Photo: Unsplash/Connor Misset

"Called by name, like Zacchaeus by Jesus”

Antonio, a detainee, is serving an alternative sentence in a facility near Rimini. He recounts how meeting new friends broke down the walls that "I had built around myself since I was a child."

Antonio is a detainee who is serving an alternative sentence at Casa Betania, near Rimini, a shelter belonging to the Pope John XXIII Community, part of the Cec (Comunità Educante con Carcerati) program, born in Italy a few years ago on the model of the Brazilian Apacs. During his detention, he met some friends who do charitable work at the facility. Not long ago, after a dinner together, he sent a message to one of them, as he himself recounts.

My name is Antonio. I am 44 years old. I sent this message as saying certain things face to face is not easy. Meeting her and her friends I realized that I have been detained since I was a child. Detained means that someone deprives you of your freedom: I deprived myself of my freedom. From an early age, my life was not easy and it led me to build a prison around myself, to protect myself. I attempted to eradicate that need that child had – and still has today – to love and be loved, by building up a wall, brick by brick, without doors or windows. And that is when the crimes began... That child, however, at a certain point became "Antonio"; someone came along and called him by name, breaking down those walls he had locked himself up in. That is how it happened: I began to live in freedom, to be myself, to no longer feel ashamed. When a person begins to feel loved, they begin to understand that they are precious. And they begin to love others as well. I sent these words to thank these friends for what has happened and is happening in my life.

"Dear friend, I am sending you this message to tell you what we experienced, or rather, what I experienced the other night. First of all, it was a moment of beautiful relationship, where we all got along well; and also the mass, which we celebrated with the priest, was not a simple ritual, but being all together to thank God for that moment and for all that He gives us. But I also want to tell you what I experienced in my heart during the evening. I was amazed at how I told you about myself, because I think I have never expressed myself in such a deep way, bringing out the child in me. That child has always been afraid of others, of being laughed at, of being misunderstood, and has always remained hidden. This time it was different. You have given me something that cannot be bought, nor can it be asked for or begged for, but that can only be received freely in the heart: love. That is why that child wanted, and wants, to reciprocate by making himself known to you. As if to say: ‘I give you my poverty, my nothingness, because it is the only precious thing I have.’ This is what happened the other evening. For me it was something beautiful; I feel truly loved by someone. This is good for me, it is good for that child who is always looking for someone to look at him differently, and to make him grow, mature, so that he too can bear fruit. You, your husband, your friends... maybe you do not perceive it, but you are doing miracles for me and in me. You are Jesus' instrument for me in this moment, you are Jesus calling Zacchaeus by name. You have called me by name and that has awakened me. Thank you."

Antonio, Rimini, Italy