“Father, it’s Andrea. There’s no more time. Noemi is dying,” he said in the early morning phone call to the pope’s almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the man who brings the Holy Father’s charity to the needy.
Later that morning 1-year-old Noemi traveled with her father and mother—Andrea and Tahereh Sciarretta—to Vatican City from her hometown in the province of Chieti, a little over two hours away by car. Archbishop Krajewski had told them, “Come, come now. … The pope will certainly receive you.”
By 9 a.m., Pope Francis was holding little Noemi, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that causes a loss of specialized nerve cells in the spinal cord and brainstem. The loss of the nerve cells results in weakness and atrophy of the muscles used for crawling, walking, sitting up and controlling head movement.
Pope Francis was deeply moved by little Noemi. He caressed her, kissed her and blessed her, as she looked back at him with joy in her bright eyes.
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano explained that in early October Andrea Sciarretta wrote to Pope Francis to tell him about his daughter. On Oct. 14, the Holy Father responded by asking Archbishop Krajewski to keep in close touch with them, which he did, including a trip to see them on All Saints’ Day, to pray with them.
We are just over two weeks away from Advent, which starts on Dec. 1 this year. During Advent we anticipate the birth of Jesus, the time when God performed the ultimate act of charity and became a man like us.
Advent is a time in which we should expand our hearts through acts of charity, in imitation of God’s gift of Jesus to us. And we should allow Jesus’ incarnation to be a model for how we carry out those acts of charity.
God, in his infinite power could have saved us from afar, but he did not. He chose to be with us, to walk the earth, to touch the eyes of the blind, the feet of the lame, the sores of lepers, and the sin-wounded hearts of all humanity.
Pope Francis put it well when he spoke to his fellow Argentineans in an Aug. 7 video message for the feast of St. Gaetano. Speaking about giving to the poor, he said: “But the important thing is not looking at them from afar, or helping from afar. No, no! It is going to encounter them. This is the Christian! This is what Jesus taught: to go meet the most needy.”
Many of us saw this type of encounter with Blessed Mother Teresa and the sick and dying on the streets of Calcutta. Her sisters continue that encounter throughout the world and we are blessed to have them in Denver.
We will encounter Jesus, grow in holiness and have a joyful experience of Christmas if we are able to encounter those in need this Advent.
A little more than an hour after visiting with Noemi and her parents, the Holy Father held his weekly Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square. He began it by telling the crowd about his meeting with Noemi.
“Her father and mother are praying, and asking the Lord to heal this beautiful little girl. … The poor little dear was smiling!” he said.
Then he called on the throng in St. Peter’s Square to perform an act of love.
“We do not know her, but she is a baptized child, she is one of us, she is a Christian. Let us perform an act of love for her and in silence ask the Lord for his help in this moment and that he give her health. In silence one moment, and then we will pray the ‘Hail Mary.’”
I pray that everyone in the archdiocese will begin to prepare now for an Advent filled with the type of genuine charity that does not hesitate to look in the eyes of the needy, to touch their hand, to listen attentively and in doing so meet Jesus. Then you will be able to see him and welcome him all the more joyfully at Christmas.