Miracles occur all around us, signs from God show us the way, angels plead to be heard, but we pay little attention to them.
In 2012 I delivered a series of workshops at a scuola elementare in the province of Lecco. It was a repeat booking, so every Monday I would drive the 50 miles from my flat in Orzinuovi, work with the students and then drive back home. One day I decided to stop off in Imbersago and visit Santuario della Madonna del Bosco, whose grand façade and tree-lined stairway was clearly visible whilst driving along Strada Provinciale 56. I parked my car in the car park and climbed the 392 steps which make up the Scala Santa. The ascent was more impressive than what I found at the summit. The sanctuary was basically ‘just’ a church. A very nice church, admittedly, but Italy is full of very nice churches. I wandered around for a little while, sat down, said a prayer or two, I may or may not have lit a candle for the soul of my dearly departed father, that being something I was in the habit of doing regularly back then.
A man approached me. He smiled at me and asked where I was from. ‘I saw you praying’, he said. ‘Ci contano le preghiere. Ci contano’. He was telling me that our prayers count. Or maybe he was telling me that our prayers are counted. His smile never left his face but there was an urgency to his declaration. I thanked him and wished him all the best. He said that he would pray for me and I reciprocated. I saw him again outside and he again reminded me that ‘ci contano’. As I began my descent of the Scala Santa, I glanced back to see the smiling man’s eyes still fixed on me. Feeling like Orpheus, I continued slowly walking downwards. When I finally reached the bottom of the stairs, I turned my head, already knowing what I would see. At least five minutes had passed but he was still there, still staring at me, still praying for me.
Almost a decade has passed since my visit to that place which seemed to represent a perfect union between nature, mystery and the sacred. At the time I remember it felt like an event of real significance. It felt as though that man had been put there, at that moment to deliver that message to me. Several weeks later I returned to that same spot with a colleague and told him of my encounter.
Perhaps the man was a mystic, mentally ill, or a figment of my imagination. Most likely he was simply a pilgrim or a regular visitor to the sanctuary. At the time I was convinced he was an angel. I know that because at that time I was in the habit of writing down events of spiritual significance in the back of my Big Book. On 23.01.2012 I had written: Forse oggi ho incontrato un angelo.
I still like to think that he was an angel.
Ci contano. So keep praying.