To my friends who are waiting for my news and ask me how I am doing, I say: I'm fine! Do not ask whether better or worse, I simply say that I'm fine. Led by the hand of my partner ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and under the care of my guardian angel, Father Ignatius, I go on my way calmly. Sure, I can no longer do the Formula 1 races on the house corridors with my "Ferrari", that is, my electric wheelchair (to the relief of my brothers!). The neck then starts to bear no longer the weight of my head (a sign that is not an empty gourd?). Finally, arms and hands have decided to strike, so I have to use new techniques to write on the computer (the Master is pulling the rope but it comforts me that, in this way, I’m getting closer to Him!). My mouth, however, does still work well eating and talking, smiling and singing!
I spent the last Holy Week and Easter in a hospital due to a heart problem (but do not worry: it will not be the heart to take me away because my partner ASL is too jealous to leave me in someone else hands!): Easter was, therefore, a very special, a unique experience of total immersion in human suffering.
Last October then, with Father Ignatius, I had the opportunity to participate in a pilgrimage for sick people by train to Our Lady of Lourdes. We were about 600. What a joy to make a visit to the Madonna in one of her "homes", she who is coming in such a hurry to see me every day! I was also able to immerse myself in the pool (although the water was freezing!), with the desire to be born again from her womb.
Then Christmas has arrived. And I, again, arrive late. I’m not like the shepherds, who are hastening to get to the child. I’m rather like the Magi, arriving in Bethlehem after a long journey of research. I just hope not to be too late, after the passing there of Herod. So, let me join the Magi of the East.
This year, their research has been particularly difficult. The star of the East has been dipped in blood, and was turned off by murderous hands. They barely managed to get to Jerusalem. Even there, however, there have been setbacks. It was not possible to reach Bethlehem. A high wall was built by a new ruler Herod. In vain we tried to find the Child. We never found him.
What to do? Where would the holy family have gone to find shelter? Has it fled to Egypt? Alas, in Egypt, which had once hosted Jacob and his sons, now reigns a "new pharaoh" who no longer knows Joseph. Probably it has fled to the land of the Fathers, Ur of the Chaldeans? Worse. That has become a land of terrible robbers, followers of the black flag that sows death and terror everywhere.
Where to look for, then? Here's a new star that guides us "by another way", towards the long crowds of refugees, that not finding a land welcoming them, proceed towards the sea, their last hope. Even there, however, over the raging waters, they face the ruthless pirates, ready to sell them, to exploit them as new slaves or even to throw them at the mercy of the waves. Its an adventure that often ends in a tragic epilogue.
Proceeding along with the anguished endless rows of families fleeing with their children, we seek among them the divine infant announced by the Star dipped in blood. Is he still alive? Will we arrive too late to save him from the hands of the many "Herods" who threaten his life? Would he have been the little Aylan where the waves have pitifully laid on the beach?
Here then are my wishes for this 2016, the Year of Mercy: maybe the baby Jesus, as the little Aylan, can rest peacefully in the cradle of our hearts and dream starry skies and a new land where peace, justice and mercy reign.
Solidarity with those who suffer is my new mission, and intercession in prayer, my new ministry!
I held you all in my heart, Father Manuel João Pereira (Comboni)