Looking into their eyes

Tuesday, October 08, 2019 - Updated: 1:37 pm

Shortly after he was elected as our Holy Father in March 2013, Pope Francis said something that “hit me between the eyes.” His words made a significant impact on my reaching out to others.

As we have come to expect every time he speaks or writes, Pope Francis raised the bar on how we must be aware of and be of help to others in need. He cited an experience with which we can all identify — walking past someone who has their hand or baseball cap or tin can reaching out for some tangible assistance.

Do we see them? Do we walk past them? Do we ignore them? Do we dismiss them as a beggar, a panhandler? Do we reach out to them? And if we do so, do we do so as an obligation? Do we do so with a smugness as one justified by our actions?

Or do we respond from our hearts? Is our response an act of caring?

And finally, the pope’s main point: When we reach out to that “someone” — do we look them in the eyes? Pope Francis concludes that if we have not looked into that “someone’s” eyes, we haven’t done enough. Looking into someone’s eyes connects with their heart. Looking into someone’s eyes has the power to make them feel that someone cares about them.

Since his reflection, I deliberately make it a point to take the time to look into the eyes of those “someones” in need. It makes a difference. It makes a difference in me. And I trust it makes a difference in them. While the beginning of that encounter may seem awkward, given a few seconds the exchange melts into what it is intended to be — an act of love, an opportunity to recognize that we are related to each other, created by God, each of us, in his image and in his likeness.

When we show love in Jesus’ name to those who appear different from us, we are fulfilling a command that Jesus gave to all of his followers — to share his message and mercy with the whole world.

Ways to help

This month, October 2019, we have important opportunities to do just that. Pope Francis has declared this an Extraordinary Mission Month in which we Catholics are called to focus on supporting the work of global missionaries through prayer and giving. There are two different but equally important ways we can do that.

First, the proceeds from the special World Mission Sunday collection on Oct. 19-20 go to people in spiritual and material need all over the world, whose lives and troubles are hidden from us but known to God, who wants us to help them.

Second, as the Diocese of Pittsburgh, we especially want to support our special mission at the maternity clinic and social service center in Chimbote, Peru, which serves the poorest of the poor.

Helping people in distant places, whom we have never met, isn’t an “extra.” It’s what makes us church. Jesus never meant for us to be isolated or divided from each other — whether across the church aisle or across the ocean. The church that Jesus created is a great community of believers, united despite our differences, who love each other and help each other grow closer to God. We can pray for and support both those we know and people we have never met.

As baptized Christians, we are already called to do so. After Jesus rose from the dead, he told his followers to “make disciples of all nations.” That is his call to every single one of us.

Some hear that call and serve Jesus and his church as full-time missionaries, serving in places of great spiritual poverty, where people either never knew of Jesus’ love for them, or where they have forgotten or grown indifferent to his love. Others serve in places of great material poverty, where medical help or food offered in the name of Jesus can make the difference between life and death.

In some of these places, the people’s complete dependence on God for their daily bread brings them so close to him that the missionaries’ own faith is strengthened. That has certainly been the experience of those of us who have visited our diocesan mission in Chimbote.

Community of love

Our mission was founded in 1964 by a Pittsburgh priest, the late Msgr. Jules Roos, as a maternity clinic for the poorest of the poor in Peru. Many of the people there live in shelters made from cardboard boxes and scrap wood. But, thanks to your support, that first humble clinic has grown into a first-class family medical facility and social service center. Without it, many mothers and babies would have died.

The birth of the 100,000th baby is anticipated very soon at that clinic. As a diocese, we continue to raise money to support this mission and send teams of volunteers to help out. If your parish or school isn’t involved, ask how they can help. A dinner to raise money for Chimbote will be Oct. 24 in the Union Ballroom at Duquesne University. Tickets are available through chimbotefoundation.org or by calling our Stewardship Office at 412-456-3085.

There are so many needs around the world, so many people who live in impossibly hard circumstances, both spiritually and materially. That is why every year we take up a special collection in every one of our parishes for World Mission Sunday. This year that collection will be taken Oct. 19-20.

When we put money in the collection basket, whether it’s $10 or $100, we will be helping hidden people, in another land and culture, who are in great need. We will be fulfilling the command that Jesus gave his followers to make disciples of all nations. We will be healing division and building a church that is truly a community of love.

Come to think about it, as we do so, we will be answering the challenge of Pope Francis. We will be looking into their eyes.

And what a difference that makes for them — and us!

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