We have come in search of The Dogs of San Xavier. He has come in search of a miracle.
The ancient mission is a pilgrimage site, so it’s only fitting that we have made the trek to seek the old labradors who sometimes make appearances. Alas, not today.
Disappointed, we wander the grounds, stopping at the little room off to the left that houses the prayer candles. And there he is.
As we walk up, he’s off to the right side of the room, head bowed, deep in prayer. He’s wearing his Sunday best on a scorching Thursday afternoon: Starched white shirt, dress pants, boots, black hair slicked back precisely. He’s old, maybe a little older than me, likely a member of the O’odham tribe that surrounds the mission.
And clearly, he needs a miracle.
We stand for a long time at the little shrine. Religion is an odd thing. I suppose one is as good as the next, as long as your believe with all your heart. And clearly he does.
It’s awkward to be a sightseer with the sight of someone so deeply involved in prayer. We stand for a while, struck by the somber intensity of the room. The smoke-covered walls, the old photographs, the statues, the candles, the stillness. There’s something about the room. A spirit you can feel. Holy.
As we leave, he’s still there, head bowed, oblivious to us.
We go inside the mission. It was completed just before 1800, a relic of the past that’s still an active church. Dark and quiet, with statues of saints and lions and simple grandeur. It’s got a vibe that goes from reverence to spooky and back again.
Directly across from our bench is the carved effigy of St. Francis Xavier, lying beneath a blanket. Mo says people come to him with their prayer requests, leaving him tiny metal charms and scraps of paper. They believe he can grant miracles, she says.
We sit quietly in the dark, our eyes adjusting as we watch people trickle in to stand before the saint. And there he is again.
He crosses himself, touches the saint’s head, his body, his feet. He stands in prayer, head bowed, forever. He touches the saint’s head again, and then slowly walks out. A heavy weight follows him.
We walk into the bright light outside. Mo asks the woman at the gift shop about the dogs. The woman says they don’t come around much these days; Mo is lucky to have seen them earlier. Mo buys a candle from her. We go back to the little room, where she lights it and leaves it with the rest.
I don’t ask who she is praying for. But I know who my prayer is for.
I hope we find our dogs. I hope he finds his miracle.
We stop at the Circle K and buy sodas, in search of saguaros.
And maybe miracles.