By Deacon Corey Close
We have just celebrated Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Certainly, one of the great themes of the Easter Triduum is that Christ died for all. As Christ breathed his last, a Roman soldier standing at the foot of the cross, a pagan, was the first to see what the crucifixion really meant. Rather than being a sign of weakness, defeat and ignominy, it was a sign of the power of God, causing the soldier to be the first convert to the faith as he cried out: “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Mt 27:54).
From here, the apostles spread the faith throughout the Middle East, Greece and eventually even Rome. One of the apostles, Thomas, is said to have made it to India, and when Portuguese explorers discovered India almost 1,500 years later, they found descendants of some Christians who had heard Thomas’ preaching.
For us who call Iowa home, perhaps our forebears were preached to by St. Patrick in Ireland, or by St. Boniface in Germany, or one of the many other saints who worked tirelessly to bring the faith to every corner of the known world. One can only imagine these simple farming folk, living a meager existence off the land, trying to make sense of a man who shows up holding not a symbol of a pagan god, but the symbol of the cross, something they had never seen. Over time, these people, even if violently resistent at first, came to recognize in that symbol the hope and freedom they had longed for all their lives. The things they really needed that the pagan gods could not give them, but a man condemned to death on a cross could.
And so today we see that, while there is still much work to do, there is almost no corner of the world that has not heard the message of Christ crucified and risen. This is the message that transformed the cowering apostles into courageous missionaries and martyrs, changed rich men into poor monks and transformed the world.
Living in Rome, I have the special privilege of seeing this reality in a microcosm. Where I go to school, in a class room of 60 people, every continent is represented. In one class, I sat next to a lay woman from Taiwan and a monk from Austria. There we were, from three different continents, conversing about our faith in a man, who died a traitor’s death almost 2,000 years ago. I struck up a friendship with a Sister from Kenya, and shared with her some music from the “Lion King” (which takes place in Kenya) on my iPod.
Between classes I hang out with men studying to be priests in the Philippines. Here at North American College, we have about a dozen Australians. Once I struck up a conversation with a seminarian from Columbia who had never seen snow. Sometimes, as I sit in class, I just look around in awe and know that there is no other religion on earth that can boast what we can.
Most religions are regional or ethnic, and while some have many members, there are none that are quite as widespread as our own faith. Why? Why have men and women left the comfort of their own homes and cultures for almost 2,000 years, risking starvation, rejection and even violent death?
Because all of them, in some powerful way, encountered Christ, and saw in it the message of true salvation, the salvation we all crave for in the depths of our hearts. They saw that Christ had fought battle with pain, suffering, and even death, and won. They saw that the tomb of Christ was empty. And they wanted all to know, as they had come to know, that the world does indeed have a savior.
(Deacon Corey Close is a fourth-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)