Compañero. The word means “companion”, and is from the Latin, meaning “the one I share bread with.”
A compañero, then, is someone with whom you share the bread of life—be it the bread of the day’s hopes and dreams, struggles and disappointments, or blessings and bounding happiness, which, experienced alone, remain incomplete. Sharing this with another—well, that makes for a whole loaf.
Last Tuesday, in a small town outside of McAllen, Texas, several compañeros were killed in a traffic accident, as the driver tried to escape the Border Patrol. According to news’ reports, a fifteen year old was driving a van when the Border Patrol pulled the vehicle over in a traffic check. As the van braked to a stop, a couple of men in the vehicle leaped out and ran away. The agents chased after them, and the fifteen year old, seeing the opportunity to get away, did what most fifteen years would do—he tried to get away.
He was driving an old van with nineteen very frightened people in it. I am sure that the boy heard nineteen different, screamed orders, “Stop!” “Drive!” “Let me out!” “Hit it—go go go.”
He did go, racing away on a frontage road. He soon lost control of the van, and, as he ran off the road, he flipped the van.
Nine people died in that wreck that night, and although no one knew any of them personally, the local community was sickened by the sadness of it all. Overnight, a shrine was created at the site of the crash. Nine crosses were laid out with lime, as is the custom. Flowers and candles were arranged. There were two small teddy bears laid there as well, for the word was that one of the victims was pregnant.
On Friday, sixty people took time off from work and showed up in prayer for these people with whom we never had the opportunity to share bread with. A circle was formed. A few people offered some comments; a few others some prayers.
A leader cried out, “¡Compañero número uno!,” and we all responded, “¡Presente!” and onward, mentioning each of the nine companions who had died while on the road.
We became quiet. The bitterness of this particular bread was awful; the sadness somehow deeper now that it been shared. A song was lifted up, “Cordero de Dios, que quita el pecado del mundo, ten piedad de nosotros” (Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us). We sung the verse three times, under a leaden sky.
In the meantime, a young woman knelt and vainly tried to relight the candles at the shrine. The wind was relentless; the candles remained dark.