Narcisa de Jesus.
This past Ephiphany week I found myself riding in the back of my father’s van on the road to Nobol, Ecuador nearby to the city of my birth, Guayaquil. My father was driving the familiar route while my friend from NYC, Robert sat shotgun taking in these sites for the first time. We talked business first, then about the sites along the way ranging from rice to detergent factories and lots of full ripe mango trees.
We were on a pilgrimage of sorts to pay our respects to St. Narcisa de Jesus, the only Equadorian saint canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. Her shrine is in the city of Nobol, the city of her birth. I have always had a special devotion to St. Narcisa as my own mother was named for her. I had not been to Nobol for years and this occasion to show my friend a unique part of my country was reason enough.
On entering Nobol, the idea that it could be a city of with any holy merit is a bit of a stretch. It is a small town with vendors on either side, some with incredible delights (we will get to that later.) But it certainly didn’t look like a place where your journey would take you, more like a place along that way that you keep on driving through. But off the main road is a large church tucked in the back of this village.
When we go out on the square I got my bearings and knew almost by instinct how to get around. I showed Robert the gift shops and we passed by immediately to the sanctuary. This church is huge. The pews go on for what seems like a football field. Along the way are new stained glass windows showing pictures of the saint’s life. As we approached the sanctuary itself, Robert stopped quickly. “That’s really her!” “Yes, that’s her.” I said. Narcisa de Jesus was exhumed after her death. When they examined her that saw that her body was perfectly intact like the day she had died. She was placed in a glass altar and her she is to this day.
We both genuflected and joined the other pilgrams at the front having arrived at this miracle in front of us. The stained glass window above the altar depicts St. Peter’s Bascilica in Rome on the day of her canonization. She is above, her hands outstretched, pouring out grace gained through her well-lived and devout life. Arriving at your journey’s destination brings a great sense of peace in that moment.
My father had some business with the office. He makes shirts for the gift shop. As we left we bought a few perfectly ripe mangos. They are best when you just rip off the top and squeeze all the juice out. Afterwards it was back to the street. I stopped the car and ran out, the woman at the counter knew exactly what I was after. She handed me a slice of queso and we sat down to a feast of fried plantains and queso. This has always been a very important part of the pilgrimage. It really isn’t complete without it.
As we drove back to the city and eventually back to New York where I live now, I feel I take with me the spirit of St. Narcisa and with her a sense of our true home.