El Nino Fidencio

By Burbank, James | The World and I, March 1997 | Go to article overview

El Nino Fidencio


Burbank, James, The World and I


Celebrating Mexico's Folk Healer

Brakes screech as the 4 A.M. train, bound for Monterrey some three hours to the south, rumbles its way out of town. Yellow light from the freighter's headlamps sends shadows dancing against the adobe walls of this isolated village in northeastern Mexico. Then darkness and silence envelop the little shacks along the rail line. The dust-gray earth exudes a dense vapor of woodsmoke and burning garbage. The faint, ever-present odor of urine lends its essence to the oppressive morning heat. The sweet, acrid smoke of copal, Aztec incense, hovers like a benediction over everything.

Far away, a rooster calls. Then, like a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, a plaintive voice begins to sing over a loudspeaker somewhere in the village streets:

   Adios ninito Fidencio, adios estrella brillante. Echanos tu benedicion para
   seguir adelante. (Good-bye little child Fidencio, good-bye brilliant star.
   Give us your blessing to continue forward.)

Over and over the voice, filled with that loving kindness Mexicanos call carino, sings out. The modern world vanishes: Sacred time reasserts its ancient presence. It is just before dawn on October 17. This is la tierra santa (the holy land) of El Nino Fidencio, folk saint of southern Texas and northern Mexico. On this day, here in Espinazo, Nuevo Leon, southeast of the Sierra Azul, Fidencistas (followers of El Nino) celebrate the saint's birth and death.

Tens of thousands of peregrinos (pilgrims) have descended on the village. The song wakes them from where they have been sleeping, huddled in corners or on the ground under blue plastic tarps, or in the backs of dilapidated cars and trucks out on the dusty streets. These multitudes have come to celebrate their beloved ninito (little child), a healer whose life and memory the fiesta now celebrates.

The legend of El Nino

Jose Fidencio Sintora Constantino was born in Guanajuato in 1898. It is believed that, as a child, he was employed as a servant by a doctor. He may well have familiarized himself with the medical practices of the day through this early experience. As a boy or a young man, he moved to the tiny hamlet of Espinazo to work as housekeeper or tutor in the hacienda of one Enrique Lopez de la Fuente.

Fidencio began to acquire a reputation for having a remarkable don (gift) for the supernatural and for healing with herbs and potions. He may also have learned herbal lore from Theodore Von Bernich, a spiritual healer and scholar who was a friend of don Enrique and visited Espinoza from his home in San Antonio, Texas. It is possible that he became familiar with Yoga and meditation, spiritual disciplines then gaining international attention through the work of Mme. Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley, and other writers of the early 1900s.

Fidencistas say that the saint was born again when he received his healing and spiritual powers from God one October 17, although the year is not known. This blessing occurred at el pirulito (the little peppertree), located near the railroad tracks on the village outskirts. Believers testify that the presence of El Nino is still strongly felt at this site. From this time, his fame began to spread. Soon, thousands of people were coming to Espinazo to be near their ninito.

Although Fidencio died when he was forty, Fidencistas claim he died when he was thirty-three, just as Christ did. They also claim other similarities with Jesus, noting that Fidencio had twelve disciples and that the saint often retreated into the wilderness--five miles out of Espinazo to el cerrito de campana (the little hill with a bell)--to pray and meditate. He would often be followed by hundreds of believers seeking his healing presence. One time, when a follower asked him who he was, El Nino supposedly responded: "Am I a madman? Am I just a man? Or am I your Christ?"

The name El Nino refers to Fidencio's childlike character. …

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