Last summer, I was able to spend a few weeks in our mission in Tilburg, Netherlands, where Father Michiel Peeters works as a chaplain at the local university. The most memorable encounter during those days has been meeting Wim (this is a made-up name), an elderly man, diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Father Michiel was accompanying him in his last days. Wim had been raised a devout catholic, attending the minor seminary for a few years as well (typical for many Catholics in those days); but as the years went by, he began to distance himself from the Faith, and finally he left the Church. His life was scarred by many painful events: divorce from his wife, being forcefully distanced from his children, not to mention the solitude during the recent years of treatment. Every morning, he used to pass by the university chapel on his way to the supermarket, and he could not but notice the sign “the Church is Open” on the chapel’s wide-open doors. He was transferred to a hospice in Dongen, a small town near Tilburg as his body continued to deteriorate, and at that moment, he recalled his faith as a child together with the church always “Open” near his home. One morning he decided to call Father Michiel to ask him for a talk. During my stay in the Netherlands, I accompanied Father who had recently begun to visit Wim every week in order to hear his confessions and to bring him the Eucharist.
During those visits, I was not able to understand much, but I noticed Wim’s face initially marked by suffering and sickness, that began to be more serene, comforted by the presence of Father Michiel and by a restored relationship with Christ. A true experience of the Resurrection: Wim who always wanted to return to the relationship that rendered his childhood so memorable, that could now offer him the meaning behind the coming death. Through this encounter with Wim, I was able to experience the unforeseeable fruits of missionary effort, and how everything traces back to Christ. As a matter of fact, the patient presence of Father Michiel and his desire to keep the doors of the chapel open made it possible for that man to encounter Christ. Mission often means offering our presence – patient and without spoken words – in a place, so that Christ may enter and reveal Himself to us.