I arrived in Baghdad as the Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, two weeks after the terrible 2010 attack in the Syrian-Catholic cathedral that provoked the death of two priests, 44 faithful and five soldiers.
Upon visiting the cathedral, one can imagine the desolation and I had the deep impression that I had been sent there to share that pain. The relationships between Christians and Muslims had been compromised for years, up to the point that also in the Nunciature, for any work or purchase only Christians were chosen. I felt I had to go against the current. I started to try learning Arab (unfortunately with little success!) to be able to greet everyone. When I was allowed, I would chat with the guards assigned to protect the Nunciature, at times sharing the dinner they prepared, even if the soldiers were not the best of cooks. The nun who acted as my interpreter did not agree too much with this, but I was convinced that something had to be done. I felt I had to “trust” even if this brought about some surprise. Once a Muslim barber to whom I started to go to have the hair in my ears removed, put a bit of gas from his lighter into my ear to burn the hair. I knew it was ingenuity on my part, but done on purpose in order to see the other person’s viewpoint. The only Muslim who worked in the Nunciature was the gardener. When I left he said to me: “So you are going, and I wish you could leave me a bit of your peace.” He probably had seen that it was an interior peace which only Jesus can give.
Once when speaking to the gen (the youth of the Focolare), Chiara Lubich recalled the Emperor Constantine, who had seen a cross in the sky bearing the words: “In this sign you will conquer” – and said that our weapon is Jesus Forsaken and there is no other way for unity other than the cross. There Jesus had taken upon himself every division and separation, and rose from the dead. Also for us the defeat will be transformed into victory.
In May 2015 I was transferred to Cuba. The preparations for Pope Francis’s visit were underway. All was proceeding well, but a small diplomatic incident at the last minute shook the preparation activities. And in a second I lost my interior peace, precisely in the presence of the Pope.
Upon entering the Havana Revolution square for the solemn Mass, I saw the stylised picture of Che Guevara, with the words: “Hasta la victoria, siempre!” (Towards victory, always!). I immediately thought of the key of our victory: Jesus Forsaken. And I understood that I could not reach victory if not by passing through that defeat. Jesus could not resurrect without dying.
Jesus Forsaken is not the instrument to be used in cases of necessity to solve our problems. He is the Spouse with whom we should be “one flesh.” And if I complain about something or someone, I realise that I am complaining about Him. I can’t say that I have chosen Him if I prefer not to have problems. I know that I should be happy when there are some rather than when there are none. So the problems, divisions, wars, poverty etc., no longer frighten me. I don’t live waiting for them to end soon, but in the hope that arises from the certainty that in Him these have already been resolved. So I live serenely and can transmit peace also to those who do not share my faith, like the gardener of the Nunciature in Baghdad.