We were actually at the Vatican last year, in August.
After a family cruise around the Mediterranean—something my semi-retired parents surprised us with a year and a half earlier—my wife and I disembarked the cruise ship to spend an incredible five weeks touring through Southern Europe.
Our road to Rome, our first stop after the cruise, was quick, but painful.
Without knowing it we’d booked a train from the Italian sea-side to Rome on a Sunday, the day when, apparently, all of Rome goes to the sea-side. The train was cramped, awkward with our two medium-sized suitcases, and hot; Italy-in-August hot. Which, as it turns out, is really hot.
My own road to Rome was far more meandering and not nearly as painful.
I became a Christian at the age of about fifteen.
My radical conversion experience, ranking up there amongst the great Church Fathers and Martyrs of old, was just about as dramatic as you could get. At least, to a zealously converted teenager it sure seemed so.
Despite growing up with a best friend, three doors down, who was a devout Christian I’d never really considered religion—faith—something that mattered. It was after a fairly mundane end-of-the-year summer party at a friend’s house that the notion even crossed my mind. It was a friend-of-a-friend, a self-professed Wiccan, who introduced to me the notion that “everything is spiritual.” I wondered, and then thought of God.
I remember praying, days later in my bedroom, “God, if you’re there and you’re real, give me a sign that you accept me.” I must’ve known, even then, that I was unworthy of redemption but, at the same time, in the wanderlust of my teenage years I yearned for something more, and wanted to know it was there. What I didn’t know, back then, was that all I had to do was knock.
The answer to my prayer, the sign, came the next evening when I came face to face with a boy I’d teased in elementary school, Don. He was older now, in high school like me, and bigger. And he was also on drugs, and violent.
It was actually a lie that saved me.
As Don menacingly stalked me up the street intending to, in the least, punch me squarely in the face a few times he asked me where I lived. “Here,” I lied, and pointed to a random house on my block. A woman, who probably heard all the commotion, was standing there watching us. Don realized we were being watched, the jig was up, and fled. Just like that. From sheer teenage terror to overwhelming relief.
When I got home, minutes later, I was a Christian.
I became involved, that fall, with the Christian club at my high school and through friendships forged there began attending a church of my own. It was a Pentecostal church although only nominally so. (I would later experience real Pentecostalism in a church where parishioners regularly spoke in tongues, fainted in the Spirit, and waved flags but that’s a story for another time.) I was well served in this church although not all my memories are fond.
A few years after becoming Christian I was baptized and a couple years after that I was sent out by the congregation on a missions trip to Kenya.
It’s always struck me as ironic that my first genuine encounter with God was the result of a Wiccan. My first true experience of a miracle came at the hands of someone I’d victimized; someone that I had been a bully to. And, that that first miracle was, kind of, a lie. “I live here!” I’d said, lying, and instead of getting the snot kicked out of me, I went home.
Through my time at the first Pentecostal church I became a well-versed, biblically-grounded, Spirit-filled Christian. And I’m forever indebted to the community there. It was at this first Pentecostal church, too, that I inherited some of my biases and misconceptions about the Roman Catholic Church. Misconceptions which, when cleared up, would open up what seemed like an entirely new world for me, and my faith.