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On the side of the angels

Art at San Isidro Church, Pompano Beach

POMPANO BEACH | Ever feel you had an angel with you? Well, if the stories are true, St. Isidore didn't have to rely on feelings – he saw more than one.

Also known as San Isidro, he was born around 1050 to a poor farming family near Madrid. From his parents, he learned to give to the poor and to care for animals. He also learned devotion to God and developed a work ethic – although not everyone appreciated that.

As an adult, he became a day laborer on a wealthy estate near Madrid, and the other workers complained to the land owner, Juan de Vargas. Their complaint: Isidore was always late to work and produced less than they did.

When the landowner checked it out, however, he saw that while Isidore was praying, an angel was plowing for him. Even while Isidore was working, they plowed alongside him – so that he actually did more than twice the work of anyone else.

The sight won over de Vargas, who also said Isidore performed other miracles. Once, he healed a horse prized by de Vargas. Another time, he made a well spring up to slake de Vargas’ thirst. Isidore even was said to have brought de Vargas’ daughter to life.

Isidore met and married a young woman, Maria Torribia, and they had a son. But when the child died early, they decided not to try again. Although they still loved each other, they lived in separate houses, dedicating their lives to worshiping God and serving others.

After Isidore’s death in 1130, workers began to invoke him and Maria in processions to bless their fields and animals. They even developed a dance in the couple’s honor.

Even before his canonization in 1622, Isidore is said to have aided kings on the Iberian peninsula. King Philip II of Spain recovered from a deadly disease after touching Isidore’s relics. And King Alfonso of Castile said that Isidore appeared to him, showing a hidden path that helped him surprise a Moorish army and win a battle in 1212.

Today, Isidore is revered as the patron saint of peasants, farmers and day laborers. He is also the patron saint of numerous cities in Spain, Argentina and the Philippines. His feast day is May 15.

In the Archdiocese of Miami, he is the patron of a parish in Pompano Beach under his Spanish name of San Isidro. The church began in the late 1960s to serve Hispanic migrant farmworkers in Broward County.

Masses were celebrated in homes, under trees, in a one-room schoolhouse, and at the Pompano Beach Labor Camp. In 1975, the congregation built their own home at a site on Hammondville Road, near what is now Florida’s Turnpike.

At first, the congregation was served by an assistant pastor at St. Vincent Church in Margate. After he returned to Spain in 1969, the mission came under a succession of priests, as well as educational help from the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Over the years, San Isidro grew and diversified, with members from around Latin America and the Caribbean. The church dedicated a new sanctuary in 1999. Today, the congregation has more than 2,800 registered families who serve in more than 46 ministries.

The modern building takes the form of a circle, with a glass, steeple-shaped skylight. Facing Hammondville Road, now named Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, are full-size statues of the Sacred Heart and Mary, Help of Christians. Also visible from the road is a stained-glass image of San Isidro himself.

Inside, a huge replica of the Crown of Thorns is suspended over the sanctuary, a reminder of Christ’s redemptive sufferings. In the chapel, a pastoral painting shows San Isidro and his wife, Maria, saying grace over a harvest.

Father Wilfredo Contreras, the current pastor, plans also to commission a new image of Isidro and Maria. The image, to be made in Guatemala, will be aimed at promoting the idea of marriage, he said.

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