Rome wasn’t built in a day but if you take the creationists point of view then it was probably done in about one hour which beats the Chinese hands down for the completion of a building project. When it comes to travelling I had always imagined myself visiting the European cities in my sixties. My rationale was that they would always be there and sixty seemed the right age for appreciating all that stuff that happened way back then. So I surprised myself when I decided to pack my bags and head to Rome for a few days to seek solace and touch base with my Christian roots.
I am no Christian and primarily have been a practitioner of Buddhism over the years but after I found myself accidentally wandering into a church in Bangor, Wales, I saw a banner draped with the slogan, ‘Be Still And Know That I Am God.’ I was intrigued and it seemed only fair to tip a hat of respect to a religion that was part of my own country’s culture and customs.
Rome was a great surprise and indeed a wonder to my world. I had gotten into the habit of quietly sitting in churches instead of the expected forty-odd minutes in a Buddhist centre. I was glad to see a plethora, (that’s plenty, and yes I do feel clever) of Churches and ancient ruins, and of course The Pope. How many times have I witnessed ‘A Pope’ on the television screen delivering sermons, or driving around in his Pope Mobile, unknown to me that he gave an address to the audience each Wednesday morning, and that I, a mere mortal, could attend.
I woke up early and joined the gathering of good Christians who for some this was a pilgrimage in their Holy calendar. Lo and behold I was cheered when The Pope appeared in his vehicle waving at the crowds as his predecessors had done over the years. While I may not have been interested in previous Popes or the Catholic Church I liked Francis of Assisi immediately and appreciated the way he deftly navigated the sensitive mind-field of Catholic Church doctrine with sensitivity and intelligence.
I sat among the crowd enjoying the cheers of enthusiasm that were rising and falling from the crowd as their respective schools or organisation were called out. I sat and listened even though I did not understand and just enjoyed being in this immense human spectacle. The next two days were more Churches, decent consistent sunshine, pizzas, the odd reasonable-priced beer, and staring admirably at the mighty Rome. While mindlessly meandering through all streets, as I do, I came upon a Church called ‘The Scala Sancta’ whose steps were reportedly the very steps Christ had walked up on his way to talk to Pontius Pilate. Coincidentally I had just got to the second chapter of Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘Master and Margarita,’ the chapter where the imaginary conversation took place between Christ and Pilate.
How utterly mind-blowing it was for me to just connect physically with a place where Christ may have walked, and also to connect it with a great piece of literature. Literature too has this way of connecting people with the metaphysical realm. A way of allowing the mind to rise above its everyday senses and connect with something deeper. There is no need to believe in everything or anything The Bible has to say, or that those steps were really the steps that Christ walked up once so long ago. They are the stories that have been created a long time ago and they stay as along as they are necessary. If they contain value to the majority then they will remain as long as needed. And The Bible is a great story. And Christ its eponymous hero.