The secular saint of Fuencarrasco

I had just come back from a few months in Spain, but the story could be set anywhere.

Made by Muslims, captured by Christians, haunted by Historians, the village of Fuencarrasco was of strategic importance for a single moment in the 11th century, before being left to storks and vultures when the war between Catholics and Moors moved south – until the weeping statue of Diego Ezequiél Germano Moro began attracting the faithful in the 1990s. 

Diego Moro was born into fascist Spain in 1946. His blonde hair and blue eyes were so startling that little old women in black would cross the road to avoid him as his mother pushed him along the pavement in his second-hand pram. 

Once he was able to make sensible conversation, though, he went looking for people to help. He brought water and electricity to a gitano family in the caves at the foot of the mountain. Until he left the village, he was rarely seen without a grateful gypsy hovering by his sleeve waiting for a chance to repay the debt. 

He campaigned for education for rural families and his powers of persuasion brought the first free school to Extremadura, built brick by brick by farmers, and staffed by volunteers from all over the Spanish-speaking world who read about Diego in their newspapers. 

At 19, Diego moved to Madrid after the parish priest heard him telling a group of appalled young mothers about contraception. Diego told his friends that, although he had tried very hard, he had never believed in God – not in an academic or political, let alone religious sense. 

In Madrid, he lived near Atocha station, in the flat of a cousin who worked for Franco’s government, something his followers later tried to play down, although Diego saw no contradiction between living in luxury and working for the poor, believing that everyone was free to make choices and be guided by their conscience. 

He collected, printed and distributed the stories of people he met on the streets of Madrid around the cafes and bars in well-to-do areas. 

Without once criticising the Government, Diego still came to the attention of the Civil Guard. Every morning, Diego took his coffee in a bakery on Calle Lavapiés, and a policeman, in a three-sided leather hat, would sit silently on the stool next to him while he read El País. 

In the early hours of a Sunday in August 1969, a civic worker hosing down the baked streets, found Diego’s battered body behind a pile of rubbish. A sympathetic doctor said there were signs he had been run over by a car, but that most of his injuries were inflicted by hand. 

The socialist government, with whom Diego would have had as little in common as he did Franco’s fascists, came to power ten years later, and their first action was to build a statue of Diego in the village square in Fuencarrasco. 

Scientists will tell you it is iron oxide, but the thousands who gather with their rosaries at his feet will swear by the Blessed Virgin that Diego’s statue is weeping blood. 

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