Heather in Rome

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. - St. Augustine

Thursday, November 24

My Encounters during the Mission

I think the thing that I will remember most about the mission is the people I had a chance to talk to. In particular, there were 2 guys who I talked with over multiple days that struck me.

The first man, M. for privacy, I met on Monday. He was listening in on a conversation in French and I walked up to him and struck up a conversation. He looked very sad, hardly showing any happiness during our conversations. He would hold his head in a bent forward position so he wouldn't look you straight in the face very often.

We were taught before going to Lisbon that the best way to converse with people is to let them talk and we listen. Once I walked up to M., he didn't need any encouragement to start talking. He told me about St. Augustine and the ideas that he wrote that M. liked. He told me about school and how he cries when he goes to church. This was a long conversation, mind you. When he left, he said he would come back.

He did come back the next day and the day after Fatima. Each time I got to know him more, but why he looked so sad is still a mystery. As he walked to the Cathedral to pray in front of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux with us, I asked him why he always looked so sad and he said something about humans longing for heaven so we are sad here on earth. But I think there was something deeper.

That was the extent of my interaction with M. He hung out with us for 3 days and I pray that by having someone to listen to him, he felt happier. He could use prayers for his happiness because no Christian who has the good news of Jesus should be that down all the time. There should always be at least a small amount of internal joy.

First guy. The second guy was even more powerful for me because it helped me to see that even the most impossible-seeming situation can bring about good results that we don't see right away. On Thursday I was paired up with a young Portugese girl and I saw a 20-something guy sitting in the food court across from our prayer tent. He kept looking at the tent so we approached him with information on what was happening. My partner did the talking and it was obvious, without understanding what was said, that he did not want the material and was very against what we were talking about. We walked away, but later I saw one of our guys, Yves, in conversation with him. We're supposed to approach people in pairs so one can talk while the other prays, but I saw that Yves was all alone. I knew this guy would be difficult to talk to from the hostility I saw earlier so I sat a few tables away and started praying for the conversation. At some point the guy glanced over and saw me. After first looking away, I gave a big wave and smile and made a gesture to show that I was praying. The guy called me over so I joined him and Yves.

The conversation stayed on casual things: what he did for a job (street racer), the clothes he wears (always suits), etc. I could see that he was concerned with things of the world: nice cars and clothes, cigarettes and alcohol, making lots of money in an illegal way. Something happened and before I knew it, I was going for a walk with this guy by myself and really hoping that Yves was somewhere nearby watching out. I won't go into the conversation that followed, but soon we parted and I was left with a bad feeling about the whole situation. After praying in the tent and not being able to shake the feeling, I realized that I must have been in the presence of true darkness, evil if you will, and the feeling of it haunted my thoughts. It was a disturbed evening and maybe I shouldn't be going into details so much about it, but it will make what happened later all the more meaningful.

The next day, the last day in Vasco de Gama, we did our skit and then I went into the tent to pray. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would give me the words I need to talk to people whenever the opportunity arrives. I prayed for M. and for the conversion of the atheist guy, P. I still didn't like thinking about my encounter with him the previous day, but I was still going to pray for him.

When I walked out of the tent, a girl approached me and asked if I knew who Heather was. I told that was me and she said that someone was waiting for me. She led me around the tent and P. was standing there. Weird, sort of didn't want to go over there, but what was I going to do, run away? I walked over, asked him what brought him back, and we started talking. There was so much that was said in the 45 minutes that we talked, but I'll try to write only the key parts.

We talked about what purpose his life will have had if it is all about girls and cars and nice suits and nothing more, about life after death, about happiness. I asked him if he was happy and he said, "Of course, I have houses and girls and cars and nice clothes." I told him that I was happy too without all that and that everything I have could be taken away and I would still have joy because I would have God. This was a crucial part of the conversation because at some point when I asked why he was there, he said that he wanted to know who I was, that there was something internal in me that he wanted to understand. He was seeing my joy (because by the end of the mission we were so happy, on fire and full of joy about spreading the good news) and I told him it was because of Jesus. At another point he said that he and I were very different, he being into the material things and me believing in God and wearing an ugly conference sweatshirt and scarf. (He didn't say the last part, but he gestured to my clothing). I said, "Yep, we are very different, but we are the same in at least one way, Jesus loves us both." Boo-yah, a point for Jesus and his love. And I told him that he better watch out because from now on I would be praying for him to meet God and that for now I could believe for both of us, but when I die I hope he is waiting in heaven to greet me. All he could say was, "I don't know."

Man, it was so powerful. The whole experience. The Holy Spirit was using my mouth to say some amazing things that were straight and to the point and I could see that something was going on inside of him. He was presented with a new way of life in me and it shook up his way of thinking, gave him something else to think about. I hope our second encounter haunts him, not in a negative way, but in a way that won't let him get what I said out of his mind. I believe that a seed of doubt in his current lifesytle was planted those days and that the seed of God will grow in him until it is a big mustard tree. It will take time, perhaps many years, but I feel in my heart that I will see him in heaven and he will tell me the rest of the story from where we left off.

It's difficult to capture in words what is in my soul about these situations. I now believe that meeting someone for 30 minutes in a train station can change their lives. Seeds of faith can be planted every day and it is only when we die that we will have the full picture of the effect our lives have had on the lives of others. Hopefully there are more positives than negatives at that point. OK, time for me to go. I hope to have pictures soon.

PS: today my household (group of 5 girls) made a Costa Rican meal of black beans and rice, cabbage salad (Fr. Cassian's favorite, hehe), and Portugese flan for dessert. Everyone loved it, which made all the kitchen time worth it. Makes you feel good, making a good meal.

Monday, November 14

Storming Lisbon

From Nov.5-13, the Emmanuel School of Mission-Rome joined the other three Emmanuel Schools and approx. 1700 other people from around the world in Lisbon, Portugal for the International Congress of the New Evanglization. Every morning we would gather in St. Jeronimos Basilica, which was very beautiful and large, for 2-3 testimonies, a speaker, and Mass. After Mass, our school would jump on the bus or subway and ride to Vasco de Gama Center, which is a combination of train station, bus depot, and shopping center. We would be there from 2:30-6 pm, performing skits, talking to the people passing by, inviting them to enter our small tent for Eucharistic Adoration/prayer. In the evenings we would hold prayer nights in the parish we were based at or in other churches at the center of the city.

One day we visited Fatima, a site where Mary appeared to 3 children at the beginning of the 20th century. I felt like a tourist at Fatima, running from place to place to see everything because there wasn't enough time, so I didn't like that. One day I'll have to go back. The day before we left there was a procession of the Fatima statue through the streets of Lisbon with 1 million people walking for 2-3 hours, sometimes in the rain. We sang, prayed the Rosary, all that good stuff. And on the way back to our host families, we stopped to eat the pastries of Belém, a famous dessert in Portugal that is even listed in guidebooks.

There is a lot that could be said about the mission week, but rather than boring you, I'll try to consolidate the week into a few good stories or reflections. The first thing that I noticed was how open and willing to look foolish we have become in only 5 weeks. I was singing on buses and the subway, doing hand motions and dances to the songs, talking to any poor guy who made the mistake of making eye contact with me. Sort of kidding on that last point, but I did start talking to a guy on the bus who was looking at the silly scarfs we were wearing and telling him about the congress and the school we are a part of. Not only were we being bold on the public transportation, but we were performing skits in front of people at the train station. And then talking with them after they stopped to watch. It was difficult and no way would I have imagined myself doing it 2 months ago, but there I was. It was great.

In my next entry, I want to recount my encounters with 2 separate guys during the mission. My experience with them formed a missionary heart in me because I saw how one or two encounters with someone can make a difference in their lives, perhaps give them something to think about that will bring conversion later on. So I hope to get to complete that entry soon because the experiences were so powerful for me.

Saturday, November 5

Off to Portugal

It's 12:30 am here and I still have a lot of packing to do. Everytime we leave for an extended period of time, we have to move everything out of our rooms so they can be rented. It keeps the tuition affordable.

I wanted to ask for your prayers for our mission in Portugal, especially our testimonies and skits, which we have been spending a lot of time working on. We leave later on today and get back on Nov. 13. Once I get back and catch up on all the sleep I will be missing out on, I'll write a lot to tell you about the experience.

Oh yeah, my birthday is Nov. 28, if anyone wants to send me a letter. Getting mail is always exciting and it doesn't happen nearly enough. Domus Aurelia, Via Aurelia 218, 00165 Roma, Italia. Hint, hint.