In 1972, a prayer group routinely gathered at Our Lady’s YouthCenter in El Paso, Texas, with Jesuit Father Rick Thomas.
In November of that year, the members of the prayer group read Luke 14:12-14:
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The prayer group members realized that none of them had ever actually followed that instruction of the Lord so they decided that God was calling them to share with the poorest people they knew of.They decided to celebrate Christmas dinner with the residents of the garbage dump in nearby Juarez, Mexico.
As Christmas Day approached, members of the group prepared tamales, tacos, burritos, snacks, cookies, and Christmas candies.They prepared cakes and pies, sandwiches and drinks and one Christmas ham.
They set out from the YouthCenter in El Paso around on Christmas Day in a small caravan of vehicles. It was cold, gray and misty.When they crossed the border into Mexico they met friends and together the prayer group numbered about 25 people.
As they approached the dump site they could see smoke rising from the mounds and mounds of garbage that burned continuously.They knew that at times the entire dump would spontaneously catch fire from the gases emitted by rotting garbage.
As the prayer group came to a fork in the road near the top of the hill at the dump site they met two factions of workers – one on each side of the road – each of whom gleaned material from the dump.
The leader of one of the worker factions stepped forward and said, “I’ll have my people line up for the food.And when we’re through you can feed those others.”
Father Rick refused and said all of the workers would be fed as Christian brothers and sisters.“What little we have brought to share, we will share equally.”The two factions agreed to meet on neutral ground down the hill and it was here that Father Rick and his group set up to serve their Christmas dinner.
The prayer group set up a table by laying a piece of plywood across the top of two 55-gallon drums.A sheet was laid down for a table cloth.Some young people in the group from El Paso had brought guitars and started to play. The tension eased.The dump workers gathered around and the food was distributed.Everyone one received a sandwich or a taco, tamale or burrito.People started to dance and more and more people began coming to enjoy the food.
The prayer group had prepared food for about 150 people but now at least 300 people were gathering.
Someone broke out the bags of Christmas candy and started handing them to children who queued up.Some of the children took the candy and then ran to the end of the queue to get another bag.The people handing out the candy knew it couldn’t last long. But the candy did last.
A woman from El Paso started to carve the Christmas ham.Dump workers stepped forward and each took a generous slice.She continued to slice and slice until she grew weary and asked a young man to take over for her.He sliced and sliced.
As the day turned to evening all of the dump workers had been fed.No one went away hungry and some even took home small bags of food.And it was then that the prayer group realized that they had food left over – enough to bring to two orphanages.
It wasn’t until the prayer group reassembled in El Paso later that evening that they realized what had occurred – food for 150 had fed more than 300.
Among the members of the prayer group that wet Christmas day more than 30 years ago was a middle-aged U.S. postal worker named Frank Alarcon.
While Frank was at the dump that day he saw a weary old man off in the distance, away from the people at the dinner, carrying a heavy black bag.Frank never got close enough to the old man to see what was in the bag.Perhaps the old man was carrying salvage from the dump.Or perhaps he carried all of his worldly belongings.Frank would never know.
But the impact of seeing that old man out in the fading light on Christmas Day, alone in the dump, stuck with Frank Alarcon.Days later in El Paso Frank fell to his knees and felt the physical presence of the love of Christ.On his knees he begged Jesus to allow him to work with the people at the dump – people like the old man.
Frank always said, “Be careful what you ask of God, He may just give it to you.”Frank retired from the post office in 1986 and started working at a community center at the site of the dump, which closed in 1991.The community center grew and Frank was its director until his death in 2011. Frank always said, “The real executive director is Jesus Christ." Frank passed away on the birth date of the late Father Rick Thomas.
If people asked Frank Alarcon about the “Christmas Miracle” he was always reluctant to talk about it.“The real miracle in this world is the Eucharist,” he said.“Every day, all over the world, you can witness the miracle of the presence of the Body and Blood of our Savior.And it is available to all of us in the Mass.That’s the miracle we should focus on.”
Watch the video with the full story of the Christmas Miracle above.