A STORY ABOUT EPIFANIO
Epifanio at age 20 (1973)
1. THE SPECIAL NIGHT
In the year 1971 I traveled to central Mexico, to join a recently founded religious congregation. At that time the Superior wanted us to renew our permission to stay in Mexico every six months, and in order to do so, we had to travel to the border.
For this reason, in March of 1974 I was at the Mexican border, for a few days, in Juarez, state of Chihuahua (next to El Paso, Texas).
One night I walked into a small cafe, named "Cafe Mexico," and ordered a cup of coffee. There were several soldiers at other tables, and some standing in the background, all wearing green uniforms. I saw two soldiers sitting at a table and decided to go to it. So I walked over to them, sat down, and we started talking.
We talked about several subjects... I cannot remember exactly what they were, it was so many years ago. Then suddenly one of them got up and walked out of the cafe.
The other soldier and myself were sitting there for about 30 seconds, without saying anything.
He was short of stature, thin, with a plain-looking face, and dark-colored skin.
He was looking down at the table. Then he raised his face, looked up at me and said, very shyly:
"Yo me llamo Epifanio."
("I am named Epifanio.")
Then I answered and said that means manifestation.
Then he continued and said that ever since the age of 16 he had felt alone, and had felt that God was preparing something special for him, but that nothing had happened so far and that often he was sad. And he concluded his short discourse with this phrase:
"Y ahora esto."
(And now this.)
He was 20 years old, but his voice and manner of acting were almost that of a child. (He was the most innocent person I have ever known. Not even God could create another person exactly like him.)
So because of his childlike way of thinking, he thought that something special was going to happen very soon, because this was the first occasion in his life that he had ever met someone from the United States, with a foreign accent and foreign-looking face, who got into unusual conversations.
We talked a little more, and then left, and I took him to where I was staying and we ate a small meal together. He told me he was a Mazahua Indian (pronounced ma-sa-wa), and that he had been born near Toluca, Mexico. He did not speak Mazahua fluently, but when he was a boy he knew people who lived near him who did. He also told me that the word Toluca meant "the place where the gods meet."
His complete name was Epifanio Tapia Quintana. (Tapia: father's last name. Quintana: mother's last name. In Latin America both the father's and mother's name are used in one's own name.)
He also mentioned that a few years before he had fallen in love with a young lady, but was sad because she never loved him in return. He also mentioned that he had stopped communicating with his parents because of something that had happened. He never mentioned having brothers or sisters. I never found out about them until many years afterwards. Then I learned more details about all this. At the end he thanked me and left. It was about 10 p.m.
Because of the way he acted, moved and spoke, I was more than ever convinced that he was the most innocent person I had ever met, and that we were predestined to be together in the future.
2. THE PERIOD OF WAITING
To understand this period, some facts should be made known. The congregation of Franciscan Minims of the Perpetual Help of Mary was founded by the Mexican Portavoz (messenger), Maria Concepcion Zuniga, a mystic who received revelations, and some of them had already been published in Spanish and English and other languages. Most of the persons who joined in those years, (1969--1975) joined because of the revelations, including myself.
So we lived in an atmosphere of thinking about and studying prophecies and revelations, and hoping for their fulfillment.
So it was inevitable that I thought of Epifanio's future in connection with all that, and even that perhaps he would be a religious of our congregation, especially when he himself said that he thought God had something special for his future.
Many years passed, and there was no news of him. I did not have his old address. At that time the population of Mexico was about 70 million. To find one person amid all that multitude was nearly impossible. I could do nothing but pray and wait.
In summer of the year 1989 I was almost in a state of panic. So many years had gone by and I had no news about him and no way whatsoever to communicate with him. So I started offering special petitions in my prayers, asking God to shorten these times for myself and one other person. I did not even specify the other person. (Besides Epifanio, there were a few acquaintances of mine from the year 1969 that I wanted to help, but could not communicate with them.) So I asked God to please help me to find them and communicate with them.
The answer to my petitions finally came in September 1989, in a totally unexpected way.
3. THE ANSWER
Finally the day arrived, Sept. 16, 1989. (In Mexico it is Independence Day, the equivalent of the 4th of July in the USA, and it also happens to be my birthday.) At about 5 p.m. Epifanio's sister, Maria Luisa, rang our doorbell. (I did not even know that he had a sister.) I happened to ask her what was her last name, and noticed it was the same as Epifanio's. Then I asked her if she had a brother named Epifanio. She answered yes, and then I obtained information from her. He was living in Juarez, Chihuahua. She did not have his address, but with the information she gave me, within about a week I obtained it, and wrote him a letter. (Later I found out it was never delivered, because that section of Juarez did not have regular postal service.) Two months passed, and there was no answer. So I started to make arrangements to travel to Juarez to see him in person.
4. THE VISIT
When I was traveling to Juarez, I thought I would find the same innocent person I had known 15 years before. But much can happen in 15 years. People change. I could not faintly imagine the shocking surprise that was in store for me.
I went to the address I had, and found a man in front of the house washing his car, named Guadalupe Medrano. He told me that Epifanio no longer lived there, but lived with his brother Isidro, in another part of the city. He offered to take me there.
So we went in his car to the part of the city where they lived. Epifanio came out of the house, walked toward me and said: "You have changed." We had both changed, physically, because we were 15 years older than before, also because I had grown a beard. Then we went into the house and talked for about half an hour.
He did not tell me much about what had happened in the past, but I could guess that something had gone wrong.
Then Guadalupe drove me back to his house and offered to let me stay there during my visit to Juarez.
Guadalupe was a close acquaintance of Epifanio's, and during the next few days I learned from him the sad story of what had happened during those years.
When I first became acquainted with him he had just joined the army. But many of the soldiers were vicious, and from them he learned two vices: heavy drinking and women.
Guadalupe told me that Epifanio was ill with hyperthyroidism (a disease of the thyroid gland) and that the cause of his illness was heavy drinking. In fact Epifanio had almost turned into an alcoholic.
One of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism is exophthalmia (eyes protruding from the sockets); because of his vice Epifanio was sick, and had an ugly face and eyes. At that time he was still thin, but a few years later became fat, because of the malfunction of the thyroid gland.
Within those days I became totally disillusioned and almost in a state of emotional shock. The future had turned out in a way just the opposite of what I had desired for so many years. I even made the resolution of just returning to Mexico City and forgetting that such a person ever existed.
Epifanio could sense this (although I did not tell anyone) because of my reserved way of acting. Just before we left, he said: "Que debo hacer?" (What should I do?) but I did not answer.
5. THE AFTERMATH
When I came back to Mexico City I tried to recover from my shock, and started thinking of everything that had happened during all those years. I remembered how Father Damian had cared for the lepers in Hawaii, even though they were so ugly physically. Their ugliness was no obstacle to his caring for them, even as if they had been his own children.
I realized it was not Epifanio's fault if he had acquired vices. Considering his weakness and the circumstances, it was inevitable that he fell; it was not his fault.
So the conclusion of all this was that we could still be friends. Also another fact that impressed me was that he was still humble: only a humble person would ask such a question as he did when we took leave of each other.
So in January of 1990 I wrote him a letter, exhorting him to try to improve his life and saying that we could still be friends. In May of 1990 I was able to visit him a second time (this time I could not be surprised, because I already knew the sad truth.) During this visit I arranged for him to go to confession, and that night we stayed at the house of Guadalupe, and Epifanio was so happy: he spoke all the words he knew in Mazahua, about eleven, something that he does only when he is excited or very happy.
During this second visit I also learned more facts about the past; Guadalupe told me that Epifanio's father had treated him and his mother, Isidra Quintana, with cruelty: he had had a very sad childhood.
Epifanio told me that the young lady with whom he had fallen in love was named Angelica Martinez. Guadalupe had known her: they had all been in the same high school. Guadalupe told me that when Epifanio first fell in love with Angelica, it was so intense that he even became physically ill with love. Angelica lived in Matamoros and was still single. She had no intention of marrying Epifanio or anyone else.
All of Epifanio's brothers and sisters are married and have children. He is the only one who did not marry. If Epifanio could do what he wanted, he would marry Angelica tomorrow. But that is not possible. His desires (and mine) were innocent enough, but destiny had blocked their fulfillment.
6. FROM 1992 UNTIL THE PRESENT
In the first part of our narrative we related some of the main events of Epifanio's life from when he was 21 until my two visits to Juarez in 1989-90. Also one fact of his past life is that he was the most intelligent pupil in his class in elementary school, and for that reason was selected to attend a special high school in Matamoros (near Brownsville, Texas). It was there he met Guadalupe Medrano and Angelica Martinez.
After my second visit to Juarez in 1990 we stopped communicating for a few years. (He does not write many letters. The only time he writes me is usually at Christmas, with a card and just a few lines.) But at that time he was working at a company where he could make free long distance calls, and he phoned me several times.
The first time he visited our monastery was in 1992. He visited again in 1995, and I even thought he might have a vocation to join us at that time, but because of his health problems and for other reasons he did not.
He visited us again in 1997, 1998 and once in June of 2000.
During his visit in 1997 he arrived on Dec. 10, just two days before Dec. 12, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (We live near the Basilica of Guadalupe in the north part of Mexico City, the most famous church in Latin America, and on Dec. 12, anniversary of the apparitions of Mary to Juan Diego, there are thousands of visitors from all parts of Mexico and other nations.) Once he gave me a short book about Juan Diego (Speaking Eagle), and we both admire him, considering that he is probably the most favored Indian who ever lived, in view of the extraordinary privilege he received in 1531.
Maria Luisa visits me from time to time and talks about her children, husband, cousins and other acquaintances. In January of this year one of her cousins came to see me and happened to mention that Epifanio was staying with his brother Venancio, at San Andres (near Toluca) where he was born. Venancio, the youngest son of the family, inherited the ranch and is now married and has a few children.
She did not know how long he was going to stay there, or when he was going to return to Juarez. I thought that he would see either Maria Luisa or myself, before he returned to Juarez. But at Easter time there was no news at all. So I decided to go to San Andres the week after Easter. (Toluca and San Andres are close to Mexico City.) I met Venancio and his family and stayed for a short visit. But Epifanio had already returned to Juarez in the first week of February.
What afflicted me was the fact that he did not go to see anyone at all on his way back to Juarez; (normally he would at least have gone to see his sister, Maria Luisa). I do not know the causes, but it might be that he feels discouraged. It is easy for the reader to understand the reason, when one considers all that has been narrated in this short relation. But in spite of all the misfortunes and sadness, I still hope that something special might happen in the future. "While there is life, there is hope."
THE UNKNOWN FUTURE
Probably the best way of ending this story is to write about the future. We do not know what it will be, except that prophecies will be fulfilled. We can only imagine or day-dream.
The following is a copy of a letter that I wrote last week to a casual acquaintance in the United States, who is part Cherokee and Sioux Indian.
In 1974 I met a Mazahua Indian named Epifanio. The details are given in "A Story about Epifanio."
About two weeks ago a casual acquaintance phoned me from Juarez, state of Chihuahua (near El Paso, Texas) with some sad news. Since then I was sad, and decided to write about these past events connected with Epifanio, so my acquaintances could know about it.
One of my favorite quotations is: "You can finish a story how you like."
The complete quotation is as follows: "A story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free-will. You cannot finish a sum how you like. But you can finish a story how you like. When somebody discovered the Differential Calculus there was only one Differential Calculus he could discover. But when Shakespeare killed Romeo he might have married him to Juliet's old nurse if he had felt inclined. And Christendom has excelled in the narrative romance, exactly because it has insisted on the theological free-will." (Chesterton, "Romance of Orthodoxy.")
Epifanio and myself have had many surprises, some of them happy, and others shocking and sorrowful. We do not know what the future will be, nor how all this will end. We cannot control how it will end. But at least we can ask God to make it end well. If he grants our petitions, then something good might happen in the future, even in the near future, maybe.
That is why at this phase of our lives Epifanio and myself are thinking mainly of God and religious concepts. Because there is probably no human being who could solve this problem (unless he is an instrument in the hands of God).
Epifanio's life has been similar to that of some other Indians, in the sense that it was sorrowful and afflicted, because of circumstances beyond their control.
I am writing all this because you are an American Indian, and you could see the similarity between Epifanio's life and that of Indians you have known or have read about.
The fact that small miracles have already occurred in our lives, gives me hope that something good might happen in the future. We can even make a formal request, petitioning for something good to happen. And the petition might be granted.
"You can finish a story how you like."
It is the most exciting quotation ever made.
May it be for the glory of God