Photo: Unsplash/Mihály Köles

"A smile in the eyes that is not mine"

Helping the homeless with the Sisters of Mother Teresa has changed shape because of Covid and the restrictions. Pietro, a university student, is also forced to change by discovering something new, as he recounts in this letter.

I do charitable work on Wednesday mornings in a parish together with the Sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, taking breakfast and clothes to the homeless. Initially, with those who had a car or motorbike, we would prepare bags and go downtown to distribute them to the homeless people we met. Others stayed with the sisters to serve those who came each morning.

Going downtown energized me, as this way charitable work only lasted a short while (about 40 minutes) and I could go to my university and go about my daily life. Then, as a result of the restrictions and the fact that the sisters got Covid, we were all asked to stay in the parish because there was so much need.

As much as it bothered me - because there is so much praying and the shifts last more than an hour - I decided to stay there, continuing faithfully. In this past month I have seen two major changes. The first is contentment: things are still heavy and my head is often elsewhere, but I surprise myself at being glad and inviting my friends from my community that struggle more to take charitable work seriously. As is written in The Meaning of Charitable Work: "We become ourselves to the extent that we live this need and this requirement. Communicating to others gives us the experience of completing ourselves.”

Secondly, I am constantly amazed at the tension I feel in communicating my gladness to the homeless. I usually fill up the little bottles with tea or coffee and, since we have masks on and you cannot see my mouth, I try to accentuate my smile with my eyes. I do not find it hard being with them, I humor them and try to play down their rants. I have stopped talking to them with the informal "you", rather using the formal "he/she" so that they feel respected. Some have crazy requests and start to question the amount of drink I pour into the bottles, but I do not get angry and try as best I can to please them. And there are so many moments when I have thought, "That attitude is not mine."

I identify myself when the text says, "We do charitable work in order to live like Christ." My happiness does not depend on what I get back from these people, as is written, "It is the discovery of the fact that precisely because we love them, it is not we who make them happy.”

The same happens when I tutor two eighth graders. Lately, looking at them, I ask myself: "How can I communicate to them the salvation that has won me over?". Charitable work contributes to this new gaze I find upon myself.

Pietro, Bologna, Italy