One place I visited in Israel was the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, named after Jesus’ famous prediction of Peter’s denials. The site afforded a nice view of the Aceldama (see picture) and the intersection of the Hinnom and Kidron valleys.
We didn’t go inside the church, because we weren’t in the country to venerate relics but to see as many biblical sites as is humanly possible in two weeks! But many others do comes to Israel just to touch holy sites. Our guide told us that Roman Catholics make for the easiest tour groups because all they want to do is go to a mass in a famous church in the morning, eat a leisurely lunch, then go to another mass in another famous church in the afternoon, followed by a leisurely dinner.
One such group, composed mostly of elderly Italians, arrived at the Church of Gallicantu while we were there. We were scattered over the site having a private devotional time while they were climbing up the steps Jesus supposedly walked up toward Caiphas’ house the night before the crucifixion. Some Catholic pilgrims climb up those steps on their knees.
I sat alone on a ledge overlooking those steps and reading my Bible. A little elderly Italian lady walked up to me and sat down right next to me, smiling. I’ll try to reconstruct the Italian:
“Stai pregando?” She folded her hands like she was praying.
“I’m reading my Bible,” I replied in Italian-accented Spanish—which my brief experience in Italy on a mission trip showed me can take you a certain distance.
“Voi credete!” she said. That is, “You believe, don’t you!”
“I believe the Bible,” I said. I didn’t know how to say, “I don’t go in for the Catholic accretions so much” in Italian or Spanish.
“I am always happy when young people believe,” she said. “I have a missionary friend in Africa who works with many young people.”
Then she said, “Io, no.” In other words, “I don’t believe.” She said it sadly, not rudely or self-assuredly.
Then she added, “Io voglio credere.” I searched the mental files for cognates, and one came up fast. “Voglio”—like voluntary or volunteer—must have to do with one’s will or desire. “I want to believe” is what she was saying.
So I opened to Ephesians 2:8-9 on my Kindle Bible, and I translated it into Spanish: “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that is not from yourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.” I told her, “Faith is a gift.”
“Perché non ho il regalo?—Why don’t I have this gift?”
“You have to ask for it,” I said. Our conversation ended. I am pregando that she will ask for il regalo.