On June 22, 2015, the Pope asked for forgiveness.
“On the part of the Catholic Church, I ask your forgiveness, I ask it for the non-Christian and even inhuman attitudes and behaviour that we have showed you,” said Pope Francis.
He was speaking to a modern day Waldensian, in Turin, Italy. “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us!”
Persecuted almost relentlessly for their faith since the 1200s, Waldensian history is alternately tragic and heroic. In exchange for their desire to read the Bible and follow the teachings of Jesus to live simple, authentic lives, they were ostracized and crushed by the Roman church. For centuries they were forced to live high in the Alps of Northern Italy; to descend meant death. Yet death followed them up into the hills, as they were often hunted down, tortured, and slaughtered mercilessly. Even Milton wrote of it:
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills…
Today, the hills surrounding Bobbio Pellice are littered with the remnants of this story. The terraced landscape, crumbling stone houses and sheep pens, mountain-top monuments, stone pathways, and caves for secret meetings: all ghosts of a people scraping a living from the stony hillsides.
Echoing across the valleys, a verse from Hebrews sums up the weight of their history:
They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them.
These images are for all those who are oppressed, or displaced, or longing for home.