We are close to the end of the school year, and it seems that things are returning to normal, with the kids slowly returning to school. I am a teacher in both middle and high school; after class, I lead a School of Community with a group of fifty kids. Many of the kids that I encounter in class do not have any relationship with the faith; some are Catholics but haven’t come to Mass since they received their sacraments; still others aren’t even baptized.
In this moment of reopening after the quarantine caused by the pandemic, there is only one thing in the minds of the group of kids in their fourth year of high school: to go to the south, in the mountains, for the long weekend that we usually do every year, the last moment together before leaving for university. Last year it was canceled, and this year they didn’t want to miss their opportunity. The group is made up of fourteen kids and a parent who helps me. At the last minute another guy was added. He isn’t my student, but I know him and his family well. He claims to be an atheist, but he believes in God in his own way. Certainly, he doesn’t believe in priests and the Church. He decided to come because he was invited by a friend, and he likes adventures in the mountains. I like them too; you could say that we are friends of convenience. God’s imagination is infinite.
During those five days, I left the option open for those who wanted to participate in the Mass. On the second day, while about half of the kids were at Mass, my “atheist” friend remained on the threshold, trying to not make himself seen. He knew that I had seen him, and he decided to stay there. The kid is tough. At the end of the celebration, while I was putting away the chalice and the cruets, one of the girls that had gone to Mass asked her friend if I had drunk water or wine. I heard
the question and responded. Her friend asked her if she had made her first communion. She responded no, she hadn’t. Her friend interjected “You know, if you want to make your first communion with the priest, we are starting the meetings to receive the sacraments that we are missing.” At this point, I took the stage and asked if there was anybody who wanted to receive the sacraments that they were missing, for example Confirmation. Unexpectedly, the atheist kid at the threshold came forward and asked: “Can I come, too”? “Certainly,” I responded. The others looked at me in shock: it was the last thing that they could have expected.
God’s imagination is infinite. My vocation was also born like this: in the wrong place at the wrong time. But something made me grasp on to the human companionship in which I saw that there was something for me. I wanted to stay with them, in the same way that this kid had felt the embrace and the companionship of his friends and had discovered that he was in the right place at the right time that the Lord had prepared for him.
Diego Garcia is associate pastor of Blessed Pedro Bonilla parish in Santiago, Chile, where he teaches religion and Mathematics. In the photo, a day with the high school kids.