st-peters-basilica

Coming Home

We went to Rome, and it rained.

Not a romantic sprinkle, nor a misty fog that temporarily hid the sights of the ancient city. No, this was real rain, good ol’ Singin’-in-the-Rain-style rain that bounced off the sidewalks and turned cobblestoned streets into winding rivers.

We took it all in stride, even the 90-minute wait outside St. Peter’s Basilica to get into Mass on All Saints’ Day. Luckily, our umbrellas held up pretty well. And it was worth it, both for the Mass and the sheer glorious scale of the basilica, where golden angels vanished into the darkness of the roof overhead.

The next day we went to another church (there was always another church, which was fine by me). In the minor Basilica of St. Peter in Chains we saw the magnificent sculpture Moses by Michelangelo, part of the tomb of Pope Julius II, who also commissioned the Sistine Chapel.

St. Francis, who loved animals, was said to have preached to the birds.

On one of the good-weather days (there were two) we took a side trip to Assisi, home of St. Francis, who was an animal lover and, according to legend, preached to the birds and persuaded a wolf not to attack a group of villagers. You can believe that or not, but if you read about Francis one of his most enduring legacies is his love for all creatures and his belief that living in poverty was living in the true spirit of Christ.

st-francis

Not everything was so ethereal, of course. Wherever you went in the Vatican district, entrepreneurs had set up stands with thousands of plastic magnets portraying the cathedrals, Rome in general and Pope Francis in particular. “Il Papa,” as he’s known locally, is a great favorite, and thousands of tourists and locals push into St. Peter’s Square every Wednesday for a chance for a general blessing and to see Il Papa be driven around the square in his Papa mobile. We also pushed our way in; how could we not? We were amazed and almost overwhelmed by the faith of the people who came to see him.

For me, the trip to Rome was a kind of homecoming, even though I’d never been there. I was raised in a very strict Catholic home but stayed away from the Church for a long time, both because of some of its beliefs and all of its sexual-abuse scandals. Now, though, I’m coming to realize that faith and good will are still part of the Church. It might be time to consider going home again.

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