If we were to think of life as a soccer game, with Heaven as the goal, then a seventeen-year-old Spanish boy, Faustino Perez-Manglano, would be a World Cup forward. With his dream of a religious vocation, and the love of the Virgin Mary as his “assists“, Faustino stormed the goal with a “banana kick” around pain and illness, and with breakaway speed headed home, to win the match.
Faustino Perez-Manglano Magro was born Sunday August 4, 1946 in Valencia, Spain. He was the oldest of the four children of Faustino Pérez-Manglano Vidal, a gynecologist, and Maria de la Encarnación Magro Alonso. They chose a unique birth announcement: a calendar page for the day.
It marked the joyous point in time of the birth of their first born; perhaps it also symbolized the transitory nature of life itself. Faustino was baptized that same August and confirmed at the age of eight. Only a few calendars marked the years of Faustino’s life on earth. Much like the sport he grew to love so well, he used these brief years in a rapid ascent to holiness.
Faustino began school at the age of four, a happy and curious child. The Loreto school was run by the Sisters of the Holy Family. One day, he took hold of one of the sister’s crucifix and asked her who it was.
She explained that it was Our Lord, and told how he was crucified. With all the simplicity of his young age,
Faustino began to try and remove the nails, asking sister, “But didn’t you cry a lot when they nailed him?”
At six, Faustino enrolled at Our Lady of the Pillar School, run by the Marianists. From the beginning, he liked school. He got good grades and enjoyed the games and excursions. He loved nature, hiking, swimming and camping.
During the school year, Faustino lived in Valencia, but he spent most summers, along with more than a dozen cousins, in Alicante at the home of his grandparents. he made his First Communion in Alicante on July 4, 1954, together with his sister Maria Encarna and three cousins.
Oh his grandparents’ farm, there were an orchard and a number of unused buildings that formed a natural playground for the lively children.
They played soccer, hunted treasure, camped and played make believe as happy children normally do. At first, the oldest cousin was the natural leader; when Augusto became too grown up for childish games, Faustino took his place. He seemed to gell the others, creating union, and his joyful smile and desire that everyone else feel happy brought a special peace.
But God seemed to demand more.
In October of 1959, at the age of thirteen, Faustino made his first retreat at Casa de la Purísima de Alacuás. He talked over a little problem with his spiritual director, Father Jose María Salaverri. He explained that he had made a promise to the Virgin when he was in fifth grade to pray the rosary every day until 1961. Sometimes in the summers he had been distracted and failed to keep his promise but had kept track and was trying to catch up. Then he mentioned a number of rosaries owed. The priest was shocked at the fidelity of the young boy. Wisely, the confessor told him to consider his debt cancelled and without any promises or keeping track to try and pray the rosary as often as possible.
For the rest of his life, Faustino continued to pray the rosary often.
One classmate remembers seeing Faustino walking ahead of him on the way to school one day. He hurried to catch up, and then realized that Faustino was praying the rosary. He says, “Without saying anything, and with simplicity and naturalness, (Faustino) gathered it into his hand and put it into his rosary case. All of this with a smile. He wasn’t the least disturbed.”
In the summer of 1960, Faustino began to write a diary which he faithfully wrote in every day for a year and later continued in a sporadic manner. The first entry was written on September 14, 1960, and shows the beginning of the symptoms of the Hodgkins disease that would eventually claim his life.
14 – IX -60. I got up with the familiar pain. It left me. I finished Mario Gaitán. A beautiful book. I helped Fausto a little with watering. At quarter to nine I prayed the rosary.
The first year of Faustino’s diary seems to be little more than a timetable in which he recorded a few facts of the day. The second part is shorter and contains more personal reflection, usually of a spiritual nature. He was neither a literary artist nor a sentimentalist.
He considered himself a poor writer, and he jokingly referred to his style in a letter to his cousin Augusto: “I tell you a lot, but in telegram form.
I would like to do it some other way, but it just doesn’t come out. Just a dull boy.” In spite of his difficulty in expressing himself, his diary and some of his letters present a clear picture of how God was slowly seeping into every part of the fabric of his life.
An avid fan of the Valencia soccer team, Faustino’s diary records his love of the sport and the outcome of many of the team‘s games. And the missions — another of his loves — are often mentioned in his diary. In the entry for 19-X – 60 he mentions his praying of the rosary, the soccer score, and an auction held at school for the missions. “I got a pack of Chesterfields for 115 pesetas which I gave back so they could auction it off again because I promised the Virgin I wouldn’t smoke a single cigarette until summer. We have 1,558 pesetas for the missions now.”
Faustino became ill in November of 1960 and in January of the following year he wrote, “I am still ill and I don’t know when I will be able to go to school…. even though it costs me a lot to pray, I pray the rosary every day, except a few days that I missed.”
Faustino’s illness kept him in bed for most of the year. There was a great deal of pain, along with strong medicine, injections and radiotherapy. In spite of this, he continued to study at home so as not to lose the year.
In October of 1960 Faustino had become an aspirant to the Marian sodality. He wrote, “It is a difficult plan, but I know I can do it.” During retreat, he expressed his resolve: “I am going to try an asceticism of `yes’ to everything good.”
During the annual retreat that year, Faustino’s entry for October 22 reads, ”We talked about many things, but one made an impression on me.
What vocation am I going to choose? Doctor? Chemist? Or will I perhaps be a priest? That is what has impressed me. Has the Lord chosen me? He will tell me. How good it is here in Alcuás! For the day and a little that is left of the retreat I’m going to remain completely silent.
Maybe God will speak to me.”
Apparently, in some way, God did speak to the soul of this young boy.
The following day he wrote, “Father and I will keep the secret of my vocation until we see if I really have it. I’m about to burst with the immense happiness I have. How marvelous Christ is!”
Over the next two and a half years, Faustino mentions his vocation from time to time in his diary. Each time he seems more certain, more happy, with this direction for his life. For Faustino, this desire for a religious vocation became an instrument that helped him pass rapidly toward sanctifies. Feeling the call to God’s service, it spurred his generosity and helped him to detach himself more and more from the things
of earth and to discover the redemptive value of suffering freely accepted in union with Christ. Although humanly speaking, Faustino didn’t fulfill the call to a religious vocation; in his innermost being he lived it to the full. In January of 1962, a diary entry notes, “Sanctity is very difficult.
But I will try, and who knows if I might achieve it?”
From November of 1960 to May of 1961, Faustino carried the cross that the Lord had given him — the pain and debilitation of a fatal form of Hodgkins disease. During these months he records his pain and low spirits in his diary, but he accepted these without complaint and attempted to make certain that others did not suffer because of him. During this time, too, his infantile affection for the Virgin Mary began to change into a mature understanding of her role. “Every day I love Mary more. She is my Mother. Thanks to her, each day I love my own mother more.” Where previously his diary had been sparse in sentiments, he now begins to express himself in a fuller way. “Jesus, let me love
Mary, not only because she is pure, beautiful, good, compassionate, my Mother, but because she is your mother and you love her infinitely. ….
If I want to imitate Christ, my Master, I must do it by infinitely loving what He infinitely loves, His Mother and mine.”
Faustino’s health seemed to improve. With his family, he made trips to Zaragoza to visit the Lady of the Pillar, and to Lourdes. After months of suffering, he felt very well although his physical appearance was not attractive. The chemotherapy had caused him to bloat and to lose his hair.
When his mother asked if it didn’t bother him for people to see him like that, he responded “Why? There’s nothing bad about it. If your hair falls out, what are you going to do? It will grow back.” Then he added, laughing, “What went away will come back again.”
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