A Million Flowers


The single bullet tore into his chest and shattered his spine. He was sixty-three at the time, but had been at his particular job for only three years. In that short period, he had been awarded two honorary doctorates, received numerous death threats, and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was a journalist, and the host of the most-listened-to radio broadcast in his country. But his radio station had been bombed numerous times, and sometimes his program had to be transmitted by short wave from abroad. In his three years as archbishop, his bosses had dispatched three separate delegations to scrutinize his work. There were rumors he might be replaced.

He loved to argue, but he listened. As a boy, he was a carpenter’s apprentice and made coffins. He spent the war years in Europe (1939-43), far from his native land, and was cold, hungry, and poor. Later in life, he loved to eat: pork roast with chismol, fried plantains with sour cream, pineapple pastelitos, and, of course, beans-he always had to have his beans. Sometimes, he even followed it all with Maalox.

He was so young when he finished his studies that he had to wait almost a year before they would ordain him. He played the piano and loved the marimba. The day he was shot, celebrating Mass at a cancer hospice, the Gospel reading was John 12:23-26: “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it...

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About the Author

Patrick Jordan is a former managing editor of Commonweal.