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Consuelo: Finding a home away from home
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Thank God the moon wasn’t quite full yet. Last night, between the line-up of kids leaving for a confirmation retreat, confessions coming from distant places, mass-attendees with a wide variety of burdens, the old man asking to sleep next to our big tall redwood, and the young man from a southern city pleading us for an exorcism, who should pay us a visit but…Consuelo.  

For those who haven’t met her yet, she’s our gifted but salt-of-the-earth angel-of-the-street, our Spanish-speaking bag-lady with no Latino blood at all, our enigma of talent and dignity in the wrinkled skin of the homeless who can no longer tolerate civilization, nor living within four walls, much less acting like a cultivated citizen.  Far from it.  She is still half-wild, fighting like a hag for her ramshackle hut, more at peace with a risky set of circumstances and with rough-and-tumble company than in some women’s shelter, content to be on the edge, always in need of someone’s compassion.

She appeared on a Sunday evening in torrential rains.  It was the Feast of Divine Mercy.  I’d been trying to close up shop and ship out for late dinner when we heard that familiar voice.  Moaning like the wind that whipped around her, Consuelo was barely visible in her baggy black jacket.  “Can I have just enough money to go buy a hamburger and some French fries?” she begged.  I thought she might freeze to death, but she’s used to shivering.

Pedro fetched her a new fiber-filled coat, one that could keep anyone warm, even on a glacier.  She appeared the next afternoon, shaking like a leaf in the golden sunlight.  “I don’t know why,” she reflected.  “I just feel plain horrible.”  So she made a makeshift bed for herself by the garage and slept.

I discovered her the next morning.  She couldn’t get up but didn’t want any more medical attention.  To keep her from getting run over, I surrounded our worn-out wanderer with large spare tires.  She stayed that way, hardly touching the food and juices we brought her, until mid-morning the next day.  Meanwhile, we debated how best to help our resident vagabond.
When the Census people came by, I seriously considered adding her name:  

“Consuelo: more Native American than Caucasian. Latino at heart.  Lives in the bushes nearby until the authorities kick her out. Then she lives here until the authorities are out of sight.  Unless, of course, she’s sick or hungry.”

Once she brought in a one-hundred dollar bill and asked me to play banker.

“Your parishioner was so kind to me,” she glowed.  “But if they find out I have this, they might beat me up.”  She gestured toward the empty streets.

We gathered around a strong light to squint.  Yes, there was a watermark!

I fed her the money back, bit by bit.  She gave the last twenty to the church.

This is our Consuelo.  A prisoner of her unique set of dilemmas, bound by her own discomfort with what we think would set her free, spinning in the circles of what seems so dysfunctional, a complex one-woman soap-opera.

She could die at any moment.  Forever half-sick, daily under attack, friend of mice and other misfit critters, in greater danger the better her fortune, she manages from day to day, living out the Lord’s Prayer on our city streets.

And she’ll be darned if anyone will ever take this life-style from her.  So far as Consuelo’s concerned, she’s free.  Our palaces would be for her a prison.

But, sure as she’s standing out there tonight, she doesn’t mind coming by the pretty church of St. Mary’s to peek inside and talk to her parishioners.

May God grant her a glimpse of her place in paradise before she has to go.

Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s Church, Stockton, CA 95202,  April 23, 2010