One of the things that God has asked me to do in my life is to decipher the signs that he sends me. In 1984, right here in Rome, John Paul II asked the movement of Communion and Liberation to bring God’s beauty and love to the whole world. I was one of those to whom God was brought. Two kids who came to Ireland for a study abroad program, Gigi and Angelica – I never forgot their names – introduced me to this big and beautiful world capable of educating you, making you understand that you’re special to God and that you’re called to meet Him, just as you are. Since then, more than twenty-five years have passed without seeing Gigi and Angelica. In the meantime, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and one day, in the house at the Magliana where I still live, two thieves broke in and beat me up during an attempted robbery. I was in really bad shape after that event, so Don Massimo suggested that I go to stay at a rehabilitation center in Milan, where there was already a room prepared for me.
I was in convalescence when Andrea, the director of the institute, told me that a lady had arrived from Egypt who also suffered from Parkinson’s. She was dying but didn’t know it yet. Above all, she was angry with God. I immediately went to her room, speaking a bit in English and a bit in Italian, and I tried to tell her something, but her response was that God punishes us through illness. I countered: “God loves us through illness. When you’re so weak and have to shout to He who is strong, it opens a new door in your ability to love, in your heart, so that you see that it’s Him who suffers within you. When I understood that Jesus was within my body, and that through my body I was carrying His cross, I was greatly relieved that He had given me the courage to confront this time of illness.” That day, that lady and I became friends. She would sometimes say to me: “With you, I can no longer say that I hate God, but rather that I’m starting to like Him.” And I responded: “You see, He’s even friendlier than I am,” and we laughed together.
Some time later, on a day in which I wasn’t well and I had closed myself in my room to pray, Andrea entered to tell me that our friend was about to go to heaven: she wanted to confess and receive Last Rites. I entered with my head bowed, not even looking at the relatives who were present, and went straight to her. I sat on the bed, held her hand and caressed her face: “I’m here”, I said to her, “and I won’t leave you until you’re with Jesus.” While I was praying, I turned and behind me I saw Gigi and Angelica in tears. Twenty-six years after that first meeting that had changed my life and introduced me to the Movement, he was there with his wife and daughter. In that event, I saw God’s immense greatness that had taken a woman from Egypt, brought her to Milan, put her in the care home where there was an Irish priest with the same problem, and thus had fulfilled his promise: “I will save you”.
For this reason, we must remain attached to God, we have to walk behind Jesus, looking at his shoulders. And we have to always go ahead, without fearing that evil will win. Evil doesn’t win if we place our hearts in God’s hands. But it takes courage. To love, we need to be courageous. Because love is like a beautiful rose with a sublime scent. It’s so beautiful but when you touch it, there are thorns that prick you. It’s the pain that we have to confront because we love.
Gerard McCarthy has served since 1997 at the Roman parish of Santa Maria del Rosario ai Martiri Portuensi. In the photo, Fr. Gerry at a party at the parish.