It must have caused quite a scan­dal in the bar­rio when neigh­bors learned Maria was preg­nant. The girl was only 15 and was engaged to a man who was a few years old­er — a car­pen­ter from Juarez named José.

José had not slept with the girl before their wed­ding, so he was hurt and angry when she told him she was expect­ing. He con­sid­ered break­ing up with her to avoid the ridicule they would face in their con­ser­v­a­tive cul­ture. But he loved her, and after a strange dream, he decid­ed he would not leave her, and would love the child she was car­ry­ing and bring him up as if he were his own.

Maria was a poor campesina, but descend­ed from a noble fam­i­ly. She was a deeply spir­i­tu­al per­son, but not in a haughty way. She was also a woman of the peo­ple. She believed in a God of lib­er­a­tion, one who defend­ed the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Before Emanuel was born, Maria gave an incen­di­ary speech denounc­ing the social order in which small farm­ers and sweat­shop work­ers were heav­i­ly taxed, and cor­rupt lead­ers had adver­saries, even mem­bers of their own fam­i­lies, killed to get what they wanted.

Maria believed God’s rev­o­lu­tion would right such wrongs and that her own son would have a role in bring­ing about a new order.

Speaking with­out fear, Maria said of her God: “He has accom­plished great works and scat­tered those who are proud. He has brought down the pow­er­ful and lift­ed up the hum­ble. He has filled the hun­gry with good things and sent the rich away emp­ty. He has helped his fol­low­ers and shown them mer­cy, just as he promised.”

It was easy to see where Emanuel got his pas­sion and devotion.

Maria was a gen­tle girl, but a lit­tle rough around the edges. 

Her son was like her in that way. He was born in a barn while Maria and José trav­eled to a lit­tle town just south of the cap­i­tal. They couldn’t find a hotel to stay in, and there was no hos­pi­tal, so Maria gave birth to Emanuel amid the stench of manure, wrapped him in some cloth, and laid him in a feed­ing trough lined with hay.

That night a bright star was vis­i­ble in the sky, and José and Maria won­dered whether it had some mean­ing. When Emanuel was about one year old, the fam­i­ly fled to a for­eign coun­try as polit­i­cal refugees, but lat­er returned home.

Like his adop­tive father, Emanuel grew up to be a migrant car­pen­ter and stone­ma­son. He was also an itin­er­ant preach­er, spread­ing his mes­sage of spir­i­tu­al lib­er­a­tion among the people.

Emanuel was some­times home­less, wan­der­ing from one desert town to anoth­er. With his long hair and beard and dusty san­dals, he wasn’t much to look at. There was noth­ing about him that would mark him as spe­cial. But peo­ple were attract­ed to him, and he gath­ered about him an unlike­ly assort­ment of friends, from Pedro the head­strong fish­er­man to the day­dream­er Juan, to whom he was espe­cial­ly close.

Emanuel had a cousin, also named Juan, who was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. He lived out­doors and ate grasshop­pers and hon­ey. He was a street preach­er who had a dan­ger­ous habit of crit­i­ciz­ing cor­rupt offi­cials. No one was sur­prised when he was mur­dered in jail, but they were shocked by the grue­some way in which it was done.

Emanuel, too, could be some­thing of a trou­ble­mak­er. He did not advo­cate vio­lence, only resis­tance to injus­tice. But one day when he was at the met­ro­pol­i­tan cathe­dral, he became so incensed about loan sharks prey­ing on the faith­ful that he couldn’t con­trol his anger, and he start­ed yelling at the swindlers and kick­ing over their tables.

“This is a house of God, and you’ve turned it into a den of thieves!” he shouted.

That kind of behav­ior didn’t sit well with the estab­lish­ment, and some tried to dis­miss him, say­ing he was a drunk­ard and glut­ton because he drank wine and ate with outcasts.

He befriend­ed pros­ti­tutes like Magdalena, as well as AIDS vic­tims and oth­er untouch­ables, and tried to help them.

The only peo­ple he lacked patience with were the self-right­eous fun­da­men­tal­ist hyp­ocrites who had close ties to some of the country’s worst and most amoral politi­cians and their wealthy benefactors.

Emanuel defend­ed the poor, called for the release of cap­tives, fed the hun­gry, cared for those who were ill, and envi­sioned a god­ly soci­ety of love and jus­tice that would turn the self­ish val­ues of the old soci­ety upside down.

Emanuel advo­cat­ed for peace, but he met a vio­lent end. A for­mer friend betrayed him for mon­ey to those who couldn’t stand his mes­sage of love and jus­tice. They had Emanuel tor­tured and exe­cut­ed. He was tak­en to a garbage dump on a hill­side, where they fas­tened him to a wood­en post, stabbed him in the side with a machete, and left him to die.

But some say he came back to life, and that his spir­it lives on. And they believe that at this time of the year, when his birth­day is cel­e­brat­ed, Emanuel is reborn into the hearts and minds of all who believe in what he stood for and fol­low his exam­ple of a life of love, for­give­ness, and sac­ri­fi­cial giving.

His light shines in the dark­ness, and the dark­ness has not over­come it.

It nev­er will.

  • Randy Patrick

    Randy Patrick is a deputy coun­ty clerk for elec­tions and vot­er reg­is­tra­tion and a for­mer reporter and edi­tor of The Winchester Sun.