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I learned a very important lesson back in the 1980’s.
I was leading music ministry for mass at St. John the Baptist parish in Fort McMurray, Alberta (Canada). Before mass started I had some down time, so I decided to go and greet people as they entered the church.
It was nothing spectacular, as far as I was concerned. Smile, shake some hands and say hello. Not rocket science. This was before Catholic churches began having official greeters – or at least in the Catholic churches I attended back in the ’80’s.
It was about three weeks later that I got a call from the parish priest, Father George LaGore who was an Oblate Father. He said he had a letter for me.
The letter had been sent to the parish because the writer of the letter, a young woman, didn’t know who I was or how to contact me.
I wasn’t quite prepared for what I read.
The letter, written by a young woman called June, explained how she had left Edmonton (which was a five hour drive south of Fort McMurray) and hitch-hiked her way to Fort McMurray.
As a heroin addict who had been abused all her life, first by her dad and then all the way through to her current boyfriend, her plan was to end her life through suicide.
The driver who had picked her up on the highway had dropped her off at the first street in town, which just happened to be the same street as St. John the Baptist Catholic church was on. Yup, the same one that I was in, standing at the main entrance greeting everyone.
She had entered the church, maybe as one last inner plea for help, and encountered me. Without me even realizing it, I shook her hand and simply said, “Welcome.”
I didn’t know any different at the time and never even noticed her above anyone else as I ‘moved onto’ the next person entering the church.
The letter said it all.
For her, when I shook her hand and smiled at her, looking her straight in the eyes, she felt, for the first time in her life, loved and accepted for just who she was.
She didn’t go through with her suicide plan and even though she struggled with her life, what followed was three years of growth and the realization of how much God loved her.
She was killed in a head on collision some time later.
Her family didn’t know where to bury her but assumed because she had in her possession a Catholic bible I had given her during our many discussions about God, that she had become a Catholic. She was buried behind a Catholic church in England, the country of her birth.