Father Mario Pellegrino. The poor show me the face of God.

“One day, when I was 17 years old, I had an unexpected encounter which touched my heart. I was in a very delicate and difficult moment of my life in which I was trying to understand the sense of my life and the way in which I really wanted to spend it”. A Comboni missionary from Italy tell us his story.

I was about to finish my secondary school and many questions were inhabiting my mind, I was really confused, I was not at peace. In this situation, I met a young missionary who had dedicated all his life to the service of the people in Ecuador, in South America.

He talked to me with a very great and attracting smile, with such a huge enthusiasm about his experience with the suffering people of Ecuador. My heart was really burning listening to his stories, I was really amazed by the energy and happiness of this missionary and I told to myself: “I want to have the same joy and the same enthusiasm of this man!”

While I was studying at university, I came to know of a youth group which was focused on the issue of mission and inter-culturality; I stared to participate in their meetings and I was given by chance the possibility to go to Ethiopia for one month for a short missionary experience. There I had the first strong encounter with the poor, which struck me and deeply transformed all my life. I was 19 years old. Just arrived at night in Addis Ababa, I was travelling by bus toward the place where I would have slept; the light of the moon was the only one enlightening the streets of the town.

The bus stopped when the traffic light showed the red colour; and from the darkness, small children of 4 or 5 years old came closer to the bus and deeply looked at my eyes. They showed me their empty stomach and with all their energy they started to cry out: “I am hungry, I am hungry”. And while they were shouting I was feeling like a sword penetrating my heart accompanied by a strong sense of powerlessness.

I asked myself, how is it possible that we human beings have so fast developed in technology and science but have not grown in humanity, compassion for the forgotten ones, capacity to take care of the destitute people? I saw people suffering and this suffering became my suffering and I understood that I could not have continued to live without dedicating all my existence to the poorest and most abandoned, the crucified of the third millennium.

I started a serious time of discernment and I had the possibility to know some Comboni Missionaries who had really donated their life for the service of the Gospel and of the oppressed. Step by step, I came to understand that Jesus of Nazareth is the true sense of my life and that I can really find, touch and caress his face in the face of the poorest.

Indeed, the poor showed me the face of God, I came to know God through them. I really feel in love with this God who is passionate for humanity and who struggles so that the poor can have true life and can be liberated from their slavery. I felt invited by him to surround my life at the service of this Kingdom that he dreams to realize in our world: a Kingdom of justice, love, tenderness, peace.

I entered the postulancy of the Comboni family in Padua (Italy) where I started my journey with the Comboni family; there I had the possibility to work with prisoners and homeless suffering people. At the beginning, it was not easy for my family to accept and to understand my choice; they had already many dreams about my life, they were not happy about what I was doing, my brother did not talk with me for long. But once they came to visit me in the postulancy, they saw me very happy and my mother told me that my joy is her joy. They also started to change their lifestyle and today they are very committed in the Church: also their heart has been conquered by God’s love. Then I went in Portugal for the time of novitiate, which prepared me to take the vows and to promise to dedicate myself completely at the service of God in the poorest.

Afterwards, I went to South Africa to finish my studies in theology. At the end of the studies, I asked the gift to share my life with the people of South Sudan and I was appointed to the community of Nyal, in Unity State. I will never finish thanking the Lord for the gift of this extraordinary people that he has given me in Nyal where I hope to remain for many years. I desire to be a sign of God’s presence among them, an instrument of peace in the hand of God, the Father/Mother of Life.