Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

The Power of Prayer

By Michelle Martin
Assistant editor

Martìn Durand-Esparza is a slight man, seated in a chair against the wall of the office of his pastor, Capuchin Franciscan Father Mike Sullivan.

Martìn, as he is known throughout St. Clare of Montefalco Parish, appears to be anxious as he tells his story—a story of conversion and redemption and love. He relies on the help of Father Mike, a burly man in a brown habit, and Raul Centeno, the leader of St. Clare’s Charismatic Renewal movement, who is better at understanding Martìn’s sometimes indistinct speech than anyone else.

Martìn, now 31, didn’t always have to struggle to form words, or to uncurl fingers of his right hand. When he was young, he made it to Richard J. Daley College for a year, where he was trying to learn English. He was quicker then—too quick, maybe, to pick up a bottle or a joint, to join in with a gang, to be involved in a little violence. Only in poco—a little bit, he says about the violence.

But the time came when he wanted out, and he left the gang life. But the gang life did not leave him. Five years ago, three men he identifies as gang members—he won’t say which gang—clubbed him unconscious and left him for dead on the street.

Martìn spent a year in the hospital recovering from the attack, and six more months in outpatient therapy. But left at loose ends, he was resuming his bad habits. That is, until he saw some members of the St. Clare youth group in the park, and they invited him to church.

He was living with an aunt near the church, so he attended a Monday night charismatic prayer meeting with his two small cousins. He saw them singing and dancing andclapping, and thought they were crazy. He stood still, he said, holding his arms stiffly at his sides to demonstrate.

But when the meeting was over, he went to his knees to praise God and ask him to set him free—free from all the bad things he had done.

He tells the story in Spanish, with a little prompting from Father Mike and Raul.

But the evening he first made his plea to God, he could hardly speak.

“He said ‘Si’ and ‘No’ and mostly grunted and used hand signs,” Father Mike explains.

But the youth group and Raul took him under their wings, invited him to participate in church activities, and talked to him—and encouraged him to respond. Over time, his speech has improved immensely, though he still cannot write, and has trouble remembering names and numbers.

But he can help in the rosary factory—when the youth group strings beads and knots cords into rosaries to distribute when they do doorto- door evangelization. He can carry the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe when they knock on doors, to help show the people inside that they are Catholics. He can even take the lead and talk with people from time to time.

Shortly after Martìn became a fixture in the church community, parishioners asked if they could have a perpetual adoration chapel in the parish center/rectory. The request came after a Eucharistic procession to mark the Year of the Eucharist.

“Some people asked if they could have it, I asked all the people if they wanted it, and they said yes,” he said. “Six weeks later, we had the bishop here to bless and dedicate it.”

Martìn had become dedicated to it. Every Monday night, he watches with the Lord from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., stepping out for a rest when others come in. He brings a CD player to listen to songs of praise, and he struggles to keep from dozing around 4 a.m. when everything is quiet. In two years, he hasn’t missed a Monday, Father Mike said.

“We have a lot of people who are faithful,” the pastor said, “but not like Martìn.”