We woke up Sunday morning to the sound of bells across the city. Then followed by helicopters overhead. The city of Rome was preparing for the canonization ceremony for Saint John Paul II and Saint John XXIII.
The night before we’d walked through St. Peter’s Square to see policemen welding manhole covers closed for security, and young people roaming in groups strumming guitars and singing hallelujahs. The city was alive with celebration. The joy was palpable, and most impressively among students. While my feet were sore from walking all day, one group of young people had formed a large circle and were dancing.
I’ve come to see that we live in a world hungry for true heroes.
Sunday morning as we walked toward St. Peter’s Square, we saw a series of RV’s parked along the Tiber River, with their radios blaring the sounds of the lead-up to the Canonization Mass.
So many different languages! Probably the most memorable image in my mind is the little boy on a bridge, still a mile away from St. Peter’s, kneeling next to his mother, hands folded, eyes tightly shut in prayer.
What is an evangelical to make of this adoration? As I’ve listened to my Catholic friends talk about the canonization of these two men over the last several days and observed the celebrations, I’ve come to see that we live in a world hungry for true heroes. In lifting up these two men, the Church gives us examples of people who lived lives of devotion to God and service to mankind. I want to set aside differences in theology and the question of what it means to be a saint for this reflection: I am impressed by the elevation of someone based on a spiritual measurement, rather than the temporal ones of power and beauty with which we are oh so far more familiar.
We still need heroes. Men and women of faith and selflessness whose example calls us to make hard choices. People who demonstrate that a deep joy exists in a life invested in learning and committed to spiritual discipline.
That kind of inspiration leads a small boy on a bridge to dream of being a great man. And that could change the world.