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Serving Christ in the Poor: Andrés Reyes Gonzalez, R. I. P.

This past month a fisherman passed from this earth into the hands of our merciful and just Lord. Andrés was invited to Casa Juan Diego by the Sisters of the Incarnate Word in Galveston this past September. He arrived already quite thin, ravaged by the consuming gastric cancer.

His diagnosis was terminal. Still, he held out hope of returning to the trade that had sustained him since his youth in Tuxpan, Veracruz. His whole adult life he had harvested the rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico. He immigrated to Galveston in 1986, with the promise of better wages and a dream of helping his parents and siblings. For reasons only the Devil invents, he had not been able to save what he had hoped. His parents passed on, his siblings went their separate ways, and he, by his own admission, entered into ten dark years of heavy drinking and smoking. The few thousand dollars he had managed to save were rapidly spent on a double colostomy operation at UTMB-Galveston. He was discharged with no money and a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Andrés was given a home at Casa Juan Diego, in the youth and convalescent home. To my slight surprise and great joy, he was well received by the young folks, after they were assured cancer was not contagious. His relationship with the boys was that of a mentorish uncle. He often talked about how when he got better he would take one of the boys to Galveston to teach him the honorable trade of fishing, so that the apprentice would always be able to find work and be able to provide for his family. He, in his fatigued frame stretched out on the couch, was tireless in his scolding of the boys’ boisterous behavior.

Rarely, has it been so easy to follow the precepts of Matthew 25 than in serving Andrés. The gentle Christ shown through in his patience, the cross-burdened Christ was present in his labored steps; the beaten and crucified Christ cried out in his deep groans; the risen Christ burned in his eyes.

He loved to tell fish tales. Stories of red snappers, huge tunas, and tasty sharks. Two weeks before Andrés passed on, we went to a midday Mass at the Catholic Charismatic Center. It was the same day we took him to the Texas Medical Center Hospice, where he spent his last days on earth well cared for. Andrés, hunched in pain, received communion like it was his next breath. After Mass, he received the sacramental anointing of the sick. Then, he was prayed over and received the laying on of hands by believers in God’s healing power. It is striking, the supernatural ordinariness the sacraments give to life. Andrés, when he finally accepted death, truly accepted Christ.

For all of us at Casa Juan Diego, it was an unmerited honor to serve Andrés, who brought us Christ in flesh and spirit.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVIII, No. 8, December 1998.