Awed by the grandeur of the Vatican

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Josephus Jimenez (The Freeman) - October 25, 2019 - 12:00am

MONTE MARIO, Rome — If Rome is the virtual capital of humanity, then Vatican is the jewel of Rome where lies the many centuries of history, masterpieces of human genius, and relics of man's journey towards perfection through faith, arts, architecture, and other human expressions of the God in him.

When we talk about the Vatican, we refer to the tiniest independent state in the world. A mere 44 hectares of territory, smaller than Mandaue City and my hometown of Ronda, and yet recognized by the world as the capital of the whole Christendom and the world's nucleus of the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, the official residence of the leader of 1.3 billion Catholics. It became an independent state by virtue of the Treaty of Lateran signed by Mussolini and Pope Pius XII. Its population is smaller than the smallest barangay of Cebu City.

My third visit here as a Catholic lay minister and Knight of Columbus, made me even prouder of my religious affiliation, and has given my family the blessings of meeting the successor of Peter, Papa Francesco, named after St. Francis of Assisi. The Vatican, with a population of less than a thousand, comprises the wide St. Peter's Square, St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums, the official residence of the pope, the Gardini Vaticani. It’s the only state in the world that doesn’t have any armed forces, except the Swiss Guard, whose duties are ceremonial and decorative. It’s the only country that doesn’t have border control or visa and immigration protocols. It’s also the only nation that doesn’t impose any taxes.

If St. Peter’s Basilica is the crown of Rome, (no building in Rome is allowed should be taller than this), then the Sistine Chapel is its secret jewel. In 1497, Pope Nichola V started building the Vatican. It was Pope Sixtus VI who constructed the Sistine Chapel named after him. It was in 1508 that Pope Julius II commissioned the 33-year-old Michelangelo to decorate the chapel. For four years, the famous artist worked day and night, with lying on the scaffolding and brush in hand. He suffered so much that he wrote a poem depicting that pains and miseries he experienced. Today, after five centuries, the creation of Adam, where the finger of God touches the finger of man, is the central focus of everyone's marvel and wonderment.

The Vatican Museums were started by Pope Julius II in 1503 by putting his own collections there. Pope Gregory XVI started the Gregorian Etruscan Museum and the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, making the Vatican not just the center of faith but also the repository of history, culture, and arts. Today an average of 40,000 tourists line up to view the museum and insist to take photos even if prohibited by the curators and guards. My family violated the rules so that we could complete our pilgrimage mementoes and albums. The Vatican is not just spiritually uplifting but also extensively educational.

With limited space and time, I can never give justice to the grandeur of Rome and the glory of the Vatican in this column. But what matters most is the immense wealth of wisdom, insights, and learnings I have gained from this month-long journey with family and friends into history, arts, culture, and faith. This may be my last pilgrimage to the official residence of St. Peter and Pope Francis, and the 264 popes between them. Any other chance would be a blessing.

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