Some years ago, my husband found his Croatian cousins after a years-long search. This successful venture with his dad’s family encouraged Mike to further explore his mother’s roots. He consulted with numerous family members and compiled their collective knowledge. After gaining additional insight from some Sicilian friends here at home, Mike felt somewhat prepared to make the trek overseas to his grandparents’ birthplace.
I have often admitted that I am not the world traveler that my husband is. Trip preparations send me into panic-mode. I imagine every possibility regarding what might go wrong, while ignoring the potential for wonderfully enriching encounters. This is the case in spite of the fact that every time we have ventured overseas, I have been taken in by the people and the sights. I have been filled with inspiration enough to fill a dozen books, and I have returned home most grateful for the experience.
I am pleased to report that my preparations for our trip to Sicily were far less taxing than usual for me. Our Sicilian friends here maintain strong family ties with their families in Sicily via the telephone and internet. As a result, Paula and Onofrio provided us a good deal of insight regarding our destination. Paula could not help reminiscing about her own visits to her parents’ homeland. Onofrio shared stories from his own upbringing in Sicily and then arranged for his army buddy to guide us to Mike’s grandparents’ village. By the time we boarded the plane, joyful anticipation had replaced my fear. During the flight, I studied our itinerary and travel guide to whet my appetite for the things to come. When we landed in Sicily, I was prepared for whatever lay ahead.
When Mike and I arrived at our hotel, the reception staff informed us that a friend had called to confirm our registration. Gianfranco wanted to be certain that he would arrive at the correct hotel to meet us the following morning. I could not help smiling as I whispered a prayer for both Onofrio and his conscientious friend on the way to our room. The next morning, both Gianfranco and his wife Daniela appeared at the designated hour to take us to Altofonte. Though we had just met, friendship bloomed from the onset.
We laughed often as we struggled to use our extremely limited vocabularies in one another’s languages. Mike’s unmistakable delight in tracing his grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ footsteps through town seemed reward enough for our host and hostess. As we ambled along, I thought of all that Paula had told me about her time in Sicily. I made a mental note to tell her that the people were just as she described –passionate, welcoming and proud. When we attended Mass together at the local church and searched the cemetery for family names, I wondered if my Sicilian in-laws hovered over us. By the end of this wonderful day, Gianfranco, Daniela, Mike and I had managed to communicate far more than we expected. In the end, our farewell hugs were filled with genuine affection and gratitude for our time together.
John’s gospel (John 14:15-21) prompted me to share our Sicilian adventure with you. I realize that my pre-travel jitters are far less consequential than the things Jesus’ followers faced. Still, not being left alone in the midst of the unknown made all of the difference in the world to me. How much more consolation must the disciples have felt when Jesus promised not to leave them alone?
John’s is the only gospel which includes Jesus’ pledge to remain among us where it cannot be ignored –in the midst of the Last Supper. John indicates that Jesus knows very well that his disciples will soon feel very much alone. So it is that Jesus tells them, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…” The truth is that Jesus never leaves any of us alone. If our friends here at home and the friends whom we had never met before could go to such lengths to insure that we were not left orphans in a strange country, how much more will Jesus do for you and me?
Today, let us be grateful for God’s presence in our lives. Sometimes, it takes form in the reassurance we find in the depths of our hearts. Sometimes, it takes human form… in the voice of a knowing friend; in the kindness of a co-worker who steps up to be of help; in the parents and grandparents, spouses and significant others, siblings and friends who remain with us through our troubles. Just as he promised, Jesus makes a child of every orphan among us in the most unexpected ways.
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