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A sad story? No way! This Cuenca character should be an inspiration to us all

CuencaHighLife editor David Morrill recently sent me a copy of a story he read in the Quito newspaper El Comercio. He said it was quite a sad story yet newsworthy and asked if I would rewrite it in English for our readers. I read the story twice but I heard a different tale. I could not find any sadness at all; instead, there were moments of tenderness, enduring love, and success surging through the entire piece.

“Of course,” I said.

Felipe Eugenio Galán, better known as Suco de la Cenacle, will go down in history. He is part of a long line of memorable Cuenca characters such as El Atacocos, María la Guagua, Suco de la Guerra, and Carlitos el Bicicleta — all beloved in the floating opera of our street life.

What these people have in common is their dignity. What they have shared with us is how to live gracefully after being hammered on the anvil of mental disability.

Galan always walks quickly and sports a big jacket in every kind of weather. In his pockets, he carries plastic bags to collect trash, and bottles of water to wash his hands before every meal. His hair is wavy and blond (“Suco” is Spanish slang for blond); he is often unshaven. He likes cashmere pants, is 55 years old, does not talk to strangers and is afraid of sudden noise.

Suco at the flower market. (El Comercio)

From early morning until mid-afternoon six days a week, Galan, of his own accord, spends his time recovering litter carelessly discarded by others.

Last Monday, he was in Miraflores where he filled two trash bags with rubbish he found on the street. On Tuesday, after mass, he patrolled Totoracocha for hours looking for garbage, on Wednesday he cleaned in El Valle, Thursday was spent picking up litter around Baños, and on Friday he was busy in Sidcay until quite late.

He reserves Saturday for his own neighborhood. Sunday is devoted to prayer.

Although he is occasionally challenged beyond his capability, he is usually able to traverse the city on buses and is familiar with many routes. He still wants to pay his fare with coins so fellow passengers assist him with their cards. I’m told that the more kindly bus drivers have been known to look the other way when he climbs aboard.

Galan was awarded a nickname many years ago by the people of Cuenca. He is, Suco of the Cenacle, Blond of the house of the Last Supper. It arose from his practice of several decades — attending mass at Santo Domingo, El Cenáculo, San Alfonso and San Blas church every Sunday.

On Tuesdays, he attends but one mass at the church of San José de El Vecino.

The Suco of the Cenacle’s room has a single bed and a dresser topped with a small television set. When he gets up in the morning he cleans his room, plus the living room and the dining room of the house he shares with his mother-in-law who he has lived with, and called mamma, ever since his own mother died earlier this year.

His most treasured possession is his family photo album; it contains memories of people gone somehow and times surrounded by a loving and extended family that have included him in all of their activities for as long as anyone can remember.

I did not find sadness in Galan’s story. Instead, I read an inspirational creed of communion.

Felipe Eugenio Galán has taken his place among those crowned with a nickname by the people of Cuenca, “for the elegance of his simplicity and the importance he lends to the community.”

He is celebrated and immortalized as the Suco of the Cenacle and joins the parade of others too special for our daily doings, and instead, make their indelible mark on Cuenca not by means of outwardly measured accomplishments, but by adhering to a far more difficult story: the practice of living as purely as one is able to.

12 thoughts on “A sad story? No way! This Cuenca character should be an inspiration to us all

  1. According to Mother Teresa, these are the steps toward sainthood:

    Step 1: Die. Unfortunately, the first thing you have to do to become a saint is to die. …
    Step 2: Servant of God. This is where the process of naming a saint gets put into motion. …
    Step 3: Venerable. …
    Step 4: Blessed. …
    Step 5: Saint.

    Maybe one of the faithful can have a word with the Pope. Skip step 1 and let this guy into the club right now. Isn’t he the kind of person we should all aspire to being?

    1. I am Still Watching you, and I feel your sarcasm about Suco’s story. He doesn’t need to be a Saint or Canonize to be recognized as the Best Citizen of Cuenca. Even in his disability, he’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen in my Life. He’s a cute guy…and I’m proud of him. He’s 55 years old, I never thought he could make it in the streets, but he did it… and that makes me happy. He survived in this close society, ruled by ignorance and hate…
      Cheers for my Suquito de todos los tiempos:))

  2. First time I saw him on the bus I thought he was an expat, until closer inspection. Then on other encounters I wondered if he had a drinking problem. Glad to hear he is not homeless. Nice story.

    1. Jajaja he looks like an Expat, like a crazy Expat…he never drank in his Life; in fact his life was hard, when he was a little boy. But seems like he made it to the end. Excellent story, I would say:))
      One of my favourite ones…

  3. We see him everywhere. I see him in church, in the parks, often collecting garbage, chatting with vendors, and sometimes sleeping on a bench on the Tomebamba. I’ve always wondered about him, and thanks for sharing his story.

  4. Great story Robert.
    Suco reminds me of a character/friend I knew in Denver many years ago,Patricia.
    Her schizophrenia “seemed” to undo her but the love she received from the neighborhood was a direct result of her affliction. BTW she gave us plenty in return.

  5. I know Suco from many years ago. He was a little boy, when our first encounter happened. I used to go with my family, every Sunday morning to the Mass at Iglesia El Cenaculo, when I saw him the first time, collecting money. I thought he was part of the Church, but I was scared of his appearance, even though, he was a nice blond kid, with strange eyes and hair, he was very sweet…
    Years later, in another encounter, he was a grown man, very brave, very innocent and very pure in his actions. He used to give his seat to older women, and people were scared of him. I heard stories that some bad people, used to rob him or insult, because he doesn’t talk to anybody. He’s a bit shy, and a good citizen. He cleans the streets of Cuenca, he has good manners, never harms anything, he loves animals…he’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. After a long time knowing Suco, I learnt to be more humble, he in his condition, is a good spirit and a good human being. I’m not sad anymore about him, because he’s happy in his own World.
    Suco has always something to do, if is not cleaning the city, he’s praying. He is one if those characters that needs to stay, and be always in our memories.
    For you mi Suquito, muchas bendiciones:))

  6. I’ve never had the honor of engaging with him, but he sounds like an extraordinary man. Thanks for yet another fabulous human interest piece.

  7. El Suco del Cenaculo is a well known and loved person in this city. Better just to leave his name in Spanish, as most of us recognize him as such….no misattempt at translation is needed. Sorry….

      1. If I say it differently, maybe my comment won’t be “moderated”, like it was yesterday.
        Sorry… doesn’t always imply an apology. It might mean, sorry to have to correct an otherwise decent article. One lesson that we can all learn from El Suco del Cenaculo is to become more humble.

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