Almost every time I have visited the Church of San Lázaro in Rincón around his feast day, I have encountered the same thin, reserved woman. After greeting her many times and leaving alms on her humble altar in front of the church, I finally sat down next to her and struck up a conversation.
Iris Hernández-Salazar has been a devotee of San Lázaro since she became seriously ill at age seven. Her mother had made ocha while pregnant with Iris, so there was always a special bond between Iris and the orichas. When she became ill, her father made a promise to San Lázaro: if the Old Man would cure Iris, her father would acquire a statue of the saint and place in the family’s living room in Rincón. Well, it worked, and Iris grew up with the statue in the house. “I speak to him as if he were a person. He gives me much peace, tranquility, and much love. He even responds to me. I feel him within me. But I have never made another promise. San Lázaro is very great.”
In a tradition of incredibly detailed traditions passed from generation to generation, there is also space for this sort of immediate, unmediated relationship with Babalú-Ayé. Though Iris was broken as child, San Lázaro made her whole again, and she has remained devoted ever since. And in December, I am sure it also helps pay the bills.