During the pandemic, a small charitable work to help the most needy families was born at our parish in Puente Alto: a team of volunteers made up of mothers, fathers, young people, and not-so-young people, would prepare a dinner twice a week which another “motorized” team would deliver to the families’ homes. I was one of them.
One day, as usual, I drove through one of the most dangerous places within our parish boundaries. I was accompanied by a young volunteer and the episcopal vicar, who wanted to get to know our work better. They were calm “because Fr. Lorenzo knows this place and everyone here knows him”. Even Fr. Lorenzo was convinced. But instead…
We arrived in front of the apartment building where we had to make the delivery. My helpers got out of the car and disappeared inside the building. I stayed in the car. A few meters from me, I saw two boys no more than 14 years old. Their appearance wasn’t reassuring but that’s the style of this place: in these years I’ve learned to listen to the cry that comes from behind those ski caps pulled down just above the eyes, those skinny jeans tucked into the gigantic sneakers. I’ve also learned that behind these faces, sometimes scarred by drug use, there is a good heart that is surely thirstier for love than mine. Without even thinking, I called out to the two boys: “Hi, who are you? I’ve never seen you before!”
The two approached seeming to not believe their eyes! I thought that I was the hunter, but this time I was the prey. After some brief small-talk, the one who seemed to be the leader said to me: “Give me your phone”. “What? No, I won’t give you my phone,” I responded. He insisted, showing me the handgun under his jacket. I still didn’t want to believe it: “Come on! You’re robbing me?,” I asked, incredulous. “Give me your phone or I’ll also take your car”. At this point, I realized that the situation was serious. I gave him the phone and he asked me to enter the PIN to unlock it. While I was doing this, his associate leaned into the car where he found my wallet. “At least leave my ID,” I asked. The response was a clumsy punch in the face that only knocked off my glasses. While the two were leaving, the reprimands rained down from the windows of the apartment building: “Why didn’t he just leave?”; “He should have ran away immediately.” To hold on to a bit of dignity, I neglected to mention that I was the one who had called the boys over. I answered that I couldn’t leave because I was waiting for the two volunteers. A lady approached, insistently scolding me. While I was talking with her, another person whispered to me from behind: “It’s their mother!”. I didn’t think twice: “Ma’am, I’m a priest, I’m here to help, isn’t there some way to get back my phone and wallet?” At the word “priest”, the woman’s face went pale. “Hold on”, she said to me. She went in a door twenty meters from us and immediately came back out with my phone. “Ma’am, there’s also my wallet.” “Hold on.” She went off and came back immediately with my wallet. “Ma’am, my ID is missing.” Once again, she went into the house and then said: “They say that they already gave it back to you.” As a matter of fact, when he punched me, the associate threw the ID back into the car.
At this point, my friends returned and looked incredulously at the scene. I told the mugger’s mother that I forgave her son, and that I would like it if we could become friends. She was a bit taken aback and again asked me to wait. This time, she returned with a baby in her arms: “Father, can you bless this other child of mine? He’s the youngest.” I blessed the little brother of the thief and immediately other people drew near: drunks, drug addicts, cripples, everyone wanted to be blessed. The vicar began to hand out sacred images: it was a party! “Father, can you give me two images for my mother?”. “One for my sister!”. “Father! Father…”.
We blessed everyone, said goodbye, and left.
How beautiful is the priesthood! I can be His presence in every place and in every situation. I can love, with His love, every person. I still haven’t gotten to know my mugger friends but that day, the Lord mysteriously reached them. I really hope to be able to meet them again, but without my wallet and phone!
Lorenzo Locatelli is associate pastor of Blessed Pietro Bonilli parish, in Santiago, Chile. In the picture, distribution from the parish’s food bank.