|By Fr. Brendan McGuire
Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, San Jose and Vicar General for special projects, Diocese of San Jose. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Embracing the Untouchable
March 19, 2017
It is one of the most powerful photographs. The picture of a man named Venicio Riva. Venicio who suffers from a hereditary disease called neurofibromatosis, which leaves his body covered from head to toe in lesions and ulcerous lumps that look infectious. However, they are in fact not infectious but only distorting.
When Venicio visited Saint Peter’s Square recently and he met the Pope for the first time. The Pope, upon seeing him, without ever having known anything about him before, embraced him and kissed him on the forehead. Venicio has been suffering from this disease since he was 14 years old and he said that when most people see him the general reaction is repulsion. People turn and walk away. They are shocked as they think he is contagious. Instead, the Pope not only embraced him but kissed him. Venicio said that it was the first time in his life he felt like a human being.1
A similar story occurs in today’s gospel. The Samaritan woman is not physically disfigured but in the eyes of the community, she was very much disfigured. She had five husbands and the one currently was not her husband. All of those were three strikes against her, which is why Jesus should not have even spoken to her, or gotten any where near her.
Instead, Jesus engages her in conversation. She was not allowed to go to the well with the rest of the women so she was already segmented away from society. Yet, here is Jesus not only talking to her but engaging her in a deep dialogue about her life and about eternal life.
If we call ourselves Christian, then we are called to model ourselves after what Christ did today. The Pope has constantly challenged us to reach out to people with mercy and with compassion first.
Very few of us will ever come across that very rare genetic condition of an ulcerative body like Venicio Riva and very few of us will come across somebody like the Samaritan woman, but we all have people in our lives with which we choose to not have conversations. For whatever reason—something they have said or done—they are now on the periphery of our lives and we deliberately keep them there. We are called, as Christians, to reach out; to be merciful; to be the compassion of Christ.
The Pope is pleading with the whole Catholic Church, its clerical leadership and the laity, to be people of compassion; to be people of mercy. He follows not his own steps. He follows the steps of Jesus Christ, who was first and foremost a person of love, mercy and compassion.
(Endnotes) 1 “Connections” (Mediaworks, Londonderry, NH: March 23, 2014)