I hadn’t heard from him for a few weeks. Then, one day, a call from an unknown number. The brother-in-law of Juan José told me that my friend had been rushed to the hospital and was in the intensive care unit. The situation was serious: he was in danger of dying. The chaplain of the hospital visited him and brought the oil for the Anointing of the Sick. A few days later, a friend who works as a nurse in that ward told me that the situation was getting better. But then something went wrong. His brother-in-law, after a few weeks, called me to say that his brother was close to the end. With the help of the chaplain of the hospital of Fuenlabrada, I was able to enter and greet him. Fr. Antonio, before going in, vested me with a stole, an alb, and sterilized gloves, a must for visiting a patient, even if he isn’t sick with Covid. I entered and called him by name: “Juan José!”. His eyes opened. It was a reaction, even if the doctors say he was in a vegetative state. With the help of the chaplain, I gave him the Anointing of the Sick. I blessed him with the holy water, pronounced the formula of general absolution for those in imminent danger of death, and anointed his head and hands with the sacred oil. When I had finished the rite, I approached him and whispered a few words, “Stefano, Beppe, and Tommaso send their greetings. I gave you God’s blessing; when you see Him, say hello to Him for me.” As we were leaving, I told the chaplain, “You will see: he will die tomorrow, during the first vespers of the Assumption.” I was off by a few hours: Juan José died on the feast of the Assumption of Mary, the 15th of August. He was born on the 13th of May, the day of Our Lady of Fatima. He had a real devotion to Mary and often stopped to pray and speak to her after Mass when everyone else had left. Juan José had a difficult life. Ten years ago, his wife had left him for another man. He then lost his job and, from one day to the next, he found himself on the streets. The only comfort that had remained was red wine. Once, he showed me a photo of him from fifteen years earlier. He was with his mother. “I weighed 120 kilos and had a beautiful smile”, he told me. He now weighed no more than 60 kilos and had lost most of his teeth. All that said, Juan José was my friend. With discretion, he would ask me for a bag of food, into which I usually put a jar of Nutella, which he loved. When I would hand it to him, he would say to me, “Father, may God bless you.” One time, the baker had prepared some soft bread for him, because of his bad teeth. After giving him the bread, the baker told him, “Remember me in your prayers.” He confided this to me a few weeks later: “I pray for the baker everyday.”
He used to call me to ask how I was doing, to tell me about his daughters, about his shame for how low he had fallen, about his attempts to find work and his desire to keep his chin up, despite the blows he had received from life. His presence in our community was discreet. He never missed Sunday Mass; sometimes, he stopped by during the week. Despite his being partially handicapped, due to a foot which was deformed by diabetes, he would always kneel when he received Communion.
One day, during one of our many conversations about sports, he told me, “Father, God roots for Real Madrid.” I support Atletico, their rival. “The jersey of Madrid is white: pure like God. For this reason, God cheers for Real Madrid,” he added. I started laughing. “One day, when you are with God you can ask him,” I told him. Now, dear Juan José, you will have lots of time to rest and also to ask God if He actually does root for Real Madrid.
Francesco Montini is assistant pastor of San Benito Menni, in Fuenlabrada (Spain). In the photo, a view of the city.