The Human Heart. Flickr

Lisa's Thirst

Here a high school student witnesses to the mercy of God and the positivity of reality in her conviction that even those in ISIS have the same heart as everyone else.

Tor Bella Monaca, Rome. A high school in a working-class suburb in the unmistakable atmosphere of the last days of the school year–a decidedly remarkable school year. Teresa, who teaches Italian literature and Latin, looks at her assistant and thinks back to what began in class just a few months ago, when the attack in Paris interrupted life in the classroom. There was even fear amidst the headlines and threats from ISIS: “We will strike Rome as well.” There were days of panic, enough to decide to cancel a field trip to the Imperial Forum. Along with the fear was the stream of questions from the students, on Islam, God, Christianity, freedom of speech and of thought...

One day, Lisa jumps up: “Teacher, I don’t think that what the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo did, making fun of Mohammed, is freedom. Last summer I discovered that freedom isn’t bringing others down, it’s living for an ideal... I don’t know exactly what [freedom] is, but it can’t be this. I’ve seen that it’s much more.” Teresa looks at the young, shy, and usually quiet girl with surprise. That summer she had come for the first time to a GS vacation, and Teresa was the very one who had invited her. “The father of one of her friends had died,” Teresa tells us. “After the funeral, Lisa came to me to say, ‘Miss, what you said, that reality is positive, isn’t true, because people die.’ I had simply responded by saying for me, ‘positive’ means that it’s full of meaning, and I invited her to the vacation.” Lisa signed up that same afternoon.

Now Teresa, in awe, listened to her speak about freedom. She would be even more amazed when she heard Pope Francis say the same things as the 15-year-old girl. In class, the discussions continue each day. They decided to organize a series of talks, inviting guests and witnesses to speak about ISIS, the Middle East, and Christians being persecuted. Their questions grew. One morning, Teresa entered the classroom and a boy told her in front of everyone that he no longer wanted to be Christian: “I refuse to recognize a God who lets his children be massacred like this.” Once again, it’s Lisa who leaves her speechless: “I was thinking: When these men will have killed thousands of people, what will they have left? When they have reached their goal, what will they do? It won’t be enough to make them happy. At that point, they’ll discover what I discovered, that the heart is insatiable desire. We are all afraid of them, but I know with certainty that their heart is the same as mine. Nothing will be enough to quench their thirst.”

A few weeks later, Teresa is speaking with Lisa’s father, the parent representative for the class. He shares with her that he was very stuck by something that happened during a lunch with the family, at Lisa’s grandparents’ house. “We were talking about ISIS, and everyone was saying what they thought; and at a certain point Lisa burst out saying, ‘The heart of those men is like mine. Only the infinite is enough for them.’ We were all shocked.” He above all, for it’s rare that Lisa speaks up, especially at family gatherings. “But what really threw me is how she answered me,” he continued. “I told her that she spoke that way only because she is young, and later she would realize that the world works very differently...” And what did she say? “She looked at me and said, ‘You are my father, but you still haven’t discovered what I am discovering now: what it is to be human.”