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Where Are You From?
“Go and preach the brotherhood proclaimed by Christ, which is destined to
demolish all barriers and make a single family of all peoples.”
St. Guido M. Conforti to departing Missionaries, 1924
On Mission Sunday, October 23, 2011, Guido M. Conforti, Bishop of Parma, Italy, and Founder of the Xaverian Missionaries, was declared a Saint by Pope Benedict XVI. St. Peter’s Square in Rome was overflowing with some 50 thousand people from all over the world. (Two others were declared Saints besides St. Guido: St. Luigi Guanella of Italy, and St. Bonifacia de Castro of Spain). People of all colors, costumes and clothes, tastes and languages and, I am sure, many of different faiths were there. From the States, some 50 of us made the pilgrimage.
We Xaverian Missionaries and friends the world over had our own celebrations in honor of St. Guido:
on Monday 10/24/11 at the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Wall, the Mass being presided by our own Xaverian Bishop, George Biguzzi, of Makeni, Sierra Leone; and, on Wednesday, 10/25/11 at the Cathedral of Parma where St. Guido had been bishop for many years. (November 5th, anniversary of his death, has been designated as St. Guido M. Conforti feast day in the Church’s calendar).
All the celebrations were moving, exhilarating, many-colored and flavored with many languages and types of music. In just one occasion I counted 12 languages being spoken in prayer, music and messages. The experience was overwhelming.
As we met and exchanged greetings, one of the most asked questions was: “Where are you from?” Understandable, yes, in such circumstances. Yet, connected with the words of St. Guido, “to make of the world one single family,” which also recurred many times that week, strangely perhaps, the question hit me with unusual force as it brought to memory that same remark in the Gospel which was made in the dark of night, the dark of the darkest night, about two thousand years ago. It is still made innumerable times every day, but it should never be made, not with Him among us.
It was a harassing scene. Jesus had been arrested. He was standing in front of a set of judges.
Outside in the dark it was cold, very cold. People were sitting around fires with their hands outstretched toward the fleeting warmth of the flames.It was then that a wary maid pointed to Peter and said: “Your accent betrays you. Where are you from?” She tried to classify him. She tried to localize him. She tried to place him. She tried to pin down his descent, his blood, his land, his tribe, and his nation. Peter denied knowing Jesus. He denied the truth. Peter should have denied something else. He should have denied that he was any longer classifiable as a Galilean, as belonging to one group, to one land, one nation. Once a follower of Jesus, you are no longer classifiable.
That is what Jesus means when he says: “Call no one on earth you father; you have but one Father in heaven.” Do not use any classification by descent, blood, land, tribe, or nation anymore. That time is over. Those divisions are gone.”
From now on, it is all of us - one descent, one blood, one land, one people, and one nation.
“Only one is your Father, the one in heaven!” Only one is your Mother, the earth, God’s womb, from which the Father begot us. How often it has happened to me. How often it has happened to you. Wherever you were, people said what that maid said so long ago in the dark of the night, the darkest of all nights: “Your accent betrays you. Where are you from?”
Where am I from? Where are you from? Where are the others from? The answer Jesus gave is for all of us: “Only one is your Father, the one in heaven!” You belong together, you are brothers and sisters, you should be friends. Only when this answer is given by all to that treacherous question will we be at home together here on earth, and in all time to come. Only this answer can break the dark night in which we are still sitting with our hands outstretched in the fleeting warmth of some fire.
Oh, the world does try to fool us. It has been telling us that we belong to one global village.
But this is not news anymore, nor does this information greatly impress us. Though we are connected in all kinds of ways – by satellites, telephones, computers, the Internet, fax machines, radio, television, and many other new gadgets – we remain strangers and often divided against each other.
People sitting in the same bus, train, or plane do not relate to each other just because they are using the same kind of transport. Being aware that we are flying the same spaceship, called earth, is not much help either.
Jesus gives us a reason to relate to each other, a reason that does not depend on any kind of modern inventions, a reason as old as humankind: It is our common divine origin. “You have only one Father, and he is in heaven.” We have one parent, we have one origin, we belong to the same family. We are all brothers and sisters. This is not just talk; human history proves it to be fact.
Get an atlas and take a good look at the world. Get acquainted with the family you have, the world we live in, the spaceship we travel on together. Look at the adventures, the tragedies, the comedies, and the achievements of the human family in that family spirit that Jesus introduced to you, and you’ll conclude, as St. Guido M. Conforti did, Yes, we are called “to make of the world one family.” St. Guido leads us to aspire and labor toward that end: we are one family, and God is our one Father.
Fr. Tony Lalli, s.x.
Check our Mission Blog, with topics on Catholic Global Mission Today, sharing the love of Christ across Faith and Cultural boundaries.