Last summer I had the privilege of taking a trip to Italy and visiting Assisi, the town where St. Francis lived. Back in the 1200’s, St. Francis left everything – all property and relationships – out of love for Jesus on the Cross. He loved the Crucified Christ so much that He spent His whole life seeking Him, desiring to be with Him and like Him. Near the end of His life, Christ Himself branded Francis with the marks of His own crucifixion wounds.
So, on one of my first nights, I was sitting a bit exhausted and drinking a decaf cappuccino in one of the local outdoor cafes, when I got to talking with the young woman Nina who was working there. She spoke some English, so we were able to communicate beyond “How much for the coffee?” She was from Cuba, a long way from home, and she had finally learned Italian from her immersion into Assisi. I could tell she had a long day. And she missed her country.
So, a little afterwards, I moved on from the cafe and I thought of picking up some small items for the homeless people that I see on Saturdays, being in Assisi and all. I found some little Franciscan crosses and bought a bunch. They are the type of crosses you find everywhere in Assisi. On my way back, I stopped again at the cafe for a drink, and by now it was really busy. As I sat there, Nina came out again and lit a cigarette for a brief moment, and sighed, “I want to go home.”
Just then, I knew that one of those little crosses I had just bought was for her.
Well, it was too busy to give it to her then, so I thought I’d come back another time. A few nights later, I stopped by with a South American friend, and caught Nina’s attention and said hello. I said, “You know, God sends me to people who don’t have a home, who want to go home. I got some of these for homeless people where I live, and I think one of them is for you.” I handed her the little cross.
She was so moved. “Thank you. No one has ever given me one of these before. Thank you.”
What?! These crosses are everywhere in Assisi, they are the tourist standard, it’s impossible to be a day in Assisi and not get one of these crosses. Her workplace is surrounded by stores selling these things, they are on full display, you can see them from the counter where she works. She’s been there three years, and no one has given her one of them. I had no idea.
As I walked away with my South American friend, I told him the story, how she is from Cuba, how I got the crosses, the intuition I had. He said, “You know, when someone leaves Cuba, they can never go back.” I didn’t. She will always be homeless.
I’m about to share something, and maybe this is the first time anyone has said this to you, I don’t know. But we have signs of it all around us, in our houses, our neighborhood, our churches, in the media, everywhere we look around us. This is the message: our real home is not here in this life. Our real home is in heaven. As long as we live this life on earth, we will always be homeless.
As long as we live this life, our home is the Cross.
“Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Mt 8:20)