I saw him out of the corner of my eye as I was rushing into the supermarket. He was behind a tree; it was almost as if he wanted to hide from something or someone. I saw him more clearly when I was leaving and he was directly in front of me. I already had two euro in my hand to give to him but I felt uncomfortable at the idea of being the “donor” who was giving some change to the “beggar.” We are both human beings, aren’t we, even if life has treated us differently? As I gave him the money, I spontaneously said, “Hello. I’m Gino. What is your name?” “Sylvester,” he replied with an embarrassed voice. “Have you got a problem?” I asked. There was a moments silence. Later I understood that this was more due to not understanding Italian than to feeling this was a difficult situation. “No. Everything’s fine,” he said. I wasn’t convinced and so I continued, “Look me in the eye and tell me if you have a problem.” Again he answered, “Everything is fine.” As I was approaching my car, I could hear him making his way towards me; “Yes, I have a problem. I want to work.” I shook hands with him as a sign that I had understood. His face and his wounded dignity entered into my heart. We exchanged contact details because we didn’t want to lose touch. That is how Sylvester and I became friends in spite of language and cultural diversity. It was a meeting between two people where each one had his own sense of dignity.
From that day onwards, I became increasingly aware that the first thing to do was help him overcome the hurdle of the language barrier. Even if his documents were all in order, it was unrealistic to think he could find a job if he couldn’t express himself in or understand Italian. I didn’t know how to say this because I didn’t speak his language. I remembered that I had a friend from his country and I asked him to be an interpreter. We all met for a beer in the bar near the supermarket and understood more about Sylvester’s situation. Before leaving, I turned to him and said, “Remember Sylvester, nothing is insignificant if it is done with love. You are not here to ask for something but to offer help to whoever needs it – to carry heavy shopping or find a parking space or trolley. God loves you, me everyone. Let’s ask for this together, as the Gospel says. Maybe a door will open but, in the meantime, this is your job. Do it with your head held high – without losing your dignity.”
The following evening I received a WhatsApp message from him. “Good evening Gino. How are you? I hope you and your family are well. Thank you for helping me. God bless you for taking care of me. I am longing to begin a proper job but in the meantime I will do as you said and hold my head up high. I am waiting to see you.” I had to use google translate to understand him and reply. “Dear Sylvester. Thanks for your good wishes. Today I tried to find a free Italian language course. I hope I will have good news for you soon.” After that, I began to experience what we already know – it is very difficult to help someone! To this day, I do not understand why there is so much bureaucracy! However, I didn’t give in because other people also began to support Sylvester. I was no longer alone and neither was he.
Tomorrow he will begin Italian lessons. This is the first step towards finding a job and being able to send financial support to his wife and two small children who have stayed in the country where he was born. Maybe, one day, they will be able to join him. Dear Sylvester, I pray that this will happen!