Pilgrims!

Like a fish trying to swim upstream, I fought my way forward. Torrents of people flowed the opposite direction. I wondered if I would ever reach the “concrete shore” on the other side.
by Mark Thelen, LC | Source:
Like a fish trying to swim upstream, I fought my way forward. Torrents of people flowed the opposite direction. I wondered if I would ever reach the “concrete shore” on the other side.

It wasn’t a strange competition - I was simply trying to cross the road in a Rome swollen with the Easter tide of visitors. Attending the world youth day in the diocese of Rome on Palm Sunday at the beginning of the tourist flood, I realized that we were in for something big. As my eyes skimmed over the vast crowds that morning, there were at least ten different flags waving in the cool morning sun, and St. Peter’s Square filled up in a matter of an hour.

The scene repeated itself in numerous events during the weeks preceding and following Easter: the Way of the Cross with the Holy Father at the Coliseum, the blessing in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday, the General Audience on the first anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s election, and many more.

Yet, although the tell-tale signs of tourists - cameras flashing at everything that moved, maps in hand, and a variety of languages – were everywhere, something seemed different.

Why were they here in Rome? What were they doing?

They weren’t tourists, they were pilgrims! It became very clear as I thought back on Holy Saturday. I toured the Vatican museums with a group of high school students from Pennsylvania.

As we walked through the museum, things looked normal: the tour guide diligently explained in heavily accented English, “Now this is a very important sculpture and it played an important role…” Cameras snapped pictures of every last bit of marble on display. The kids were exhausted and took advantage of every split second pause to sit down in any space free of artwork and tourists.

Yet, I hardly remembered these things. What stuck out in my mind was the interest on these teenagers’ faces as they looked on Michelangelo’s pietá, the Sistine Chapel, Bernini’s Bronze Canopy, and many more timeless works of art. They weren’t just looking at masterpieces of great value, they were witnessing a dynamic transmission of a message, a faith, of a person that has been going on non-stop for over two thousand years.

Christ was born, died, and rose to save each of us. These works of art silently cried out the testimony to his message of love. Their authors had experienced and were transmitting something – this something, which these kids were encountering.

Their eyes shone with the spark of the Holy Spirit’s light. Their ears rung with the voice of one who had spoken with authority. Their hearts burned with the fire of a love that they had witnessed just the night before on Good Friday – “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends” (Jn 6:13). Instead of passing through, they were encountering Christ.


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