I’m enjoying a vacation-pilgrimage with our two youngest children in Italy. Some time ago I kind of gave up on vacation for vacation’s sake. I got bored with the beach and don’t do relaxation very well.

So, when our son Elias was spending some weeks in Spain on his study abroad program I suggested we meet up in Italy for a vacation-pilgrimage. Theo was free so he decided to join us. We’ve been having a great time so far.

We hit the ground running on Friday evening with three hours in the Vatican Museums. You can avoid the usual long lines of tourists by booking tickets online. They have a special opening on Friday nights. We were overpowered by the Raphael rooms and the Sistine chapel. It hit me for the first time (duh) that both Raphael and Michelangelo bear the names of archangels. Their work is so amazing that they must have had special inspiration and angelic power.

What an age was the sixteenth century! To think of all that happened in that tumultuous time! Martin Luther, Henry VIII, Clement VII, William Shakespeare,Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Christopher Columbus, Caravaggio. Think of the changes the world was going through! The discovery and settlement of the New World, the dissolution of the monasteries, the changes in communications with the invention of moveable type. Amazing!

It’s all very much alive here in Rome. If you know your history you can read it all in the buildings and monuments everywhere.

One of the things that has impressed me during this visit was how much the popes of the Renaissance saw the church as the New Rome. Christianity had conquered. The faith was triumphant, and while we are inclined to focus on the decadence and corruption that went with that concept, there was also a positive side to it. When you see the obelisks erected around Rome–at the Lateran and in St Peter’s Square, for example, the Egyptian stele was brought there as a sign of conquest by the emperors, and then planted again, but this time surmounted by a cross or a statue of a saint as if to proclaim, “Christ Conquers All!” Viva Christo Rey!

On Saturday we tromped around the Forum, the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. It’s worth getting a guided tour. Ours was three hours, but very informative and the price includes the tickets and you can cut the long lines of tourists. Yesterday we did the pilgrimage part beginning by celebrating Mass in the Clementine Chapel. Then we did a basilica-church crawl St John Lateran, the Holy Stairs (the wooden covering is removed until June 30 so we were able to ascend on the ancient marble itself) Then hiked up the hill to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme to venerate the relics of the True Cross. Then another half hour hike up the hill to St Maria Maggiore. Some lunch, the around the corner to St Prassede and down the hill and another climb up to St Pietro in Vinculo (St Peter in chains) where they have the chains that held St Peter in prison and you can see Michelangelo’s Moses.

It was grand to do all this on a Sunday as masses were going on in most of the churches. One of the impressions I got in Rome was something that has come up in my podcast analysis of John Allen’s Future Church: the rise of Africa and the developing world. It seems the majority of religious, priests, brothers and sisters you see in Rome these days are African and Asian.  As Catholics in the developing world, we should be aware that the church of the 21st century and beyond will be very different from what we may expect. Traditionalists may be pleased to know that this church will be conservative theologically and morally, but unlikely to be conservative politically and liturgically. The Africans and Asians–more than the Latin Americans–were evangelized more recently. They do not share the same philosophical and cultural roots that we do. Be prepared to think outside the box and be prepared for new ways of viewing the timeless truths of the faith as they come into their majority.

I believe we live in a very similar age to the sixteenth century. We are going through similarly seismic changes in human history. Technological advances of similar magnitude are facing us, but also huge shifts in human population through increased mobility and shifts in political and philosophical viewpoints. We’re going through a shift in epochs, so buckle your seatbelt.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Tracing the history in the art, buildings and monuments of Rome reminds one that this really IS a kind of eternal city. It’s all here from modern the first ancient settlements to modern Rome with Wi Fi and air conditioning. Through all the Triumphs and Tragedies one can trace the wonderful hand of God at work. His providence is over all….like those crosses on top of the obelisks.