When Italians say “La Citta” they always mean Rome. It is the city.
Of course for Roman Catholics Rome is also the center of our Church community, our chief pastor is the bishop of Rome. And there is two thousand years worth of Christian history here to prove Rome’s pride of place: art and architecture tell an amazing story of faith through the centuries. From this city, and the faith it nourished, missionaries went out to every part of the world to share the faith.
Yesterday,a characteristically beautiful spring day in Rome, I spent the afternoon visiting some of the storied churches of Rome, each with a rich history of its own: San Ignazio, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, San Andrea della Valle, Dodici Apostoli, and others. All amazing buildings and tremendous monuments to the faithfulness and dedication, as well as the artistry and skill of so many. No doubt about it. But here’s the thing: there wasn’t any worship going on in these houses of worship. They’re museums.
In fact, there are very few parishes in the city of Rome, in the sense of communities of fellowship, discipleship, ministry and worship. There are mostly just museums with Mass on Sunday (usually at a small “side” chapel). The Pastor of one of the most famous churches in Rome, St. Peter in Chains (its the church with Michelangelo’s “Moses”), said “I don’t have much of a parish.”
Well, respectfully, whose fault is that? You have a huge, beautiful church building, in the middle of a densely populated nominally christian community and you don’t have anybody in church on Sunday? Whose fault is that? I felt like saying, “Father, you have a parish, its all around you. Your problem isn’t that you don’t have a parish, your problem is that your parish doesn’t come to your church. Your problem is that, for whatever reasons, you have become irrelevant to the community around you. Your problem is that you need to spend less time polishing statues and more time preaching to your people.”
I didn’t say any of that. My Italian isn’t that good anyway.
My frustration is properly directed at myself as well. There are thousands of people in my parish who do not go to church or know God. But that doesn’t mean we give up. The city around us, Rome or Timonium (or where ever you are) is the mission field on which we serve. The immediate challenge isn’t about going out to the ends of the earth, its connecting with the people who are driving by our churches every day and have never even considered joining us. Whose fault is that?
[to be continued…]