Photo: Unsplash/Brandi Alexandra

"Why are men so afraid?"

Simone’s witness of his time with the sisters of Mother Teresa sheds a new light on the cultural phenomenon of fearing each other that is spreading across the US.

“Increasingly, it is not safe to be in public, to be human, to be fallible.” This is how the New York Times article “Making People Uncomfortable Can Now Get You Killed” that a friend recently shared with me begins. The author cites examples of people simply existing in the world, yet making mistakes – getting into the wrong car, pulling into the wrong driveway, knocking on the wrong door – which result in fatal consequences. She also takes a closer look at the recent death of Jordan Neely on the NYC subway, on May 1, 2023.

Whether her analysis of these moments is complete or not, her observations and the questions she poses in the article are striking: “How does this senseless, avoidable violence happen? Truly, how? … Why are men so afraid? Why are they so fragile that they shoot or harm first and ask questions later? Why do they believe death or injury is an appropriate response to human fallibility?” She rightly states that “We can’t even agree on right and wrong anymore”, and asks how can we be certain that in a similar situation we would act any differently than any of these people that chose violence?

This article and the questions it raised have stayed with me, and when I opened Simone’s letter and read about the sisters from the Missionaries of Charity who willingly enter into extremely challenging circumstances with broken people, truly loving them, it gave me a new set of facts to look at alongside those reported in the NYT article. What makes these nuns capable of acting differently? Without fear? Without violence?

In what Simone wrote, it is clear they remain with these men and women curious about and invested in their lives, drawing out every ounce of beauty and goodness possible. Their experience is a witness of what it means to belong to one another instead of deeming oneself “judge, jury, and executioner” as the NYT article states. Could this proximity be a response to the human fragility the author is discussing?

Like Simone, I desire the courage of these nuns, because it reveals that in them is the presence of Love that conquers fear.

Hannah, Cincinnati, OH

Here we share Simone’s witness from his visit to San Francisco and the Missionaries of Charity:


Sunday, 8 a.m. Federico picks me up to go to San Francisco. Every two Sundays, some of the community follow Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in their daily vocation: roaming the streets of the city to assist the homeless. Before I left for California, I had heard all kinds of things about the homeless: "Stay away from them, they are drug addicts and you don't know what they can do to you"; "If they look at you, don't say anything and try not to make eye contact"; "Avoid those neighborhoods, I know of people who have been beaten up." Yet Federico explains to me that the sisters go twice a day to bring breakfast coffee, food for the week, medicine, and much more. And, most importantly, they stay with them, listen to them, and talk to them explicitly about how Jesus changes lives.

We arrive in Pacifica, a small town near San Francisco, where the sisters have their house, a quick prayer and then we are off. The first homeless man we stop at is Gerald. He is about sixty years old, unkempt beard, no teeth, not exactly squeaky clean. A nun explains to him that there's a problem with the bank: if he doesn't send in some documents, he won't be able to get the state aid with which he can survive. As she reads him the bullet point summary she has made, one of us calls the bank to explain to them what is going on, too. But when Gerald realizes the situation he starts screaming in despair, "My life is a mess. This time I'll drop everything and let myself die on the street." He repeats once, twice, three times that he will do nothing, that it is over. Suddenly the nun goes twenty inches from his face and says, "Gerald, that's enough now. Stop talking and listen to me." She is in her early twenties; in my eyes she is almost a child because of how tiny she is. Seeing her in front of the man is impressive. "God loves you Gerald. You must never doubt that. Do you understand? I stand here before you now, you know I love you. We are doing everything we can to help you, but the ultimate responsibility is yours. You have to make the call to the bank." Gerald completely changes his gaze. You can tell he trusts her; he looks like a child scolded by his mother, who accepts the scolding because she knows how much she loves him. We recite a Hail Mary together and the situation calms down. Gerald accepts a coffee, smiles and asks when the nuns will return to see him.

We arrive in another part of town even more messy and dirty than the previous one. As I walk between tents and caravans, the nun leading the volunteers takes my hand and says, "I need to introduce you to someone special." She points me to a tent not far away and tells me Cyrian's story in a few seconds: "He wouldn't look anyone in the face anymore. We don't know what happened to him. When we found him, for months he didn't say anything, he wouldn't even come out of the tent. Then slowly he looked up again." The nun tells him, "Cyrian, this is Simone, he just arrived in America. He came here for you." The boy looks up, looks at me, his lower lip trembling. I am speechless even more than he is. The nun looks at us happily. I sit down, shyly asking about him.

After a few minutes, the same nun calls me again, "I want you to meet the man who saved my life." I assume I didn't hear correctly. I turn around and see her hugging a big man, who with a shove could have thrown her across the street. She tells me, "One day, a big dog jumped on me. I thought I was going to die. But he jumped on the animal, hurt himself instead of me, while I didn't even get a scratch. He is the bravest person in the world." At that moment, he was as happy as a boy in front of his first love.

We get back into the car and arrive at our third destination: a small tent city, near a crossroads. When I get out, the nuns tell me it's a new place: they noticed the homeless and stopped, but they don't know them yet. A nun introduces herself, and after no more than thirty seconds she says, "Today is St. Octavius’ feast day, did you know that? If you want, we can pray together." The homeless people agree to listen to the saint's story, and then tell their story. The nun listens attentively, and then asks one of them, "Do you have a Gospel?" I am surprised: we know nothing about this man, whether he is a believer, he just told us how he lost everything and ended up on the street. The question seems out of place to me. Instead, he replies in a whisper, "Would you really give it to me? It would be great if I could have one." How many times have I at work, with my friends, with my family, with a passerby been afraid to say one word too many?

These nuns are not afraid. They are not afraid to tell the story of a saint to a stranger, to embrace a man who could kill them with a shove, to take the hand of a person struggling with drugs and pray together with him, to squat in front of the tent of a boy who has suffered so much that he has lost the ability to look people in the eye. I went home that Sunday and didn't talk for hours. I just thought that whatever I was going to do in the rest of my American sojourn, it had to be as good as that morning. I also wanted to have the courage of these nuns, their care, their joy.

Simone, Milan, Italy