Reflections From the Vatican
There was a woman one recent morning who came up to me while I was about to caffeinate at the McDonald’s here on Borgo Pio. I had seen her before, from a block or two away. She wears duct-taped garbage bags either as her shoes or over her shoes. Despite her ad-hoc footwear, she had a confidence about her as she came up to the self-ordering kiosk and asked for food, motioning that she was hungry. I asked her in a mix of near-nonexistent Italian, hand motions and facial expressions what she’d like. Sixteen euros later, she said “thank you” — more than once — in English. A few minutes later, after starting to collect her nourishment, she asked me — again in English, noticing I hadn’t ordered yet (I was making sure she was settled) — “Are you hungry?”
I realized that I was, but not for anything McDonald’s had on the menu. How many times do we look past people? How many times do we take for granted what we have, what we’re given? I didn’t do much that morning, but I received a lot.
My first meeting of the day after Mass had been delayed, which was the only reason I found myself in McDonald’s. The meeting was with Paul Badde, a journalist (described as a poet or mystic by some), who begins every day with a colleague praying the Rosary outside of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Just meeting Badde, I got the sense of looking past this world into a promise of something greater; but a promise that can be redeemed right here and right now if we know how to do it. Like the woman at McDonald’s, there’s something about Badde’s confidence — it betrays a joy. A perplexing joy, obvious in the case of a woman who spends her day begging, obvious maybe, too, in a man who will talk about a crisis of faith among people everywhere, some in the highest ranks of the Church. Keep praying, is his answer to most questions — he has a particularly intense devotion to Mary, because she helped him know Jesus better.
Inside St. Peter’s, outside on the square and down the Villa Della Conciliazione, I’ve watched for the last few days tourists seemingly unaware that St. Peter’s bones reside here, that he was martyred here, that some courageous men of history — John Paul II comes to mind — rest here. But then, who am I to judge selfie-sticks and phone calls made inside the basilica? As I watch young African men trying to sell wooden trays, their full backpacks seem to betray their (lack of) success. (I’ve yet to see a sale made, and am determined to have cash as I head out for my next meeting.) Unlike Badde and my sister at McDonald’s, so many of these people look like they may be feeling lost in the crowd, literally and metaphorically. It’s hard not to pray that something here touches them. It’s often asked why the Church doesn’t sell its art. The answer is: Because people need the beauty — they need to see a mother holding her son in her arms, as Michelangelo made for us with his “Pieta.”
As I’ve been here, the school shooting in Florida happened. I keep thinking about how it was carried out by a boy, really — one not much younger than these men I see selling the trays, some of the young people I’ve seen on field trips. While I’ve been over here, too, a reader emailed me about a young man at a school where she teaches who took his own life. We simply can’t let these things happen anymore. And it’s not going to be a law that makes the change. It’s going to be love and the recognition that we are all beings made by the same creator.
COPYRIGHT 2018 United Feature Syndicate