I think it all started when I was trying to drop off something at the Knights of Columbus office in Krakow, Poland, just before World Youth Day and couldn’t manage to negotiate with the Polish porter downstairs.
Or maybe it was when I tried to order Pinot Grigio in a restaurant in the main square there and the waiter was sure — and quite enthusiastic — that I wanted perogies.
I also lost my media pass (as in: it got detached from the lanyard it was on and I noticed too late), which is a whole story unto itself. Suffice it to say, there was no good recourse.
Now these are totally “first world problems,” as they say, but these were humbling moments. Even slightly humiliating, truth be told. (Bear in mind, by profession, I’m supposed to be able to communicate!)
And the summer continued.
I recently arrived in Bogota, Colombia, and more #FirstWorldProblems. We got in late. I don’t do well in high altitudes, at least initially, and I’m on my highest yet in Colombia. I’ve had four to five substantial bottles of water since the last hour of the flight from Newark. I’m informed that the only way to get more is room service, which is, mercifully, 24 hours. Easier said than done. The problem was, no one spoke English or understood my terrible attempt at Spanish. (Despite my last name, I don’t speak Spanish. I took four years of Spanish once upon a time, but not much stuck.)
It eventually worked out.
This is such a silly story, but I tell it because it gets better.
My reason for being in Colombia is to participate in a gathering on mercy in America — meaning all of the Americas, which Pope St. John Paul II implored us to see as one continent. It’s organized by the Vatican’s commission on Latin America and the bishops of the region.
Fast forward to me sitting in my assigned working group one day only to discover I’m assigned to a Spanish-speaking group. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that the only word I made out was “mercy.” I spent some time praying for everyone in the group before I excused myself.
That day, the Gospel was about not reclining at the place of honor. I was presumably invited to the conference to contribute a bit because of my experience in media. But no credential was going to pull me through here, even if it did get me into the room.
It turned out to be an unexpected examination of conscience.
Most of my life has been spent New York. I’ve always known people who speak Spanish. I live in a country — and a Church — that is increasingly Spanish-speaking. I could certainly try harder. In my serving of humble pie, there seemed to be a call.
Do you go to a parish that has English and Spanish Masses with congregations who never meet? “Love one another” could start with getting to know one another. No wonder the immigration debate is so heated; we’re not even a leaven among ourselves, as members of the Body of Christ.
My working group may prove more fruitful than if I had actually participated. There’s something about not only humility but respect and, honestly, the future of our Church and the U.S. — and the broader continent — God taught me that day. It was a close encounter with another prophetic aspect of John Paul II.
Meanwhile, excuse me while I check Rosetta Stone prices and maybe call a friend or colleague and ask her if she wants to start speaking (albeit slowly) to me in the language of her family so I can encounter another aspect of her life.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).