Comment

Amid terrorist threats and increased security, the gentle visibility of our faith is more important than ever

Police officers are seen outside St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

During this summer I was fortunate enough to have spent a few days in Rome.

It had been some years since I last went and so most of the four days were spent in the oppressive August heat trudging around many of the well-known sights and reacquainting myself with this wonderful city.

In the weeks before my departure the news was filled with the terrorist attacks in France and the growing threat of ISIS. I was also well aware that these threats extended specifically towards Vatican City and the Holy Father.

With this in mind I was expecting increased security, especially around St Peter’s and other major places of pilgrimage and tourism.

I had also read that the Italian government had committed extra troops and military resources to increase security around sensitive locations such as the French Embassy and the Pantheon.

So I went prepared for the sight of more police, soldiers and additional queues. However, what I did not anticipate was the way that this additional presence would change the feel of the Rome and my experience of this city.

Rather than providing a reassuring feeling of security, the sight of men with guns and armoured vehicles actually created a sense of oppression to rival the August temperature. It certainly demonstrated that the Italian authorities are worried or want to show to the world that they mean business.

This level of commitment on behalf of the Italian army has been sustained since the 2015 Paris attacks when an additional 700 troops were stationed in the city.

One local newspaper I read while we were in Rome claimed that this number was soon to be increased more than 1000.

I still enjoyed Rome immensely, but it seems that for the foreseeable future the experience of pilgrimage to the Eternal City will be slightly changed and to some extent tainted.

I recognise that such security may be necessary, but this did not stop me wishing that it were less conspicuous. I am slightly worried that the effect of this additional security on visitors is exactly what the terrorists aim to achieve – a world that feels less safe and secure.

A few days after my trip to Rome, I spent a week on holiday in Bergerac in south west France with my family.

We were there during the Assumption and following on from Rome, and the news of extra security in Lourdes, I expected that there maybe an additional police presence around some of the Jour férié celebrations, even in this remote backwater of France.

On the evening of the Assumption we joined in with a beautifully atmospheric candlelight procession hosted by the Famille Missionnaire de Notre-Dame. This was very much an occasion for young families and there was a real vibrancy and joy.

Several hundred people took part and yet there was not even the slightest hint of a police presence. We were privileged to take part in such a gentle, happy and devotional celebration.

Afterwards some of the local people commented that the procession was much better attended that in recent years and it was reassuring that the participants had not been deterred by recent events.

This evening, low key compared to the wonder of Rome, reassured me that for many of the faithful of this part of the Dordogne it was business and usual.

As Catholics we have a real responsibility to continue to proclaim and live out our faith and, like this candlelight procession, become lights of hope in the darkness.

Now is not the time to retreat into the safety of our own communities. The gentle visibility of our faith is more important than ever.