Geneva, Switzerland, Rue de Montbrillant, n. 3. Like every other Friday I go to Jardin de Montbrillant, a welcome centre for needy people in this cosmopolitan city where you can have a free hot meal. Today, as always, at noontime, we welcome around 150 people of every nationality.
The room is already full and everything is going fine. Amidst the usual faces in the diverse crowd I always notice someone new. My task is to find a place for each of them, to negotiate with one or another so that they will allow someone new to have a place to sit and eat in peace, which isn’t always easy given the physical and psychological state of many of the majority of our guests. But I’m mainly interested in giving a fraternal touch, to comfort the ones who are sad, depressed – to listen to the ones who feel desperate, to offer them some hope. . . In other words, to create a family atmosphere so that everyone feels loved just the way they are, beyond the diversity of ages, nationalities and religions.
While we’re at table, the door opens and three of our Arab friends arrive accompanied by two newcomers. I immediately notice the hard, threatening looks on their faces. As soon as they are inside, they begin shouting that they want to massacre everyone and burn the place to the ground. The reason: they feel seriously offended by the caricatures of the Prophet that appeared previous days in the press, the main news of the week. The atmosphere immediately becomes tense and people propose violence. I already see plates flying and fists showering down blows. It’s time to act without delay, because the situation could quickly worsen. But what shall I say? What shall I do?
I feel powerless but recognise in this acute suffering of today’s society that defends absolute freedom at the expense of deep values, the cry of the God-Man upon the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This is Him before me now, through the reaction of this pair of Muslim followers. I place everything in His hands and stand up to go and meet them.
I tell them that I share their pain and offer to talk about it after having something to eat if they would care to. In answer to my peaceful offer they allow themselves to be convinced to take a place at table. Suddenly their aggressiveness abates and tranquility returns, as if everyone perfectly understood the cause of their angry outburst.
Lunch ends peacefully. I stay near them, trying to make them feel all the human warmth that I’m capable of. After lunch they apologize for their words and express regret for having voiced thoughts of revenge. This is followed by a moment of sharing about our respective faiths in total respect and mutual understanding.
Before leaving, they embrace me, thankful for having been listened to. Now their relaxed faces express different sentiments than before.
Paquita Nosal, Geneva, Switzerland - Source: focolare.org