It can be said that one of the greatest riches of Africa are its children. They are all over and always happy and smiling (I would almost say unaware of the poverty in which they live). During three days of life, joy, encounters, and greetings at the Salesian presence in Hwange, Zimbabwe, I met Sean, a boy of around 12 years old who left a great mark on me!
Sean was almost always present, alongside his friends. Wherever I would go, there he was, about a metre away from everything that was happening, watching from a short distance all that was new for him. Naturally, I greeted them all many times: in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night when they went home; and we spoke about things together.
When the time came for me to leave to head to the next stop, several hours’ journey by truck, there was that young lad. Just as I was getting into the truck, he came forward and stood very close to me, extending his right hand, fist closed.
I extended the palm of my hand and then understood that he was offering me a gift. I looked at what he handed me, closed my hand, thanked him with words and a huge smile, and put it into my pocket. To end our farewell, he handed me a piece of writing paper.
You may wonder what this was all about; what was the gift and what was on the piece of paper. This boy—as I understand it—felt the need to thank me for having been there, perhaps for having greeted him, or being close to him and his friends, so he gave me what he could.
The gift was simply a small stone, one of the thousands that were around on the ground, but one he had chosen to give to me. He gave me everything he could. That's how I received it. I have it with me now and with me it will remain. On the little piece of paper was written: “Pray fou (sic) you. My name is Sean Cayd.”
How could my heart not have been touched by that experience? How could I forget that face and those eyes full of life? How could I not ask myself what must have gone through that boy’s heart and mind for him to feel that he had to give something to me—a man from a foreign land who had come from afar to visit them?
Everything that happened has made me think deeply. It called to mind that scene in the Gospel in which the Lord Jesus praises the poor old woman because she had put but a few coins in the basket of the Temple of Jerusalem, it was all she had. Since I am a Salesian, an educator, Sean made me think very seriously about the educational action that takes place each day, by every Salesian, and in each Salesian house. The same can be said of every gesture, every word, every caress that happens in homes and families.
We can never guess to what extent a word, a smile, a greeting, or even a look can reach in the heart of a young person, and what it can mean in their lives. What seems like nothing to the one who gives can be everything to the one who receives.
Don Bosco’s life is full of significant encounters, of words whispered in the ear, of glances that pierced the heart and soul—like the young Paolo Albera, who would become Don Bosco's second successor, or Luigi Variara who as a ten-year-old boy, promised that he would never be separated from Don Bosco again.
It seems to me that these are some of the "miracles" that I often say are experienced daily in Salesian houses around the world. The truth is that my friend Sean touched my heart and taught me a great lesson. I pray the Good Lord bless him.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of the Salesian Bulletin, which is available now!