THIS MORNING at the end of February, on the terrace of the Franciscan Boys Home in Bethlehem where Brother Sandro welcomes us, the air has already cooled. The basilica, built on the cave where tradition places the birth of Jesus, adjoins the garden. The high wall of separation with Israel is visible there on the hills.
Brother Sandro, a colossus dressed in the Franciscan habit, presents the house he directs to our group of the Catholic Delegation for Cooperation (DCC). Around thirty children aged 7 to 18, from families in difficulty, orphans or street children, are welcomed for the day, or even as boarders. There they receive academic support, education in the rules of life, and participate in manual and sporting activities.
Brother Sandro comes to speak of a young boy abandoned at a very young age by his parents. The child stood aside. Understanding her suffering, the Franciscan planned to have her meet her mother. She lives nearby. Brother Sandro warns her: she will pass in a street leading to the home, and he will come to meet her with the boy. At the appointed time, the young woman comes forward. “It’s your mother,” Sandro announces to the child. “I don’t have a mother,” retorts the little one. She leaves in tears. Back at home, the Franciscan colossus, upset, talks with the child and in turn cries in front of him. But some time later, he tells us, the kid comes back to him: he is ready to meet his mother. Sandro calls the young woman, jumps in the car and drives the child to her door. From the car, he sees her take her son in her arms.
At this point in Brother Sandro’s story, I have tears in my eyes. The child’s distress, his turnaround, his mother’s tears, the vulnerability of Sandro, although strong, touch me deeply. I too had a painful relationship with my mother, herself wounded in her personal history. A long journey has led me to overcome an injunction to self-control, to recognize my internal flaws. Forgiveness given and received were great moments of happiness. In fractured Bethlehem where the Prince of Peace was born, I very keenly experience the consolation of love given and received. With my loved ones, as with the people here, I deeply desire peaceful communion. It is the unity that Jesus gives us to hope for.