Destination: Italy’s Most Inspirational Religious Sites

A writer from The LA Times reflects on the spiritual sites throughout Italy.

This article, written byThomas Curwen, appears on The Los Angeles Times.

On faith’s path: In Italy displays of devotion inspire hope in an imperfect world

On our fifth day in Rome, we went to see the pope. St. Peter’s Square buzzed with anticipation. The line for security screening stretched along Bernini’s colonnade, and tourists and pilgrims, once scanned and searched, hurried for the best of the folding seats.

My wife, Margie, and I were drawn to the celebrity of this man whose pronouncements seem to have silenced many critics of the church, and after a full slate of cathedrals and ruins, museums and late-night wanderings for gelato, we wanted to catch this spectacle, his weekly audience, before continuing to our other destinations.

I am not a religious man. The Christian faith, though well-placed in my family tree, eluded me. No priest will be found in my childhood, no memories of devotion, Catholic or otherwise, and the stories of the New and Old Testament have more of an aesthetic than spiritual pull on me.

The sun shone brightly on the basilica’s façade. Cumulus clouds rose overhead like a trompe l’oeil. The air smelled of sunscreen; selfie sticks poked above a sea of hats and parasols. Men in dark suits stood before an outdoor stage with a sun shade, and Swiss Guard, cartoonish in their livery, kept their distance.

Atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, I avoid labels lest they rule out the possibility of something new. Truth is, I am a little of each, sensitive to the meaning of these sacred spaces and practices that bring hope to a world as imperfect as ours.

A charge rippled through the crowd when Pope Francis made his entrance, his white skullcap breezing above the gathering. From the back of what seemed to be a golf cart, he waved to his fans as they pushed against the barriers, drawn to the blessing of his raised right hand. Read more about Curwen’s journey and see the sites at The Los Angeles Times…

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