Weekly Musings

“Let’s go and pray.” Inevitably, these were Sister Eusebia’s words shortly after we greeted one another. She knew the world was in great need of prayer and rather than spend our time in idle chat she was convinced that time spent in prayer was much more valuable.

Sister Eusebia was a Dominican nun who lived in Cologne. I visited her every time I went to the city. She had a beautiful smile and was always joyous and welcoming. Together, we prayed for her sisters in Cologne and abroad. We prayed for the Pope and his intentions. We prayed for the Church. And we prayed for the needs of the world in a rather general way. 

One day I suggested that we should pray for actual needs. “Like what?” she asked. I suggested she read the newspaper before praying. She mentioned she would give it a go. When I saw her next she had stopped reading the newspaper because there was just too much anger in people, she said. So she continued to pray for all the needs of the world in general, but added a prayer for all those whose heart was hardened by anger. 

A couple of weeks ago the newspaper posted the pictures of four young people who tortured a teenager and streamed it online. I was struck by the anger in their faces. It made me think of Sister Eusebia who has long since passed. She was right. We are indeed bombarded with the reality of endless reports of anger and violence in our homes, in our cities, in our countries and throughout the world. And we are verbally assaulted by people literally shouting at one another or doing it virtually through harsh Facebook posts and brassy tweets. Anger and fear are at the basis of all of this. And as we know, anger begets more anger resulting in an endless spiral of violence.

The kind of anger our world suffers from is not limited to any specific group of people. We witness anger between people of different races, religions, classes, genders, sexualities, political affiliations, etc. Anger appears to be pervasive. And often, this anger goes hand in hand with the most extreme forms of individualism, even bordering on narcissism. We are on a very precipitous and dangerous path. 

This surely is not the path of Jesus and it cannot be the path of a Christian or any follower of God. The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time make this very clear. They stand in sharp contrast to the un-holy ways of our world.

First, the prophet Zephaniah states that the people of God are humble. They seek justice. They do no wrong and speak no lies. They are honest and honorable. And they take refuge in the name of the LORD.

Second, Saint Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians tells us that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.”

Third, Saint Matthew counts among the blessed those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are clean of heart, those who are peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. 

These are challenging words. They are almost revolutionary ideas. And yet, this is how we are called to live. So, let us join Sister Eusebia who now prays for us in heaven. Let us pray for our own conversion and for a conversion of heart of those who are chained by anger. Then, emboldened by fervent prayer, let us take up Pope Francis’ challenge and unleash a revolution of love and tenderness on our broken world. For as we know, in the end love always prevails.

 

Just before Christmas, Fr. Welch, one of our weekend presiders, sent me an email that contained a picture that had been published in several newspapers. The picture was that of a 21-week-old unborn baby named Samuel Alexander Armas. The baby was being operated on by a surgeon named Joseph Bruner. The reason for the surgery was that the baby had been diagnosed with spina bifida and would not survive if removed from his mother's womb. Samuel’s mother, Julie Armas, is an obstetrics nurse in Atlanta, and had heard of Dr. Bruner’s remarkable surgical procedure—a procedure in which Dr. Bruner performs these special operations while the baby is still in the womb. 

During the operation, the doctor removed the uterus via C-section and made a small incision to operate on the baby. As Dr. Bruner completed the surgery on Samuel, the baby reached his tiny, but fully developed hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon’s finger. Dr. Bruner was reported as saying that when his finger was grasped, it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for an instant during the procedure he was just frozen, totally immobile. 

The photograph that accompanied the email captured this amazing event with perfect clarity. The editors titled the picture, “Hand of Hope.” The text explaining the picture began, “The tiny hand of 21-week-old fetus Samuel Alexander Armas emerges from his mother’s uterus to grasp the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner as if thanking the doctor for the “gift of life.” Samuel’s mother said they “wept for days” when they saw the picture. She said; “The photo reminds us pregnancy isn't about disability or an illness, it’s about a little person. Samuel was born in perfect health, the operation 100 percent successful.”

Now I mention the above because this Sunday, January 22 we celebrate the 44th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. And while many herald this anniversary as a once and for all victory for those who advocate abortion rights, I have to ask, whether in light of the changes in the care we can now offer during pregnancy, and especially given the fact that we can operate on a child while it is still in the uterus, isn’t it time we revisit the issue of abortion? 

I think it is time for us to advance the discussion 44 years and look at the issue of abortion with fresh eyes and open hearts, and not allow it to be discussed simply as a private matter involving freedom of choice. At a minimum and as a starting point, the many advances in medical science demand that we raise and respond to the vital question of when life begins. 

Now, from our Catholic perspective the answer to the above question is clear. Life begins at conception. From our perspective, human life is a precious gift from God. Each person who receives this gift has the responsibility to protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence. This belief flows from ordinary reason and from our faith’s consistent witness that life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception. 

Legalized as a private act, abortion remains a very public issue. As such it deserves a new discussion, not one that is 44 years old. As Catholics, as people who are pro-life, I think we need to take the lead in this discussion. In doing so, we need the courage and honesty to speak the truth about human life. We need the humility to listen to both friends and opponents. We need the perseverance to continue the struggle for the protection of human life. And we need to ask God for the prudence and grace to know when and how to do all of this. 

This past All Souls day, I spent some time reflecting on those family members and friends who had died these past few years. I then commended them to God in prayer. In some cases their lives were long and full, and there was much to remember and celebrate. In other cases their passing—at least from my perspective—occurred too soon. There was much that was left unsaid and undone. 

As I continued to reflect on the lives of those people who had touched my life and whose passing occurred much too soon, I found myself feeling not just sad, but also a little irritated. I couldn’t get out it of my mind that they had died before their time. As I continued to pray, though, suddenly two thoughts occurred to me almost at the same time. 

The first was something the Irish pastor I worked with for six years used to say. Specifically he would say: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” This was his standard response when something happened that he didn’t understand or that seemed nonsensical. I think it was his Irish was of saying that God’s ways are not our ways. And the surprising thing was that once he said it, he was able to let go of whatever it was he couldn’t understand. It was as if having given voice to his lack of understanding, that was all he needed to do. He could let it go and move on. 

The second thought that occurred to me as I prayed were the simple words: “Remember the Blessings.” While I had been caught up in the sadness of loss, these words reminded me that I needed to focus instead on the blessings these people had been in my life. Now in saying this I don’t think I was being called to deny or try to block out the sadness I was feeling. Instead I also needed to remember the blessings these people had been in my life, and then let the healing balm of those blessings sooth and console me. And when I was able to do this, I did find comfort and consolation. 

When we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, we need to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. It is not for us to understand the ways and work of God in this lifetime. Sometimes we will just need to acknowledge and accept this. At these times it may help us to say as my Irish pastor did that: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” Additionally, though, when we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, it can be helpful to “Remember the Blessings.” The memory of the blessings we have experienced and enjoyed can bring healing and hope to the sometimes difficult and painful situations we encounter. 

In this lifetime none of us can escape having to deal with situations that are painful, sad and difficult. Accepting the fact that we don’t have to understand them and remembering that even in these situations there are blessings that can help us move forward in faith and hope, trusting in our God’s grace and great love. 

Our building is big and our parish is large. It might feel overwhelming to know how to connect. It’s easy to come to Mass and leave without really getting to know anyone. Some parishioners have shared that they just don’t know how to get involved, or who to call. Are you wondering how to find your way in our parish? 

Please know, there is a place for you at the Basilica and we’d love to help you make connections within our parish community. Your involvement and engagement make it possible for The Basilica to carry out its mission and to seek the well-being of the city. 

Many people tell us once they got involved as a volunteer, they started to meet people and see them at church. Their initial involvement led to exploring other interests and opportunities, and making new friends. Some described it as a “snowball” effect. Once they got involved, it wasn’t long before The Basilica started to feel like their spiritual home. 

The first step? Simply let us know you might be interested in getting involved:

  • Contact Ashley Wyatt, our Volunteer Coordinator or if you know what you’d like to do, reach out directly to our staff. 
  • Check out ways to get involved online at mary.org/volunteer, or pickup a newsletter at church. You can look for current openings that fit your schedule, interests and availability. 

If you want to get involved, but aren’t sure what you’d like to try, consider meeting with a volunteer from our Gifts Leadership Team. Their volunteer commitment is to meet with new members and help connect them to opportunities to get involved. You’ll get to know another parishioner, and learn more about the many ways to get involved tailored to your interests and availability. 

Want to volunteer for a one time activity? Events and activities come up all year. You don’t have to make an ongoing commitment. We’ll advertise one time opportunities, like decorating for Advent and Christmas, the Parish Picnic, Basilica Block Party, Community Service Sundays and more. All you have to do is sign up when you are free to help. One time events are a great way to meet new people, and for families or groups of friends who want to volunteer together. 

Coming to Mass on the weekend, and want to include volunteering in one trip? It takes hundreds of people to make our Liturgies happen. Often, commitments are once a month and happen at Mass or after. You’ll serve with a wonderful team of people and training is provided. Whether it’s helping greet people as they arrive at Mass, serving as a Eucharistic Minister, or helping serve donuts and coffee after Mass, there’s a place for you. 

Consider joining one of our many Outreach Ministries, Refugee Committee or delivering Meals on Wheels. We need people to teach our children and adults about their faith, greet visitors at the Rectory, or join a choir. One volunteer team cooks and serves Sunday brunch monthly for our new members. Music lovers enjoy serving as concert ushers. Other volunteers take photos, write articles, and help with graphic design. Groups of volunteers help garden and mow the lawn. 

All these opportunities and many more are critical to carrying our mission in the city. Just let us know your interests, and we’ll work with you to help find a fit for your availability, gifts and skills. 

In December 2015, The Basilica community whole-heartedly agreed to co-sponsor a refugee family with Lutheran Social Services (LSS). In preparation for their arrival, we held a second collection to gather funds needed for housing and other basic needs. We developed a team of dedicated, talented, and compassionate volunteers to organize the efforts and work with the family. We worked with LSS to set up their apartment and collected various household items to make their transition as easy as possible.

The Family Has Arrived!
On February 21, 2016, a group of Basilica parishioners were excited to gather at the airport to welcome the refugee family to Minnesota. Prepared with welcome signs, U.S. and Somali flags, new winter coats and gloves, and open hearts, Basilica parishioners greeted the family and began a journey of support and solidarity.

The family is originally from Somalia. Two parents, two teenage daughters and two sons in their early 20s arrived on February 21. Several older children immigrated separately a few years ago.

After two days of settling in, The Basilica mentoring team joined LSS in a meeting with the family. They began to share stories with one another and build relationships. Through a translator, one of the young men said he knew this transition would be a very difficult move, and he didn’t know if they would be able to make it. However, after meeting the people here to help them, he knows it will work. It was a humbling and sacred meeting.

The Basilica team began to learn how to help the family in their transition. All of their goals involve education and work. The family is deeply grateful for the opportunity to be in Minnesota and said they are committed to “Doing their very best.” 

Basilica volunteers are excited to work with LSS to help them reach their goals. We invite our whole community to hold the family in prayer over the months ahead.

The Family’s Journey
During the violent civil war and famine in Somalia, this family left their homeland in 1992 and settled into the newly established Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya. The United Nations set up Dadaab in one of the harshest terrains in the Kenyan desert in 1991, housing 90,000 refugees escaping Somalia’s civil war. Today, Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world, home to close to 500,000 people. 

The children in the family that arrived in Minnesota on February 21 were born in the Dadaab Refugee camp. Even with lives beginning and ending, Dadaab remains purely temporary living. No permanent features of community life can officially be established: housing, employment, schooling, or commerce. While canvas tents are provided by the United Nations, they deteriorate in the sun after several years. Houses are then fortified with twigs and occasional tin roofs. Most homes stand less than six feet tall. While people are protected from civil war, security requires little opportunity to leave the camp. To learn more about the refugee camp, visit dadaabstories.org.

Several years ago, after living in the Dadaab Refugee Camp over twenty years, the family was transferred to the Kakuma Refugee Camp to prepare to immigrate to the United States. They have been awaiting the transition for a long time. They arrived tired, yet glad to be in the United States.  

How to Get Involved:
During this Year of Mercy, there are many ways to get involved in this ministry. There are several committees established to coordinate these opportunities:

  • Mentoring Team: to work closely with the family
  • Collections: opportunities to collect and package supplies for refugee families
  • Education and advocacy: to provide forums to learn more about refugees and immigration
  • Communication: to share information with The Basilica community throughout this partnership

LSS will resettle about 625 individuals in the Metro and St. Cloud areas in 2016.  Because they arrive in the U.S. with few belongings, there is an immediate need to provide them with basic personal and household items. In the coming months, we will organize several events to give our Basilica community an opportunity to collect and package the most-needed items.  

On a Sunday afternoon in early April, The Basilica and Masjid An-Nur will co-sponsor an event on Islamophobia in our community. Our speaker will be Dr. Todd Green, author of the book The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West and Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. This is a timely and important discussion for our community. 

The Basilica is already making plans to sponsor another family later in the Spring. 

According to the United Nations, there are currently 43 million uprooted victims of conflict and persecution worldwide. Rooted in love and faith, The Basilica community is committed to a compassionate response in whatever ways possible. Look for upcoming announcements about how you can help this effort!

Have you ever thought about how many volunteers it takes to make ministry happen at The Basilica? There are many options for getting involved. Volunteer for a one time opportunity, or make a recurring commitment and join a small group for a chance to meet some new people. If you have children at home, you may be looking for volunteer opportunities for your family. Please know there is a place to put your skills and talents to work within our parish, or outside the parish with our community partners. 

We are grateful for our cadre of volunteers that flows in and out at The Basilica on weekdays and weekends, but make no mistake, there are plenty of opportunities available now and we welcome your help.

Helping with weekend liturgies is a way to celebrate Mass and volunteer in one trip to The Basilica and be inspired for the week ahead. Volunteers serve as Ministers of Hospitality greeting people as they arrive at Mass and we need more people to help at all of our Masses. Often people join a team to get to know other parishioners, and generally, this is a once a month commitment. Everywhere you look at Masses, you’ll see volunteers in our choirs and serving Eucharistic Ministers. After Masses, we need help staffing our Welcome and Information Desk, and we also need volunteers to serve coffee and donuts and welcome all who join us. These are great opportunities for all ages, including families with children.  

On weekends, volunteer catechists teach children and youth about our faith and serve in our Sunday Nursery. Weekdays, volunteers staff our reception desk, greet visitors at our doors, and welcome the hungry with coffee and a sandwich. Volunteer drivers deliver Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors in the downtown area. Some take on a regular shift, while others serve as a backup drivers.  

On Thursday evenings, volunteers facilitate our Pathways program to help people working to change and stabilize their lives. A meal is provided, and there is critical need for volunteers to assist with childcare once a month, or once a quarter. Other volunteers serve as mentors to college students who are homeless and enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Still others participate in our St. Vincent de Paul outreach to those most in need in our community. Volunteer job coaches help the unemployed, and others help build awareness about mental health issues and resources. 

Are you good at planning logistics, or do you have a background in sales? You can support all our parish ministries by helping put on fundraising events, or calling on our members and asking for donations. In the summer, we have volunteer gardeners and teams that will help build a new Habitat for Humanity home.

One of the biggest challenges we face is finding volunteers to step into ministry leadership. Day by day, and week by week, volunteers in partnership with staff organize and make our liturgies happen, teach children and adults about their faith and traditions, insure that outreach is available to those in need, involve us in defending others from injustice, and keep parish operations running.   

Recently, a group of volunteers and staff met together to explore leadership at The Basilica. We offer this is opportunity about every 18 months. This group got to know each other, and together explored how The Basilica is organized, got to know our staff directors and our pastor, learned about our mission, and our baptismal call.  

Please, consider if you are called to get involved. Consider one time opportunities like decorating the church for Easter, or helping the day of the parish picnic, or, if you are looking for a reccurring commitment, join one of our many ministry volunteer teams.  

Saint Teresa of Avila put the challenge to us in these words: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.”

How are we going to answer this call to be God's hands and feet in the world? 

If you are interested in getting involved, or considering leadership opportunities, reach out to Ashley Wyatt our Volunteer Coordinator.
 

On the Threshold

The Basilica of Saint Mary is on the threshold of making a huge difference in our community. We are on the verge of doing something great. Working together, we have an opportunity to effectively put our faith into action—leaving the world a better place for future generations. 

What are we doing? What is so grand and effectual? Beginning in early May, when you throw away garbage at the Basilica, you will have three options: Is it recycling? Is it organics? Is it trash? Your choice to sort waste accurately will help change the culture of The Basilica, and save our world. This simple choice can speak boldly and prophetically to our community.

Is this hyperbole? Well, perhaps. But I suggest that this very simple gesture, multiplied over and over every day, can indeed change our world.  This focused attention to the waste stream we create, individually and collectively as a parish community, can make a significant difference in our world. 

We can too easily minimize the impact of small, individual efforts in a big world. Yet, we are invited to consider the impact of our collective actions, working together as the Body of Christ, advocating and acting on behalf of the most vulnerable. All it takes is a desire to engage—a willingness to care and act. 

Currently, The Basilica sends at least two-thirds of our waste stream into trash, with less than a third recycled. Over and over we put materials that have value into the trash—adding to landfills or incinerator use. Hennepin County was considering enlarging the incinerator just north of The Basilica due to over use. A large proportion of what is being burned has value, and they have refocused their efforts to increase composting. We can help in this effort. As we all help to sort our waste, we will drastically reduce what The Basilica puts into the landfills and incinerators. The goal for The Basilica is to move to 10% trash.

Organics:
One big change for The Basilica is to begin to collect organics that can be easily composted into rich soil. Did you know that 40% of the waste stream created by each of us every day is organics? Food waste, non-recyclable paper, flowers and plant waste, and other organic items add up to almost half of our garbage. When organics are placed in a landfill, they create methane gas, which is 70 times worse a greenhouse gas than carbon-dioxide. If we divert even 15% of the organics from our landfills, we would realize a reduction of methane gas equal to taking over 23,500 cars off the road. We can make a huge difference. All it takes is a choice: place all organics into the correct waste bin.

Recycling: 
Recycling can seem mundane or old-school. Yet, when we choose recycling, we allow our waste to be reconstituted and reused. Some things, like aluminum cans and glass bottles/jars, have no limit on the number of times they can be recycled. They don’t lose their quality when recycled over and over. 

Materials like paper do not have an infinite life. The number of times paper can get recycled into new paper is limited. Normal copy paper can go through the recycling process five to seven times. After that, the paper fibers will become too short. Newspaper is already of lower quality. It can be turned into egg cartons.

Our habits are often ingrained in our culture and can easily be dismissed. We are a society that measures our productivity by how much we purchase. We often clear out by throwing away.  Our faith calls us to calibrate our lives and actions differently. Our invitation is to take these choices seriously.

The exciting part of this initiative is that it involves each of us. We will have success if we all do our part. Yet, the hard part of this initiative is that success depends on each one of us. Let us, together, find ways to energize our imaginations and engage. 

Look for new bins, in sets of three, all around The Basilica campus. Help us be successful in our work to leave the world in a better place for future generations

Basilica volunteers are leading the way again by helping us evaluate and reduce waste at our parish.

The Basilica is located in Hennepin County, and they set new goals as part of a “Zero Waste” initiative to reduce waste and increase recycling next year. They hope to achieve this waste reduction by increasing recycling rates to 45% and to 6% for organics (which include food and non-recyclable paper.) 

We want to do our part at The Basilica. Thanks to the leadership of volunteers Donna Krisch and Dennis Dillon and staff members Janice Andersen and Dave Laurent, we are in the process of evaluating how to reduce waste and increase recycling. We are also considering starting an organics recovery program at The Basilica. 

To help organizations like The Basilica, Hennepin County provides funding and assistance to businesses and institutions to start or improve programs to divert recyclables and organics.  Grants of up to $10,000 are available from Hennepin County to fund things like the purchase of containers, equipment, hauling service charges, start up funds for new programs, compostable plastic bags and more. These grants are available to for-profit and non-profit businesses, organizations and institutions, including multi-family housing. Grants can be used to start or improve recycling programs at facilities located within Hennepin County. 

Larger grants of up to $50,000 are also available for businesses. The county estimates that half of the waste generated in the county comes from businesses and nearly two-thirds of that waste is recyclable. If you’d like to learn more, contact www.hennepin.us/businessrecycling.

Parish volunteer leaders, our staff and Aspen, our current trash/recycling vendor, are working in partnership to examine our past recycling levels, and they are looking at ways to increase these efforts. This work helps both our environment and our financial bottom line.

The idea of starting an organics program at The Basilica is being researched. According to Hennepin County Public Works, almost 30% of waste is food and food-soiled paper. The next Hennepin County grant deadline is October 15, and we are working to submit a grant request at that time. 

The Basilica’s volunteer Eco Team is also looking at how to increase the visibility and effectiveness of recycling on our parish campus. How can we improve the location of containers for recycling trash and organics composting? What signage and practical approaches would help all of us understand how we can each participate and help increase our recycling efforts on The Basilica campus? 

 

 

 

The Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and thus the Christmas season comes to an end. This would probably come as a surprise to many people as Christmas outside the church has been forcibly erased from our memories with the red and green of Christmas gradually being replaced by the red-only of the next commercial holiday, St. Valentine. In the church, though, the evergreens still stand and the poinsettias, though visibly tired persist.

The two main liturgical celebrations of the church: Christmas and Easter have a time of preparation, respectively Advent and Lent and a time of celebration, respectively Christmastide and Eastertide. The Christmas season is punctuated by a number of liturgical celebrations, in chronological succession: the feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year unless January 1st falls on a Sunday when it is celebrated on December 30th; the solemnity of the Mother of God on January 1st; the solemnity of the Epiphany mostly observed on the Sunday between January 2 and 8; and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany unless Epiphany falls on January 7 or 8 when the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated the next day. 

The more ancient of these celebrations, namely Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord, together with the Birth of the Lord were originally celebrated as one big celebration of the Epiphany of God in Jesus Christ on January 6. This unified feast predates the separate celebration of Christmas on December 25. There is evidence of the celebration of the Epiphany by the end of the second century, while the earliest known reference to Christmas is no older than 354 AD. 
The word Epiphany is the English transliteration of the Greek Epiphaneia, meaning appearance, revelation, and manifestation.   The feast of the epiphany is thus the feast of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God. It was also known as the Theophany or Theophaneia in Greek, meaning the revelation or appearance of God. 

The original feast of the Epiphany celebrated the four major epiphanic moments in the life of Jesus all bundled in one. The first epiphany being the revelation of Jesus as God to Israel symbolized by the announcement to the shepherds which we now celebrate on Christmas. The second is the revelation of Jesus as God to the gentiles symbolized by the Magi which is celebrated on Epiphany in the churches of the west. The third is the revelation of God as the Trinity which is now celebrated on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The fourth major revelation is God’s desire to make all things new which happened at Cana when Jesus changed water into wine. Though not accorded its own feast, the reading recounting this event is  now read on the Sunday after Baptism of the Lord during year C, thus in close proximity to the other three celebrations.

The main theological reason why these epiphanic moments are now spread out over several celebrations is due to the importance of each one of them in its own right.  The goal of each celebration  is twofold: first we celebrate each epiphany so we come to know God better and second we celebrate each epiphany so we may in turn lead lives that reveal God to the world.

As we conclude the rich celebration of the Christmas season let us re-commit ourselves to reveal to the world in deed and in word what has been revealed to us. May each epiphany of God inspire us to become ourselves an epiphany of God to the world in turn.

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