Deserted youngster just needed to be loved

Fr. Bob Mitchell says that Christians witness Christ in our world through their love.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Fr. Bob Mitchell says that Christians witness Christ in our world through their love.

April 20, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

We ought to love as Jesus loves, says Father Bob Mitchell.

Speaking to employees of the archdiocesan Pastoral and Administration Offices, the Franciscan priest said love is essential to transform the world, which is the mission of the Church.

"All beings, Christian and otherwise, are called to love. And there isn't a person in this room who doesn't need to be loved, who doesn't need to be accepted."

Mitchell, a retreat leader from Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre in Cochrane, led a day-long spiritual retreat for archdiocesan employees at Providence Renewal Centre in Edmonton April 1.

"Love is two things: it is a giving and it is a receiving," he said. "It's in the embrace of that exchange that we truly change the face of the earth. This is our mission; this is what the Holy Spirit has invited us to do: go forth and change the face of the earth."

Mitchell preaches by example. Before he became a teacher, which he was for many years, he worked in the emergency centre of the Toronto Children's Aid Society.

At any time during the night the doorbell might ring, and Mitchell would rush down to answer it. Often there would be a policeman with a child standing at the door.

One night at about 3 a.m., the doorbell rang and the Franciscan walked down. A tall Irish policeman stood there with a little child about four years old. The policeman told Mitchell he had found the child sitting on a curb on Yonge Street crying his heart out and decided to bring him to the centre.

A piece of cardboard was pinned to the shirt that said, "My name is Kenny. I live in Winnipeg." When the centre investigated, it couldn't find anyone who claimed little Kenny in Winnipeg or anywhere else.

So Kenny became a ward of the state and he lived at the centre. In the evenings after supper the children were allowed to go out and play in the backyard, and there were swings, monkey bars and other apparatuses on which they could play.

Mitchell was on duty at that time so he would sit on a chair to watch the children play.

He noticed every evening Kenny got a little closer to where he was sitting. "I wondered what's going on in his little mind," recalled Mitchell. "He was a beautiful child with deep brown eyes and a mass of black curly hair."

In about three weeks, little Kenny finally arrived beside Mitchell's chair and looking up at him he said, "Would you hold me on your knee? Nobody has ever held me on their knee."

AGAINST THE RULES

It was against the rules to touch any of the children. However, Mitchell decided to break the rules and picked Kenny up and put him on his lap and then enfolded him in his arms.

"You are such a good lad, Kenny, I love you," he whispered in the boy's ears. The boy went limp in the priest's arms. But like any boy, after a little while Kenny began to squirm and wanted down again.

"But for many weeks after, every evening he'd come to have a sit on my lap. A bond grew between the two of us. I have actually never lost track of him," recalled Mitchell.

"He grew up, was adopted and has become one of Canada's most outstanding brain surgeons. He still remembers asking me to hold him on his lap."

That's what love is all about.

LOVE AS JESUS LOVES

"We ought to love as Jesus loves," the Franciscan said. "In our own families and among our friends and acquaintances there are many Kennys, there are many people who are rejected in our society, who aren't considered important, who are broken in some way, depending upon each of us to be lovers, to at least smile upon them.

"Sometimes the most broken person is the person who sits across the table from you and you don't even notice it."

We are called to be servants, to give our talents and our time to transform the world, Mitchell said in another talk.

"The Church, that means us, is to witness Jesus to the world through our preaching, our unity but above all by our love," he explained. "In this we have to trust in the guidance and power of the Spirit among us."