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Breaking Bread

Editor’s Note: The following is part of our daily holiday series celebrating “The Shared World.” Fr. Jason Welle, OFM, is a close friend of FMS.

As an undergraduate, I travelled around the Middle East for several months with a group of college students. It certainly wasn’t mission work, but an attempt to appreciate better the cultures of the region while doing our tiny parts to whittle away at the stereotype of the ugly American tourist.

Of course, most places we went we found shopkeepers eager to extract our dollars and adept at pouring on shame if we didn’t understand cultural cues about haggling or failed to offer charity.

The expectation that locals would try to guilt open the wallet of a student on a shoestring budget colored many of our decisions, so when a small group of us went to the old Christian section of Cairo for Coptic liturgy one Sunday, I foresaw that we’d find a similar experience.

A couple people sold small loaves of pita bread on our way into church, which I didn’t buy because I wasn’t hungry. But on the way out, a little girl of no more than five years old had a whole loaf of bread for herself. We didn’t share a language, but she looked at me, saw that I didn’t have any bread, looked down at the bread in her hands, looked back up with a smile, and without thinking twice about it, tore her loaf in half to give me some.

She didn’t understand that by comparison, I was rich and she was poor, but she understood that she had what I lacked and her instincts told her to share.

I’ve often thought about that girl the last three years, because she’d be a college student now. She probably stood in Tahrir Square during the revolution, when so many different people joined their voices to clamor for a more just society. Today, there and in so many places, our darker instincts prompt us to look out for our own tribe, for our own group, because there might not be enough food or money or blessings for “them” and for “us.”

On a late November morning, when minds had begun to look forward to Christmas, a little girl reminded me that “us” should be larger than my instincts think. I pray that today, she remembers how to share and that in this new year of grace, I will as well.

Photo by Nasser Nouri, flickr Creative Commons.

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Fr. Jason Welle OFM is a Franciscan friar of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province. He currently resides at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington DC, where he pursues a Ph.D. in Georgetown University’s Religious Pluralism program, focusing on Christianity and Islam.