The days before leaving are frantic, I have to complete the collection of used clothes, sports uniforms, socks, English books for school … I get anxious, I check the travel documents one more time, the size of the luggage … the media have terrified us with the news of Zika epidemic, I read that some Olympic athletes even gave up on the Games to avoid taking risks! The desire and the need to visit the San Michele are stronger than any deterrent.

It’s my first trip to South America. At the Rio de Janeiro airport, Marco Roberto runs to meet his màe (mother), two years have passed since the last hug. The impact with the Brazilian land is powerful. Nature here is still luxuriant though mutilated by man.

Of the Atlantic Mata, the coastal rainforest that once extended from the current state of Rio Grande do Norte to the borders of Uruguay, only 7% remains. The forest was transformed into cities, mines, pastures, sugar cane plantations, coffee, cocoa and eucalyptus – all imported species. The Opera Sao Miguel Arcanjo welcomes us on a weekday, missing three weeks at the end of the school year, a few days to the Junina party. It is difficult to describe in four lines the melting pot of experiences, emotions, smells, tastes, words, silences … it would take a whole book … Marco Bonari encouraged me to write one, maybe one day I will do it!

I could tell you about Anthony, Jesus Christofer, Pedro, Carlos Henrique, David … I choose Alicia because her house is the first house in the favelas of Barbacena where we enter, accompanied by Adriana, an educator of the mission. After a few minutes I have to go out, I start to feel nausea and my head is spinning. Alicia attends the creche at the San Michele, she is also following a dental treatment because the milk teeth of the upper arch have fallen and are slow to grow again, she eats slowly, she is a shy and sweet child.

One day at lunchtime we were walking towards the refectory, we see Alicia’s mother or aunt (I apologize if I am mistaking, but the two women live in the same house, I do not remember if it was one or the other) , standing in the square, with the youngest child, not even two years old, in her arms. She tell us that she missed the bus. It came natural for me to ask “voice quer comer?” (do you want to eat something?). Without a moment of hesitation, she said “yes”.

As I watch the woman and the child eat a plate of rice and beans on the wooden table, I feel embarassed by our white tablecloth. I think that this mother can not care less about who is the author of this gift … man, woman, priest, saint, sinner … “I was hungry and you gave me to eat” (Matthew. 25, 31-46)

With great gratitude, I wish you all a Merry Christmas.