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To Be in the Presence of God

ITALY | Friday, 13 April 2007 | Views [478]

I heard people who have been there say that nothing can prepare you for the Vatican. Yet still I had to come prepared for it. I arrived at exactly 8 am only to be greeted by a long, long, lone line of people who were ahead of me. The line snaked its way around the walls of the Vatican. Finding the end of the line was a tour of the walls in itself. I took a deep breath and lined up. After 2 hours of standing in line, we were finally moving, albeit at a snail's pace. But it was better than waiting and just standing. Nearing the entrance, I saw a glimpse of the inside of the Vatican. Surprisingly, it was modern. Much like how the lobby of MOMA NY looks like. But the comparison stops at the lobby. Deep inside the museum was like being brought back in time, when the Catholic Church as at the height of its power. Corridors and corridors of tapestries, sculptures and paintings. Ceiling after ceiling of frescoes. Every nook and cranny covered in priceless art. It was impressive, grand and an assault to one's senses. I have never seen such a vast collection of art. To think that my guidebook tells me that what's on display is only about 20% of the Vatican's collection. I wondered where they stored the 80%. Hmmm... 

My main mission was to see the Sistine Chapel. Getting there was a maze of more corridors and more art. There were directional signages yet it seemed like you're never nearer as you enter another corridor. I knew I entered the Chapel when I noticed a multitude of people in silence looking up at the ceiling and just marveling. I looked up and saw for myself the most famous frescoes in the world. To be honest, I wasn't as impressed as I should be. It seemed much more diminished compared to the larger than life hype I imagined it to be seeing the photos. But I had to hand it to Michelangelo for a job well done. What was amusing though was the way the silence of the people would transform into a unison of chatter only for the guards to hush them down to silence once again. And it was a cycle of silence, chatter, hushing and silence once again. Funny.

The end of my Vatican museum tour was the start of my walk towards the basilica of St. Peter's. You'd think that once inside, it's easy to go to the basilica. Well, apparently not. Going there meant going outside the Vatican and seeing the line where I once was. The line was longer this time. I really felt for the people, who were under the hot spring sun, beating the 12 noon closing because that was me a few hours earlier.

Entering the basilica through the massive columns that surround it, I knew that I was about to play witness to more grandness. It's one thing to say it, it's another thing to see it for yourself. From the rows of thousands of big columns, to the giant statues of saints that seemed to be watching us, from the people on the other side of the basilica who literally were ant-like in size, to the hundreds of white chairs being lined up for an event the following day, everything felt like they were being put together for people like me to feel dwarfed by the whole experience. It was impressive, intimidating and imposing rolled into one ball of confusion of just being in that wide space of a basilica. This definitely was the big league, the seat of power of what is probably the most influential religion on earth. And because I was sucked in to this experience already, I wanted to see, hear, feel, touch more. I had to go inside the church even if it meant lining up again. The sight of the Swiss guards provided a pleasant distraction from the wait to the front of the line. What greeted me were two massive doors to the entrance of the church. Again, inside was all about grandeur, high ceiling, giant marble statues and just wide open space. I surmised that a Boeing 747 could easily park itself inside. It could even measure its length using the markers on the floor of the different churches around the world, comparing the top ten churches vs. the mother of all churches that is St. Peter's. The golden canopy towards the end of the church was imposing. St. Peter's bronze statue was imposing. The bullet proof encased Pieta was imposing. Apparently, some deranged American tourist wanted a piece of the masterpiece and attempted to chop off a part of it. I don't blame him considering that this work of art was created by Michelangelo when he was only 23 years old. That guy's a genius if you ask me.

In all the churches I have visited so far in Europe, I have always made it a point to say a prayer of gratitude for this experience beauty first hand. And praying in St. Peter's felt the most special because it truly felt to be the House of God. As I meditated on what I have seen, absorbed and gotten in awe for, I realized that this feeling of intimidation or this feeling of being dwarfed by the grandeur of the Catholic Church had a latent yet purposive meaning to me. It made me think that no matter how we think of God, He will always be bigger than what we imagine him to be. This actually grounds me and is a humbling experience that amidst all these, I am just human after all, in the presence of God Almighty.

Tags: churches, rome, sistine chapel, vatican

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