The brief, harsh life of Juan Pastor was celebrated yesterday, thousands of miles from his native Guatemala, where his relatives may not even know he is dead.
Pastor, 39, was given a proper burial in downtown Washington, just feet away from where he was found, frozen and acutely intoxicated from alcohol. In life, Pastor slept outside Asbury United Methodist Church. In death, he was brought into the sanctuary.
"We thank God that Juan is no longer outside our hearts, but inside our very beings, and we thank God that God of all Gods will receive him," Bishop Forrest C. Stith said at the end of the funeral service.
So shocked was this African American congregation by Pastor's death that it has redefined its ministry to the homeless. Church members also donated mortuary services and a burial plot.
The Guatemalan immigrant may have lived the anonymous life of a street person, unable to overcome his alcohol addiction. But in death, he proved to be a catalyst.
"What Juan did was bring together two communities, the Afro-American and the Latino, " said Maria Paige, programs director of Neighbors' Consejo, a social service agency in Mount Pleasant, who knew Pastor.
"He died alone, but as the [bishop] said, he is now within us and with God. For us who knew him, it's going to be a moment we're always going to remember."
Pastor was found dead on the church steps the morning of Jan. 17, after overnight temperatures dipped to 18 degrees. He was taken to the city morgue, a homeless John Doe. A week later, D.C. Medical Examiner Jonathan L. Arden declared Pastor's the District's first hypothermia death of the winter. He said Pastor's "substantial" blood-alcohol level caused his body to lose heat more quickly.
Officials of social service agencies, who tried futilely to engage Pastor in alcohol rehabilitation programs, identified him at the morgue. An attempt to reach family in Guatemala, with the help of the consulate in Washington, proved fruitless.
Asbury United Methodist runs a ministry for the homeless and, until three years ago, operated an outreach center that distributed clothing. Within days of Pastor's death, said Asbury's pastor, the Rev. Eugene W. Matthews, the congregation created a task force to find short- and long-range solutions for helping the homeless.
The church is distributing blankets and other winter clothing; instituting formal checks of the church exterior for the homeless and working more closely with the District's hypothermia hotline, which sends outreach workers to try to convince street people to take shelter for the night. The church is also considering opening a shelter during winter months.
Asbury is one block from the almost-completed convention center, in an area of downtown that development has transformed from shabby to chic in recent years. Within one block of each side of the church will soon stand the convention center, a 14-story luxury apartment building, an upscale hotel and a new office building.
"The question comes to me is, who are these buildings for? The poor?" Matthews said during his homily. "The congregation and our people sit between the executive branch and the legislative branch of government, yet amidst the background of all of this power, all this affluence, all the prestige, daily we cannot escape the fact that there are the oppressed and the poor among us."
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D) attended Pastor's funeral service, at Matthews's invitation. The church is in Ward 2, which Evans represents. He said the District spends about a third of its $6 billion annual budget on health and human services. "Yet someone died in front of this church because we, as a government, failed in our attempt to reach everybody in this city," Evans said.
And somebody like Juan Pastor was particularly hard to reach, his friends and social service workers agreed. By the time he reached Washington about two years ago, he was plagued by alcoholism. For a few months in 2001, Pastor participated in an outpatient alcohol abuse program at Circulo de Andromeda in Columbia Heights, said clinical social worker Eliana Labarca. But he left and resisted outreach workers' efforts to get him to return.
He worked occasionally as a day laborer and he told acquaintances that he came to the United States in 1989 to find work. He picked citrus in Florida for several years, then migrated to North Carolina to cut tobacco before coming to Washington.
He was known by the nickname "El Indio" and was proud of his indigenous roots. He had long straight black hair, which was waist-length when he first moved here, and spoke a dialect of Quiche.
Carlos Gutierrez, one of his friends, said he thought Pastor had a wife in Guatemala. He said he and Pastor both fell in and out of alcohol abuse rehabilitation programs and, for some time, lived together on the streets. Then Gutierrez managed to stick with an intensive outpatient program run by Neighbors' Consejo.
"Unfortunately, he fell back into drinking. But we continued being friends," said Gutierrez, who is also from Guatemala. "I pray to Jesus Christ to pardon all his sins."