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Jun 07, 2024 4933 Father Alvaro Delgado
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Stranger at the Door

What would you do when a stranger knocks at your door? What if the stranger turns out to be a difficult person?

He says his name with emphasis, in Spanish, with a certain pride and dignity, so you’ll remember who he is—Jose Luis Sandoval Castro. He ended up on our doorstep at Saint Edward Catholic Church in Stockton, California, on a Sunday evening when we were celebrating our patron feast day. Somebody had dropped him off in our relatively poor, working-class neighborhood. The music and the crowd of people apparently drew him like a magnet to our parish grounds.

Unveiling the Truth

He was a man of mysterious origins—we did not know how he arrived at the church, let alone who and where his family was. What we did know was that he was 76 years old, bespectacled, dressed in a light-colored, well-worn vest, and was pulling his luggage by hand. He carried a document from the Immigration and Naturalization Service granting him permission to enter the country from Mexico. He had been robbed of his personal documents and carried no other identification with him. 

We set about exploring and discovering who Jose Luis was, his roots, his relatives, and whether they had any contact with him. He hailed from the town of Los Mochis in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. 

Anger, vitriol, and venom spewed from his mouth. He claimed that his relatives had ripped him off and robbed him of his pension in the United States, where he had worked for years, as he went back and forth to Mexico. The relatives we contacted claimed they tried to help him on various occasions, yet he called them thieves.

Who were we to believe? All we knew was that we had a wandering, regular drifter from Mexico in our hands, and we could not abandon him nor put the old, infirm man out on the street. Coldly, callously, one relative said: “Let him fend for himself on the streets.” 

He was a man of bluster, bravado, and gruffness, yet he flashed signs of vulnerability again and again. His eyes would water, and he would almost sob as he told how people had wronged and betrayed him. It seemed like he was all alone, deserted by others. 

The truth was—it was not easy to help him. He was ornery, stubborn, and proud. The oatmeal was either too chewy or not smooth enough, the coffee was too bitter and not sweet enough. He found fault with everything. He was a man with a gigantic chip on his shoulders, angry and disappointed with life.

“People are bad and mean, they’ll hurt you,” he lamented. 

To that, I retorted that there were Buena gente (good people) too. He was in the arena of the world where good and evil intersect, where people of goodness and kindness mixed together, like the wheat and chaff of the Gospel. 

More than a Welcome

No matter his defects, no matter his attitude or his past, we knew we should welcome him and help him as one of the least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. 

“When you welcomed the stranger, you welcomed me.” We were ministering to Jesus himself, opening the doors of hospitality to him.

Lalo Lopez, one of our parishioners who took him in for a night, introduced him to his family, and took him to his son’s baseball game, observed: “God is testing us to see how good and obedient we are, as His children.” 

For several days, we put him up in the rectory. He was weak, spitting out phlegm every morning. It was obvious he could no longer roam and drift freely as he was accustomed to doing in his younger days. He had high blood pressure, over 200. On one visit to Stockton, he said he was hit behind the neck near a downtown church. 

A son in Culiacan, Mexico, said he “engendered me” and that he never really knew him as his dad, for he was never around, always traveling, heading for El Norte.

The story of his life began to unfold. He had worked in the fields, harvesting cherries, many years ago. He had also sold ice cream in front of a local church a few years ago. He was, to quote the Bob Dylan classic song, “like one with no direction home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.”

As Jesus left the 99 sheep behind to rescue one stray sheep, we turned our attention to this one man, apparently shunned by his own. We welcomed him, housed him, fed him, and befriended him. We came to know his roots and his history, the dignity and sacredness of him as a person, and not just as another throwaway on the streets of the city. 

His plight was publicized on Facebook by a woman who transmits video messages of missing persons to Mexico. 

People asked: “How can we help?” 

One man said: “I’ll pay for his ticket home.”

Jose Luis, an illiterate man, rough and unrefined, came to our parish fiesta, and by the grace of God, we tried, in some small way, to emulate the example of Saint Mother Teresa, who welcomed the poor, the lame, the sick, and the outcasts of the world into her circle of love, the banquet of life.  

In the words of Saint John Paul II, solidarity with others is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a reminder that we commit to the good of all because we are all responsible for one another. 

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Father Alvaro Delgado

Father Alvaro Delgado was born in South America. His family moved to the United States when he was seven. After working as a newspaper reporter for about 17 years, he was ordained to the priesthood in 2002 and has since served in the diocese of Stockton in California.

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