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August 29, The Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

The face of the missionary

But do you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; For it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, A pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land: Against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people. They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord. Jer 1,17-19

Jeremiah is the most troublesome prophet that Israel has ever had, for his constant reminders to be faithful to the Lord, addressed to the kings, priests and people of Israel. In the today’s passage, the Lord gives him the mandate, power and the personal strength to support, in his name, his own missionary battle. Every believer is a soldier, to whom the Lord hands the weapons to attack the resistance and beliefs of the world, and those to defend against the resulting counterattacks of persecution. In fact, no one is willing to see his beliefs and existential balance destabilised without reacting, often achieved through hard personal struggles. Therefore, the words which today the Lord turns to Jeremiah are meant as addressed to every missionary: “But do you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command to you… For it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass”. It has never happened to us, indeed, to meet missionaries with elegant hands and faces like desk clerks: they are always full of wrinkles that were formed in the many battles fought under the winds blowing, both real and social. I can remember father Daniele, who, the day before leaving for Africa, came to us for dinner. He had the same nice, clear and smiling face as the student fresh out of seminary, who was finally going to make the dream of leaving for the mission come true. I met him three years later in Kenya, in the slums of Korogocho where he had replaced father Alex Zanotelli, and I almost did not recognize him. It had a darker tan and his face scored many lines, such as those one that the wind forms in the desert sand, but he had the same smile and smiling eyes as the man who had given a sense to his days.

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