this one is a must read!
by Bhakta Giovanni Battista
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Every day, thanks to Srila Prabhupada’s love, I have the opportunity to go out and distribute his books.
Recently Lilananda Prabhu and I have been distributing books in a working-class area of Rome known as Centocelle.
Visualize blocks of flats at least seven storys high, working-class dwellings where you find the strangest situations and the worst smells emanating from within. Below the apartment complex is an interminable series of shops where the people, under a high dose of passion, enter and exit without taking notice of anyone around them. Now add all the raucous noises of the city: welcome to Centocelle!
Unfortunately, yesterday I woke up late, and so I could not finish my rounds before our morning program (here it starts at 6:15 am). So after doing various things, I managed to go out at 11 o’clock. While driving toward Centocelle, I was trying think of a place to finish my rounds peacefully, but I could not. Then I had an idea: on previous days I had noticed a street right before reaching “the jungle area” that led to a zone of humble villas that might be peaceful.
Once there, I knew I had done the right thing: there were airplanes in the sky and trains on the tracks, but it was much more peaceful than the rest of the area. I parked the car and went to chant. There weren’t many passersby, but every once in a while someone would appear, mostly older people, curiously looking at this strange person dressed in white, with no hair and murmuring to himself. I would say hello in a friendly way and try to put them at ease, but unavoidably the word spread in the area and more than one person “by chance” walked nearby to see the strange sight. After finishing my rounds and honoring prasadam, I went forth to distribute books. After visiting some houses, I reached an old green wooden gate, a young man and woman came to open the gate and invite me into their garden. I learned that they were brother and sister, Antonio and Stefania. After a while their sister Maria joined us; she was very curious to hear about the books. While I spoke, Stefania went away three times, later explaining to me that she had to check on her three-year-old daughter Helena, who was having difficulty breathing. I learned she had difficulty especially during sleep, and so it was very important that special care be taken at that time.
I saw that these people were very simple and innocent, not wealthy at all but very well disposed to hear about Krsna. After some time their parents arrived and Antonio exclaimed, “Mom, Dad, he is a Hare Krsna monk!” The mother jokingly said to me: “I saw you walking back and forth before and thought you had just escaped from a clinic nearby!” We all laughed. The father, in a wise mood, said, “But I told them that you were meditating!” (In fact, I had met him earlier on the street, where he told me that he already knew the devotees and that he was a follower of Father Pio. I sensed then that he was not interested in the books, so I politely greeted him and walked on).
After I had spoken to them for twenty minutes, Stefania, Helena’s mother, felt inspired to buy “The Journey of Self-Discovery.” Enchanted by this simple family, I decided to give them a BTG for free. Then I invited them to the Sunday Feast and left. When I meet such people, I feel the urgency to improve myself and become a better instrument in Srila Prabhupada’s hands to distribute the transcendental knowledge found in his books.
Around 5 p.m. I decided to head back to the temple. While walking to the car, I thought of Maria, Stefania’s sister. I remembered how attracted she was by devotional music, and since I had a CD in the car, I decided to go to their home and give it to them as a gift. They had all left such a nice feeling in my heart.
As I approached their house I saw Stefania standing outside. As soon as she saw me she called to me loudly: “Padre Giovanni! Padre Giovanni!”
“I’m coming!” I called.
Breathlessly she continued, “As soon as you left us, my daughter Helena woke up and ran toward me with a very blissful face, such as I had never seen before, and exclaimed, ‘Mom, mom, I dreamt of an angel with no hair!!’
“I said, ‘Oh! And what was He like?’
“‘He was wonderful — bright-faced, without hair, but with a pony-tail on the back of his head and a sign on his forehead. He was baptizing everybody!’”
Upon hearing that, I was a little confused. Then the grandmother said, “I took your magazine and showed it to Helena, asking her to tell me if she recognized the angel as I turned the pages. When I reached the first page, where there is a picture of your spiritual master in saffron clothes, Helena opened her eyes wide and pointed to him: ‘Here he is! It’s him! It’s him!!’”
At this point, I have to admit, I struggled to hold back my tears. Srila Prabhupada had appeared in the dream of this special soul in the body of a little girl, just as I was in the garden presenting his books!
The grandmother continued: “We were all amazed and asked Helena if he had told her something. She said ‘Yes, I remember that he was speaking about books, books, reading books.’” At this point a shiver went up my spine — it really was Srila Prabhupada!
They invited me into the house to meet Helena. I noticed the little girl playing with her cousin, but when she turned and saw me with the tilak and no hair, she retreated and started to cry: “I don’t want to see! I don’t want to see!” She hid behind a wall, and Stefania took her into another room.
Meanwhile, the grandmother told me Helena was not new to these miraculous encounters. “Once, while Helena was in the hospital, she told me that Padre Pio was by her side telling her to be peaceful because everything would be ok.” Curious, the grandmother had shown her a photo of Padre Pio, and Helena had said that it was him! Another time, Giovanna (the grandmother) dreamed that Pope Jean Paul II entered their house carrying a letter and saying, “This is the letter you are all waiting for. You can give it to Helena. Everything will be ok.” At that time the entire family was in anxiety, waiting for a reply from the Vatican Hospital about whether Helena had a certain rare and grave illness. The day after that dream, a letter arrived saying she did not.
Feeling at ease in that house, I started preaching about the importance of book distribution and how this service is so dear to Srila Prabhupada. Helena calmed down but was still afraid of me, so after a little while I gave them the bhajan CD and left. While driving back to the temple I was moved and had a constant thought: Srila Prabhupada in His infinite mercy never leaves us. He is present when we read his books, and much more when we distribute them. At the temple I told the devotees what had happened, and they were all enthusiastic and full of gratitude. They also perceived Srila Prabhupada’s presence.
I had an idea: I asked for Helena’s birthday details and gave them to Ramanuja Dasa, a devotee from Peru who is living in Rome. He has studied Vedic astrology extensively and teaches it. After a week, during the Sunday Feast, Ramanuja called me aside to show me Helena’s astral chart. “You know, Prabhu,” he said, “I’ve been doing this work for about twenty years, but I have seen an astral chart like this one only once or twice! This is a very elevated soul. She has all the planets favorable for spiritual life, she’s intelligent, and she has positive karma. For sure in her last life she was a devotee.”
Upon hearing those words, I felt very lucky. I’ve been going on sankirtana for a whole year, but I never had a meeting like this one. I went to visit them again four or five times, bringing them prasadam, garlands, devotional pictures, music CDs, and t-shirts for Helena.
I learned that the miracle continued: From the day of the “meeting with the angel,” Helena has told the story to everyone she meets, and even if she cannot read, she opens Srila Prabhupada’s books often because, she says, “Prabhupada told me to read.” In her room she insisted there be a photo of Srila Prabhupada and one of Gopal Krsna close to her bed. She often wants to hear stories about Krsna, and in particular she likes the maha-mantra. When she listens to the maha-mantra, she insists on wearing a t-shirt with a picture of mother Yasoda and Krsna, and then she dances while chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Simply wonderful!
This is Srila Prabhupada’s mercy! Even a child of three can perform devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead! I sincerely hope this story can infuse in the core of your heart the desire to serve more and more this eternal mission, which only Srila Prabhupada could have founded: ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Your aspiring servant,
Bhakta Giovanni Battista