Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Times call for pulling this holy card out of the deck

Having spent the past week a stone’s throw away from Templo de San Roque in the heart of Guanajuato, it seemed imperative to discover more about the saint. He definitely falls into my category of “saintly stories nuns never taught me.”

Hard for a boy born with his breast emblazoned with a red birthmark in the form of a cross to avoid his calling. Following the death of both of his wealthy parents by the time he was 20, San Roque (1295-1327) (although “San” was not what Saint Roch, or Rock, was named until more than a century later) sold his inherited worldly goods and distributed the proceeds amongst the poor in his native home of Montpelier, France. Joining the Third Order of Saint Francis (Does this mean he was married?), he headed out to Italy with an eye to visit the tombs of the apostles.

Unfortunately, 1315 proved not an ideal time for a grand pilgrimage to Italy. Rock encountered a major epidemic sweeping through the countryside. The good soul immediately offered his services to a hospital and began calling on the ill in their homes. Many of those fortunate enough to receive his visits reported being cured merely by his making the sign of the cross above their sickbeds.

Alas, eventually Rock himself was stricken by the plague. He selflessly retreated deep into the woods to avoid contaminating others. He would have perished in an abandoned old hut were it not for man’s best friend. A nobleman’s hunting dog found him, licked his oozing wounds clean and brought him food daily – thereby explaining how San Roque became the patron saint of dogs.

Upon recovery, Rock felt summoned to return to his hometown, which was engaged in one of those wars so often consuming Europe in days of yore. His illness left him emaciated to a degree rendering him unrecognizable to his former compadres, and he was imprisoned as a spy – thereby explaining how San Roque became a patron saint of innocents wrongly accused of crimes.

He languished in prison for five years until, sensing the end was near, he requested a priest be summoned. Upon entering the dying man’s cell, the priest beheld an angel bearing a gold-inscribed tablet revealing both the man’s identity and that his name should forever be invoked by those seeking protection from the plague – explaining why we dropped a coin in the Templo’s collection box and we should all be carrying a San Roque holy card around with us.

Perhaps candles should be lit to implore San Roque to inspire those who are unvaccinated to receive a pair of shots in their arms or at least persuade them to wear masks to protect the innocents around them. If not, maybe they could follow the saint’s example and retreat to isolation in the woods so as not to infect others.

If all who have shots available took advantage of the opportunity, perhaps we wouldn’t even have to invoke San Roque’s protection from Covid on his saintly day, August 16. People could return to requesting his intercession to safeguard their Covid-period adopted pooches Bella, Cooper and Luna instead.

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