If you want to see an example of great devotion, diligence, care and faith, you need look no further than the wonderful 90-year-old builder of this superb Spanish ‘cathedral’. The cathedral is utterly unique in ecclesiastical history since it has been built entirely out of discarded trash. Such an architectural feat could only have been the brainchild of a true eccentric, and nonagenarian Spanish ex-monk, Justo Gallego Martínez is just that.
Born in 1925, Don Justo was raised by a pious Catholic mother, and grew up to be a lowly peasant farmer. In his early years, Don Justo suffered many setbacks that helped make him stronger. His schooling was interrupted by the devastating Spanish Civil War, therefore he missed out on the kind of education most of us take for granted.
He actually witnessed the communists shooting priests and desecrating his local church. These atrocities turned him off politics, and the world of violence he saw around him.
His ambition was to be a holy monk, set apart from the ways of man to learn the will of God. So he joined the Trappists. Yet, alas, he contracted tuberculosis after eight years and was forced to leave the monastery, ending his dream. However, this man of faith was not perturbed by the turn of fate.
Instead he pondered how best he could dedicate himself and serve the Lord. So he decided, without any training or experience, to build his own cathedral.
Don Justo started work in 1961 on the feast day, Our Lady of the Pillar, with only a vision and no plans. So for the next 55 years right up to the present day, Don, with only his unique personality and certain faith driving him, would begin to work from 6am, always doing 10 hours of labor per day (except on the Lord's day).
For most of the time, unbelievably, Justo worked solo, without any crane, only using whatever trash or donations he could get his hands on for building material. Yet lately he has help from a local man and also some of his nephews.
Occasionally volunteers from far afield (as far as Germany) come to help out and learn at the feet of this untrained master, so taken are they by the wonderful virtue of the great but humble man.
In 2014, Don Justo predicted that the church, christened by him Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar), would be completed in two to three years. Hopefully this will be the case, as it would be so beautiful for Gallego to be able to sit back and enjoy his finished work.
Although the church has no official status of any kind – neither does he have planning permission, nor does the Catholic Church recognize his ‘cathedral’ – the building has become a major tourist attraction in the small town of Mejorada del Campo, situated near the capital, Madrid.
I think the cathedral is so beautiful, and a wonderful tribute to God from a lovely, simple and honest man with a great passion. However, sad to say, some people do carp at Don Justo, calling him crazy.
So, when an interviewer recently asked him: "How do you respond to people who call you loco?" He simply replied with a glint in his eye and a smile on his face: "Loco por Cristo." Words that need no translation.
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