Photo: Unsplash/Nick Hillier

"What Christmas is without Sergio?"

The bar closed, with the cash registers empty. The help of the parish and friends, for groceries and bills. And welcoming those who are worse off into their homes. Marco recounts an encounter that changes our gaze.

I own a bar. Work is not going as well as it should, as is the case for many. But I am very well, compared to what has happened in these months. We were closed from March to May. One day my parish priest called me and said, "I know you are not working. I know you do not lack money to buy groceries, but keep that aside to pay bills or whatever. Come to us at the parish, without shame, and we will give you food parcels." Every week he would call me and I would go to get groceries. It is something they do year-round for people in need. At the same time, some friends helped me pay my apartment building fees, because if money does not come from the bar's cash register, we have no other income. When we reopened, even just for takeout, I went to my parish priest and told him what I wanted: "When the families come to get food, have them stop by the bar afterwards and I will offer them something warm, because it is starting to get cold." They started coming.

Sergio is a bar customer that I met chatting every now and then. He suddenly found himself in trouble because he was no longer able to pay his rent. From one day to the next, he had to leave his studio apartment without knowing where to go. That day I invited him to dinner, but I explained that I could not host him for the night because I have two children at home and we do not have the space. When we finished eating, my children called me aside to tell me they were going to sleep together so Sergio could sleep over. Then, with other friends, we helped him find a place to stay, albeit a very precarious one. He does have a camp bed though.

For the past two months he has been coming over for dinner and a very nice friendship is flourishing. The touching thing is that my friends from School of Community are giving me a contribution to help with the expenses and so we can get red meat for Sergio, because we always get turkey or chicken. The other night at the table, my daughter asked me if our other daughter, who does not live at home, would come for Christmas. I told her yes. She said, "Then there is a chair missing." Sergio immediately said, "No, no, I am not coming. It is your family's celebration." And my daughter said, "No, you are coming." Then she looked at me: "Dad, what kind of Christmas is it without Sergio?" I thought: what is Christmas without affirming an encounter?

But I also learned that the "problem" is not Sergio. It is me, how I live everything. I never understood when I heard people say that "we need to be in front of reality". Now I am beginning to understand, because instead of looking at the uncertainty of the future I look at the certainty of the present, that God loves us.

Yesterday some unexpected friends came to the bar and I asked them why they were passing by. They had come to see me. They filled my heart. Later, two more came bearing great sorrow, yet they made time to visit me. When they left the bar I wanted to hug them. You cannot, but the most beautiful things are enough to look at.

Marco, Milan, Italy