Something in his mind must have told him to stay on the periphery at first. He picked up a loose ball and began to toss it in the air and play catch with himself. Higher and higher it went -- he had good hand eye coordination!
The little face peered into the field through the chain link fence, watching with eager eyes. He inched his way towards the action; I could see he was shirtless and shoeless. He wore denim shorts a couple of sizes too big, held up by the elastic at the waist. "Hand-me-downs," I thought. His curly mop of hair topped a long face, but it was his huge, eager eyes that caught my full attention. He took in everything: nothing missed his gaze.
Inch by inch, he came closer. He was not a member of the group, but a neighborhood boy. He was just the kind we had hoped would join the baseball game we started with the Cuban Missionary Children and the U.S. baseball coaches we brought with us. Except, he was young and small. Too young, too small? Would the other children let this boy play?
As he slowly made his way onto the field, the little boy watched the coaches put the older children through typical baseball drills -- stretch your muscles; catch the ball, plant your feet, and throw; throw accurately while you run. Unless Cuban children are so talented that they are in a system that leads them towards competing for a spot on the Cuban Junior national baseball team, they do not receive this kind of training.
Something in his mind must have told him to stay on the periphery at first. He picked up a loose ball and began to toss it in the air and play catch with himself. Higher and higher it went -- he had good hand eye coordination! Next he noticed a glove, actually a catcher's mitt and much too large for his small hand, laying on the ground. Without a word, he scooped it up and continued his private game of catch.
The glove's owner, Jim Spillman, noticed and approached the boy asking, "Como te llamas?" ("What's your name?") I could almost see the gears turning in the little guy's head wondering if he was in trouble for using the glove and ball. "Pedro," came the answer. Jim, who's not only the principal of Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Walpole but also a youth baseball coach, put the boy at ease by motioning to Pedro to play catch with him.
Pedro's eyes lit up! Soon Jim had him involved not only in all the drills, but the game that followed. The young man was in his glory -- and wow, could he play baseball! Pedro was a natural. Even without shoes he was quick on his feet and handled the ball like someone much older.
At snack time, he scarfed down a double helping of the sandwiches we passed out, causing me to wonder if his shirtlessness was more a statement of his family's situation than the heat of the day.
What I do know is that Pedro learned a little bit about the Catholic faith through the volunteers of the Missionary Childhood. Sister Bernadina and her crew led simple prayers, led by example, and by their very witness were drawing all of us closer to God.
If you would like to help the Missionary Childhood Association bring the faith to more young ones in Cuba, go to www.missio.org and download the Missio app to your smartphone (soon it will be available on a desktop computer as well!). The Missio app allows you to support real time mission projects through our national Pontifical Mission Societies office -- one of them is called "Field of Dreams, Cuba." It will help to support the ongoing efforts to evangelize the children of Cuba, who in turn are being trained to go out and bring the Gospel to others, making "chaos" in the streets, as Pope Francis has asked. Be a change-maker in the world. Help us spread the Good News to children like Pedro through Missio!
Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.