nutritional grain, it is used to this day in Middle Eastern and Italian cooking.

    Over the last decades, likely due to greater awareness of global cuisine and more healthful eating, the ancient grain has become more prominent in America. Similar to wheat berries, it has a delightful nutty flavor, an al dente texture when cooked and can be used in an array of recipes from soup to salads to main dishes.

    Easter pie is an Italian tradition meant to celebrate the end of the Lenten fast with ingredients once forbidden during the season of abstinence. It's made with eggs, a symbol of life and the Resurrection, and comes in savory and sweet varieties.

    Savory ones include Italian meats and cheeses in a quiche-style filling all wrapped in pie crust. In sweet Easter pie, the filling includes eggs, ricotta, sugar, dried fruit and sometimes chocolate.

    An Easter Pie ("Torta Pasqualina") recipe from Italian-American chef Franco Lania utilizes farro in a delicious, rich ricotta filling scented with orange and cinnamon. The recipe celebrates the pre-eminent holy day in the Christian calendar and the land where Christianity was born.

    I adapted Lania's recipe to simplify it a bit. It's not all that difficult if you're familiar with making pie crust. Remember to start the night before with soaking the farro.

    (Tip: Farro and candied orange peel are available on Amazon or other online markets.)

    Servings: 10

    Dough Ingredients
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup powdered sugar
    1 large egg
    2 large egg yolks
    2 teaspoons Grand Marnier

    Filling Ingredients
    1/2 cup farro (soaked overnight): Place the farro in a large bowl, cover with cold water and let soak overnight in the refrigerator. Drain well before using.
    1 cup whole milk
    2/3 cups sugar, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    1 teaspoon orange zest
    24 ounces whole milk ricotta
    5 large eggs at room temperature
    2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 cup chopped candied orange peel

    Prepare Dough
    In a bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon and salt.

    In the large bowl of an electric mixer on medium high speed, beat the butter and powdered sugar until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

    Add the egg and yolks gradually, beating until incorporated. Drizzle in the Grand Marnier. Slowly tap in dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Do not overmix.

    Place dough on a work surface and shape it into a uniform ball. Cut away 1/4 of the dough. Form it into a perfectly round disc. Make a second disc with the larger portion of dough. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill 1 hour.

    Prepare Filling
    Place the drained farro in a medium saucepan, add the milk, 2 tablespoons of sugar and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Drain, discard any remained liquid and place farro in a bowl. Stir the butter and orange zest into the farro. Let cool.

    In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, eggs, sugar, Grand Marnier and cinnamon. Beat until blended. Stir in the farro mixture and candied orange peel.

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Prepare Pie
    Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

    Roll out the larger piece of dough to a 16-inch circle. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and fit the dough into the pan.

    Using your fingers, carefully press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan, leaving excess dough over the edge. Press together any tears.

    Pour filling into crust.

    Roll out the smaller piece of dough to a 10-inch circle. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and gently place the dough over the top of the pie. Trim the dough leaving 1/2 inch of excess all around the rim. Fold the edge of the dough over to form a bit of a crown and pinch dough firmly to seal.

    Bake Pie
    Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until it is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

    Let the pie cool in the pan on a rack 25 minutes. Remove the ring of the pan and let the pie cool completely on a wire rack. Pie can be stored covered in the refrigerator for up to two days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

    Just before serving, dust the pie with confectioner's sugar and, if desired, garnish with candied orange peel.

    (Recipe adapted from Franco Lania's website

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    (Follow Wiechec on Twitter: @nancywiechec.)

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    BONUS 2: Pray with art this Easter
    By Effie Caldarola
    Catholic News Service

    When we pray, sometimes we get stuck in forms that we learned long ago. We box ourselves in with words rather than open ourselves to silence and imagination. We forget that prayer can happen anywhere, anytime and that God speaks to us in many ways.

    One of the ways God often moves us and touches us is through art.

    Once, I mentioned a favorite poet to a friend and she replied, "Oh, I don't like poetry." I was shocked. How could someone dismiss an entire genre of literature so casually? Surely, some piece of poetry had once touched her deeply and she'd just forgotten.

    Sometimes, when we think of art -- visual art, literature, music, dance -- we may fear it's too "highfalutin" for us. But we shouldn't feel that way. Whether "lowbrow" or "highbrow," whether hip-hop or classical, whether we've taken an art appreciation class or have a favorite poster hanging above our computer, we should trust our instincts if we feel moved toward God through the art we encounter.

    Art that touches us opens our imagination to the Lord.

    In searching for art that evokes prayer about the Resurrection, I looked through many examples, created in many different eras. One example is the picture included with this piece, "Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection," by the Russian painter Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. This artist lived and painted in St. Petersburg in the 19th century.

    I am moved by how the painting captures the incredulity of Mary Magdalene. She has fallen to her knees at the realization that this is Jesus. Who wouldn't?

    It's easy to identify with her shock at seeing someone she loved, someone whose brutal death she had witnessed close up, suddenly appear in renewed and vigorous form. She had seen his lifeless, broken, bleeding body removed from the cross.

    She had come to the tomb expecting to anoint this body. Is it any wonder she mistook him, at first, for the gardener?

    Another reason I like the painting is because the Scripture in which Mary is the first to meet the resurrected Jesus is a favorite of mine. This Gospel reading is a beautiful affirmation of the respect and love that Jesus showed toward women throughout his life and ministry.

    And when Mary recognizes him as he speaks her name, it reminds me of the personal relationship Jesus desires with each of us and how he calls us each by our name.

    There are some things I don't like about the painting, however. So much of the great art of Europe attempts to portray this Middle Eastern Jewish man, Jesus, as a classical European, and I would prefer to see him painted more realistically.

    Also, the painting is very dark. In my imagination, the Resurrection event bursts upon us with unimaginable light, and the encounter with Mary Magdalene must have taken place at the brilliant dawn of the first Easter.

    I think it's difficult for an artist to portray Jesus, because each person who loves him sees him in his or her own unique way. But art can still inspire.

    "The Calling of St. Matthew," Caravaggio's masterpiece, is one of the most inspirational portrayals of Christ I have ever seen, and much of it is done by the juxtaposition of light and the subtle expressions on the faces of all in the room.

    For anyone who thinks art can be difficult to understand, remember Sister Wendy Beckett, the Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who explained the great masterpieces to us in her popular BBC series. She was simple, straightforward and made great art accessible.

    Perhaps our prayer could be more imaginative and open this Easter if we focused on a piece of art -- painting, sculpture, poetry, music -- that moves our heart toward God and stay with it in silence.

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    (Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.)

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    BONUS 3: The new light shines brightly
    By Daniel S. Mulhall
    Catholic News Service

    One of the great joys of the Easter Vigil is the lighting of the Easter fire, the lighting of the Easter candle from that fire, and then the lighting of each person's candle from the Easter candle.

    Going from the dark of night to the light and heat of the Easter fire is transforming. Then, to watch that fire pass from candle to candle turning total darkness into flaming light is breathtaking.

    The value exhibited through this ritual is also breathtaking. With Christ in the grave, the world is dark, but with his resurrection, the light returns to us and is passed from person to person until the church is filled with light.

    This gesture that is relived at each and every Easter Vigil around the world yearly symbolizes what takes place in each church, each parish, each diocese: the light of Christ burns brightly in the lives of the Christian people who carry Christ with them every day.

    Last year, our parish was fortunate to share this Easter ritual with 15 people who were entering our church community at the vigil. Three of these were adults who had never been baptized, the rest were adults who had been baptized as Christians in other traditions who were now being welcomed into full communion.

    For over nine months, they had been in formation, learning about the beliefs and traditions of the Catholic faith, and being initiated into the life of this parish community. Now, at long last, they stood ready and eager to become full members of the Catholic community.

    While all of these men and women grew in faith during their time of preparation, one in particular stood out for his passionate embrace of all things Catholic: Steve. While many of these seekers participated in the parish retreat program, Steve took the extra step of becoming a member of the retreat team for the following year.

    While everyone participated in Bible study within the formation program, Steve wanted more, so he joined a men's Bible study group. While everyone came to Sunday Mass, staying until they were dismissed following the homily -- as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults prescribes -- Steve came to daily Mass and served as an usher when needed. He had become an active parishioner long before his actual baptism.

    Following the Easter fire and the readings of how God had been involved in human history, the waters of baptism were then blessed by plunging the Easter candle into the font. Here was another sign that Christ, the Light of the World, conquered death with his resurrection.

    Now, our three adults were ready to be plunged into the sacred water to die to sin and to be reborn in Christ. As the pastor forcefully dunked them under the water they came up gasping for air. They had experienced a symbolic death and were now filled with the light of Christ. And their faces showed it: They simply beamed.

    The euphoria of our Easter celebration lasted only a few weeks, for Steve, the new Catholic who had jumped into the life of faith so energetically, was struck down by a stroke. He died after having received his last sacrament, the anointing of the sick. Dying and rising with Christ had moved from the symbolic to the real.

    Then, the light of Christ became real for us as well. These new Catholics gathered around Steve's family and provided them with the strength and support they needed in their time of grief.

    Just as the fire was passed from person to person throughout the church at the Easter Vigil, so now the light of Christ was passed from friend to friend, from parishioner to parishioner, as each shared the light of faith they had within with those in need of comfort and joy. Christ is risen! Indeed, Christ is risen.

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    (Mulhall is a catechist living in Louisville, Kentucky.)

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    BONUS 4: Let us rejoice and be glad!
    By Maria Morrow
    Catholic News Service

    I think it's time that we admit that a holiday combining jelly bean- and chocolate-filled baskets with fancy clothing poses a challenge for parents. Unfortunately, I'm a big fan of both Easter candy and Easter clothes. Easter is a big holiday, after all, the biggest in the whole liturgical year, totally deserving of special clothes and candy!

    During a long Lent in the midst of uncertain spring weather, Easter appears as a bright spot on the horizon. There's the promise of a heartfelt alleluia to reward for those somber liturgies focused on repentance.

    Also important is that promise of excessive chocolate at the end of fasting and penance, combined with photogenic children in their Easter best.

    Last year I unthinkingly allowed my sons to choose their own Easter suits while out shopping. It seemed like a good idea at the time, as there were only a few options, all of which were suitable for Easter Sunday, and, of course, adorable posed photos of the four boys along with their two older sisters in coordinating Easter dresses.

    I have to take advantage of them all agreeing to wear the matching clothes for as long as I can. Besides, what's not to like about light gray? It's a classic spring color!

    OK, here's one thing not to like about light gray. Chocolate and jelly bean stains show up nicely on light gray. I had this realization before Easter Sunday, so I made plans to keep the Easter basket frenzy separate from getting dressed for Mass.

    There would be plenty of time for the kids to find their Easter baskets, rejoice with excitement and even eat some celebratory treats with (or for) breakfast before Easter Sunday Mass.

    The suits and dresses would stay in the closet until the last minute, just like my neatly frosted lamb cake would stay tucked away at the back of the counter, partly concealed by the hanging paper towel roll.

    The key is planning and preparation. Of course, that's what Lent tells us. The planning and preparation for Easter make Easter all that much more special. Penance comes before rejoicing. Preparation before celebration. If we do Lent well, we will do Easter well. And if we keep the suits separate from the chocolate, we can focus on enjoying that amazing Easter Sunday Mass.

    My plans for Easter sort of worked. That is, the kids were thrilled with their Easter baskets and had time to look over them and enjoy a few treats. But then came the time to put the treats away to focus on getting dressed for Mass, and surprise!

    By leaving getting dressed for the last minute, we were suddenly left rushing. The girls took care of themselves and finally the boys were all dressed too, chocolate traces wiped from their faces. All that was left was to put on the toddler's shoes.

    Oh, no. Where were they? One was in the shoebox, but not the match. And suddenly fluorescent green tennis shoes seemed to be a good option. Who looks at a toddler's shoes on Easter Sunday anyway, especially when they're busy admiring his light gray suit with plaid shirt and bow tie? Well, no bow tie, he's refusing to wear that. Oh, well, out the door we go!

    Out the door, into the muddy front yard. Mud shows up really well on light gray, I'm sorry to say. Also, light gray suits don't help kids behave at Mass, even really big important Masses, like Easter Sunday.

    Bow ties, it turns out, are pretty fun to whip at an unsuspecting brother. And jelly beans can be easily snuck into suit pockets, apparently.

    In the end, Easter isn't all about our planning and preparation, after all. Whether the kids look and act perfect or are splashed with mud, the church's celebration of Easter Sunday happens.

    If we succeeded brilliantly or failed terribly with our Lenten resolution, Christ's resurrection still illumines our day and our life. Even though the kids purposely cross their eyes for the photo and the lamb cake is missing an ear, there just is no stopping Easter! And about that, I say, let us rejoice and be glad!

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    (Maria Morrow earned her doctorate in theology from the University of Dayton and is the author of "Sin in the Sixties: Catholics and Confession, 1955-1975." Morrow currently resides in New Jersey with her husband Jeffrey and their six amazing children.)

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    BONUS 5: The living Way of the Cross, a Hispanic tradition of faith
    By Norma Montenegro Flynn
    Catholic News Service

    One of the most popular traditions among Hispanic Catholics in the United States is the "Viacrucis viviente" or living Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.

    It is a re-enactment of Jesus' final hours and his journey to Calvary as said in the prayers and reflections of the Stations of the Cross. This tradition focuses on the suffering of Christ and gives an opportunity to bring our own sufferings to the foot of the cross and to harvest spiritual rewards as we celebrate his rising on Easter.

    The living Stations of the Cross is celebrated in Latin America and other countries such as Spain, Italy and the Philippines. In the United States, areas with large Hispanic immigrant populations have found in their parishes the support to continue sharing this tradition with their children and people from other cultures.

    Many parishes make it bilingual, and some bishops such as Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, and David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, have also joined in this tradition, embracing the universality of the Catholic faith.

    What makes the living Stations of the Cross a deeply moving experience is that viewers will see a re-creation of Jesus' last moments unfolding before their eyes as a reminder of the suffering and pain he endured on his way to the cross and for our salvation.

    They will visualize the bloody sweat on Jesus' tunic, the crown of thorns on his forehead, they will see him fall three times while Roman soldiers scourge and mock him on the way to his crucifixion.

    As the scenes unfold and the procession follows, a priest or prayer leader will recite in Spanish the prayers corresponding to each of the 14 stations. The prayers are combined with traditional pious hymns such as "Perdona a tu pueblo, Señor," or "Forgive your people, Lord." The somber and reverent atmosphere invites silent self-reflection.

    Volunteers and coordinators say that people often do not feel prepared for the roles they are assigned, but they are moved by their faith and as they spend several weeks rehearsing and learning their lines, they also prepare themselves physically and spiritually, often through prayer and fasting.

    The experiences of the roles they play stay with them for a long time and even strengthen their faith, said Santiago Gomez, a volunteer at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, in Washington, where he leads the Cristo Joven young adult group that every year performs a play of the Passion of Christ prior to the Stations of the Cross. In 2017 he performed the role of Jesus.

    "It was a moving experience, I was able to feel a minimal sample of what Jesus lived through," Gomez said in Spanish. "The biggest satisfaction is that many people through the dramatization can feel and see things differently."

    At this location, the procession that goes along Mount Pleasant Street attracts hundreds of people. Some of those attending may not be regular churchgoers but will make time for this Easter triduum tradition, and oftentimes families of three or four generations show up to pray together.

    As they share in the suffering of Christ, they will also bring to the cross their own sufferings, whether it is an illness, loneliness, family separations, an uncertain immigrant situation or family troubles. On that day, none of their crosses seem as heavy as the one Jesus carried to Calvary.

    As we continue the celebration of the Paschal triduum on Good Friday, we unite ourselves to Jesus and accompany him on the way to Calvary, looking forward to celebrating once again with deeper joy and renewed hope and faith his rising on Easter Sunday.

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    (Montenegro Flynn is a freelance journalist and communications consultant in Washington.)

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    BONUS 6: El Víacrucis viviente, una tradición hispana de fe
    Por Norma Montenegro Flynn
    Catholic News Service

    Una de las tradiciones más populares entre los católicos hispanos en los Estados Unidos es el "Víacrucis viviente" que se celebra el Viernes Santo.

    Consiste en una recreación de las últimas horas de Jesús camino al Calvario como se narra en las oraciones y reflexiones del Víacrucis. Esta tradición se enfoca en el sufrimiento de Cristo y da la oportunidad de llevar nuestros propios sufrimientos al pie de la cruz y cosechar recompensas espirituales al celebrar su resurrección el Domingo de resurrección.  

    En América Latina y otros países como España, Italia y Filipinas fieles católicos celebran los Víacrucis vivientes. Y en los Estados Unidos, áreas con grandes poblaciones de inmigrantes hispanos han encontrado en sus parroquias el apoyo para seguir compartiendo esta tradición con sus hijos y personas de otras culturas.

    Muchas parroquias lo hacen bilingüe, y algunos obispos como monseñor Michael F. Burbidge de Arlington, Virginia, y monseñor David J. Malloy de Rockford, Illinois, también se han unido a esta tradición que refleja la universalidad de la fe católica.

    Lo que hace que el Víacrucis viviente sea una experiencia conmovedora es que los espectadores observan los últimos momentos de Jesús como un recordatorio del sufrimiento y el dolor que experimentó en su camino a la cruz y por nuestra salvación.

    Durante la dramatización, los fieles ven a Jesús vistiendo su túnica ensangrentada, la corona de espinas en su frente, lo verán caen tres veces mientras soldados romanos lo azotan y se burlan de él en el camino a su crucifixión.

    Mientras el drama transcurre y la procesión sigue, un sacerdote o líder recitará las oraciones correspondientes a cada una de las 14 estaciones. Las oraciones se combinan con himnos piadosos tradicionales como "Perdona a tu pueblo, Señor". La atmósfera sombría y reverente invitan a la autorreflexión silenciosa.

    Voluntarios y coordinadores dicen que las personas a veces no se sienten preparadas para los roles que se les asignan, pero son movidos por su fe y mientras pasan varias semanas ensayando, también se preparan física y espiritualmente, a menudo a través de la oración y el ayuno.

    Las experiencias de los roles que juegan permanecen con ellos durante mucho tiempo e incluso fortalecen su fe, dijo Santiago Gómez, un voluntario en el Santuario del Sagrado Corazón, en Washington, donde lidera el ministerio de jóvenes adultos Cristo Joven que cada año realiza una obra de la Pasión de Cristo antes del Víacrucis. En el 2017, Gómez realizó el papel de Jesús.

    "Fue un aprendizaje muy bonito porque experimenté una muestra mínima de lo que Jesús vivió", dijo Gómez. "La mayor satisfacción es que muchas personas a través de la dramatización pueden sentir y ver las cosas de manera distinta".

    En este lugar, la procesión que recorre la calle Mount Pleasant atrae a cientos de personas. Algunos de los espectadores pueden no frecuentar la iglesia, pero harán tiempo para esta tradición del triduo Pascual, y a menudo familias de tres o cuatro generaciones llegan y oran juntos.

    Al compartir el sufrimiento de Cristo, los presentes también llevan al pie de la cruz sus propios sufrimientos, ya sea una enfermedad, soledad, separaciones familiares, una situación insegura de inmigrantes o problemas familiares. Ese día, ninguna de sus cruces parecen ser tan pesadas como la que Jesús cargó en sus hombros al Calvario.

    Es así como el Viernes Santo, mientras continuamos la celebración del triduo Pascual, nos unimos a Jesús y lo acompañamos en el camino al Calvario, y nos preparamos para celebrar su resurrección con profunda alegría, esperanza y fe renovada.

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    (Norma Montenegro Flynn es periodista independiente en Washington.)


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