by Julie E. Kenney
People have been asking me what was my favorite part of visiting Italy. There were so many spectacular, first time or once in a lifetime moments that make it so hard to choose only one. The rolling hills in 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 are THE moment I would choose as my absolute favorite.
My favorite moment in Italy came unexpectedly, in the midst of 101 degree heat and humidity with sweat rolling down my face and soaking the back of my shirt. My most memorable moment came when our small, but mighty, group of 30 women on a WINE (Women In the New Evangelization) and Shrine pilgrimage in Italy stopped traffic in Rome by carrying a heavy, six-foot tall, wooden cross through the streets of the piazza, up the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, through the Holy Door, and straight to the Rock upon which our church was built.
Sometimes in my life I’ve found myself internally ashamed by my shyness about my faith. I would think to myself, it’s my own personal journey; I have every right to keep it to myself. I often wouldn’t even make the sign of the cross before meals in public but instead offer a silent prayer to God thanking him for my food, thinking it would be awkward if people saw me say grace. At the same time I would admire those that had the courage to do this and wonder to myself what was 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 them without honking. We prayed our way straight through to St. Peter’s tomb and the emotions that each of us were overcome with 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 each carried that cross for our own sins, the burdens of our friends and family members that weren’t with us or able to carry that cross, for each member in the world that might not realize they should be carrying the cross, and also as a thank you to Jesus because he carried the ultimate cross for all of us.
During those moments while we prayed, people were respectful and honored our passage. It made me realize that the world needs God, right out there in the open, in front of our eyes, for all of us to see. When I am silent with my grace before meals or when we hesitate to be totally truthful with others about our pro-life stance or our basic beliefs about 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. The evidence is there and we cannot afford to fool ourselves into thinking that someone else will stand up for our beliefs any longer. My favorite part of 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 day "carrying the cross"), Julie was on Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo. Julie gave her heart-moving testimony of the cross she carried on her road to this pilgrimage and she spoke of the joy she experienced when she asked and allowed Jesus to bear the weight of her cross with her. To hear the interview, simply click here -> Catholic Connection: June 20, 2016