I began this second semester in Chile happy to dive back into the relationships with the people whom the Lord has entrusted to our mission. A highlight of this new beginning was a remarkable fact that happened recently.
It was a rainy day and I had to celebrate the 6:00pm Mass. When it rains here in Chile, everything stops. Even the people tasked with opening and preparing the church had decided to stay home, and so I had to take care of everything myself. I arrived when Mass was set to begin and I didn’t see anyone. So I began the Mass alone. Outside, the rain was pouring down in the cold and dark of the evening; inside, the large church was empty and completely lit up. I left the front doors of the church open and turned on the microphone, in case someone showed up. While I was reading the Gospel, I said to myself, “Lord, if you want, send me someone, at least to keep me company.” No sooner said than done: out of the pouring rain, through the central door, entered a middle-aged man. Without hesitation, he headed straight towards the ambo, where I was standing. The closer he got, the clearer it became that he was drunk. When he arrived he asked me, “Is the Lord here?” Taken aback, I answered, “Yes,” to which he responded, “But if the Lord is here, why does he allow so much evil?” He began wandering around the Church, repeating this question but occasionally also shouting, “Glory to God!” I continued celebrating the Mass, watching him out of the corner of my eye. During the offertory, while I was pouring the wine into the chalice, he stopped in front of the altar and, changing his tone, asked me, “Can you give me some?” Of course, I didn’t respond and continued the Mass while he repeated his request: “Just a little?” The Mass continued: outside, rain and darkness; inside, light within the huge church, a man wandering around the pews occasionally shouting something, and me, celebrating with the microphone on. I felt like I was in a scene from a Russian movie. His questions turned into a cry when, with an exasperated voice, he shouted, “Where are my children?” Then he began heading towards the main doors. He took a few steps, then turned back towards the altar. He repeated this motion a few times, as if something was preventing him from leaving. Finally, he arrived at the doorway and once again turned around and headed towards me with determination, while I was receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. He arrived in front of the altar and in a calmer voice said, “I’m sorry: I made a mistake. My mistake, sorry.” And turning around, he went out into the rain. I finished the Mass and closed up the church. While I was leaving, I was surprised to find a great joy within me, a sense of gratitude: the Lord came to see me.
Alessio Cottafava is pastor of Divine Master parish in San Bernardo, Chile. In the photo, he is greeting parishioners after the installation Mass at the parish (November 2019).