The Gospel in Action: “And if it were a scam?”

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 11: A nun walks in St. Peter's Square on February 11, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI today announced that he is to retire on February 28 citing age related health reasons. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)


20150522-01“Our community house is very near St Peter’s Square, in Rome. It was almost nine o’clock in the evening. Our mother superior had just stepped out for a look at the colonnade of Bernini by night with a few compatriots. My cell phone rang, and it was she. “There’s a man here, about 35 years old, who says he was robbed on the metro and lost his ID, money, and cell phone.” I went downstairs to see what could be done. Luciano, as the man called himself, told me he had arrived in Rome that same afternoon, after a twenty-seven hour bus ride. He had managed to scrape together 1,300 euros, thinking it would be enough until he could find work in Italy. I asked him if he wanted to call someone, and he gave me the phone number of his mother in his country of origin. I dialed the number and passed him the cell phone.

It was getting late. I called a sister who works at the Charity organization at Termini Train Station to find out if she knew of a place where the man could spend the night, but she told me without ID it wasn’t possible. He decided to sleep outside and to go the next day to the embassy in order to return as soon as possible to his homeland. I asked him if he wanted something to eat or drink, but he was too stressed to eat. He said he still had the sandwiches he had brought for the trip. I offered to accompany him to Pius XIII Square, where many homeless people gather, to entrust him to them (there were others from his country there). Before we reached them, we met B., a homeless woman who sleeps in corners of the apartment buildings. Sometimes we bring her something to eat. I told her about Luciano, without saying, however, that times being as they were, I wasn’t sure if I should believe him. And if it were a scam? But the conviction that he was a neighbour to be loved concretely was stronger.

The woman told him, “Go to the dumpster and gather a lot of cardboard, because it’s very cold at night. You can sleep here nearby; no one will harm you.” We left his luggage and went to search for cardboard, which was certainly not easy to find: in that area there are many who sleep on the pavement beneath the walls. In the meantime my superior came to meet us. With the cardboard we returned to B. and left Luciano in her care. Above all, we entrusted him to the Blessed Mother Mary and the Guardian Angels.

That night I couldn’t sleep. It was very cold and humid outside. In the morning, I took him at least some warm milk and coffee. He said that because of the cold and discomfort, and the noise of traffic, he hadn’t slept at all. I went back home for Mass. The readings spoke about fasting, which means not only to abstain from food but to “share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, and when you see the naked, to clothe them…” (Is 58: 1-9). I couldn’t go on reading it; I couldn’t answer the priest; I had a lump in my throat and tears running down my cheeks. I, who find it difficult to cry, had understood what the “gift of tears”, which Pope Francis recently spoke of, truly meant.

At the end of Mass, I told my superior, “We have to see this through to the end.” Fearing a scam, she was hesitant at first, but then she agreed. Luciano was still there. He had remembered that in the inside pocket of his backpack he had his identity card. We loaded one of his bags in our shopping cart, and the other we helped him to carry. At the bus terminus we discovered that there was a bus leaving for his country that same day. We bought him the ticket. The clerk advised us to wait for the bus to depart because, he pointed out, this type of person often goes to the cash register to return the ticket and be reimbursed. We had to return home, but first we bought him breakfast. There were still two hours until departure, but we continued to trust. I embraced him and left him my cell phone number, a little money for the trip, and a bit of his country’s currency for the train home.

That afternoon, someone who had heard about this story gave us a gift in the same amount we had spent. The next day, we received a grateful text message from Luciano. “Thanks for the ticket and everything. I’ve arrived home safe and sound.”

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