On Wednesday evening I arrived back home after a hectic week in Rome. Not all readers of my weekly blog appreciate the fact that from time to time I make (often quite friendly) remarks about Roman-Catholicism and ‘the’ Catholics. Some will no doubt argue that it fits in my (too) pro-Catholic profile that I would choose Rome as my travel destination. Well, let me put those who are worried about this, at ease. I was in Rome as the tour leader for a group of senior church members. I had not personally chosen this destination, but was only asked to serve as the leader at a late stage of the preparations.
Rome is truly a fantastic city and—when accompanied by good guides—it is a magnificent experience to visit the many classical and ecclesiastical sites. And when Pompeii and Assisi are also part of the trip, this is a great bonus.
Being a tour leader is, however, not only a matter of pure enjoyment. It is a challenge to keep everyone happy—as much as possible. It is far from easy to keep the group together in the midst of, almost always, large masses of people. Organizing the meals during Adventist tours may be the greatest challenge. The restaurants that are contracted by tour operators tend not to be very creative when it comes to vegetarian meals, which are in relatively high demand among Adventist travelers. And they seem to have difficulty interpreting Leviticus 11 correctly. But, all together, the participants of this tour did not make things too difficult for me and I returned home feeling quite content. However, I must admit I was rather tired. One of our guides told me that Italy consists for 80 percent of mountains and hills, while the remaining 20 percent consists of stairs. And this latter aspect was certainly our experience!
Among the the elements of the trip that I found personally very meaningful was, in particular, the papal audience on Wednesday morning. We arrived at the large square before the St. Peter’s basilica at about a quarter past eight. There still were large numbers of empty seats and we could seat ourselves in the front section, even though the most strategic seats (near the corridors where the pope would pass) had all already been taken. How many people were there eventually? I find it hard to tell, but there must at least have been ten thousand people.
The square was filled with happy people, glowing with glad expectancy. For the many groups of pilgrims, from places all over the world, to see and hear the pope would be the moment supreme of their journey to Rome (and maybe of their life). In many ways it resembled a open air version of a Sabbath morning during a General Conference, when many thousands of people from countries around the word, convene in a similar kind of atmosphere!
Around half past nine suddenly the white figure of Pope Franciscus appeared. I had to climb on my chair to see the pope. He was driven around for about thirty minutes, stopped repeatedly and occasionally left his vehicle to talk to people. Then he took his seat on the large podium that was erected before the entrance to the basilica. Next was a Scripture reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in some eight different languages, followed by a homily by the pope on this passage that deals with marriage. Then the gist of this homily was repeated in the languages that had earlier been used for the Scripture reading. After this the pope greeted and blessed the main groups that came from these langue areas. The ceremony ended with the apostolic blessing by Franciscus and the collective praying of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin. The text was printed on the back side of our entrance ticket. At about half past eleven everything was over and slowly the masses exited the square.
No, I am not at he point of converting to Catholicism. If I ever were to leave my church (which is not very likely), there would be several other options to consider first. But I must in all honesty admit that I felt special, being surrounded by so much enthusiasm and happy faith.
However, now I am back in Zeewolde. It took me a good part of the day (yesterday) to deal with my e-mail backlog. And then I discovered the nearness of the deadline for my contributions to the church paper. Today (Friday) I have dedicated a major part of the day to this. Now a quiet weekend is about to begin. I plan to enjoy it.