In the wee hours of December 27, 2017, I left aboard American Airways for Uganda to visit with my family with a brief connecting flight in Philadelphia. The trip was uneventful save for the occasional updates on the trip by the flight attendants and the snores from a gentleman seated to my left. From Philadelphia, I boarded Qatar Airways to Doha, then finally to Entebbe, Uganda.
From the onset, this trip from Philadelphia appeared to be an interesting trip. This was due to a mother of two little kids one of whom seemed to be very lively and had an opinion and questions on a range of issues. She was a very interesting and intense child, to say the least. To the frustration of her mother, this child kept on talking even when everyone seemed to have wanted some moment of silence. Finally, that moment was achieved when she momentarily fell asleep. But it was short lived because when everything seemed quiet and everyone was asleep, the child woke those around her with some simple but profound announcement: “Mummy, I love you, I really do!” These words sounded so genuine that the magic in them woke us up and instead of being irritated, everybody laughed and began talking to their neighbors whom they had previously no time for. Shortly after her words, we entered into a very turbulent part of our flight somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. But the conversations kept flowing long after the turbulence was over. Her words of love, appeared to have cushioned those around her against the turbulence of the sea.
On this flight to Doha from Philadelphia, I had a full row on the center aisle to myself as the economy side of the flight was not fully occupied…that was until a certain gentleman joined me after the child’s declaration of her love for her mother. For a while, every one of us minded his own business like everyone else who had no immediate neighbor. However, I noticed that this gentleman kept glancing at me from time to time and then he finally asked: “I have noticed you making the sign of the cross before your meals, are you a Christian?” I told him I am a Roman Catholic priest. He told me that he wished the world needed to see more of this. He then told me that he was a Christian. Then a wonderful conversation began about faith and about the holy land. He told me he was from Santiago but originally from Lebanon which he left forty years ago.He was returning twenty-five years since his last visit because his mom was dying. He asked me to pray for him and for his mom. As we were getting deeper into a conversation about faith, an air hostess came and asked him to go and resume his original seat. He was traveling first class but midway gave up his seat in the first class cabin to a lady who got sick midway during the turbulence I mentioned earlier on.
Why he specifically chose to come and sit next to me and why we had that conversation, I cannot explain but one thing I know is that God grants us numerous opportunities to proclaim Him than we will ever realize. These opportunities pass us by every day and perhaps very often, we miss them. From the innocence of that little child’s confession of her love for her mother, I learned that genuine love opens doors for relating with people who may be different from us. It is a powerful antidote to any kind of barriers we may have built that creates turbulence in our lives. Therefore, let us never postpone our love for one another.
Secondly, from my encounter with my Lebanese brother, I confirmed that making the sign of the cross before meals or important events in the public square is a powerful tool of evangelization. It identifies who we are as Christians for indeed, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18. This is because the Cross of Christ is the central event of history, but it has also been a source of controversy and offense. Therefore, let us never shy away from making the sign of the cross in our schools, at the grocery store or at the restaurant before our meals. AMEN!
Fr. RobertBACK TO LIST