“Illness was the cause of his sanctification; suffering was his chair.”
By K.V. Turley
The Spanish writer and journalist, Manuel Lozano Garrido (nicknamed ‘Lolo’), was born 100 years ago this year. For the last 10 years, since June 12, 2010, he has been better known as Blessed Lolo — the first, and so far only, journalist to be declared Blessed by the Church.
Even without this declaration of sanctity, Lolo’s life would be remarkable by any measure. From aged 20 years old he wrote for Spanish newspapers and magazines as well as international news outlets such as the Associated Press. In addition, he published nine books and founded a magazine. During his lifetime he was honored by his hometown, Linares.
Yet there was another side to Lolo’s life. In 1942, when aged just 22 years old, he was struck down by a debilitating illness, spondylitis, which inflamed his vertebrae and left him deformed. From then on he was confined to a wheelchair. After 20 years as an invalid he lost his sight. He was to die some nine years later in 1971, aged 51 years old.
Many who are struck down or maimed by illness or disability continue to struggle to lead as full a life as possible. There is something in the human spirit that wants to live rather than give into such setbacks. An admirable resolve but it is not the reason Lolo was declared Blessed.
Lolo was a devout Catholic from childhood. By the time he was a teenager Spain was gripped by an ugly anti-clericalism that would ultimately lead to a civil war. During this time of persecution for the Church in Spain, Lolo risked death by secretly bringing the Body of Christ to the sick. Eventually, on account of this, he was arrested. In 1937, he spent Holy Thursday in prison. Yet, even here, the Lord provides. And, as Lolo would later recount, the Blessed Sacrament was passed to him hidden in a bunch of flowers. Lolo and those Catholics imprisoned with him erected a makeshift altar to the Blessed Lord hidden in the Host before proceeding to spend the entire night in prayerful adoration.
This incident was an odd intimation of what was to come and of two aspects that would shape his life, namely confinement and the Eucharist. Just a few short years after this imprisonment and subsequent release, he found himself imprisoned by his own ailing body. This would have been enough to cause many to withdraw from the world. It caused Lolo to seek souls for Christ through his writing.
Despite his life-changing disability, Lolo still clung onto his dream. From childhood he had wanted to be a writer and journalist. Providentially, shortly after Lolo’s confinement to a wheelchair, a friend brought him a present: a portable typewriter. This delighted Lolo, but the question remained as to whether the now disabled Lolo could make use of it or, instead, would it sit by his wheelchair as a constant mockery of his youthful ambitions and former work. Eventually, the typewriter was placed on a table and Lolo was wheeled in his chair toward it. Although his hands and fingers could scarcely move, he placed them upon the typewriter keys. And slowly, very slowly, he began to type.
Lolo was unable to type for long, so mangled was his body, yet he did manage to type these words: “My Lord, thank You. The first word, Your Name, may it always be the strength and soul of this machine … May Your light and clarity be the mind and heart of all that type on it, so that everything written may be noble, fair and promising.”
It was a start; soon he was publishing articles again. In time, Lolo lost the use of the right hand; he learned to write with the left one. In 1962 he went blind. He continued to write, however, now dictating his articles to his sister and constant aide, Lucy. Over the course of his life, he would write nine books on spirituality, an autobiographical novel, and hundreds of articles and essays.
Needless to say, it was rare for Lolo to travel anywhere. However, in May 1958, accompanied by Lucy, he traveled to Lourdes, a place of healing and miracles. Shortly after arriving, he said to his sister: “How could I ask something for myself with so many people suffering more than me?” Instead, his sister heard him pray: “I offer you joy ... the blessed joy ... the fruitful joy.” So as to see the image of the Virgin at the Grotto, Lolo’s sister had to place a mirror on his knees due to his inability to lift his head. She later recounted that when she went to remove the mirror it was stained with many tears.
While at Lourdes Lolo started to reflect on the relationship between prayer, suffering and journalism. As a consequence, he returned from the Marian shrine and founded what became known as "SINAÍ Groups", praying especially for those working in the Catholic media. Lolo's idea was to create groups of twelve people who would pray for this intention. By September 1959 the first such group had formed. It included clergy and religious but was mostly made up of laymen and women. He started this work to support the apostolate of Catholic media, so sure was Lolo of the impact of journalism — for good or ill — on the world around it.
His advice to journalists was clear: “Work the bread of clean information with the salt of style and the yeast of the eternal, and serve it chopped up with interest … When you write you must do it on your knees to love; sitting to judge; erect and powerful, to fight and sow.”
Following his illness of 1942, one of Lolo’s first newspaper articles was published on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. It was entitled, “At the Crossroads of Thirst and Hunger.” It was appropriate that this day and this subject matter should be there at the beginning of this new phase of his journalism. References to the Eucharist are to be found throughout his published works. His ongoing illness was offered up and lived through his deep devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Although he could not easily move, Lolo still wrote inspiringly about the processions and religious ceremonies he witnessed from his balcony. That view became a gateway onto the world but it was something more besides. His balcony faced the church wherein he was baptized. Working from his home, Lolo would at times halt his work and then, moving out onto the balcony, he would look toward where his Lord dwelt, saying, “And now, face to face with the tabernacle, I’m going to have a little chat with Him.”
In November 1971, a priest said Mass in Lolo’s apartment for both the writer and Lucy. The priest would remember how the makeshift table that became an altar barely fitted between the bed Lolo slept on and the table at which he worked. Yet, the writer’s whole existence was there. All of it was a place for prayer. That day, the priest felt in that room that there were two altars and two victims present. Days later, the priest was to learn that Lolo was dead. Subsequently, he was to receive a card written for him by Lolo shortly after that Mass. It read:
For a time we will not see each other;
I go ahead to meet the Father; I renew my appointment in Joy.
… Remember that everything is grace.
For 28 years Lolo was in a wheelchair, barely able to move. For nine of those years he was unable to see. When, in December 2007, Pope Benedict XVI declared Lolo Venerable, the subsequent decree had the following words: “Illness was the cause of his sanctification; suffering was his chair.”