Meet the hitchhiking friar with an extraordinary near-death experience

Friar Juan Maria Crisostomo Right hitchhiking with a fellow friar and Little Sister of Jesus and Mary Credit Poor Friars Friar Juan Maria Crisostomo (Right) hitchhiking with a fellow friar and Little Sister of Jesus and Mary. | Poor Friars.

Miraculous events have shaped Friar Juan Maria Crisostomo's life to bring him to the radical poverty and simplicity of his vocation as a Little Friar of Jesus and Mary.

From an inexplicable healing to a near-death experience, Friar Juan has a story to tell. The Poor Friar shares his story as he hitchhikes across the United States and Italy – always pointing toward the presence of Christ in the Eucharist along the way.

The beginning of Friar Juan's life in the Dominican Republic was marked by a tragic accident. At seven months old, he fell face-first out of his cradle and into a fireplace.

The severe burns left his eyes closed, head swollen, and lungs malfunctioning. The doctors told his mother that it was very likely her son would die.

"After this, my mom took me crying in her arms and she prayed to Mama Mary, 'Mary, intercede for him through your Son, Jesus Christ.' She prayed this beautiful and simple prayer with faith," Friar Juan told CNA.

"After three days from my mother's prayer, my head returned to normal, my eyes reopened, and my lungs started working," he said. The doctors called it a miracle, and then started to work on his first facial reconstruction surgery.

In the 30 years that followed, he had 22 more surgeries on his face. However, rather than focusing on this difficulty, the friar said that it is his mission to share the great joy and the peace he has found in the Eucharist and in his "simple life with Christ."

This was Friar Juan's message during his two hitchhiking trips across the United States and Italy.

As a part of his formation as a Little Friar of Jesus and Mary, also known as the Poor Friars, Juan found himself sleeping in bus stations as he embraced the community's charism: "to go the streets" to "bring souls to the Sacraments."

The Little Friars of Jesus and Mary, a religious community approved by the Vatican in 2014, were founded in Sicily and embrace the spirituality of both Carmelite contemplation and Franciscan poverty and evangelization.

During one hitchhiking pilgrimage from Houma, Louisiana – where the Poor Friars have an American community – to the holy stairs in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Friar Juan said he encountered many "people who were trying to find meaning in their lives."

"They ask, 'Why don't you have a car? Why don't you have a normal life?'" Friar Juan explained, and this opens the door for him to share how we "found our peace."

However, not everyone they encountered was initially welcoming.

"Some people called the police because they confused us for ISIS terrorists. Seven police cars came and surrounded us with guns," he said. "Nervous and afraid ... we asked them, 'Why are you doing this to us? We come in the peace of Jesus Christ.'" After this, the police apologized, and told the friars that they could stay as long as they wanted.

Friar Juan is currently studying for the priesthood in Rome, and hopes he will be ordained in a few years. He said his vocation was confirmed for him after an experience he had during one of his face surgeries.

At 14 years old, Juan had a skin graft taken from his back to enable him to move his neck. After the operation, complications from anesthesia caused his EKG to flatline in the recovery room – his heart had stopped.

During this time, he had an out-of-body experience. "I saw my body when the doctor tried to work to help me come back to life … from above," he explained.

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"At the same time, two wings – well they were something like an angel – they took me to this place, like a very beautiful place. I saw Mama Mary and I saw Jesus Christ," he said.

"Jesus Christ was on his throne. He had very brilliant white clothes," he continued.

"With an amazing smile, Mary said, 'My son, it is not your time because you have a mission to complete on the earth'," he said. "After she talked to me, I came back quickly."

"This changed everything in my life," Friar Juan said. "Through this beautiful vision, I understood that we only stay for a little time in this world. I understood that we need to live a moral life. I believe that hell exists, and I know that paradise and purgatory exist."

To this day, he maintains a devotion to Mary – and to the Eucharist.

"When I pray in my life and I take the Eucharist, I say something to God through Mary. I say, 'Mary, help me because I do not want my heart to become a rock. I want a heart of flesh, a simple, open heart.'"

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