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The Vatican

Attending mass at 7 a.m. is not usually a big deal, but this past week, I managed to be at an early mass at  the altar of transfiguration inside the Basilica on St. Peter's Square. In other words, at the Vatican. 

Taking a brief tour with the priest afterwards, he pointed out various interesting facts about St. Peter's and the fact that this is the largest church structure in the world. HIstorical statues intersected wtih tourists who intersected with church history and before 8 a.m., we had walked, talked, prayed, and been duly humbled by a place unlike any other church on the planet.

As we walked outside, construction had started on the new showers being put in for the homeless, as ordered by Pope Francis. My new friend pointed up toward the window where the Pope regularly appears and mentioned that this particular Pope is known to simply show up for mass or suddenly appear for prayer--unexpectedly and without much fanfare. And then, one turns back to the showers being constructed for the down-and-out of Rome.

Think about it.

As people from all over the world gather to take photos, buy souvenirs, and do what religious tourists do, men and women who have nowhere else to go, now come to St. Peter's Square to simply get a shower and for the first time in a while, they feel clean. They may even feel more human. They may even feel like someone cares.

And standing in the midst of one of the most beautiful structures in Christendom, it's hard to imagine that what is truly speaking to many people is not the giant statues of the saints, the preserved artifacts of past Popes, or the relics of the apostles. What is causing a stir and what is causing conversation are several new shower stalls erected not to preserve a memory, but to perpetuate a faith that believes that the poor matter.

I was at the Vatican this past Wednesday and what is being built isn't nearly as ornate as the already-present dome and gold laced decor. So, perhaps, what we're all called to build is as ordinary as a space where the poorest among us can get a haircut and a shave. Maybe we should not underestimate what God can do with the work of our hands. 

The New York Post reported it this way:  

"The Vatican is finishing renovations on public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square that will include three showers and a barber shop for the homeless.

Each “homeless pilgrim,” as the Vatican called the clients Friday, will receive a kit including a towel, change of underwear, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream. The showers will be open every day but Wednesday, when the piazza is full for the pope’s general audience. Haircuts will be available Mondays."


From one pilgrim to another....we can do this. We can all do something like this.

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.