We were blessed to attend the weekly general audience with Pope Francis while on our ad limina pilgrimage with the bishops of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, and at the end of the audience we were able to take a picture with him.
During our short time shaking hands with the pope, I traded a zucchetto (the white papal hat) with him so that I can take it back to the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota.
After meeting the pope, we also visited the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul. Though simply doing any of these amazing things all within the same day is spectacular, I find even deeper value from the continuity of visiting the two first leaders of the Church and their successor.
This personal connection gave my pilgrimage more meaning, and as I talked with some of my fellow pilgrims about our experiences today and throughout the trip, we noticed a distinct lesson through it all: In Rome, it seems that every structure has meaning.
From the fountains and cobblestone streets to the churches that date back centuries, everything has an intentionality behind it that is lacking in our own country. These buildings were built in a purposeful way – a way that was not designed to be as streamlined as our modern constructions. While we pour asphalt and concrete now, humble laborers laid every stone in the street and every brick on each building.
Considering my own self and our present culture, I would contend that these ancient streets and picturesque structures are so charming to us because of the intentionality with which they are built. There is something attractive about these streets because every stone was hand laid, or each façade because the embellishments were carefully carved. Sure, they are beautiful, but the real attraction is due to the care of their construction.
By contrast, in Minnesota and throughout much of the modern world we are faced with a lack of intentionality in this way.
I think this is the way in which many fallen-away Catholics, especially the youth, see the Church: unintentional. Countless young people today go to public schools and develop close friendships by spending a long time with a few people. Meanwhile, they encounter a Church where no member really seeks to know them individually, but instead suffices to preach to them in groups. They respect their peers more than those within the Church, and that often means they lose respect for the Church altogether.
But in recognizing the problem we can see the solution. In this age where so much around us is impersonal, we need to be a Church that is intentional toward each member. Young people have many intentional relationships that are not always wholesome, but just as with the fountains, streets, and churches of Rome, the beauty we can show with our intentionality is more powerful than the ugliness that comes from bad relationships.
In Rome, every church I have visited has sculptures, mosaics, paintings, and frescos covering as much of the floor, wall, and ceilings as possible. When we form caring friendships with our fellow Catholics in the Church, they will see its beauty, and see God in both the intentionality and beauty.
St. Mary of the Lake, White Bear Lake
(Editor’s note: Mitchell is among young adults blogging their experiences for The Catholic Spirit while in Rome. Find additional posts and stories in our Ad Limina Blog special section.)