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“El Milagro del Santo Niño [The Miracle of the Santo Niño]”

by Edumenio “Ed” Lovato

Nasario García returned to his parents’ home in the Río Puerco area of New Mexico to talk with the abuelitos [elders] and record their memories, a practice historians call “oral history.” His family members and other Hispanics who lived in the villages along the Río Puerco remember well the farming and ranching life. In these paragraphs, Edumenio “Ed” Lovato tells a story of the days when Indians captured Hispano children from outlying villages and carried them away.

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Rafael’s sister, Candelaria, was a proud possessor of a small statue of the Santo Niño de Atocha [Holy Child of Atocha]. From childhood she had developed an ardent devotion for the Child Jesus, following the example of her mother, who was also a faithful devotee of the Santo Niño. Every day in her prayers, Candelaria never forgot to pray to the Child Jesus for the daily protection of her family. She possessed an intense, childlike faith in the Santo Niño de Atocha.

When Candelaria learned that her brother Rafael had been captured and carried away by the Indians, she was shocked. She loved Rafaelito very much. For days she grieved for him. Her brother was always in her thoughts. The only thing she could do to help her brother was to pray for him. Day after day in her daily prayers she pleaded with the Santo Niño to save her brother from his captivity and bring him home.

There was a custom among Hispanic people in those days, especially among women who were zealous devotees of the Santo Niño de Atocha, and who when in time of adversity in their lives would place the Child Jesus in captivity. This was done by hiding or placing the Santo Niño statue in an inconspicuous place and keeping the statue in hiding, praying and hoping that the Christ Child would grant them their requests. This was done mostly in time of a great calamity in their lives.

Candelaria was well versed on [in] this custom. She firmly believed that the Child Jesus would save her brother Rafael and bring him home. Though she prayed daily for her brother, she decided to take a more drastic measure to ensure the granting of her request. She placed the Santo Niño in captivity.

On one of the inside walls of the room where she said her daily prayers, Candelaria dug out a small niche, large enough and deep enough for the small statue of the Santo Niño to fit in. Before she placed the statue inside the niche, in her childlike attitude, [she] admonished the Santo Niño that she was going to keep Him a prisoner until He would bring her brother Rafael home and safe. She then placed the small statue inside the niche and closed the opening by plastering it with mud.

Weeks, months, and years passed, but Candelaria never ceased her daily pleadings to the Child Jesus for her brother’s return. One day, near the fifth anniversary of Rafael’s captivity, while she was absorbed in her evening prayers near her small altar, she heard a knock, as if someone was at the door. She went to the door but found no one there.

The following evening while praying, again she heard a knock and again went to the door, but found no one. It happened again the third evening, but this time Candelaria realized that the knocking was coming from inside the niche. “What could it mean?” she wondered. She retired that night thinking about it.

Early the next morning, she went into the room, and as she stepped inside, the first thing she noticed was the crumbled plaster on the floor. Instantly she looked up at the niche and gasped in amazement at the sight before her. The Santo Niño was in full view! The niche was open! At that moment Candelaria knew, deep in her heart, that her brother Rafael had been rescued and [that she] would see him soon. The Child Jesus had finally listened to her pleadings and had at last granted her request. The Santo Niño de Atocha had performed a miracle! A few days later Rafael returned home from his captivity.

Rafael Lobato grew to manhood, and was one of the first to settle on the Río Puerco. The first settlers named their small town la Tijera, later on renamed San Luis, New Mexico. Rafael applied for a homestead and lived to a ripe old age. When he died, he was buried in the cemetery near the first church the first settlers of la Tijera had built. At death, Rafael still carried marks of his captivity, two small holes, one on each ear lobe.

Rafael’s sister, Candelaria, married into a Dominguez family, and spent the rest of her life in la Tijera. When she died, she too, was buried in the first cemetery at la Tijera.