Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Finding Faith in a Rock

Can't help it, I'm a church mouse. What else would you expect from a cradle Catholic with parochial grade and high school, seminary college and graduate theology education? Don't answer that! I know all the horror stories. Through it all, I'm both a survivor and an embattled believer. After all these decades, when I enter my parish church, Christ the King in Pleasant Hill, California (USA), a welcoming voice inside me still says, "You're home, Al."

While visiting several Baltic countries, Germany, Poland, and Russia this past July, Esther and I toured many Christian churches and cathedrals, mostly Orthodox or Protestant (only a couple of Catholic churches made it on our itinerary). Almost all of these edifices--some quite magnificent--felt like museums and art galleries. They demonstrated little evidence of a pulsing, 21st century faith. By that I mean real people engaged as a faithful, supportive, difference-making community. With one, wonderful exception.

As soon as I entered The Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland, my heart said, "The Lord is here." Architect brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, designed the church and built it (1968-1969) by blasting it out of solid rock. Natural light brightens the inside through 180 panes of glass between the dome and the walls.

This was the only sanctuary in which I wanted to park my spirit and breathe the faith of its resident community. I thought it had to be a Catholic Church (pardon my bias), because I had that same "I'm home" feeling I get at CTK.

Several young men were setting up for a prayer service. I asked one of them, "What denomination is this church?"

"Lutheran," he said, seeming puzzled that I had to ask.

I wasn't surprised as much as I was impressed. In the lobby/vestibule of the church, I found a table with religious articles laid out, I suppose for sale. I was unprepared for my next surprise: the selection of devotional materials. The table monitor had spread an array of rosaries across the surface, along with books and pamphlets promoting devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

I couldn't help myself. I said to him, "I'm surprised to see rosaries being offered in a Lutheran church." It was his turn to look at me with puzzled curiosity. "We have great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary," he said with a warm smile. 

I stayed for the inspiring prayer service conducted--in English--by a young man and several musicians. About that time, Esther came to drag me away. "The bus is leaving!" she said in an all-too-familiar tone. I didn't say it, but my heart echoed the words of the 12-year-old Jesus in Luke 2:49: “Why were you looking for me? Do you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
What I said was a macho, "Do you really think I'd have missed that bus?"

Copyright (c) 2009 by Alfred J. Garrotto


  1. The tour sounds amazing, Al. How lucky you are to have felt at home halfway around the world. Thanks for sharing your unique journey.

    Author of You Want Me to Do What? Journaling for Caregivers

  2. I appreciate the feelings you derived from the different churches and that the "Home" one wasn't even your denomination. When we moved here long ago, we tried many different churches and left each feeling depressed, so we never went back. Nice to know that maybe it wasn't our faults and that even a devout man like you does not feel the same in every place built in the name of God.

  3. I can appreciate this. Although participating in Christ the King is the first time I have committed myself to a church, I have felt at home in many denominations, many places, and many situations that were "of god."

    Jenn Goldberg