By Julie E. Kenney
People have been asking me, “What was your favorite part of visiting Italy?”
So many spectacular experiences make it hard to choose only one.
The rolling hills in the wine country of Siena were gorgeous. The intensely vivid colors of St. Francis of Assisi’s Basilica were breath-taking. The seemingly immense undertaking of the Holy Stairs was humbling and painful but oh, so worth every moment. St. Rita’s Basilica was inspiring and motivating, while St. Monica’s tomb was heartfelt and so meaningful to me personally.
But none of those moments was the one I choose as my absolute favorite.
My favorite experience came unexpectedly, in the midst of 101-degree heat and humidity, with sweat rolling down my face and soaking the back of my shirt. Our small but mighty group of 30 women on the WINE & Shrine Pilgrimage had the opportunity to carry a heavy, six-foot tall, wooden cross through the streets of the piazza, up the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, through the Holy Doors, and straight to the rock upon which our church was built. And while we carried the cross, we stopped traffic in Rome.
At times in my life, I felt internally ashamed by my shyness in sharing my faith. I thought, “It’s my own personal journey; I have every right to keep it to myself.” Often, I wouldn’t even make the Sign of the Cross before meals in public, thinking it would be awkward if people saw me say grace, and instead I offered a silent prayer to God thanking Him for my food. At the same time, I admired those who had the courage to express their faith publicly, and I wondered, “What is my problem?”
When our group carried that cross through the streets of Rome and over the threshold of the Holy Doors into St. Peter’s, people actually stopped and took our picture! Cars stopped in their traffic lanes and let us pass by without honking. We prayed our way straight to St. Peter’s tomb, and the emotions that overcame us were powerful, inspiring, and uplifting—all at the same time.
Carrying that cross felt like the weight of the world was on our shoulders, as the sun beat down. As the sweat poured out of us, we could sense the burden of our suffering and the meaning that was wrapped up within it. We carried that cross for our own sins, the burdens of our friends and family members that weren’t with us, for those in the world who might not realize they should be carrying the cross, and also in gratitude to Jesus for carrying the ultimate cross for all of us.
During our prayerful journey, people respected and honored our passage. I realized that the world needs God—right out in the open, in front of their eyes, for all to see. When we’re silent with our grace before meals or when we hesitate to be totally truthful with others about our pro-life stance or our belief in the importance of a unified, traditional family structure, we are doing the world—and God—a huge disservice.
The world is crying out to see and hear God, and we cannot afford to fool ourselves into thinking that someone else will stand up for our faith any longer.
My favorite experience in Italy hammered that point home to me. Each of us, quite literally, has to pick up our cross, share it with the world, and allow the crazy flow of traffic to stop and take notice.
While in Assisi, prior to the story she shared above, Julie was a guest on Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo, co-leader of the WINE & Shrine Pilgrimage. Julie gave her testimony of the personal cross she carried on the pilgrimage and the joy she experienced when she asked and allowed Jesus to bear the weight of her cross with her.
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