José Luis Garayoa, in front of pain and misery

The augustinian recollect missionary José Luis Garayoa personified the dedication to others for Christ, from the joy and simplicity of the mission. He was kidnapped in Sierra Leone and was currently rendering an important service to Latino immigrants in El Paso (United States), where he died on November 24.

José Luis Garayoa was to be shot on February 25, 1998 at 2:00 a.m. in Sierra Leone. The armed revolutionary group that had kidnapped him was ready to take his life and that of several religious people. As he has often said, at that moment he was not afraid, because he trusted in the mercy of the One who had sent him to Africa. He only felt sorry for not having more time to live, to ask for forgiveness or to embrace.

That was Garayoa. He looked face to face with danger and terror, fighting so that justice and life would always win. He never stood still and always wanted to do more, because he suffered when others suffered. In 2011 he told his blog how he felt after the death of Musa Lamin Bangura, a little boy of only five years old, victim of cerebral malaria. “I realize that I need to get out of here to put a little distance from so much pain, from so much misery But pain and misery haunt me because they are tattooed on my soul. And you can’t hide, just swallow your tears and keep fighting, asking yourself a thousand times if you couldn’t do something more”.

Thousands of children were dying in Sierra Leone and José Luis was approaching them to be by their side. He was not afraid of malaria, Ebola or the coronavirus. He was only afraid that humanity would suffer; that’s what really hurt him. Since he was ordained a priest in 1976, he gave himself completely to people forgotten by society. He did it in Ciudad Madera (Chihuahua, Mexico), in Ciudad de los Niños in Costa Rica, in Sierra Leone -he had two stages: in 1998 and from 2004 to 2015-, in Valladolid (Spain) and now in El Paso (Texas, USA), where he died this Tuesday, November 24th.

Garayoa represented the joy of the mission. When he remembered his years in Sierra Leone or when he told of his work in the Processing Center with immigrants, he always smiled. He showed that giving to others only brings full happiness as a reward. That’s why he transmitted his faith with such enthusiasm. He was the Evangelii Gaudium who sought God in the existential peripheries of the world.

And he found him. He found God in the discarded, in people who smiled at him as they carried his cross. Garayoa ‘Cyrene’ with everyone, because everyone was Christ and needed his help. His eyes saw the miseries of the people, but indifference was not in his dictionary. His key words were closeness, help, simplicity, joy and love.

He was not a mystic; he was an Augustinian Recollect. He was proud of the charisma he lived, of the Order that had welcomed him when he was a child, and of the community that accompanied him on his way. “The community is not made up of the number of brothers who live together, but of the love that those who live have for each other”, he said in an interview on this website. He lived the charism in the style of the 21st century, without excuses.

As he spoke, José Luis Garayoa grabbed and shook his guts. Just by listening to him, questions arose: Who am I? What do I do? What do I have to do? Why? His life has been the mission. Therefore, although his loss hurts, we say goodbye to him with the satisfaction that his mission has had a great reward.

Carlos Santana