Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:26-29
My time in Italy has been an ongoing revitalization of my faith. I know that I never really lost it, but I never imagined that these sites I have seen and experiences that I have been afforded would inspire me and move me in such a deep and powerful way. Being American, we come from such a young country that even the oldest landmarks are hundreds of years younger than it’s European counterparts. As amazing as it is to walk through a theatre that was built in the 17th century or walk though a tunnel that was built in the early 1800’s, it is the places I thought only existed in the Bible that I heard about when I was a little girl that have truly moved me. I think when you are young and you hear stories about a little Jewish girl who lived through the Holocaust or an amazing structure called the Eiffel Tower in someplace called Paris, you never imagine that you might one day visit her house or go up to the top of that structure. So when you have the opportunity of a lifetime to do just that, it is humbling and breathtaking.
For me, that feeling is multiplied by a thousand when it is seeing something from the stories I have heard all my life. I say stories because that’s what they were, just stories. Until they weren’t. Until they came to life. Until I was seeing them with my own eyes.
I like to pride myself as not being naive, as not believing everything I am told. I was raised to question things…to get to the truth. It all probably started when we went to visit the city of Turin. Here, they have what is called the Shroud of Turin. The linen is thought to bear the image of Jesus of Nazareth. The burial shroud purports to show the imprint of the face and body of a bearded man. The image also purportedly shows nail wounds at the man’s wrist and pinpricks around his brow, consistent with the “crown of thorns” mockingly pressed onto Christ at the time of his crucifixion. There has been much debate between scientists and theologians, in fact the Catholic Church has never rejected nor endorsed the shroud. But as we watched the video of the testing that the cloth has undergone and the image that is seen on the cloth, I couldn’t control the involuntary reactions my body had. My heart quickened, my stomach turned, and I got goosebumps on my arms. My brain was telling me, “this might not be what they claim it is,” but my heart was telling me all I need to know. Floods of images popped into my head. I pictured a man being beaten beyond what any human should ever have to go through. I remembered how I sobbed watching the Passion of Christ, because my heart broke for a mother that was watching her flesh and blood, her only son, enduring such pain. I remembered the words of Jesus to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” I thought to myself, “Who am I to see, and still not believe?” I am looking at the cloth that Jesus was wrapped in before he rose from the dead! Months later, Pope Francis is quoted as saying, “This image, impressed upon the cloth, speaks to our heart,”and I couldn’t agree more.
The following year, when my mom and dad came to visit us we took them to Istanbul, Turkey. Among the many beautiful
sites, we came across an item in the Topkapi Palace labeled, “Moses’s Staff”. We were floored. Could it be? Could Moses’s staff be here in Turkey? Why don’t people make a bigger deal about it? I came to the conclusion, there is just as much a chance that this staff belonged to Moses and it was found here in Turkey, a land very much frequented by those in the bible, as anywhere else in the world. Does it matter? Or is it the mere fact that at that one moment both my heart and head were remembering what a loyal and devout follower Moses had proven to be? I choose to believe that it could have been Moses’s staff encased in glass at the Topkapi Palace that day.
As I’ve already described previously in my blog, the thoughts and feelings I experienced when the Pope was selected was nothing short of a spiritual apex, a joining of my childhood, my faith, and my familial connections. My Christianity runs deep within my veins, more so than I ever imagined.
Next, came the opportunity to walk the Scala Santa in Rome. It is said to be the staircase that
Jesus walked up in Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem. It was brought to Rome by St Helena in the 4th century, and is considered so sacred that you can only climb it on your knees, saying a prayer on each of the 28 steps. All three of us, descended to our knees and climbed the stairs. The stairs themselves are marble, but are covered with a wood set. There is a slit in the wood of each “rise”
(the part of the stair that faces forward) where you can both touch and see the original marble. It is here that pilgrims have left their prayers and petitions in between the marble and the wood. Many placed their fingers on the exposed marble and then touched their lips, so as to kiss the steps. Once arising at the top many kissed the marble left open through
the wood at the landing. Again, this time of prayer and reflection brings me to a time where one man was sentenced to die and be crucified and my heart swelled with love for my family and loved ones as well as sorrow for a man who sacrificed his life so that I might know the the joy of forgiveness.
Most recently we traveled to Kusadasi, Turkey where we took a very short drive that brought us to the home of the Virgin Mary. It is an intriguing story. Before Christ was crucified he said to Mary and John, “Woman behold your son and to John behold your mother.” (John 19:25-27) Because it is known that John then traveled to what is now Turkey and was later buried there, it is assumed that he would have taken Mary with him. During her lifetime, a girl by the name of Anne Catherine Emmerich shared visions that she had, among them were her talking to Jesus and others were of what she believed to be Mary’s house. She had never been to the land that is now Turkey and the city of Ephesus and its surrounding area had yet to be excavated, but she described in great detail this home and its location. While the Catholic Church has never taken an official position of authenticity, several Popes have visited the site and it is treated as a shrine. Anne Catherine Emmerich has since been beatified in 2004 by Pope John Paul II.
As we approached the site, one needs only to look at the extensive line of pilgrims that come daily to this house to know that in their heart they know that this must be the home of the Virgin Mary. Outside the shrine is a particular “wishing wall” which pilgrims have used by tying their personal intentions on paper or fabric. Various types of florals and fruits are grown nearby, and additional lighting has been installed within the vicinity of the shrine for further monitoring of the site. A water fountain or well is also located
nearby, believed by some pilgrims to have miraculous powers of healing or fertility. So we reverently walked through this home, drank from the well and prayed for those who left their intentions on the wall and thought of the woman who had lost her child, the woman who followed the Lord’s calling and the mother of our faith.
It is almost like a culmination in our journey here in Italy that we figure out our plans for our next major adventure. This Christmas we will visit the Holy Land! We will be in Bethlehem to visit the Nativity Church and walk the sacred ground. As a family we have begun our serious refresher study of the Bible so that it will all be in our mind. We got a youth Bible, which is very cool because it is different from the other children’s bibles I’ve seen. This isn’t just a collection of parables, it is the full Bible written in a way that a younger audience needs to understand, heck sometimes so that we adults can understand. We keep going back to maps and seeing what cities they are talking about and realizing, WE ARE GOING THERE! There are references to bodies of waters that we will actually see. We are all learning new things and remembering old things. This is just the beginning of the journey of a lifetime, a journey in faith. I know there will be so many more stories to tell and pictures to share.