Ecumen Blogger Jim Klobuchar — Lutheran to the Rescue at the Vatican

A Lutheran bishop who knows his stuff saves the day on a tour of the Vatican.

My wife and I are planning a vacation in Italy for the early fall and are awash in advance preparations, including some contingency plans in case the guide doesn’t show up when we reach the great St. Peter’s plaza en route to the Vatican.

That happened a few years ago, and I am here to testify to what you might call a toss-up between the mixed powers of prayer or the random virtues of blind luck.

Both have their supporters when you travel in Italy, a place that, for me, is completely irresistible — regardless of the time of year or the pushy tourist mobs at the Trevi Fountain.  But fall is better. The summer heat has begun to relax and the crowds on the drive on the Amalfi highway high above the ocean have begun to slim down. So do the crowds in Florence and on the Ponte Veccio bridge, the most marvelous place for uninhibited people watching that I’ve ever experienced.

But one way or another, it does come back to Rome, where several years ago I found myself in a predicament that was serious enough to start me thinking about the nearest intensive care.

For a number of years, I organized tours abroad for an adventure travel club I maintained, which over the years took us to places like the African Rift, Kilimanjaro, New Zealand, the Inca Trail, the Himalayas, Alaska and the Sahara.

So now we were standing at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica looking for the guide who would be waving his agency ID accompanied by the name of my travel club.

No such ID appeared. I started making the rounds of the other agencies, identifying mine.  Heads nodded, signifying either that they heard of the name but saw no one in sight to identify it.  That a was before the age of the digital miracles when you can whip out  all available gadgetry, call the agency number and then wait and relax.

But that day my most immediate strategy was to offer words of comfort to my troupe. My next was to start looking.  First, I introduced myself to a couple of Vatican policeman who were polite but spoke no English.  So now, milling around, I began seriously to consider the power of prayer when I remembered that Herb Chilstrom of the Gustavus Adolphus Chilstroms and the former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America –and his wife– were on this very trip.

“Herb,” I said…

He interrupted pleasantly. “The guide isn’t here.”

“Right. Could you, well, do the  tour, maybe a little bit of elemental history, the St. Peter connection,  St. Peter, all of that…?”

Herb, the Lutheran bishop, smiled paternally.

“Well, I think so,” he said. “It’s sort of shared history, after all.”

And so Herb Chilstrom led our group on a tour of St. Peter’s, probing the early history of the Basilica through the centuries and the significance of the Basilica’s architecture and some of its tiny annexes. And then he narrated the glorious architecture of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

The tour was an absolute success.

I’m pleased to confirm that the group gave him a warm standing ovation, which the bishop pointed out such a big deal because they had been standing for nearly four hours.

(Would it surprise you that such a man has written a book, headed for extra printings, about the dogs he has known and cherished?)

Still, I’m asking my wife to bone up on Italian.

If the guide misses us this time, she conducts the tour of the Sistine Chapel.