I sat outside St. Peter’s Basilica twice this week. Too late to get in the building, I made do with sitting in the square and remembering. I could not be in Rome and not pay some kind of homage to this holy place. In July of 2007 I was busily getting ready for a series of meetings in Rome and trying to plan my day and a half of weekend sightseeing that I had tacked onto the trip. Then the phone rang and I heard horrible news delivered in a deadly calm voice. A group of people working on a project I was managing had been hit by a car bomb. One was dead, five others were seriously injured. Stunned, grieving, guilty, and heart-wounded, I set out for Rome. I slept walked through my meetings and finally escaped to wander the city, trying to find solace in a strange place. I found myself drawn to Rome’s churches, and wound up at the Vatican. As I walked into St. Peters, I was awestruck by its enormity, and touched by the crowds of the faithful. I found a side chapel, sat down, and wept cleansing tears. I feel like I put my head back together in St. Peter’s Basilica, and left that day able to deal with the personal fallout of this crisis.
I felt amazing strength and peace there. Why? I’m not a Catholic. While I respect followers of the religion, I frankly do not know much about their beliefs. But I did feel, sitting in that chapel where millions have worshipped, and so many were clearly worshipping right then, the combined strength of their faith. I’m frequently struck by the idea that the faithful of every religion leave a geographic legacy that is not precisely tangible, but is somehow captured in their holy places. I feel it in the holy places of Mormon history, I feel it in the cathedrals of Europe, and I feel it in mosques in the Middle East. Whether or not I agree with the doctrine or theology, I am blessed by the legacy, by the holy places of others’ faiths. Maybe it is a concrete way that I can connect with others in my human family and pay respect to their individuality, choices, courage, and lives. I can sit in their holy places and appreciate that they are holy.