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Nativity Sons

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That morning, on the way back from Mass at the convent down the street, Father Medrano had seen the usual single women with children, just released from nearby shelters. "Why so early?" he wondered. "A woman can't go look for a job now, with four or five kids. How?"

The women moved slowly. It was cold. He was interrupted by an American Indian asking for money. "To visit his sick father in South Dakota, which was a lie," Medrano says. "If he would just ask for three bucks for a bottle of wine, I'd give it to him. I know that pain. I've had that hangover."

Later that morning, the church food bank opened, operating per Medrano's orders: Don't ask questions. Give food. Don't turn anyone away. He limped through the battered maze of rooms below the church (his arthritis grows worse every year). At noon he cooked dinner for Morones, Ramos and three other guys. A day off, he says, would consist of disconnecting the phone and resting in his tiny apartment, where the sheet music on the piano is open to "If I Were a Rich Man" and an Aztec-themed painting hangs on an exposed-brick wall. The artist was a homeless alcoholic.

"He finally went back to Guatemala," Medrano says. "He called me a few weeks ago, saying, 'Daddy, you got any money?' Such a talented man."

The front office again. "Father, have you forgotten about José?"

On days like these, he finds refuge in the huge, clean, empty sanctuary. Unlike the rest of Medrano's domain -- barely sustained by the contents of meager collection plates, nearly impossible to heat, smelling of disinfectant -- this space is full of lights, gleaming paint, gold embellishments and, of course, the Nativity scene.

Morones and Ramos are already here, wondering whether they should acquire more statues from Mexico or glue-on moss and grass from Hobby Lobby.

"They've done so much, and I'm their helper," Medrano says proudly. "Restored all the stained glass, stripped all the wood, built their own scaffolds. They do good work, maybe because they're not volunteers. I don't like volunteers, because you can't complain about their work. When they need help, I do it.

"But I'd rather do this than the usual priest stuff," he confesses. "I counsel someone, and they go out and I never see them again, and I never knew if I helped. At least here I can see what we accomplished. It's a Mexican village, but I suppose it could be Jerusalem."

In the coming months, Robin Chotzinoff will commemorate Westword's 25th anniversary with 25 profiles of Denver today. Click here to read these stories.

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff