The Three Kings were astrologers who traveled from Persia, knocked on the door of a Jew whose parents let them in. The Magi dropped to their knees in adoration of a child not their own – not from their world, not their ethnicity, not their race and certainly not their faith. Thus was born Christianity.
That was part of the sermon at Iglesia de Jesús de Nazaret in Azalea Park, and it’s surely a lesson for today’s times of estrangement, gilded and naked ambition, arrogance and dismissive politics. On day one, or less than a week old, el niño Jesús completed the important mission of overcoming distance, and bringing people of all stripes and faiths together.
The Day of the Epiphany is revered all over Latin America and Europe, too, as a day in which people recognize that we live in the presence of greatness if we choose to acknowledge it, as did the Three Kings Melchor, Baltasar and Gaspar, as they are known in Spanish. Oftentimes, however, it seems that the adoration is of the Three Wise Men, not the Christ child.
In Puerto Rico the holy holiday is not complete until the Three Kings ride their horses – sorry, no camels – down from the mountain town of Juana Díaz near Ponce. In towns large and small, townspeople will don Three Kings-style robes and crowns to hand out gifts to the littlest and starry eyed among us.
That tradition has endured even a thousand miles away in Central Florida, where a number of toy give-aways will or have already taken place with the participation of Latino and non-Latino elected officials, to boot. School districts, noting the high absenteeism on January 6, long ago stopped trying to restart school before that date.
The newly added presence of Hurricane María evacuees – a total of about 53,000 came to the Orlando area from Puerto Rico – has refreshened the tradition, as they look to practice a tradition they know and love.
As I sat in a pew at Iglesia Jesús de Nazaret, an Episcoplian Church, which opened its arms to evacuees in the height of the crisis last year, I witnessed how the newcomers have paid it forward by boosting the church with vim, vigor and a youthfulness it may have lacked. Azalea Park, after all, is an older Orlando community dating to the late 1940s that had been transformed by Latinos even before Hurricane María hit in September 2017. The evacuees topped off the brew.
“Look what the hurricane did to the church,” said Father José Rodríguez, interim pastor. “Half the congregation here are evacuees from María.”
Puerto Rican evacuees followed a star north to Florida in search of jobs, stability and peace, in short, a better way of life. Many – though not all – have found some semblance of normality.
The lesson here: Be as inclusive as Mary and Joseph, open your doors and your heart, and follow your North star wherever it may lead you in 2019.
˜˜María T. Padilla, Editor