A Reflection on the First Week of The Rome Experience 2016

June 3, 2016
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Immediately upon arriving in Madrid, we were told (by our senses) that we were no longer in the United States. The architecture of the airport, the smell of the streets of Madrid (pleasant but alien), and the Spaniard voices and notices all around us hammered home the fact that we had gone somewhere distant. Even the lengthy plane ride could not domesticate this arrival.

All of this was further emphasized when we encountered France on Thursday morning, entered into wheat fields, to songs of birds we’d never heard, to an indescribable smell of flowers everywhere, and to the sight (from the distance of the freeway) of ancient villages beyond fields on hilltops, with churches just as ancient at their heart. This week has been one of slow, gradual adjustment – not only to the new timezone, but to the continent we’ve entered.

And yet as soon as we landed in Madrid we sought out the chapel, so that (in the phrasing of Fr. Nielsen) we could say hello to Jesus. The churches and other locations we’ve visited so far are not altogether confusing. People recognize the Roman collar, and a few have asked us to pray for them. We kneel to pray, a few pews removed from the elderly man who has brought his own daily missal to this, his local parish, just as he does every day he can.

Here in this landscape – new to many of us, preceding our own land – we have found the same Lord, with a presence candle burning near a small tabernacle at the heart of the Madrid Airport, our port of entry. If this continent is alien to us in some ways, in other ways it helps to frame for us the Faith we already profess. These places and moments have begun to show us how the Faith developed in and indeed shaped this culture which would give birth to ours in turn. The journey here is not one of mere nostalgia – not so much a merely backward journey down Memory Lane – as it is a journey deeper.

As Catholics who can recognize the powerful truth of God becoming Man, we experience the repercussions of this here. We journey into the Christian experience and expression of our fellow human beings who happen to have lived miles away and centuries ago, and this for centuries upon centuries; in so doing we approach (in ways and places that are as new and different to us as they are longstanding) the same living Christ at the heart of all humanity, Lord of all times and physical places.

Our travel into Spain, then France, and soon into Rome, is a pilgrimage into Christ’s being here in these places, revealing Himself here as He has over these last twenty centuries. We travel on this road with Him into a deeper, richer understanding of ourselves and our own dioceses as we more and more move into Him through these manifestations of His people in these places, places deep in Catholic experience.
Rick Childress
The Rome Experience Class of 2016

Diocese of Nashville
Ordination 2018