In recent years, it has become practically a tradition: on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, before the Christmas vigil mass, I have dinner with Egídio and Carla at their house. The night before Christmas is a special night in Portugal. The family gets together around their table. The kids’ excitement is contagious, while the adults exchange small gifts. At my friends’ house, the dinner is structured according the classical Portuguese tradition. At the center is the baccalà (salted codfish) with cabbage and potatoes, preceded by a seafood appetizer, with desserts and cakes to top it all off. While one course follows another, the kids watch me, fascinated by the presence of a person who is not part of the family and is dressed in a cassock. They make me laugh a lot when they call me “godfather,” imitating Milena, the oldest, and who is in fact my goddaughter. I playfully make fun of them, we play together, I tell them stories which most of the time I invent on the spot to create a certain effect. And then the moment always arrives in which grandmother Helena, Carla’s mother, looks at me right in the eyes, and says, “You were right, Father. God does all things well, God does all things well…”
It’s a story that started ten years before, when Egídio and Carla worked as catechists at our new church in Alverca. Egídio was close to graduating in Computer Engineering and he had just started working in an important international corporation. In his spare time, he organized the tables and registered more than 500 children who on average attended catechism in our parish. Meanwhile Carla was a practicing lawyer. One November evening, Egídio calls me, insistently begging that we get together as soon as possible. We set up a time, he arrives, and I get in his car. He has a rigid, contorted expression, as he tells me immediately, “Carla’s pregnant.” Still today I remember well my immediate reaction, which probably arose in light of the debate surrounding recent laws which had made abortion increasingly legal. Or perhaps my response came out of the very painful first-hand experiences of a few I had accompanied who suffered the effects of abortion. I responded, “What beautiful news! Congratulations!” He tells me that it isn’t so simple. I am not married, our families will not understand, the community will judge us harshly. Then we visit Carla, who was sick in bed. At her home there is a somberness in the air, reminiscent of a funeral. Greeting the while family, I congratulate them as well. Then, turning in particular to Helena, Carla’s mother who is crying, I say softly, “Madam, do not worry. God does all things well!”
I presided at the wedding of Egídio and Carla in March. I remember with fondness the beauty of the ceremony, simple and austere but full of warmth, in the midst of a church packed with their relatives and friends, other catechists, and the whole community. They were very much aware of the value of the sacrament they were about to receive, prepared for the great step they came to take together. They received communion under both species, and later we celebrated. On July 7, their beautiful daughter Milena was born. I am her godfather. Today Milena is ten years old, she has made her First Holy Communion, and she goes crazy with joy every time she is invited to read during the Sunday family mass. At mass, her parents Egídio and Carla, along with her brother Dinis, sister Sara, and grandmother Helena listen as she reads. It is really true: God does all things well!
The image depicts a zoomed-in view of the front of the altar of the church dedicated to St. Mary of Avià (National Museum of Art, Cataluña, Barcellona). circa 1175.