April 24, 2015

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

Faith at the heart of what I learned at the Colosseum in Rome

Debra Tomaselli “What was the best part of your trip to Rome?” an associate asked, after learning my husband and I traveled there recently.

I thought for a moment. “The Colosseum,” I said.

My answer surprised me because the Colosseum was last on my list of places to see when we planned the trip.

After all, the thought of the Christian martyrdom that took place there disgusted me. Why visit a place where Christians were tortured for their beliefs? Why pay tribute to such violence? Why celebrate such horror? Why give the pagans a moment of my attention?

But late one afternoon, it happened to be the most logical stop on the local tour bus. Joe and I purchased tickets right before closing time.

It was the end of an exhausting day of sightseeing in Rome. Only a handful of tourists remained. Groups of people were exiting as we were heading into the Colosseum. The late afternoon sun cast shadows through the structure.

I was amazed at the construction, the levels of seating, and the obvious lanes at the base of the amphitheater where I imagined lions being released.

Joe, intrigued by the architecture, wanted to explore it. I handed him the camera.

“Go ahead,” I said. “Hike around all you want.” I pointed to a big square boulder, polished smooth from centuries of use. It resembled an oversized ottoman. “I’ll be right over there.”

I climbed onto the rock, glad to rest even if it was uncomfortable. I looked around.

“Stupid place,” I thought. “Stupid place.”

I shook my head in disgust.

Then, suddenly, in the silence of the shadows, a realization surfaced. A cool breeze caressed my cheeks. Nobody was there, but I realized I wasn’t alone.

I imagined the groups of victims. Guess what? They weren’t nameless, faceless crowds. They were individuals like you and me. They were individuals who professed their faith despite the threat of death.

It wasn’t the Romans capturing anonymous groups of people. Rather, it was the individual who marked himself as a Christian. It was their actions, their courage, and their beliefs that made them a target. It was not some enemy choosing them for persecution, instead they made that choice by the way they lived, the Christ they followed, and the faith they professed.

Individuals … like you and me.

That changed it all for me. This place wasn’t about the persecutors; this place honors the courageous, faith-filled followers who labeled themselves as Christians.

I pictured them. They were so close to Christ, closer in years than you and me. Suddenly, their conviction touched me. I felt so thankful for their faith. I felt strengthened by their belief.

And I wonder: If we were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us? In the face of danger, would we stand strong? Or run and hide?

Somehow I feel their presence, like a wall of triumph. We are not alone. And I know the answer.

(Debra Tomaselli writes from Altamonte Springs, Florida. She can be reached at dtomaselli@cfl.rr.com.)

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