Over Christmas break, I spent two weeks with my brother, his wife, and his mother-in-law in Turkey. We visited Istanbul, Troy, Izmir, Ephesus, Hierapolis, Cappadocia and Ankara. We admired the art in Hagia Sophia, prayed at the tomb of St. John the Evangelist, and spent an afternoon in the House of the Virgin Mary. Besides these incredible sights, an event took place on the last night of our pilgrimage which we will not soon forget.
As my brother and I were walking from his office to his house, we bumped into two ladies – one around forty years old and the other around sixty. The younger woman addressed us in Turkish, to which my brother responded that we did not speak her language well. She began to ramble. The more she spoke, the more agitated she became. I discerned the words ‘cancer,’ ‘taxi’ and ‘hospital.’ My brother reached into his pocket and handed her a bill of 5 Turkish Liras. She took the money and continued to chatter and raise her voice. The woman behind her was hunched down as if in considerable pain. I reached into my right pocket, pulled out my wallet and gave her all the cash that I had – also only a 5TL bill. Now in a state of exasperation, she took the money and continued to babble, nearly shaking and yelling at us.
Not knowing what else to do, I reached into my left pocket, pulled out my rosary and placed it in her hand. She paused and asked, “Hediye?” (gift?). My brother responded, “Evet (yes), hediye.” Her look of desperation turned into a smile. She picked up the crucifix and asked, “Isa?” My brother affirmed her, “Evet, Isa.” She closed her eyes and kissed the man on the cross. Both women, now grinning from ear to ear, bid us farewell in deep gratitude, “Teşekkürler, teşekkürler.”
Back at Mundelein, already in the third week of the new semester, I continue to reflect on that experience. Whether we’re gathering in prayer, reading philosophy, or serving the poor, there is one Person who both sustains us and properly orders our lives. In the words of Saint John Paul the Great, “Jesus Christ is the answer to the question posed by every human life.”