“I want to become a saint”. These words shocked me, given the person who was saying them. Said is a seventeen-year-old Egyptian Muslim, who arrived in Italy two years ago on one those boats we have heard too much about in recent news. After arriving to Adrigento and being welcomed into a center for refugees, he escaped and made his way up the peninsula passing through Naples, Cassino, Formia, and Latina before finally arriving in Rome. Or, to be more exact, before arriving at the Termini train station, which is where he was before entering the juvenile prison, Casal del Marmo. And it was there, inside the cells of the prison, that I met him. I am always struck by Said’s smile and serenity, despite the many difficulties and troubles that are a part of his life. After about six or seven months, Said was released from prison and sent to a community to continue his sentence. Through a nun who frequents his community, he asked me to come and visit him. When I arrived, I saw that he stands out among the many other kids for his big smile. He told me about the middle school he is attending, and the course he is frequenting a few afternoons a week to become a pizza chef (an Egyptian pizza chef in Rome is not as strange as you’d think). Then, as he sipped an espresso, he began to ask me many questions: why do Christians wear crosses around their necks? What does it mean? Who killed Jesus? And then: how and why did you become a priest? How can you know what God wants from you? I have to say I was very amazed to find him so open and searching. That afternoon passed with him was enriching for me. We spoke about prayer as dialogue and about the importance of being accompanied during the different periods of our life by someone that truly wants what is good for us.
Then he wanted to challenge me in foosball, which he lost, severely. Between one game and the next, I asked Said if he could tell me a bit about his story in Egypt, before he arrived in Italy. And he responded in an unexpected way: he began telling me his story gradually revealing each of his wounds, which are now scars, that are all over his body. “See this? I was going with the moped, when…,” showing me a hidden scar close to his shoulder. Or, pulling up his shirt: “See this other one? here this happened to me…”. He continued to reveal more and more. Those marks spoke about him and collected his whole story. Those wounds, however, were his value. I am profoundly convinced that kids like him, who in their lives have suffered a lot, are also those who are most capable of bringing forward the best of themselves, of loving in a more authentic and tenacious way when they care for someone.
In front of Said, I couldn’t help but think of myself as well, of the wounds that I carry, and of the way I have learned, through the years, to entrust them to those who are accompanying me, initially to my superiors as I prepared for the priesthood, and now with the brothers I live with. Entrusting is the only path towards healing and authentic growth. In awe, I recognized that it was the same path that Said was walking with me. I understood again where maturity, that is, sanctity, resides: in not fearing one’s own vulnerability and weakness. Not fleeing from our wounds, but being open to entrusting them into the hands of another who helps you to see how every step, even mistake, is part of a bigger design, that is good, and in which we are a part that will be held together forever. Only in this way is it possible that “in the wound that each person carries, lies his salvation”, as Jean Vanier wrote.
“I want to become a saint. Bring me with you, so you can teach me how to become one”. And God, through this kid, surprised me again.