I flew into Rome early this morning. It was a very last minute decision to spend Christmas here, close to the heart of the Roman Catholic Church. I have a very firm and steadfast belief in God ever since I was 13 years old. Having grown up in a very “back to basics” simple Brethren type of church, I find the Catholic Church with its ornate churches and ceremonies pretty foreign to me. So I have come to explore and to appreciate the beauty around me.
We had a fantastic guide this afternoon taking us through the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and finally into the awesome and huge St Peter’s Basilica. It was expensive to pay for a guided tour of the Vatican, but it was truly worth every penny to have someone who was passionate and extremely knowledgeable about the art and history of the Vatican collection. Our lovely guide made it all come to life with interesting stories and background history. And best of all, she was able to point out all the interesting pieces for us to admire. If we were to explore ourselves, we would have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of exhibits.
I spent the afternoon marvelling at the aesthetically beautiful marble sculptures which were hundreds, or even thousands, of years old. I stroked some of these carvings where I am allowed to do so, imagining the generations of people before me who have done the same. I had the privilege of walking on some mosaics that were hundreds of years old. I saw with my own eyes the sculptures, frescos and tapestries which I have read about and seen pictures of on Wikipedia. I am truly humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be able to do this.
There is no doubt these works of art are incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring. However at the back of my mind, I thought there is irony that all of these opulence is opposite of who Jesus was in his lifetime. He was the poor, itinerant teacher who loved the ordinary people and accepted the social outcasts in his time – the poor, the tax collector, the prostitute and the foreigners.
There are changes afoot in the Catholic world. From what I hear, the current Pope has been making his own mark. He has foregone living in the luxurious palace, preferring to live in a much humbler apartment on the grounds. He has declined to commission any more new grandiose projects, preferring to spend the money on charitable projects to help the poor. This is a man I can indeed admire, even though I disagree with his theology