Every now and then you meet someone who changes your life. During my time living in Spain a handful of people have really influenced and inspired me. One of those was Salvador – Saviour in English, but why was he so important?
About four years ago I surprised my girlfriend by whisking her away to Cazalla de la Sierra and asking her to marry me. She said yes, of course (that’s what she actually said, I’m not trying to be arrogant), and we returned to Seville a happy couple.
Then we told her family.
They were over the moon, of course, but I hadn’t considered one minor detail.
“So where do you want to get married?” asked the mother.
“In a church of course,” said my fiancé.
“Por supuesto,” I said, nodding and grinning. I suppose I’d always wanted to get married in a church, but there was a slight snag.
“But Barry isn’t a catholic,” said the mother, smiling a concerned smile.
I was a tad frightened about the concept of religion. My father is catholic but my mother isn’t, so I was never baptised. The fact they never knew who to choose as the godparents didn’t help either. As a fan of Semana Santa I did have some interest in knowing more about religion though.
“I’ll get baptised then,” I replied, eagerly, but petrified.
And that’s how I met Salvador, my Catechises teacher.
“So what do you know about religion?” he asked me as we met one morning in the office of Santa Ana church in Triana. He sat behind a desk in a brown jacket, red tie, and white shirt. His greasy hair sloped to the right. He was a chubby, jolly man, who liked his jamoncito and tortilla de patatas.
“Well, I’ve been reading a book about the Pope.”
“The Pope?” he cackled. “Well, you can forget about him. First you need to learn about God and Jesus Christ,” he added, plonking a bible down on the desk. I gulped. Was I ready for this?
Kids over here take about two years to learn the ins and outs of Catholicism, Salvador gave me a crash course in two months. We used to meet every Monday morning in a small room in a building opposite the church. He’d always turn up in the same brown jacket and red tie, panting and puffing away.
I was expecting the sessions to be heavy, preaching about what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my life. Surely I’d committed a substantial handful of sins over the previous thirty years that I needed to confess. But it was a lot lighter and Salvador was a kind, informative, and easy-going man.
“You have to read the bible.”
“What all of it?”
“Well, not like a novel. Don’t read it all in one go like some of my other students. Just flick through it, picking bits out now and then.”
“I see. But how do I know where to start?”
“You just do. God will show you. You can read the evangelist too.”
“There are four of them, written by each of the evangelists: Mateo, Marcos, Lucas, and Juan.”
“Right,” I said, confused. Salvador laughed and picked up the small black book.
“Here, this year is Mateo, you can start with him.”
So I did, I read the evangelist every morning with my breakfast. It was hard reading in Spanish, but most of the little stories were uplifting and peaceful. Maybe it wasn’t so scary after all.
I enjoyed the sessions and every time I left I felt happy after chatting with Salvador. He made me appreciate the finer things in life. My wife came to a couple of the sessions too. We already knew we were in love, but somehow that feeling became stronger thanks to him. He made us realise how lucky we were to have found each other. We were expecting him to start going on about sex before marriage and the sins, but he was the opposite.
“God made us like we are for many reasons. Love is a powerful feeling. You need to enjoy each others’ bodies.” That was a relief.
Over the two months before my double baptism and communion I got to know Salvador. He used to have a real complex and phobia about speaking in public, not just in front of the class at school, but with more than two or three people. He got teased at school as well. He never used to be religious either. But he told me how he became stronger and more confident with God, which enabled him to speak at Mass in front of up to two or three hundred people. He also volunteered to work in the prisons.
“What’s that like?”
“It’s hard work. Some don’t want to listen to me. They call me an old fool. But I go back and try to help. There are some broken men in there, but they usually end up listening to me and feeling some sort of peace.”
Salvador was there at my baptism and communion, helping me through the whole ordeal. About nine months later he also read at our wedding. He said some lovely words about us, how we were such a great couple, and how strong our love was.
We saw him in the supermarket after we got back from our honeymoon. He was with his wife, walking round buying healthy food because he was on a special diet. He was his usual happy self, pleased that the wedding and honeymoon had gone well. We never expected that he was ill.
Sadly that was the last time I saw him. He passed away about three months after. I was stunned when I found out and sad that we’d lost a good friend. He was a great man who inspired a lot of people, and he’ll be sorely missed! This short shory is based partly on him: The Golden Cross
Has anyone inspired you while living in Spain, or abroad? Leave a comment below!