“God is helping me to live my sickness with faith. In reality, everything is meaningful – only God knows what he is doing.”
Paco just arrived.”
“Does he need oxygen?” “Let’s see.”
Stretchers were moved out into the emergency room parking lot outside the Child Jesus Hospital in Madrid, a hospital dedicated especially to children with cancer. It was the end of August, and although it was midnight, it was still very hot.
“You’re Paco, right? I’m Antonio. I’m going to be your doctor. How do you feel?”“A little dizzy but fine. If I sit down, I can breathe.”They lay him down in the stretcher.“I can’t breathe!”The doctors set him up immediately with an oxygen mask and bring him directly to the ICU (intensive care unit).
The next day, he receives a visit from some priests dressed in black, with their Roman collars. The relatives of other patients in the ICU think the boy must be in a very serious condition and that the priests have come to give him the anointing of the sick.
But during the next few days, more priests keep coming, dressed in black with their Roman collars.What is happening to this boy? Why do so many priests visit him? “He’s a seminarian,” explains an older woman. She is the grandmother of a boy who has been sick for the past 10 months with various kinds of cancer. The nurse asks the smiling seminarian, “Paco, how are you?” “Fantastic!” he answers. One day, he had given a scare to the doctors because right after answering with his cheery “fantastic,” he had promptly passed out in the hallway.
Chemotherapy had left him without defenses, and he had caught pneumonia. In the hospital, Br Francisco Mateos, LC, is known as “Paco.”
One might wonder: if he is a seminarian, why is he in a children’s hospital? The answer is simple: he is barely 18 and
“I thought, if he wants this for me, then my life is his. I knew what was happening but I abandoned myself into his hands.” He can still respond to the treatments that they give to children, which are usually very aggressive.
Br Francisco Mateos, LC, was born on December 29, 1990, in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, but spent most of his life in Madrid. His mother died of cancer when he was 13. Paco served as an altar boy at the funeral Mass on the same day of her death. His aunt, in the midst of that day’s commotion, saw him serving Mass with such focus, so immersed in prayer, and so full of strength that it seemed he had grown up fast, and that there at the altar, he was already a man. She thought to herself, “This boy is going to be a priest.” And that was, in fact, the first day that Paco thought he could be a priest one day. “I felt very peaceful in that Mass. I felt different,” he recalls.
Br Francisco Mateos, LC, received his Legionary uniform (a black cassock) on September 15, 2007, after finishing the two months of discernment in the candidacy program. “Yes, we started the candidacy on July 7, 2007. We call it the James Bond candidacy… 777,” he says.
Br Francisco remembers his first year of novitiate as the happiest year of his life. It was a preparation for the great trial. Last August, his sickness was declared. There was a lot of back pain, difficulties in breathing… the diagnosis was a T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. He had a tumor located between his heart and his lungs, in an area called the mediastinum. This area of the body is so delicate that it is not possible to operate on it. The tumor lodged inside is like a fragile sac full of sick substance; if it breaks, it will end the young man’s life in the span of a few hours. The cancer is lymphatic because it damages the blood, just like leukemia.
Br Francisco had entered the hospital in a situation of extreme urgency. He had four and a half liters of water in his lungs, when the lung capacity is only six. His aunt Patricia, who cares for him, cannot believe how she found him in the Salamanca hospital, near the novitiate, just before he was rushed to Madrid. He was seated in a chair, surrounded by other novices, laughing and snacking on chocolates and Coca-cola.
Br Francisco was smiling ear to ear. “Paco, how are you doing?”“Fantastic!” he answered.After a few weeks of treatment, his aunt Patricia ended up telling him, “Look, Paco, stop saying that you’re doing fantastic. They’re going to think you’re stupid. At least say, ‘I’m doing fine.’ You say ‘fantastic’ and you’re hooked up to the oxygen tank without being able to breathe, in the ICU, connected to a thousand things…” But the truth was, Paco did feel fantastic. “I felt peaceful, abandoning myself to God. I thought to myself that I gave my whole life to God on September 15, so my life is his. If he wants this for me, then my life is his. I didn’t understand anything. I knew what was happening but I abandoned myself into his hands. They gave me a cross a little bigger than the one I received on the day of my religious profession, and I hold onto it very tight, saying, ‘My God, whatever you want,’ and I keep holding on. I have it with me all the time.”
Br Francisco miraculously survived his first days in the hospital, at the end of August and the beginning of September. They were able to drain the liquid out of his lungs and begin chemotherapy. He ran the risk of the tumor bursting in the first three days of chemotherapy, but he overcame it. There are many more chemo sessions planned for the next few years. Brother is mentally preparing for his path. “In this sickness, it is very important to have a good spirit, to be positive… because if not, you can’t overcome it.” He is already very familiar with the hospital hallways, the hospital rooms by day, the shared rooms. To him, the hospital looks like a field ready for the harvest. He is convinced that God continues calling him, and that he is meant to save the souls entrusted to him.
The patients and their relatives have become “his souls.” “I was very edified by a man with two little daughters who are sick with cancer. One is four years old and the other is four months old. He was telling me that with his daughters’ sickness, he has recovered his faith. The man was telling me, ‘I have really come to realize that we are just flesh and blood. The only thing that matters is God. Now, every time they give me good news, instead of celebrating I go down to the chapel and thank the Blessed Virgin.’”
Br Francisco continues, “And the lady in the room to my right has a little boy only a few months old. For a while, they thought he wouldn’t survive, and now they have just told her that there is hope for his life…” For many days, this woman had gone to visit Br Francisco in the hospital after seeing her son. She liked soaking up “Paco’s smile.”
Francisco says, “Yes, whenever I talk to her, I see her wanting to learn more about her faith, wanting to know God and be close to him. If she sees me smiling and happy all the time, it’s because God is helping me to live out my sickness with faith. In reality, everything has meaning, because God knows what he is doing. Really, we don’t know why God does things. God knows what he is doing, and we always have to let him be the Guide.”
Francisco Mateos Cubas is a seminarian of the Legionaries of Christ. He is 18 years old and is sick with cancer. He is currently stationed in Salamanca, Spain, living out his novitiate.