Today was exhilarating, exhausting and mind-numbing. We awakened at 4:30 a.m., had our suitcases outside by 5 a.m., and headed to the airport at 5:30 a.m. My kind of day! The plane ride to Rome was nearly three hours. We enjoyed a wonderful Italian lunch and then headed to Vatican City.
What a remarkable and enduring place. After visiting Athens and Istanbul, you cannot help but be struck by the pantheon of “representatives” that line St. Peter’s Square. The experience itself was overwhelming. Eventually I just stopped processing and took pictures for later reflection.
The most remarkable experience for me was the time in the Sistine Chapel. I was struck by the beauty, the majesty and the remarkable religious imagination. How did Michelangelo conceive of this and then execute it in four short years? Of course, the centerpiece of God touching Adam is nothing short of spectacular. There is really no adequate preparation for what you experience when you walk inside—it’s truly breathtaking. We concluded our time at the Vatican with a tour of St. Peter’s.
St. Peter’s is overwhelming in terms of its size, structure and sheer magnificence. The visual center of gravity is the huge altar built over the burial site of St. Peter. The building itself offers an incredible magnetic pull to the majesty of God.
As we returned to our room tonight and recovered access to CNN International, we were able to learn more about Turkey. We also heard about the scandals and corruption rocking Italian politics. The English commentator mentioned that this all sounded like “business as usual” for Italian politics. After spending a large part of the day focused on our own religious heritage as Christians, we began to wonder out loud how our life with God becomes a living reality in each new generation. We also reflected again on the benefits of political favor and the challenges that have faced the church during different periods of its 2,000-year history. A puzzling observation offered by our guide was the deal made with Mussolini in the early 1920s where the pope blessed his government in exchange for political autonomy.
This has been the most challenging and interesting component of our travels: to witness the compromises made at a point in time that take on much greater significance as the years pass.
Tomorrow we visit the sites of Christian persecution and martyrdom and reflect together on the sources of strength and opposition to the faith today. Until then, blessings and goodnight.
Gayle D. Beebe