A “queen” and a beggar in Puente Alto (Santiago del Chile), protagonists of a letter of Father Simone, who has been in Chile as a missionary priest since last fall.

It has been four months since I arrived in Chile, in Puente Alto. I live with Father Marco Aleo, the pastor at our parish, Father Lorenzo Locatelli, who is the responsible of the Fraternity’s house, and Fathers Alessandro Camilli and Diego Garcia, the assistant pastors. I would like to recount two facts that taught me a lot.
The first fact happened to me one Sunday, when I arrived at the parish to celebrate Mass. I enter the Church and an elderly woman dressed like a queen came to me to present herself. I greet her and she asks me to hear her confession. The people around us begin to laugh, saying that she is crazy. We enter the confessional and I discover that she did not exactly want to confess, but wanted to tell that for her whole life, she always wanted to be a queen and her dream finally came true. In Puente Alto, there are various groups for elderly that elect their queen every year. I think her desire in the end, coincides with mine: to not be left alone, to be loved and to be happy. So at the end of the mass, I told everyone that day that we have a queen among us. Everyone begins to laugh as they thought that I was alluding to the elderly woman, but I said, “She is called the Virgin Mary”. I continued, saying that there are numerous queens among us because everyone has the same Lord and King. Jesus himself also says, “I am the King”. However, that day, I continued, there was among us a woman dressed like a queen. I invited her to come up to the ambo and share with us her story. She got up, marched up toward the ambo, and while she was telling us her story, she broke into tears. The parishioners fell silent. When she began again to talk, the problem was to find a way to take the microphone away from her. However, in what she said there, that woman had revealed to me and to those present the great desire that moves us, that is, to be loved.
The second fact happened to a friend of mine, a university professor of physics. In this period, student occupations of institutions, which went viral in the 70’s in Europe, is happening here. One day, there was a beggar in front of the university that was crying out: “I am hungry!” The students were passing by him without even noticing him. My friend stopped in front of him and took him to a restaurant where the waiters did not want him to enter, since he was smelly and violent. My friend convinced them, and the beggar ate, between one curse and another. Then the beggar went away.
This story reminded me of a play written by Karol Wojtyła entitled the Brother of our God, which was inspired by a man who really existed, Adam Chmielowsky. He was a Polish painter who once was a supporter of the Marxist regime, but comes to the end of his journey founding a religious order. Pope John Paul II would later canonize him during his pontificate. While Adam is talking with a friend, a representative of the Polish Intelligence, he passes by a beggar, half-dead, outstretched on the ground. Adam asks his friend whether he noticed the poor man, and the friend replies, declaring that that man does not have any more information for the Polish Intelligence, does not bother them, and so, can be ignored. Intellectualism is not attracted by concrete people, but postulates universal good that squashes individuals, eliminates the singular story in search for a-temporal solutions: for these reasons, it is inhumane. Intellectualism dreams, as T.S. Eliot wrote, with systems so perfect, that soon no one would have to be good. Adam says to his friend, “There are so many things that you are missing” and the two parted. Then returning to the path he had taken, he meets the beggar, lifts him up and says to him, “You have saved me”. You have saved my heart, my humanity.
What did I learn from these facts? That concrete people, whether they be crazy or beggars, save us from the tyranny of the idea that we have of the reality. Fr. Massimo Camisasca once told us, “When we think that the person that we have in front of us is just a poor guy, or that the people at our parish are only a handful of poor fellows, it is because the poverty is inside of us”. In the epilogue of Wojtyła’s play, when Adam makes known to his friend his desire to found a religious order dedicated to charitable work, the friend objects, saying that the poor will not follow him. Adam replies that, instead, it will be he who will follow them. In the same way, I visit the hospital and do what I do because there are, and there will always be, people there who save my humanity.

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