“Welcome, father!”. Sister Josephine welcomes me at the gate of the house of the Missionaries of Charity. Like on every Saturday, I was there to teach a course of catechism for those hosted by the sisters. We meet in the dining room: greetings, handshakes, a coffee. Then we pray together and read the Gospel of the following Sunday.
While we are entering the building, Sr. Josephine speaks to me of István: “For some months now, we are preparing him to become Catholic. He was baptized in a Calvinist church. Except that he hasn’t decided yet…could you speak to him after Catechism? Just in case he wants to go to confession…”
I enter the dining room, where seven people and a cup of tea are waiting for me. After reading the Gospel, we have a discussion. Each person recounts something, sharing with the others what provoked him in the words of the reading. István speaks as well. Every now and then, he gets off topic. His companions recall him to order in a decisive but affectionate way. He raises his thick eyebrows, then spreads out his arms and looks at me with a smile, as if to say: “What can I do? I’m a misunderstood genius?”
This simple scene moves me. I am in front of persons who have extremely difficult stories behind them: an ordinary life, at times happy, and then, something happens that makes the situation precipitate. They become estranged from their families and refused by society: it is a slow sinking into the quicksand of life on the street amongst violence and alcohol.
And at a certain point, suddenly, a light breaks through the darkness: a blue sari with a white band, a hand that welcomes them, a face that smiles, a love that bends over their wounds. They are welcomed and find a home. The love of God reaches them through those who have lent Jesus their eyes in order that He might look with them, their hands in order that He might cure with them, their voice so that He might use it to speak words of comfort.
And so István can smile when he companions interrupt him. A few months ago, I think, for much less, fists would have flown, or knives been drawn. Now, instead, there are smiles and a benevolent irony that embraces and forgives.
When the Catechism is finished, Sr. Josephine invites István to have a one-on-one conversation with me. “You can also ask him for confession, if you want,” she says to him. István immediately says yes, he wants to. Sr. Josephine is radiant.
We go upstairs and, passing before the chapel, we kneel. We were about to enter the sacristy where there is small confessional, when, from the door of the cloister, an African sister pops out. She looks at us, and then smiles: “Wow, Father! You caught the big fish!” Manzoni comes to mind: “These aren’t fish that you catch every day, nor with any old net.” And it’s true: István is sweetly caught in a net made of love, of sharing, of gratuity. A net that has caught me as well.
The waiting, the trepidation and the joy of the two sisters is just a reflection of that great joy of the Kingdom of Heaven, where God and his angels, Mary, and the saints are moved when a son returns to the house of the Father.
After the confession, we come out of the sacristy. Sr. Josephine, in the hallway, looks at me with trepidation. I nod at her. Words do not serve. Her mouth opens into a marvelous smile. “Welcome, brother!” she says to István, “Now you can receive communion!” These sisters don’t waste time!
We go into the chapel, where we spend a moment on our knees, and we pray together. Then, I get up, go to the tabernacle and gave István communion.
A profound silence envelops us, and we pray, moved, letting ourselves be embraced by the Lord who reaches each one of us in that small chapel and who allows us to be the collaborators and spectators of the miracles that He works in the lives of His children.