This is the story of two cities, one on the eastern coast of America, the other on the southern coast of Italy. It is also the story of two celebrations, one mostly self-serving, one full of hospitality. And it is the story of idolizing “the first” and serving the “last.”
In America, we prepared for and watched Super Bowl XLVIII, complete with $4 million dollar 30-second commercials and a light show extraordinaire. We bet on the odds, gorged on comfort food, and in the end were treated to a blowout.
In Italy a group of townspeople and immigrants from Chad, Eritrea, Sudan, Libya, and other besieged countries shared a meal. One of the immigrants, a black Muslim, talked about being attacked by renegade group of Muslims who set fires in his village and shot the villagers on sight. He and his mother and brothers ran for their lives. When they returned, the village was totally devastated. They set out to find a new home. The young man was captured, imprisoned and tortured – in two different countries. He eventually arrived at the coast and got on a boat to Italy. The overloaded boat malfunctioned, and they drifted on the sea for four days before they got to shore. He was greeted warmly by the villagers, but a brother died of dehydration at sea.
Another man, a Christian, was attacked by Muslims in his home country and tortured. He fled to other countries where he paid great sums to be allowed to move through dangerous territory. He landed in Libya, where he was again beaten because he wouldn’t convert or even adopt the prayer ritual of the Muslims. He, too, found his way to this small town in Italy.
The celebration in Italy was about friendship and survival and new life. A young woman was interviewed (as were the two men) by an reporter from Heart and Soul, a BBC program. She described the efforts of the town to re-settle these eight families who had arrived on their shores. In tears she explained that she formerly regarded immigrants “as numbers.” Now she saw “their humanity” and was so grateful that she was able to help them.
I wonder: Is it possible for the world to risk becoming as passionate about “the least of these” as we are about the trappings of a football game?