Juan the Priest
He made the pupusa girl smile. Her mother laughed, and I probably blushed. Their reactions were the most common, smiles and laughter, and I saw them again and again on face after face as he and I walked around San Salvador. Something in his easy manner put everyone at ease, whether he was talking about politics or making ribald insinuations with an impish grin.
Not your average priest. (To be honest, there were times when I struggled not to doubt that he was a priest at all, but I believe him.)
As I mentioned in my Election Day dispatch on the Ethical Traveler site, here, my current Code says that I have to accept strange travel suggestions, and he was full of them, since he quickly grew bored with all the standing-around that our group was doing.
He handed me a hard green fruit with seeds like chips of concrete, nestled in a savory pulp that seemed somehow cactus-like. “These are from Israel, the Sinai” he told me. At the next stand he had the lady laughing even as she cracked the egg into the mostly-washed blender, and the doormen at the hotel greeted him like a favorite uncle.
Back home in Chicago, he presides over a church dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, that is, the Virgin Mary. On one wander we passed another such church. The crowd was thick, people clustered around the altar, lighting candles and slipping coins into the donation box. I expected him to be pleased at the health of a sister congregation.
But as we walked past the church, he gestured down to an old woman, indigenous ancestry, who was begging for coins with an outstretched styrofoam cup, empty in her bone-thin hand. He gave her his change, then looked at me, a look of laughing incredulity on his face.
“They pray over there, but this, her, she is nuestra señora de Guadalupe, right here. They pray to a statue, but she’s right here.”
Not your average priest. But a damn good one.