The year was 2008 and I was in my fourth year of studies at York University. My parents had gifted me with a trip to Milan to visit my family and also a friend named Stefania who was studying there for a semester. It was a time in my life that was truly transitional. It was time of many difficult experiences and simultaneously many blessings.
I have often opened up on my blog and shared stories of ways in which the Lord was truly revealing Himself to me despite my ignorance. Through my "unknowing" and lack of will, I was often unable to see the beautiful ways of His works. I have come to see that our Lord's love is no less powerful and present in our times of sin, disillusion, and darkness. It is us who looks away. Our Lord is ever near and still seeking us during these times, shining His light of love and mercy upon us so that we may turn receptively toward Him. It took me some time to come to the place where I am today. And in arriving where I have in faith, humility, surrender, and love for our Lord I have come to partially understand the beauty of the story our Lord has written for each of us as His children.
It was February 14th, 2008 when I walked the streets of Milan alone in need of a Church, and in need of Priest for Confession. It was strange for me to have this yearning in my heart, given that I had been away from the Church for a long time. I had not gone to the Sacrament of Confession at this point in my life for many years. Yet, somehow I knew that being in a Church and in the presence of my Lord is what I most needed. My friend Stefania was in school at Bocconi University and so I spent many days exploring the city on my own. This day in particular was much different than the others. I was very unhappy with my state in life and with myself. Very upset at many of the decisions I had made, and simultaneously aware that it was God who would be able to bring peace within my heart. I knew the amount of sin that resounded within me had blinded me to so much. God's love broke through all of this and it was the beginning of a journey toward Him.
I went into the Church beside the University of Bocconi but there was no Priest present to hear my Confession. There was a young man praying there and I left in silence and in my tears to continue seeking another Church. Considering I was in Italy, I figured this would not be that difficult. I walked outside and the young man who was in the Church followed me outside and introduced himself. His name was Giuseppe and he was a law student at Bocconi. I was a mess, truthfully the last thing I wanted to do was talk to anyone. I spoke to him in Italian and said that I am in need of a Priest and a Confession. The young man looked at his watch, and told me that he knew where another Church was and that he would bring me there. He did have an exam to write that day, and told me that his time was short. He motioned toward his vehicle, and apprehensively I said to him that I would not be travelling in a car with him as I do not know him. I was being "street smart" even in my state of personal disaster. He exclaimed a slightly frustrated "Va bene" and said he would walk me there. A walk that he said would take about 30 minutes. I could not believe the selflessness of this mans gesture to me. We spoke on the walk about faith, and religion. He shared about himself and his journey of faith and the very reason for his success of studies and in life was due to his faith in the Lord. He asked me bluntly if I was religious, I did not know how to respond to such a question. I was not religious, in fact I did not have any relationship with my faith life at that time. Although, I did talk to him about Padre Pio because I had just finished reading his life story, which I feel was largely responsible in aiding me to be walking the streets of Milan distressed and looking for a Confession.
Giuseppe had much to say about Padre Pio. In fact he was very devoted to him. We approached this beautiful Church and he walked me inside. He spoke to the secretary for me and asked when the priest would be returning. She notified him that it would be a couple of hours. He parted with me and said ``be faithful and be strong``. He had to get back to Bocconi, and I agreed that I would wait inside of the Church for a priest.
This Church was beyond words. There were people everywhere taking pictures. I knelt in tears in one of the pews and continued to weep for a rather long time. I did not recall the name of this Church and for years it has bothered me. I remained there for over two hours in silent tears of prayer. I did not end up seeing the Priest but there was still something seemingly profound and sense of home that I felt in being there within the Church. By God`s grace I would eventually find a priest for Confession. When I left this beautiful Church I took a picture of it to remember it forever. It would be years until I would realize the incredible holiness and sacred ground that I was kneeling upon. I learned that the place I was led to by Giuseppe was a basilica!
Last week, while in attendance at the International Thomas Merton Society Conference in Connecticut I encountered a priest from Milan. I quickly realized that maybe he would be able to tell me the name of this Church in Milan where I was years before in tears and in search of a priest.
Fr. Mario Zaninelli did in fact tell me that this Basilica where I was at in 2008 is called Sant` Eustorgio. It is one of the oldest Churches in Milan and the original location of the relics of the Three Kings. It is also named after St. Eustorgius (I) who was Archbishop of Milan in 343-349. He was appropriately referred to by St Ambrose as `confessor`. In learning about this Basilica the memory of this moment in my life took on even greater meaning. I am able to re-witness the beautiful orchestration of our Lord and the way He allows us to know His love. I am also grateful that the Lord has finally brought me a priest from Milan. I jokingly said to Fr. Mario last week after sharing this story `Padre where were you in 2008`!! (C.C.)