About a year ago we began a new charitable work in a public hospital for homeless. The majority of the patients in the hospital suffer with alcoholism, they are frequently found on the streets in critical conditions by the ambulances. Sometimes, in the Winter, they are found in the snow half frozen: for this reason, some of them have had parts of their body amputated. After the Sunday mass in our parish I go with Fr. Alessandro and some others of the community of CL to visit them. We visit the rooms on the second floor, stopping to chitchat, sometimes we bring cookies, coffee, or books. After a few months, I was also able to communicate a little with them, always with the help of someone ready to translate what they say into English or Italian for me. There is Mrs. Maria who waits for us in the common room, where the television is perpetually on. She is not from Budapest but from a little town about one hundred kilometers away. She tells us about her work as a waitress many years ago: she has children but they don’t even know that their mother has been in the hospital for nine months. She doesn’t have any way to contact them. Maria is not the first person we have met who, after beginning to live on the streets, has lost all contact with the family. I think about the painful stories these people carry on their shoulders, especially those who have essentially ended up being abandoned. When she sees us she smiles. She is happy that we come to visit her and she always awaits our arrival. She asks if Italy is beautiful, if I miss my family, if I like Hungary, etc. I try to respond in my broken Hungarian. Then she says something that I don’t understand. Fr. Alessandro smiles: “She said you have beautiful teeth”. I thank her for the bazar compliment. Sandro is another person who we are getting to know, he used to work as an actor in a theater in Budapest: after a break with his boss for questions about women, he lost his job and ended up on the streets, where he remained… He is passionate about Marvel comics, enough to tattoo them all over his body.
Continuing the visit, we see Marika, who had smoked to the point of burning out her lungs, she now needs to remain attached to the oxygen machine. From her bed she greets us with a big smile, she says that when she sees us she perceives positive energies. She is a bit absorbed with this story about positive and negative energies, but at the end of our visits she always asks us to say a Hail Mary: The positive energy has found a face and a name.
In the hospital, there is no chapel to celebrate the Mass, but at the end of the visits, we always ask if they want to say a Hail Mary together with us as a way to entrust ourselves to Jesus.
We met Zoltan, a gypsy who used to be a singer (he showed us his YouTube videos!), then he had a strike which left him partly paralyzed. When he asked me to sing something, the first thing that came to mind was a Marian antiphon. I told him that it was a song to Mary, I would have never done it if I had only known! Zoltan belongs to a Pentecostal sect. From that moment on, every time we go to visit him, he tries to make us abjure our Catholic faith. We invite him to say an Our Father which works as a common ground for both of us. Last year during Christmas we organized a moment of celebration with homemade sweets, Christmas carols and time to exchange Christmas greetings. Fifteen of the residents came, many in their wheelchairs, pushed by our friends, others who slowly arrived behind their walkers. They were all surprised that someone wanted to come and celebrate Christmas with them. Now my prayer is populated with these new faces, faces through whom Christ has knocked and continues to knock at the door of my life.
(Foto Erin Johnson.)