Everywhere we travel in Italy, it seems we encounter another glimpse of what it means to be Church. In Rome, that glimpse was universal, grandiose, on an epic scale. In Assisi, almost the opposite: simple and vulnerable, rejecting the spectacular for the humble.
Now we have moved from Umbria to Tuscany, to the city steeped in medieval pride, art and history. We have settled for a few days in Firenze (Florence), and our first stop was the Cathedral church of Santa Maria del Fiore, – "Holy Mary of the Flower". Or, as the Florentines would call it, the "Duomo".
When first encountering this splendid haven of prayer, a pilgrim can be easily overwhelmed! Here are spectacular shades of marble, not inside the edifice, but rather on the outside: green, salmon, white, cream, slate grey, pearl, all combining together in an architectural chorus not often seen in a city square. And to balance the facade, two eye-popping parentheses: the ruddy, noble dome (a later addition), and the stately bell tower that stands like a sentinel over the Piazza San Giovanni.
I've become very conscious of something, as we move as pilgrims, through this landscape of Catholicism. It is how the church welcomes the many who come to pray, come to photograph, come to find healing, come to gawk. As with all things, the welcome says much about the family.
With much respect, I would like to quote from the brochure given me as we entered the Cathedral:
This church is the Cathedral of Florence, where the bishop
celebrates and preaches the word of God from his 'cathedra'.
It is also the 'Duomo', a word that comes from the Latin
domus, meaning 'house'.
The Duomo is the house of God and of His people.
But the Duomo, like every other church, is above all
"the house of prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56:7).
So it is your house, even if you are not Florentine,
even if you are not a believer. Welcome!"
Well. Can you believe this?
I come as a pilgrim, and I am told by the Archdiocese of Florence that the Duomo is mine as well. This is the epitome of hospitality!
As well, it is a far cry from some of the diatribe I've witnessed in our own country, specifically when it comes to raising the words of the anthem "All Are Welcome" by Marty Haugen – a song banned by some dioceses in America. Yet listen to the words of the hierarchy in Firenze: "... even if you are not a believer. Welcome!"
This is an ancient seat of Catholicism in Europe. Daily, they usher thousands of people through their doors, a lot of whom probably have no interest in being there save to find another Kodak moment for their trip.
But whom am I to judge? The docents and ushers at the Duomo do not do so... They simply smile and open the door (and make sure the women's shoulders are covered). And I firmly believe our American church could learn much from this uncompromising spirit of welcome so strongly encouraged at the gateway to Firenze.
Even if you are not a believer. Welcome!
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