The Porter of Pilar
by Rev. Mr. Daniel Alloy, FSSP
It’s a humid Saturday morning in Guadalajara, Mexico. Francisco (Paco) Garcia is talking with a homeless man outside Our Lady of the Pillar Church, the FSSP parish in Guadalajara. Paco has to pause every now and then as metrobuses with old or non-existent mufflers roar by on the narrow street. After a few minutes, he helps the homeless man to his feet and invites him into the church.
This homeless man’s name is Alejandro. He is probably about thirty years old, and has been living on the streets of Guadalajara since he was six. When the Fraternity moved to Our Lady of the Pillar in 2011, Alejandro was already living in a niche by the front door. His living quarters consist of a blanket and pillow laid on the stone step, and one crutch for his bad leg. He always has a cheerful smile, and he’ll talk to anyone who stops by.
He is well-known among the priests and parishioners as the “Porter of Pilar” (“pillar” is spelled “pilar” in Spanish, with the accent falling on the second syllable). Many people will come up and talk to him on Sundays after the noon High Mass. But the one who has befriended him more than anyone else is Paco.
Paco is a candidate discerning his vocation with the FSSP, living at Casa Cristo Rey in Guadalajara. Throughout his 16-month discernment period, and even before, he has helped Alejandro on a journey of faith. Despite living in the shadow of a Catholic church (literally), Alejandro has never even been baptized. Once Paco discovered this, he began to mull over a plan.
He began with the Rosary. Once or twice every week, Paco would stay for an hour or more with Alejandro, teaching him to memorize the prayers and use the beads. On those evenings, there is always a steady cacophony of unmuffled buses, and dance music coming from the nightclubs of ill repute. In spite of the sights and smells, these two men quietly pray the Rosary on the church steps.
After three months of the Rosary, Paco moved on to the catechism. “The Creed is like a story,” he said, “and I wanted Alejandro to learn it.” Alejandro eagerly soaked up everything. And although he had little educational background, he progressed steadily.
It took several months for Alejandro to memorize the fundamental prayers: the Apostles’ Creed, the Act of Contrition, etc. But Paco is a patient teacher, and eventually, Alejandro could say them on his own. He also began to go to Mass every Sunday. Once, when he missed Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Pillar, he grabbed his crutch and hobbled over to the next church to hear Mass. His conviction was growing.
One day, a group of Protestant missionaries came up to Alejandro and began discussing faith topics in earnest. They tried to convince him to give up trying to be Catholic. “There isn’t anything special about this place,” said one, pointing at the church. “It’s just a house.”
“Yes,” responded Alejandro, “but it’s God’s house.”
On this humid Saturday morning, Paco and Alejandro are in the church once again. But this is no ordinary Saturday. Today, after a 16-month catechumenate, Alejandro will be baptized a Catholic. He will undergo the ancient and beautiful rite of adult baptism. Rejecting Satan and his pomps, and armed with the five exorcisms of the rite, he will come to the baptismal font to die to his old self, and receive the new life of grace.
Alejandro will also receive Confirmation, taking the name of St. Nicolas. The choice of this patron saint is no surprise, as Our Lady of the Pillar has a side chapel dedicated to St. Nicolas of Bari. Alejandro has spent much of his catechumenate in this little chapel, thus developing a devotion to the famous bishop-saint. Finally, at the Solemn High Mass, Alejandro will receive Our Lord Himself for the very first time.
It’s an emotional day for Alejandro, the best day of his life. At the beginning of the baptismal ceremony, wearing a suit that a generous parishioner bought him, tears begin to well in his eyes. This man, who has known a hard and lonely life, is now surrounded by dozens of parishioners, assisting at his baptism, and rejoicing with the newest member of the Catholic Church. He brushes a hand across his eyes, and turns to his sponsor to see which response follows. And it’s no surprise who that sponsor is.
Thanks to Paco’s patience and charity, the Church receives today another lamb into the fold of Christ. Paco said very little about his own role in Alejandro’s journey, but he did make one very telling comment. “I saw Christ in him,” he said.
This is what Our Lord meant when He said: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). +
August 23, 2019