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Wanted: Dead or… dead

16 April 2008

April 16 is San Toribio day, according to the calander hanging in the very anti-clerical household where I’m living. I usually have a calendar with the saint’s names around, if for no other reason that most Mexicans still follow the custom of just naming their kid after whatever saint’s feast day they happen to be born on. This goes back to the Aztec custom of naming your kid for the day sign — I guess I should change my name to two-monkey. That or whatever the male form of Agnes is… eeewwww! I’ll put up with people assuming April 4 (San Ricardo) is my birthday… not that it matters. I’m not 65 yet, and my birthday isn’t that important to me.

Although the Catholic Church lumps all the “Mexican Martyrs” together and celebrates a passel of saints on May 25, April 16, 1900 was the birthdate of San Toribio Romo Gonzáles… the patron pest of the United States Border Patrol.

Toribio was one of the priests executed during the Cristero War, shot by a firing squad in Tequila on 25 February 1927. Together with 24 other Cristero War casualties, mostly priests, Toribio Romo was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. The Cristero War is an interesting period in Mexican history, and maybe Toribio Romo died in the odor of sanctity (though the odor around Tequila is not one you would normally associate with holiness or a blameless life ), but that’s not what makes him a memorable saint.

Toribio spent his entire life in Jalisco, never going anywhere near the border. Though it seems Santo Toribio spends some time there now:

About 1970, strange things started happening at the border dividing the United States and Mexico. Hundreds of Illegal aliens began reporting that whenever they found themselves in trouble, a strange Mexican priest named Toribio Romo would suddenly appear and help them cross the border, even giving them food, water, money and information on how to get jobs in the United States. Sometimes, he came upon illegals suffer ing from heat exhaustion, snake bite, and other infirmities. He healed them as well. The immigrants thought he was a real life human being; not a guardian angel.

I will quote from a one hundred percent true tale that appeared in the June, 2002 edition of the popular and high-quality Mexican magazine, Contenido:

The Zacatecan Jesús Buendía Gaytán, a 45 years old peasant, states that two decades ago he decided to go to California illegally to seek employment on some farm. In Mexicali, he put himself in contact with a “Pollero” (smuggler of humans) but, upon crossing the border, the border patrol discovered them; in order to escape, Jesús fled to the open desert.

After walking several days over desolate paths and more dead than alive from heat and thirst, he saw a pickup truck coming toward him. A youthful appearing, thin individual, with white skin and blue eyes, got out of the vehicle; in perfect Spanish he offered him water and food. He told him not to worry because he would tell him where farm workers were getting employment. He also gave him a few dollars for any extra expenses he might incur along the way.

Just before this Good Samaritan took leave of him, he said, “When you finally get a job and money, look for me in Jalostitlán, Jalisco; Ask for the whereabouts of Toribio Romo.”

...How does a spirit like Father Toribio get his hands on cars, money, employment information, the movements of border guards, and the like?

Santo Toribio asks the migrants he helps to come visit him back in his hometown of Santa Ana de Guadalupe, Jalisco. Which leads to his OTHER miracle

A cobblestone ”All Saints Causeway” lined by busts of the Cristero War martyrs runs through the cornfields. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony booms from speakers in the light posts. The Catholic church operates the Pilgrim’s Restaurant and sells T-shirts from a store on the roof.

The road into town is paved. Dilapidated houses were replaced by brick cottages. Still to be completed, Father González said, is the ”center for religious reflection,” a colonial-style dormitory with meeting rooms and a central plaza with a 12-foot waterfall.

Only priests are allowed into a gated recreation area with terraces and gardens as elegant as any country club.

The transformation offers a new twist on the old Mexican story of how immigrant dollars make ghost towns into oases. …

”This is not a business,” Father González insisted. ”We are not trying to make money on people’s faith. We simply want to give the people who visit us the best services we can.”

It wasn’t any Mexican who called death “The undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.”  Mexicans still celebrate “Day of the Dead” combining the Catholic beliefs with the indigenous sense that the afterlife is pretty much a continuation of the mortal one… with a few small difference (like a pickup truck and a few dollars to spare).   Toribio Romo isn’t the first young Mexican guy to go north, do well and send money back home.  But he probably is the first dead one to do it.

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