It has been great being home and starting to catch up with everyone. Since returning, people have asked a normal series of questions: How have you been? (Good) You have been away for how long?! (Yes, it was two years) Do you speak Italian? (Sì, ma certo) How is it living in Italy? (Quite a bit different that home) and the list could go one. But, the most interesting question for me to answer is: what is something I have taken away, or someway I’ve grown. During my time abroad, the best experience, and most profound take away is experiencing the Church in her unity and universality (or as we say in the creed on Sundays as One, … , Catholic, … Church).
This experience starts with where I live. At the North American College (NAC) we have seminarians from almost all 50 states (and a handful of Australians). Interacting with these men on such a regular and close basis has given me a greater understanding of what we share in common as Americans, but also as Catholics living in America. Then this perspective widens when I turn to my university, the Gregorian. There are students from all over the world studying and professing the same faith. This though can be a bit abstract, because going to a secular university and being involved in the catholic community can in theory provide many of the same experiences, at least on the national level.
This Easter I was very blessed with an experience that I think brings out this universal experience of the Church well. I stayed in Rome for Holy Week this year and served the week’s liturgies with the Missionaries of Charity. All the celebrations were in this small chapel in their homeless men’s shelter. During the Easter Vigil, the diversity of those present struck me. There were a couple dozen homeless men, from across Europe and Africa. The MCs themselves were from India, Europe, and Africa. Maybe a dozen Italian regular volunteers were present. Then the priest and the servers (a brother seminarian and me) were Americans.
Add to this mixture of peoples that is was 10pm and the Mass was in Italian. What struck me is how random this must look to somewhat from the outside. What do we all externally share in common? Not nation, language, age, gender, or really anything. Why are we packing so late at night in this hot room doing this thing in a language most of us don’t natively speak? It’s kind of weird, if you take yourself out of the situation. But, we did and do share something that made everything make sense. We shared the common faith in Jesus Christ: who died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. And we believed that through baptism we are all made one in his body the Church.
This belief is what made such a random assortment of people pack into a hot room in the middle of the night to celebrate in a foreign language, make sense. This belief radically transformed a disunited mass of people into a united family worshiping their Redeemer and Savior. We had no other reason in the world to be together, besides the bond in the Holy Spirit which draws us together into one body the Church. Our differences didn’t matter, but instead added to the beautiful act of praise of our God.
We can frequently forget that we are all united through the world in Christ. Or we can have subtle suspicions that we don’t actually all share the same common faith. Although there are some differences between place, what we share in common is more profound and full than the ways we vary.