“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40).
Gustavo Clarià, an Argentinean focolarino in Lima, recounts an experience that makes this Gospel passage come alive. It’s a story that communicates a sense of joy that comes from small gestures that break down walls between people and make others happy.
The first time I saw him he was standing there, motionless, with something in his hands which, from a distance, I couldn’t quite make out. The double mask and the hat only allowed me a glimpse of his eyes. He caught my attention because he seemed to have no expression at all and was just staring into space. As I drew closer, I saw that he was holding a box of sweets. There was no doubt he was there to sell them, yet he did nothing, not even a gesture to offer them to the people who were passing by. I greeted him, but got no reply. When I left the church at the end Mass, I greeted him again, but there was no response. “This sad man must be my age,” I thought, “how unfair life seems sometimes. Yet God loves him immensely as he loves me.”
I promised myself that I would always greet him, but was this really what he expected? After all, he was there to do his job and obviously hoped that someone would notice. I decided to buy something. I’m not in the habit of spending money on sweets or eating them at any time, but I had to start somewhere. I stopped in front of him and took an interest in the variety of his products as if I were in a big sweet shop. After careful consideration, I chose a mint chocolate. I paid, thanked him and said goodbye, without eliciting any reaction. Exactly the same thing happened for several days.
I went away for about a month but then I returned and went to the parish Mass. He was still there, in the same place. I greeted him without expecting any response, but surprisingly, as he recognised me, a smile escaped his lips and he seemed happy to see me again. I could not believe it. During Mass, when it was time for the collection of offerings, I rummaged in my pocket and found a two euro coin. I was about to put it back in the basket when I thought: “Jesus identifies with the people who suffer the most. With two euros I can buy some more sweets.”
On the way out I went to him and said, “What can you offer me today?” For the first time he looked at me and, with a complicit gesture, began to search in his box until he found what he wanted me to taste: “You will like it, it is a very good strawberry-flavoured chocolate and it costs two euros.” It didn’t seem real to me. It was the longest dialogue in the world. He had uttered a complete sentence just for me. I thanked him infinitely for his kindness and left happily. I can’t wait to see him again to confirm his choice: that strawberry chocolate was really good.
Gustavo E. Clarià