Fraternity of the Holy Face

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Our First Steps in Spain: Barcelona, 1986

During one of our first missions, we saw a homeless woman, all curled up, sitting on the steps in the square. We tried to go over to her, but with one hand the woman hid her face, and with the other, she gestured for us to go away. It took a few days for us to move past this initial reaction, but eventually she allowed us to sit by her, to see her face-swollen and ravaged by an advanced cancer. And then our friend even told us her name: Maria. We wanted to be sure that we could see one another again. But what was the name of this little Square that had become our meeting place? We discovered that it was called: Veronica Square!

O Saint Veronica, you who wiped the face of Jesus as he made his way toward the Cross, pray for us! For the sake of all our brothers and sisters, may we share in that grace which was granted you, to never turn away from our own flesh and blood.” (Isaiah 58:7).

After being away for some weeks in summer, we returned to find Maria waiting for us. When we arrived in Veronica Square, Maria rose and came to meet us. And with arms open wide she embraced us, so caught up in the momentum of friendship that she seemed to forget altogether the ugliness of her face.

Later, when Maria was diagnosed with an additional illness, she became contagious. This meant that she could no longer be admitted  into a shelter. The only remaining alternative was to enter the isolation ward of the hospital, and she did not want that. And so, of course, it was with Maria that we shared our bread on Christmas day, for then, as ever, “there was no room in the inn” (cf. Luke 2:7). She would spend quite a bit of time in our fraternity, and then she would leave. 

Maria has since returned to the Lord. She died alone, in a garden. But what we know is this: “In the cool of the day, God was walking in the garden” (Genesis  3:8). He was once again there in the garden on the night of his agony in Gethsemane, as also on the morning of his Resurrection. We know that there, he stooped towards her, and that she heard herself called by her name: “Maria!”, and that she recognized him: “Rabbouni!”, which means “Teacher” (cf John 20:16).

And so our fraternity in Barcelona received this name, undoubtedly written in heaven: “Fraternity of the Holy Face”.

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