St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy to San Pedro La Laguna, Solola, Guatemala
A young Guatemalan girl puts on a show during Mass as she attempts to slide by me in our pew at church. The little hands of la niña catch the long jet-black hair of the woman in front of me. High above us fire-engine-red letters beam, “Tú eres Pedro y sobre este piedra edificare mi iglesia/You are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my church.”
La Iglesia of San Pedro La Laguna is in a small Guatemalan city of about 14,000. San Pedro rests at 4,038 meters above sea level on Lake Atitlán. The church marks high in audience participation. The walls are cinder block and the priest’s voice matches in strength. As I read the words above me, I feel as though a soccer ball has hit my stomach. My lungs search for air as I recall one of that last times I felt this same feeling.
Cobblestones for miles. Rome, Italy, February 10th, 2016. With all it’s glory to offer, Roma has been seared in my memory, into my heart. From the Colosseo to the restaurants of Trastevere with the hope of spring around the corner, Rome holds nothing back. When I walked into St. Peter’s Square, surrounded by Michelangelo’s 140 lofty saints, I questioned whether or not my eyes had deceived me. Within the eternal city, the holy grand canyon itself, I am just an atom among the splendid body before me. 132 columns form a key shape plaza in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica and to me it’s a homecoming, an opportunity to bare witness to the glory of God. The opportunity to feel the feet of the gigantic Saint himself, by the Golden Altar, makes me feel like a tiny ant with a lioness roar.
A few days after my encounter with St. Peter at his Bascilia, I find myself on bended knee before chains that are said to have held him before his upside down crucifixion. It was at that moment, with Michelangelo’s Moses staring me down, that my spirit made a connection with the Saint. Saint Peter became Peter to me. It was my Saul-to-Paul experience that gripped my soul and I have not been the same since. In that moment I felt a fusion of my spirit to San Pedro, a blow torch to the soul. I always knew the connection of St. Peter as the foundation of the Catholic Church but in that moment I understood for the first time the spectrum of his life and the glory of Our Father’s forgiveness.
Man’s salvation and perfection consists of doing the will of God which he must have in view in all things, and at every moment of his life. – St. Peter
Like Peter, I am a sinner. Like Peter, I am a saint. There have been times when I denied Christ and times I have stood by Him and that is the beauty and burden of being human. I’m proud to be a Catholic, to have been raised in the faith and I’m grateful to call upon Peter when I battle my demons. I don’t always conquer however I believe in the power of forgiveness and with that my soul finds rest.
Often times, as our modern world would have it, we can lose sight of our destination. For me, my destination has always been Heaven, and in everything I do I want to contribute to all of our risings. They say to build a great building you need a great foundation. It has been a humbling knowing that one of the greatest sinners is also the greatest saint – and is the rock of my church.
Three months after my second trip back to Rome, I’m in the park watching men scale their white-faced church. They drape a thick, grueso, fire-engine-red cloth carefully on the facade. Pools of sweat, sudor, collect below them. A little boy and I converse in Spanish and we exchange smiles. I hold fondly the memory of exchanging smiles with some children from Nigeria as Pope Francis blessed us within an arm’s reach. I could have given Papa a high five.
And as the boy and I giggle again, my soul rejoices in the connection God has guided me to. From San Pedro to Saint Peter’s, and miles of smiles between, I thank God for His miracle of my journey and opportunity to embed myself in cultures and countries far from home and close in spirit.
For it’s not that I would be nothing without Him, rather because of Him I am everything!