The Gaze of the Poor
Encountering the poor, Matteo discovers more of his own humanity
Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been inviting the whole church to go to the outskirts of our dwellings to encounter the poor and needy. The same invitation reached me in the past from Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In both of these invitations, the desire to stay with people in need was evident; not only to try to help them by giving monetary support, even though this is still one of the primary needs, but really to stay with them. This desire has always resonated with me and every day I see many poor people living on the streets of Miami and in different cities where I travel for work.
Welcoming the invitation of Pope Francis and Mother Teresa, I have been intentionally approaching these people on the street for a few years now, any time when I have at least five minutes to spend outside of my job and daily commitments. I have found that these encounters are always a blessing for me. They were intimidating at the beginning because I was not certain how someone would react to me coming close without holding money in my hand but instead attempting a conversation. During these encounters, I first ask their name and introduce myself, striking up a conversation, for example, about the weather, the town in which they live, our origins, relationships, etc. I often ask if they have a job and, if the answer is no, the reasons why. Each story is obviously different, but there is a common ground: we all are challenged by life. In speaking with these people I meet, I find that I am familiar with their uneasiness and their need for hope. Moreover, when I stay with them, what could be a distance between us born from the way we look, dress, or act, fades away. I see that we all have struggles, needs, desires, failures, and successes in our lives and that no one has arrived at the so-called “final destination”. We are all beggars who are seeking a greater good, which for me is first and foremost God’s mercy.
Two things in particular strike me in every encounter I have with someone I meet on the street: one is that we often end up talking sooner or later about God; two, at times, when I pass by the same spot later that day, I notice that they are gone. I never know where they went, but I am hopeful that something in our conversation has pushed them out of their spot and made them walk. I think that because this is exactly how I feel and what I gain from being with them even if only for a short time. I feel loved by them, seeing how truly happy they are for someone to simply spend time with them. They appreciate me for just being there and it is this gaze they have on me that I deeply desire. I believe this is why many saints have pointed to the poor as the place where the presence of Jesus is more evident than others, because their simple gaze hits at the core of my humanity, leaving behind all pretenses or distractions that I carry within myself.
I am thankful to the Church and the continued education I receive in our Movement of Communion and Liberation about the importance of charity, that is, much before something we are able to do for others, is to recognize that we carry the same heart of any other person, irrespective of who they are. So why not take the opportunity to meet and dialogue with someone new who can reveal me to myself?
Matteo, Miami, FL