Faith tourist: From Easter at the Vatican to a South Pacific church
My fascination with religious observances is ecumenical. I have recited my 'Allahu Akbars,' been blessed at Easter by the pope in St. Peter's Square, and recently attended a service in the South Pacific. Everywhere, I find a universal need for contemplation and self-surrender.
It is said confession is good for the soul, and so I shall “fess up.” I love church hopping, all denominations, observing the diversity with which humankind worships divinity.Skip to next paragraph
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As a journalist, I discovered it was a wonderful way to learn how others think and who people are.
I have visited better than half the cathedrals in Britain, sung “Amazing Grace” in the Plains, Ga., Baptist church with Jimmy Carter, and been blessed by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square among the throngs on Easter morning.
When I was based in Moscow in the 1980s, there were frequent visits to Russian Orthodox Church services. I fondly recall circling outside a cathedral at midnight one Easter Sunday morning, cradling a candle in a frigid wind, chanting in Russian, “Glory to God, Christ is risen. Truly, truly he has risen.” Such fortitude, joy, and faith amid the cold darkness.
My fascination with religious observances is truly ecumenical. I have recited my “Allahu Akbars” in mosques from Britain to the Palestinian territories, across Iraq, and in Muslim Pakistan. I also keep a Jewish kippa, or yarmulke, in my desk.
Worship services offer unique windows on cultures that can sometimes appear veiled to foreigners. You can gauge the influence women have in a society by where they sit in synagogues, mosques, and churches. It’s pretty easy to discern the haves versus have-nots by where people sit, stand, or kneel in parishes, mosques, and temples.
Wherever people of any faith gather there usually surfaces an almost universal need for moments of contemplation, self-surrender. It is as if the adherents of any faith are welcoming a quiet respite from our constant obsession with egos and self.
Sometimes churches are good theater as well. But attending churches new to me is never less than a theological adventure.
For one thing, I wanted to learn why a large majority of native Polynesians were Protestant in an overseas territory of largely Roman Catholic France. It turns out that in the early 19th century, British Protestant missionaries got there first.