Father Francisco Valdovinos had a profound effect on the families he served in Mecca, California. His sermons endeared him to hundreds, who packed his parish every weekend. When COVID struck, he set up a food distribution center and a testing site. Then COVID came for him.

From The Los Angeles Times (subscription required):

When word emerged in December that COVID-19 had struck Father Francisco Valdovinos, parishioners held vigils outside the hospital where he was dying. More than a thousand people prayed during a Facebook Live session. A January caravan to honor his life snaked around Mecca, with cars and trucks bearing messages in Spanish such as “Thank You for Everything” and “We Miss You.”

“The community cried when he died,” said Conchita Pozar, 32, a leader in the Coachella Valley’s sizable Purépecha Indigenous community. “He went above and beyond what most priests ever do. He could’ve just given Communion at Mass and that would’ve been fine. But he pushed everyone to do more. His legacy is now in our hearts.”

There are no public memorials in Mecca for Father Francisco Valdovinos. There’s no need for any. Proof of Mecca’s gratitude toward him was everywhere when I visited last week…

…The most lasting tribute to Valdovinos wasn’t readily visible, though: Mecca’s COVID-19 vaccination rate. News accounts in the wake of his death quoted residents who vowed to roll up their sleeves in his honor. And they did.

According to figures by Riverside County Public Health, 108.4% of Mecca residents are fully vaccinated — a statistical impossibility explained by the fact many Coachella Valley residents got their shots in the town. California Department of Public Health records are more accurate — the most recent data show 93% of residents in the 92254 ZIP Code that encompasses Mecca and the smaller communities of North Shore and Desert Camp are fully vaccinated.

“When Father Valdovinos died, he awakened the consciousness of the people in our community to go out there and get the shot,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), who represents the region and honored his sacrifice on the state Capitol floor shortly after his passing by adjourning a meeting in his name. “For their health, yes, but also out of respect for his life.”

What a legacy.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.