There's a great joke about a logging competition in the northwest that involved a tree-felling contest. 10 large logs were set up as trees, and 9 competitors with more hair growing out of their ears than most of us have on our heads signed up. Each one felled a trunk in increasingly short times as the crowd yelled and screamed encouragement. One trunk was left standing, and a wizzened old man stood forth from the crowd and claimed it. The judges were understandably concerned, and before they allowed him to proceed had him sign wavers of liability and warned him about possible complications, but he was resolute. The whistle blew, and the old man's axe hit the log. Chips flew and in record time the log fell to the ground. He had halved the time of his fastest competitor. The crowd went wild, and as he came forward to claim his trophy the judges asked him, "That was amazing, old man. Where did you learn to chop down trees?"
"Patagonia," the old man replied.
"There are no trees in Patagonia!" answered the judges.
"Not any more!" the old man replied calmy.
Well, I an attest that there are trees in Patagonia, along the rich river bottoms of the Rio Negro. Some of South America's best apples, pears and cherries are grown there, along with grapes for fine Argentinian wine. Up on the open steppes, however, it looks a lot like Laredo Texas, where the highest shrub is hardly higher than your head. World-famous Argentine beef is raised there, and any restaurant in the area will serve you up a delicious"asado," that will melt in your mouth but not on your fork.
But there are taller things in Patagonia. One of them is the figure of Ceferino Namuncurá, young Mapuche Indian chief apparent, who became a devout Catholic. The church shipped him off to Rome to study for the priesthood. His wish was to return as a missionary to his own people, but illness cut him short in Rome and he returned in the form of ashes that are buried in the town of San Martin de los Andes. Near his place of rearing, however, in the village of Chimpay, there is a shrine dedicated to his memory. Like many shrines in Latin America, expressions of gratitude for miracles by his hand range from large, expensive plaques to grafitti scribbled on his statue's base. People who live there come daily, others who drive through on the highway stop a moment to find peace and offer thanksgiving.
This is not an apparition of the Virgin Mother of God, interceding before the throne of her Son for her people. Here is a man of unusual spiritual depth whose example inspires, and who, in good Latin American style, offers his standing before the throne of grace as an intermediary before God, much like a senator or congressman might achieve favors from Congress on behalf of their constituency, or even an appointment to West Point for an individual.
In his own way, and in the ways of this people, here is a man whose roots go deep and whose branches reach tall and wide for the people of God, a true tree of Patagonia that no one will ever chop down.