Starting Point
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Issue Date:  April 21, 2006

Starting Point


I call him Angelo. It’s a good Italian name, and he appeared like an angel -- quiet and unexpected.

My family and I were navigating the narrow streets of Florence when we came upon him sitting in a little alcove near the Uffizi Museum. His outstretched hand held a small plastic cup with a fluted rim. Having eaten mounds of gelato up and down Italy, I was well acquainted with those cups. Every gelato shop possessed stacks of them. I walked past. This was just another beggar, and beggars are as common in Italy as gelato.

I didn’t get far. There was something about Angelo that stopped me. He wasn’t like other beggars we had encountered. I sensed something. Perhaps it was his demeanor -- shy and gentle, yet dignified.

I walked back and dropped a couple of euros into his empty cup. “Grazie,” Angelo said, and his soft, brown eyes smiled into mine.

“Prego,” I answered and moved on. We had only a little time before our train would leave Florence for Venice. If we hurried, I could pop into a favorite shop and buy a shepherd for our crèche, and my husband and son could snap photos of the Arno and Ponte Vecchio in the early light. Angelo was history, a footnote to a busy morning.

We pressed through the tourists outside the Uffizi. From high niches in the museum’s parallel colonnades, statues of Italy’s greatest artists and scientists gazed upon the crowd below like carved saints on a cathedral façade. I took pictures of my favorites, Dante, Michelangelo and Galileo, but I thought about Angelo. Unlike the cultural icons above, he was remarkable for his lowliness. I doubted that any tourist had ever taken his picture.

A slight drizzle began to fall, and we put our cameras away. We needed to retrieve our luggage from our hotel and head for the train station. We retraced our steps, but Angelo had disappeared.

I think of him often and what I learned from him -- that, like him, all of us are ultimately beggars. All that we are and have is gift, and grazie is the proper response.

I wish I could say grazie to Angelo.

Carolyn P. Lawrence writes from Williamsburg, Va.

National Catholic Reporter, April 21, 2006

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