By Fr. Salvador Gonzalez, OMI
This year marks my 50th journey around the sun. Recently, my family asked me to come home for a week to celebrate my birthday. I agreed. The party was moved, and my family decided that we would go to Las Vegas for 3 days before going to my home city of Oakland, CA. I have been through the Las Vegas airport many times, but I have never spent that much time in the city. I knew that while at home I would celebrate Mass for my family, so I packed a small Mass kit to take with me.
My family waited for me at the airport when I arrived and together, we went to our lovely hotel on the strip. The hotel reminded me of my time in Rome. It was beautiful.
Upon arrival at our hotel, one of the housekeepers, Margie, came to the room and brought us some extra towels for the pool. The housekeeper asked the occasion for the visit. My brother responded, ” my brother is turning 50 years old, and we want to celebrate with him.” I hung my Alb stole in the closet and thanked Margie, and I went off to meet my family and enjoy a nice lunch.
On our last day in Las Vegas, my niece, who was with us, received news that a good co-worker of hers had passed away that morning at 47 years of age. My niece was devastated and distraught. We gave her some space and went about our day while occasionally checking up on her. We spent the day at the pool trying to keep cool in the 104-degree weather. I made my way up to the room in my swimming trunks and tank top. While talking to my niece and other family members about the loss of her co-worker, we heard a knock at the door. My brother opened the door, and it was Margie, the housekeeper. My brother asked her what she needed, and Margie said, “I want to speak to the father.”
We all looked at each other and asked how she knew, and she said again, “Can I please talk to the father, the birthday guy?” We never told her I was a priest. So, I approached her and asked what I could do for her. She said, “Could you please pray for my friend? He just died of an overdose.” Margie then proceeded to tell me about her friend and the struggles he had with drugs and how this has devastated his family and his children. She again asked me if I could pray for her. I had my niece in tears on one side of the room and the housekeeper in tears on the other. What could I do?
I told Margie that I would pray for her and her friend. Margie said, “I know God put you here for a reason,” “You came to Sin City for us.” I remembered I had my Mass kit, so I asked Margie if she would like to join us for Mass after her shift. She said yes, and that evening, we had a Mass with my family and a few housekeepers who came with Margie. This was my first trip to Las Vegas, and even though I do not gamble, I know that Margie was betting on finding some consolation and some hope. I left Las Vegas feeling like a winner. I thank God for the gift of my priesthood and Oblate vocation that motivates me to always be close to the people around me.