Loppiano, 15th January 2002
In some countries children receive gifts on the feast of the Epiphany. What about the Child Jesus? Who thinks of him? Here’s a story that really happened, as Chiara Lubich told it to children in the little town of Loppiano.
My dear gen 4, I have to tell you a true story about something that happened at Christmas time, in a city called Vicenza in Italy. It’s a true story. There was a parish priest in that city who hadn’t been there for long and he taught the girls and boys ... the art of loving.
... But Christmas was coming up and so the Parish priest said to these children: “Look it is going to be Christmas soon so all of you have to try and do many, many, many acts of love for Baby Jesus”, and the Children said, “Yes, we will”. And they started to do many acts of love.
On the night before Christmas, before Baby Jesus was born, the parish priest put the manger out in front of the altar, but it was empty because baby Jesus hadn’t been born yet.
That evening the children saw the parish priest coming in with a very big parcel filled with a great many little rolls of yellow paper. There were 277 of these little rolls of yellow paper and on each one was written an act of love. So all together there were 277 acts of love. Now what did the Parish Priest do? He took these little rolls of paper and put them into a big sack, he filled up the sack and put it in the manger. He told the children, “Your acts of love will be like a pillow and a mattress for Baby Jesus when he is born. And the children were very happy to hear this.
And so Christmas day came. Sometime in the morning, before midday, maybe at 10.30, the parish priest asked the children, “What do you think should we do with these acts of love? Do you know what we can do? We’ll tie them up into little parcels and then tie the parcels onto lots of balloons. We could even make two bunches of balloons and tie on the little parcels full of our acts of love. Then we will send them up to heaven and they will go to Baby Jesus.
So all the children started to help. They had to buy the balloons and blow them up. They had to tie up the parcels with their acts of love and tie them onto the balloons and send them up to heaven. And the parish priest helped them send the balloons up into the sky. The children were really happy. They stared up into the sky and saw the balloons floating up higher and higher and becoming smaller and smaller, smaller and smaller until they couldn’t see them anymore. They started to say, “Maybe they will burst. Some of them said, “I bet they have all burst”. Some of them said, “Who knows?. Instead the balloons didn’t burst. Up there, high, high in the sky a strong wind blew up. A very strong wind. And what did the wind do? It tossed the balloons here and there, it blew them higher and further. For an hour, two hours, three hours. And the balloons kept on going where the wind was blowing them. And it kept on blowing them for four hours, five hours, six hours and more.
I forgot to tell you that the parish priest had written his phone number on the little parcels. He just stuck it in at the last moment. Anyway at nine o’clock on Christmas night in a city far, far away from Vicenza, 100 miles from Vicenza and 100 miles is really a lot, in a city called Reggio Emilia there was a big house surrounded by a beautiful garden. Six little children were playing in the garden. They didn’t know anything about the Art of Loving. They were just 6 ordinary children who were outside in the garden playing. But they were very sad because their Christmas party was over. All of a sudden, even though it was quite dark, they looked up and saw many balloons floating down and all these balloons had lots of little parcels tied onto them. When they saw all the little parcels these children were really excited. This was much better than Santa Claus. This was Baby Jesus who was sending them all these balloons.
It was really a miracle that the bunches of balloons made it and didn’t burst. They didn’t hurt anyone. They just floated down into this garden. The six children were so excited! They ran inside shouting, “Daddy, Mommy! Look what has happened! A lot of little parcels rained down from heaven and look at what is inside them!” And so their mother and father went outside in the garden to look. They looked in amazement and they saw all these little parcels filled with little rolls of yellow paper. They unrolled them and started to read.
One of them opened the roll of paper and read what was written: “I said sorry to one of my friends out of love for Jesus”, that’s one. And another, “Jesus, I offer you the effort it takes me to get up in the morning and go to serve as an altar boy at mass. And another one, “I did something nice for someone even if it was very hard to do”. And then another one, “I always say I am sorry to God when my grandfather swears”.
And then another one, “This week I helped my parents set the table, carry in the shopping, wash the kitchen floor, and sweep my room”. So that child did a lot of things.
And then listen to this one, “I dried the dishes even though by mum didn’t ask me to, and I also helped clean the house”. That one did two acts of love.
And another one, “When my little brother Sebastian doesn’t want to sleep, I pick him up and carry him to my bed or my parents bed and I put him to sleep by singing him songs or telling him stories”.
And another one, “When we went swimming I lent my bathing cap to my little brother because he forgot his”.
Just a minute, I have got another one, I have only brought some to them with me because there were 277 of them and that’s really a lot!
Listen to this one. “I peeled an orange for my grandpa because I know his hands hurt -- and I tied my cousins shoe laces because my grandma’s back was sore”. This boy was really caring for everyone.
And there is one more. It’s the last one. “I did what the cube told me: “To be the first to love” because when I went to confession there were lots of children in a long line waiting and I let them all go ahead of me.” That’s just a few experiences these children had written.
So what happened to all these little rolls of paper? Well, like I said, those 6 children took them to their mom and dad who noticed that among all those experiences there was also the phone number of the parish priest. So what did they do? It was nine o’clock at night, so quite late. But they picked up the phone just the same and called the number. The parish priest answered and they asked, “Are you Father John”? “Yes, that’s me.” “Well we are in Reggio Emilia and all these balloons floated down into our garden, with all these acts of love from the children in your parish. What will we do with them?” So they decided that the children would take the 277 acts of love to their school to show their teacher and their friends. In that school now all the children are writing to the children in Vicenza, so these 6 children and their friends will learn to do acts of love.