As you may know, our brother in Minnesota, Esteban Garcia, passed from this life to the next on February 26th. A novena of rosaries was held at his family’s home in St. Paul every night for nine days, beginning the day after he died, and his funeral was March 9th. It can be a cliché to say that a funeral was touching, but the funeral really was touchingly beautiful. The touching elements will be sprinkled among the description of the funeral.
Before the Mass began, the parish, St. Francis de Sales, was full. So many people showed up to honor Esteban and comfort the family, including EIGHT priests and three deacons. Among our own were Andrew and Kevin, and the two priests of the ESM-NYC team, Charles and Paul. Can you imagine how Esteban touched people during his life and death that there were eight priests at his funeral? Amazing!
Then there were two eulogies, one in English and one in Spanish. The English eulogy was delivered by Fr. Joseph Williams, once a brother in the Emmanuel Community. He spoke about Esteban’s gentle way of inviting people back to church and his perseverance in studying for the electrician’s exam, which he never passed.
When the Mass began, the song was led by the parish’s Spanish youth choir, the choir Esteban and Lucero, his wife, led for many years. Only Esteban’s condition with ALS caused him to step away from leading the choir. This choir was something to behold! There were probably 20-30 youth and young adults in it, many of whom played instruments (guitars, accordions, and the piano), and they sounded great. I learned later that Esteban and Lucero had worked with these young people since they were elementary school children, teaching them how to sing and play guitar. It was only fitting, then, that when Lucero asked the Emmanuel Community to coordinate the music for the funeral Mass, she asked that some song slots be given to the youth choir. They would sing the opening and communion songs and all the Mass parts.
In a tribute to the two language worlds the Garcia-Arellano family dwells in, the Mass was bilingual. The first reading was read in English and it was Is 40:28-31. Psalm 23 was sang by the Emmanuel Community, using our trust song, The Lord is my Shepherd. The second reading was read in Spanish and it was 2 Tim 4:6-8. This reading applies especially well to Esteban because he was a runner. He used to race in the 10K run during the Twin Cities Marathon weekend and would sometimes win for his age bracket. True to the works of St. Paul to Timothy, Esteban ran the race of his life well and finished well. The Gospel was John 14:1-7 and was read in both languages.
To give some examples of how Esteban exemplified 2 Timothy4:6-8, I want to share with you a few stories told by the pastor of St. Francis during his bilingual homily and a few personal ones. He told how Esteban would sit in the front right section of the church for Mass after he was diagnosed. People would come up to him to offer words of encouragement, strength, and faith, but it was the people who would leave feeling strengthened, happier, and encouraged after speaking with Esteban. He also shared how Esteban didn’t begrudge or question God for allowing him to bear the cross of ALS. Instead, he did not feel worthy to carry that cross, but he accepted it peacefully. I can personally testify that Esteban would joke early on in his diagnosis that, because the odds of getting ALS are 1:1000, he was lucky. He got something with such small odds. He also said that he asks people to pray for him, mostly because when they are praying for him, they are communicating with and thinking of God.
The Mass progressed normally with some beautiful touches. Lucero and three of their children read the prayers of the faithful, which is something I’ve never seen at a funeral. What composure it took! The consecration was said in Spanish and soon it was time for communion. The youth choir had to sing many songs because of the large crowd in attendance, but the first song was a tear-jerker. Not everyone in the congregation could see what was happening, but as the male singer’s voice, accompanied by a guitar, came over the sound system, those of us who were closest to the choir were confused because we couldn’t see who was singing the song. Then it became clear; it was Esteban’s voice and guitar playing from a recording on the laptop. As the song went on, the choir gradually joined in with their instruments and voices, until finally the recording came to an end and the choir took up the song in full. I’m sure Esteban’s family and the choir members will never be able to hear that song without thinking of Esteban.
Finally it was time for the Mass to conclude. The Emmanuel Community choir took up a song requested by Lucero for the recessional, “Well Done” by The Afters. It’s worth listening to, but here is a glimpse at some of the lyrics: “I’m waiting my whole life to hear You say… Well done, well done, My good and faithful one. Welcome to the place where you belong. Well done, well done, My beloved child. You have run the race and now you’re home. Welcome to the place where you belong.” Let us pray that Esteban is home with Jesus, Mary, and all the saints, knowing that he ran the race of faith and finished it well.