Finding God in Italy
I attended mass at our local church, yesterday. Since I didn’t understand most of the words, I was left to absorb the experience. The tone of the voices, the architecture of the building, the hard, angled straightness of the pews, the faces and actions of the people.
It was a special day. Two babies were baptized. I knew this even before the service started because large family groups entered the church together, most of the women in these groups dressed up, and they tried several different pews before choosing seats closest to the baptismal font. Just like in my home church.
Elements of the baptismal ritual were interspersed throughout the service, but the part that was most touching was the actual baptisms. When the parents took the babies to the font, children piled out of the pews and down the aisle to get close enough to see for themselves. Even more interesting was that many of the adult men followed the kids. Everyone crowded close up to see two more children of God anointed into the family.
The voices of a very small choir filled this large space, carried up and magnified by the curved walls and arches.
When a father and daughter left toward the end of the service, the little girl who was maybe 10 years old, stopped and lit a candle at a small altar. Her father was already out the door, but she stood there for several moments.
Much has been written about the decline of organized religion in Europe. Maybe so. This church was far from full, and its numbers yesterday were bolstered by the baptisms. A noon mass on another day attracted only three women.
But evidence of individual and group faith is everywhere in Italy. The women who gather at the chapel on Monday nights. The small shrines on houses adorned with fresh flowers. The men and children pushing forward to see the baptism. A little girl who lights a candle.