Today I was reminded of a man who doesn’t care about your rules and norms, but what he believes is right. So I’ll share his story and what we can learn.
Justo Gallego Martínez (also known as Don Justo), is 93, single and virile. He is creative, strong, a man of the earth, and dedicated to the causes he holds dear, regardless of any regulations that may be in the way. His neighbors probably think he also might not be all there. Given modern society, it’s no wonder, he sold off farmland to finance a commitment. They probably think he’s a dreamer, maybe even a modern day Don Quixote. Be honest with yourself, you probably will think that too. I did. Why is this old farmer called crazy?
He’s building a cathedral, by himself.
It’s made from the crudest materials, junk from other construction sites, recycled materials, petrol drums. He has no training in architecture or engineering. He has no plans. For all he knows the cathedral may crash down on him at any moment. In fact, he has no approval from the town to build it. Nor has the Catholic church approved it. So by all rights in a modern society, he is tilting at a windmill, when he dies the folly will end and the eyesore will be torn down. It is a shame he’s embarrassing his nephews this way.
Now, be honest with yourself for a moment. Really honest. Do you think this man has a screw loose? If you heard or read me on Facebook about him, would you dismiss it as irreverent, or crazy? I will be honest, five years ago, I did. But not anymore.
Don Justo was kicked out of a monastery when he was young, for tuberculosis. Before that, he watched the socialists drag priests out into the street and shoot them. The socialist government in Spain, let me remind you, since no one likes to remember that part. In 1961, he began building. Since 1961. A farmer who says he is illiterate, began building. The fact that it hasn’t yet collapsed is one marvel, but that he hasn’t stopped is another. If you have to do anything for that long, with barely any help or tools, with no approval and I’ll bet even discouragement from the relevant authority, would you keep going? I have trouble motivating myself to keep going on my own ideas, and they have only been two years.
I’ll do you one better. How many of you would have done what he is doing, for no reward? Literally giving everything he is doing to God. Would you have kept at it since 1961? Would you have ever started?
It’s funny, we tend to praise big buildings like the cathedral in Barcelona, or whatever new skyscraper comes up in New York. What is so different from this guy to the architect of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona? His work is also unfinished, and we praise him for his vision, while we ridicule this man who is doing all of it himself, from design to build. His hands, not some contractor. His labor, not one built for him.
We can learn much from Don Justo. One, that it is possible to give glory to God in any state in life. Two, that we can be better stewards of our goods, for he is building from the leftovers and donations. The trash from other building projects. Three, we need to get our heads back on straight. Here is a man attempting to make something beautiful for his God. We build beautiful houses, and meeting halls for churches. He finds a way to make old things beautiful, we find a way to make new things ugly.
Look, I don’t care if you don’t believe in God or if you are spiritual and not religious, this guy should make you question just how much you are invested in your own proposals. What do you find important?? Because the biggest thing he can teach you is that you can do great things when you aren’t concerned with bureaucratic approval. Because bureaucrats don’t take risks, they play a long game, they don’t rock the boat and won’t let others, either. But you can change the world with just laying one brick, taking that risk.
For the Catholic Church too, I have some thoughts. Shame on you. You should be ashamed, what this man has done is beyond any that has happened in Spain or the world. To not bless his labor? Because why, because he’s illiterate and uncultured? While you are dancing at the Youth Synod, demanding millions from parishes to build new churches to replace the ones that are falling apart, then force bland, sterile buildings that could be any gathering hall, shame on you for becoming bureaucrats! Don Justo has more culture than any of you, and he shows it by trying to build something permanent to give glory to God. Man I feel that most bishops have forgotten what that means.
Ok, rant over. I really did think he was crazy five years ago. Now, like Don Quixote, I realize that he may be one of the few sane men that we might ever have a chance to meet. A modern day St. Francis, rebuilding the church, brick by discarded brick. Remember, Quixote was vindicated in the end.
When I lived in Spain I was able to see many beautiful cathedrals, but never heard of this one. Now, to the Society over there I ask if it is possible to pay Don Justo a visit, and tell him I am praying for him and his church. And not to stop tilting at windmills.