Many Eastern Europeans come to the church for help, mostly Rumanians and Serbians. And a fair number of Sri Lankans. And some North Africans: Algerians, Tunisians.
But not many Africans from further south come for help. We have many African parishioners, from Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon. But they don't come for money, and they don't come for food aid.
I know it's not because they're doing well. They're not doing well -- no immigrants are, not in any European city. They just don't beg. They sell tiny packets of facial tissue in the street, and cheap lighters at a Euro each.
So the Nigerian man before me was something of an anomaly. His father has died at home and he must get there to see to his family. He has only two hundred Euro saved -- a lot for a seller of paper handkerchiefs to have socked away. And his friend will lend him €300. But the ticket home is €850. Caritas can't help, he says. All they have is food. At this, the unshed tears in his eyes spill over and course down his cheeks.
Oh, they have lots of tricks, someone tells me scornfully. He cried, you say? Oh, please!
I am not so sure. An African man weeping openly in front of a woman? Most African men I know could not do it. Of course, I could be wrong.
But he will>/i> kneel and ask a blessing. He will pray with me. We go to the bank and to the station. It is eminently possible that I am a first class chump. Certainly I have been one, and that many times. But it is also possible that I am not. Food doesn't solve every need the poor have. It only solves their hunger.
On my way home through the stony streets of Florence, I think for some reason about a legal maxim, the one about it being better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to die. Who knows why? It just popped into my head.