Mrs. Songmei is in her sixties. She was once a professional ballerina, but now she sits in a wheelchair impeded by a degenerative disease. When I first met her she could hardly walk. She lived alone with the assistance of a caretaker. Then, all of the sudden, the caretaker took off, thus leaving Songmei alone. This forced her family to send her to a care home.
The second time I went to visit her, after becoming a priest, she had recently been moved into the care home. When I saw her she was quite discouraged. Even though the house she had left was modest, she was finding this new care home very difficult. It was not very welcoming, and she was surrounded by people in conditions much worse than her own. She asked us to help her get back home, and she complained about her family forcing her to move there. She even told us that she lacked the strength necessary to throw herself from the window. Given her state of mind, we tried to reassure her of her family’s love. We encouraged her to pray and to entrust herself to the Lord, offering to him her sufferings. That day, I had with me a rosary with an image of Padre Pio. So I left her the rosary with her and promised to tell her his story the following visit. After that visit Songmei started to pray more frequently. Her difficulties continued, but I saw that she was more peaceful, and that she kept the rosary around her neck. One of the most beautiful surprises was when, immediately after arriving to her room in the care home, she asked me: “Could I receive the Eucharist?”.
I am always moved when I bring her the Eucharist, because it’s really an encounter between her and Jesus. I am only a bridge, called to serve their relationship; sometimes with words, explaining some readings from the Gospel, sometimes in silence, allowing the liturgy to speak for itself.
After months of suffering and solitude, lived with a greater trust because of her faith, Songmei was able to find another care taker and return home. I went to visit her, hoping to tell better the story of Padre Pio, and show her a movie about his life. We began the movie (with subtitles in Chinese), but half way through we had to switch it off because Songmei wasn’t able to keep her eyes open. Her disease also weakens her eyesight. In the following months, I was surprised by a few episodes that pointed to her growing faith.
The first was when she asked me to hear her Confession. In a previous visit we had offered to hear her Confession, but she hadn’t seen the value. Now she was the one asking for the same Sacrament. We arranged a place in the kitchen for the Confession. The second surprising moment happen the night we watched the movie. She told me that she felt a great need to understand better the Scriptures; she asked me: “What’s the difference between the Old Testament and the New?”. I was shocked by her need to know, which is not to be taken for granted, and I saw that behind her question about the Scriptures was the longing to go deeper in her relationship with the Lord. Ever since becoming a priest, these visits have been helping me to live charity, the gift of self for another, just as Jesus lived it. These experiences of charity allow us to become instruments that help God and men begin speaking to each other again.
(Antonio Acevedo, priest since 2018, is in mission in Taipei, Taiwan. In the photo, Philip Stokman -seminarian- during charitable work at a care home).