Persons, places and things: Two women on a bench


By Barb Arland-Fye 


One of my lasting memories from last week’s Catholic Media Conference in Atlanta is of two petite women curled up on a bench outside the hotel, where they slept each night. Around 6:15 a.m. each morning, I headed out of the hotel for a walk before that day’s conference workshops and saw the women sleeping soundly. They wore shorts and short-sleeved tops and their flip-flops rested on the sidewalk below them.

The pair disappeared during the day but in the late evenings when I stepped outside for a shorter walk, they were curled up, sound asleep, each one’s head on an opposite side of the bench and their knees touching in the middle. Their presence stirred my curiosity. What was their relationship? Were they homeless? Were they college students? What did they do during the day? How did they manage to sleep on a metal bench?

If they had been awake, I would have smiled and said hello to them. The best way to convey the Good News of Jesus Christ to others begins with a smile, Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda of the Archdiocese of Detroit told conference attendees during the Hispanic Ministry Panel discussion. His comment served as a reminder of something I discovered long ago. Smiling is a simple gesture that conveys warmth, caring and love for another human being, whether or not we know that person. Pope Francis once described the smile as a “bridge from one heart to another” (Aleteia, 2-25-18).


Bishop Cepeda practices what he preaches. His smile — during Masses, the panel discussion and even on the bus — conveyed the joy of the Gospel in my mind. The bishop’s example and advice reinforced a habit I began while attending a conference in another large city to overcome my tendency to avoid eye contact with passersby who appeared to be homeless.

At this conference, I made an effort to make eye contact with and smile at as many people as possible. Distractions or preoccupation sometimes left that resolution by the wayside. Admittedly, I find it challenging to smile at someone with whom I make eye contact but whose face bears a scowl, bitterness or who is rambling angrily to him/herself.  Perhaps that person most needs a smile from me.

Someone clearly in distress needs much more than a smile and I need to be alert to that fact. One man I saw on my walk sat out of the way on a staircase adjacent to the hotel parking ramp. He looked like he had not slept in days and appeared to be staring into space. He needed a smile and the caring attention of a professional trained in counseling and health care.

In a short “popecast” the Vatican released marking the 10th anniversary of his pontificate, Pope Francis advised his audience to “learn not to be afraid to weep and to smile.” He said, “When a person knows how to cry and how to smile, he or she has their feet on the ground and their gaze on the horizon of the future” (Catholic News Service, 3-14-23).

My prayer for the two women sleeping on the bench is that someone will smile at them, creating a bridge from one heart to another and encouraging them to gaze on the horizon of the future.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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