What is faith? How can belief be a strong enough foundation to form an entire religion? I used to think that it was hard to believe in “One God.” I used to question whether anything really mattered outside of my own thoughts. I considered it foolish to put so much weight on something that can’t be seen. However, I believe everyone should seek what they can’t find. Thus, as I trekked through Rome over the weekend, I found myself traveling with an open mind.
|Fountain with St. Peter's Basilica in the background.|
Over the weekend, I went to the Vatican. The open plaza spans between a circular building with columns and statues and stunning reliefs. The circular sides lie adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica. We waited in line and went through heavy security so that we could go inside. My mission was not only to see, but to hear. That’s why I went to mass. Granted, most of my friends on the trip were catholic, but I opted to join them.
As we walked through the threshold of the cathedral, I lost my breath. The ceilings arch high above my head and every inch is completely gilded, carved, sculpted, painted, or all of the above. There are many sections of the cathedral so it seems like an infinite amount of space. All the stained-glass windows appear to be perfectly positioned and decorated so that the light cascades down, reflecting its pattern on the floor below.
While we waited in line for the next service, a man started playing the organ. The acoustics of the building cannot be matched. Every sound echoed perfectly through the air and filled my ears with the most beautifully harmonized music I’ve ever heard.
Slowly we started to trickle into the seating area. Above the altar hang four gigantic statues which delicately suspend a gilded throne. I’ve also never seen so many cherubs in my life.
|Inside St. Peter's Basilica|
We took our seats and the priest entered. The service took place in Latin so I was able to pick up a few words: a lot of spiritu sanctums and glorias. During the service a tenor quartet sang all of the hymns. I couldn’t fight the tears once they were all singing in harmony. Even though I didn’t understand the sermon, I still felt so much more involved than I’ve ever felt before. I watched the people around me. Most people never sat; they either stood or kneeled with their heads bowed. Many were in tears around me. At that moment, I realized that going to the Vatican is like going on a religious pilgrimage. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed—even unworthy—of the situation.
The people around me were so passionate, so entirely trusting in their beliefs while I sat there so suddenly unsure of everything. How can faith be so strong that this cathedral of untold fortune still stands and people flock by the thousands to touch the holy water or stand in awe of the architecture?At that moment I felt incredibly small and alone in my world of indecision and uncertainty. But, just as I was tempted to get up and run out, one of the oldest and wisest looking men I’ve ever seen turned around and grabbed my hand between his. “Pace con ti,” he whispered. Peace be with you. I choked in my tears and whispered it back. He smiled and moved onto the next person. All around me, people greeted each other. Peace. That’s it. No one cared that I had no religious label to my faith. All they cared about was that I was there to consider and respect theirs.
Throughout the service I held my St. Joseph pendant tightly in the palm of my hand. I knew that so many members of my family and group of friends would have died to be there. At the end of service I kneeled and bowed my head. I didn’t need to say anything. Pictures appeared in my mind—faces of everyone I love, my fondest memories with them, and everything else that gives me strength. I am so lucky, and no matter what I believe or how I show it, I’m never alone. Pace con ti.