For this years holiday the Duffett family went on an adventure by train to visit different sites around southern Italy.
It was a massive treat and we took in the major tourist destinations, the most stunning being Vatican City and the famous Sistine Chapel and the grand St Peters too.
The sheer numbers of people visiting was breathtaking. Hundreds of thousands of tourists ascending on Christendom’s most famous headquarters! I heard a tourist guide say that around 30,000 people visit the Sistine Chapel everyday.
We took the advice of our hosts and got to places early before hours upon hours of queuing were required.
The most touching aspect of our visit was seeing the priest sitting behind a desk in the corner as we left the Sistine Chapel. He sat silently and smiled at people. He had a strange sign that said ‘Art and faith’ which peeked my curiosity.
“What are you doing here?” I gently asked. “I am here for you.” He replied and beamed even more. My son and I took a seat opposite him and he asked us questions about the family and our travels. He then offered to pray for us and proceeded to offer one of the most lavish heart felt blessings I have heard!
That Encounter really got me. It was a stark contrast from our experience in the most famous chapel in the world with the most famous painting, where thousands of people systematically every 5 minutes were shouted at to be ‘silent’ and ‘shusssshed’ over the microphone as an irate official ridiculously sought to keep the excited crowds in a hushed somber holy state. ‘This is a Holy place’ the signs stated above a list of stipulations to do with dress codes and cameras.
What I encountered tucked away in that corner behind the ordinary wooden desk was a holy place: The offering of a priest willing to pray a blessing and be there for people.
He was the only priest we encountered that day. And to be honest while it was good to meet him it felt like the most terrible wasted opportunity to connect with people about the story of Jesus and how he is alive today and not just the central theme in a museum of grandiose artefacts and paintings.
I asked my family why they thought there weren’t more priests offering to connect with and pray for people in the Vatican. We were stumped. We had encountered hundreds of stern yet bored looking black tied security personal but only one priest in the entire Vatican City. We thought about how a simple choral choir or even a CD playing music would enable the Crowds to be in a less jovial and more reflective mood in the chapel rather than the awful shouting for silence that goes on and on!
It got me thinking about the Cathedral cities and places tourists visit including our own simple baptist churches. How do we help people connect with the Jesus who is alive and present? How can I be more like that priest and simply echo the words of Jesus and say “I am here for you.”