In 2016 I visited Rome – a place I had been to previously and which I was desperate to visit again. During the week I spent there, I saw so many lovely Churches and Basilicas – often, very grand and ornate and incredibly beautiful, thronged with tourists. I also saw some Churches where the pews were filled with people who were clearly homeless, and whose entire worldly posessions were in the one or two carrier bags beside them. Perhaps not surprisingly, these Churches were the ones a little further away from the tourist areas, and they were smaller Churches compared to many of the others I had seen.
I very much enjoyed walking the streets of Rome and one of the things I noticed was how many houses had little shrines on their exterior, such as the one pictured here. At times, these seemed to be there for a specific reason – to recall a person or an event – but more often, they were simply there seemingly to give glory to God and to honour the Blessed Virgin.
It’s a very simple thing which we all do – we keep images around us of those we love and who are very dear to us. Our homes are ususally filled with photographs of family members and friends. And these little shrines in Rome seemed to be there for essentially the same reason. You might think of them as ‘public displays of affection’, I suppose. Pehaps for Rome, the centre of the Catholic Church, this should not really be so surprising.
But it made me think of something. The ‘what we believe’ part of our Faith is dependent on good and solid theology, proposed by our mother the Church and certainly very necessary so that the Faith (and our practice of it) remains true and good. And yet beyond this, the core of the Faith is about a real relationship – not so much the ‘what’, as the ‘Who’. We need both, of course. But we need to be careful that we are not so busy knowing about God, that we forget to just know God. And so in this sense, those beautiful little street-side shrines were a good reminder that what we believe in is a Person.