May all the peoples praise you… (Ps. 67)
Let me tell you about Siham.
She works at a little icecream/pastry/breakfast place, not far from our apartments here in Madrid. She’s a Muslim from Morocco. When she found out that we were here for the Pope’s visit she exclaimed, “yo amo al Papa!” She loves the Pope.
And she is full of joy. It’s a pleasure to buy icecream from her, just to see her smile and her bubbly energy. As an immigrant, and a Muslim in a predominantly Catholic (although “secular”) country, life could not have been so easy for her. Her Mother lives in Paris, she told our colleague Cyprian, also from Paris and she’s been in Madrid for 5 years. She used to be a chef in a cruise ship.
She also told us that she is celebrating Ramadan. This means that she is fasting all day, from sunrise to sunset. No only do Muslims fast, but they “fast” from swearing, intimacy and they try to live their days in purity. This is why, when she went to kiss us, she said she could only do so at night. If we came during the day, she could not kiss us. Her name means, “arrow of love,” which is why her co-worker and friend calls her “flechi,” short for “flecha” or arrow. She is, sort of like an arrow of love!
And today at Mass, hearing about the Cananite woman, I thought of Siham. The Franciscan priest at the Parish of El Cristo de Medinacelli, welcomed all young people from around the world. He welcomed all the people, from all cultures – because when we gather together under the banner of the Risen Christ, we are all the same.
And in his homily he reminded us that God’s mercy and love are not exclusive and we need to be sure not to exclude anyone from experiencing his arrow of love.
World Youth Day is an ocassion when all the nations gather to praise God. And it is common to see non-Catholics, even non-Christians in those crowds. Many Muslims go to World Youth Day. Many Muslims, like Siham, love God (and even the Pope!)
The next couple of days are going to be amazing – there’s no doubt. But if my whole WYD journey to Madrid had only included a visit to this little icecream shop to be met by a joy and love-filled Muslim woman, it would have been well worth it. Because in meeting her, I encountered Christ.
God’s love pierces us like an arrow, as it did to that Cananite woman who passionately challenged Jesus so many years ago. May His love continue to pierce our hearts as we journey towards one day praising Him with all the nations in His Heavenly Kingdom, where God excludes no one.