It is a few days before Christmas, the Chiado in Lisbon is bustling with excitement as shoppers and revelers go about getting the last gifts for loved ones. It is cold – about 7 degrees, unusually cold for Portugal. At the Presepio na Cidade, Sofia Costa Guedes and her team of volunteers brave the cold, inviting the homeless and passers-by to join them in the little warmth of the crib, to pray together to the Holy Family who too experienced life – homeless in the cold dark streets of Bethlehem.
As Sofia introduces us to Francisco and the ladies at the Presepio, the simple evangelization continues. A few persons stop curious to know what is happening; others know but have not the time, so they mutter a quick prayer or sign themselves as they rush past. To those willing to stop, the team offer a square of fabric, where you could write a prayer or a message. The ladies are happy to take the squares of fabric and sew them together into a quilt that will soon be sent to the Holy Father in Rome.
Many years ago Sofia found her calling in the streets of Lisbon, where the homeless beg the more affluent for love and mercy. Pope Francis in Evangelli Gaudium urges us to be a church of love and mercy – a church that is out in the streets, bruised and dirty. That is really what the Presepio is all about, and we are happy to spend our evening sharing the love of Christ with the world.
Soon a small crowd gathers and there is much friendly chatter. Our daughter wishes that we could sing and it seems her prayers are answered. We see some musicians gathering. Yes, it is a going to be a street performance, but with a difference. A group from one of the parishes led by a priest and some seminarians, have come to Presepio to pray the rosary and sing. The rosary is recited in Portuguese, but if one listens closely, you can hear the prayers being recited in English, French, German – it is the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church who may speak in many tongues, but is one in belief.
Somewhere along the line, Francisco went out for a flask of water and the hot cups of tea are welcome in the cold evening.
Our joy is great and as a family we are happy to have been there; for us the little time we spent at the Presepio has made our Christmas holiday more meaningful.