Life Through the Lens of Faith
Italian Faith
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September 6, 2008




                                      Italian Faith


Traveling through Italy by train is a very revealing experience.  Most of this country has a decidedly rural, small town feel.  When I first got there, the first thing I noticed going from the airport to Rome was that even on the outskirts of Rome there is a lot of farming going on.  Tomatoes, olives, sunflowers and hay seem to predominate.  Many people, even those just scraping by seem to keep a hand in with a small vegetable patch next to their humble homes.


In Assisi, you couldn’t miss the fact that almost all of the cars were a lot smaller than in the US, and that many people rode motor scooters and motorcycles.


In other words, in many ways life is a lot simpler, slower and old fashioned here.  These observations also made me question why major auto manufacturers don’t offer many compact cars for sale in the US when they predominate here.


Regarding transportation, to be sure some of what I’ve noticed has to do with high fuel costs driven by high gasoline taxes—and this is not necessarily a bad thing.  But, I also imagine that environmental awareness is higher here, as well.  You see this manifested in various ways; and as I’ve said before, taking care of the environment is part of God’s command that we be stewards of the earth.  For instance, many here have no air conditioners, washers or driers.


During my stay in La Spezia the Italian ethic that I had observed elsewhere was driven home even more.  La Spezia is a city of almost two hundred thousand with a more modern feel than Assisi but you don’t get the sense that work and making a dollar have quite the same value here as in the US.  In fact, there are many things about Italy that remind me of a developing world country.


On the other hand, I know that Washington, DC for instance has imported many of their subway cars and buses from Italy.  So this country stands uniquely straddled between the old and the new.


It has been five years since I have had anything remotely resembling a vacation.  I came to La Spezia, in the region of Italy known as Liguria, because it was the closest thing I could find that was near the water and popular beach spots.  The Holy Spirit led me here and I did next to no research for this trip.


What I found when I got here was a little different than I expected.  Yes, I swam in incredibly beautiful and refreshing Mediterranean waters several times and the seafood was exceptional; but that isn’t what stood out the most in nearly a week here.  The jewel here is the Cinque Terre.


“Cinque Terre” stands for five villages and it is a UN World Heritage site.  The fact that so many Medieval villages exist side by side with modern Italy is noteworthy in and of itself.  But, the amazing thing is the landscape and what the community has collectively done to it and with it over the centuries.


This region is incredibly unforgiving with steep rocky hills; however the poor people here have turned it into a land of great bounty by building terrace upon terrace of seemingly unworkable land and growing grapes and tomatoes, primarily.  The terraces require that rock walls be built in order to level off the land so that it can be tilled.


I have traveled in Switzerland and Italy a bit before and had always assumed that the olive groves and vineyards that I saw were on hillsides for some reason like maybe they got better sun that way.  The real reason is that the people here just have made do with the land that God gave them.


Most would have looked at the land in the Cinque Terre and given up hope.  They would have quit and moved, or stuck to fishing.  These beautiful terraces and grape and tomato vines are a testament to not only man’s ethic of hard work but the fact that the Lord will reward your hard work.


The terraces cascade toward the sparkling blue sea in breathtaking views.  One day I walked from one village, Riomaggiore, to another, Manarola.  It’s a short trip and the path is paved.  After a brief look at the marina I pressed on to Corniglia.  The path was rougher and the distance longer.  When I got to town I eschewed the bus and walked the 380 steps up to town only to realize it was another 150 or so steps back down to the water.  One can’t help but think, “How did they build all of this stuff up here?”


This is a land where there always seems to be a church prominently on the horizon no matter where you look.  God has blessed this land for their faith in the Lord over the centuries.  Today; with modernism, commercialism and materiality encroaching on the old values I wonder what the future holds here.


I have read articles discussing the low marriage and birth rate here, as well as the decrease in church attendance (see e.g., “In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment,” a New York Times article from 12/13/07; “Is God Dead in Europe?,” a USA Today op-ed from 1/8/06 and  Like in some contracting cities in the US this is sometimes manifested in many boarded up businesses.  Yet, this nation is diverse and there are many immigrants here from all over including Chinese and Muslims.  There is vibrancy here. 


Italy’s faith in the past got so much of life right, what about now?


Combining the faith that I saw in Assisi with the other things I saw in Liguria I can only conclude that there is nothing wrong with Italy that’s not wrong with America.  There’s plenty of faith in God, just not enough.




A view of the Mediterranean from the path from Riomaggiore to Manarola

Overlooking Riomaggiore

Manarola, from the trail to Corniglia (I think)

On the boat, arriving at Porto Venere

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