On March 28th, I will return home to Ohio after living in San Francisco Morazan, Chalatenango, El Salvador since August of 1998. The adoption of my God-daughter, who is now six months old, is not yet complete; but her adoptive parents will soon move here, to care for her themselves, until the paperwork is finished. The sewing class, the sponsored students, the English classes, the child care center and the other projects have either finished their term or have become self-sufficient (not needing my presence). Still, I know that the most important thing I have done, in my time here, has simply been living with the people. My listening has given them a chance to put into words what they have experienced and known. My presence has represented the listening world to them. I have told them of the support I have received from you, and they have become aware that they are not forgotten. I have learned from them in ways that they will never know or understand.
A family of nine recently moved to a two-room house they are renting near the center of town. The "popular" school in an outlying village was not educating the children well; so have decided to come to San Francisco. Neither of the parents can read; but, Marisol, the slender thirteen year old daughter beams with pride as she says she is now in fourth grade. Not only can she read, the mother boasts as she glances at her husband holding their youngest son, but she's learning to multiply. Marisol becomes shy with the attention and turns away, but the deep dimples in her turned cheek reflect the glee her modesty wants to hide.
The simple manner Salvadoran living takes could stretch on and on: the tortillas, the buses, the town bell, the beans, the dirt roads, the clothesline, the dark eyes, the mountain view, the night sky, the stories that continue to be realized. In the lifetime of someone as young as I, they have seen their land at its worst. They survived, babies, mothers, and grandparents. They are only starting to realize what they have lived through. Slowly, as the shock wears off, a sense of pride sets in. Not pride in the violence that has taken place, but in the survival and struggle they continue to live.
Sister Ann Manganero was an American physician and Sister of Loretto who lived here in Chalatenango through the war. Her bravery in accompanying Salvadorans in the time of terror gave them hope and strengthened their faith in a God who is good and saves. She returned to the United States when she was found to have cancer, from which she later died. She is carried in the hearts of many here. Her life bore witness to the value of all life, as recorded by Scott Wright in Promised Land, Death and Life in El Salvador.
"At her funeral Mass, a friend, John Kavanaugh, S.J., recalled a time, ten years before, when Ann was working in the newborn intensive care unit of Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis, caring for a prematurely born child named Tamika, no bigger in size than Ann's hand. One day Ann even got the child to smile its one and only smile. After the child died, John asked Ann, 'What did that child ever have?' "She had the power to draw forth love from me', Ann replied."
As I move on from El Salvador to the United States, I find myself faced with two challenges. The first has to do with leaving here with a sense of hope for a people who face an intense struggle to fill their basic needs. The other is moving on and finding meaning in life in the United States. Sr. Ann's simple response strengthens me: to value all of humanity, no matter how small, dependent or hopeless it may seem, and to risk loving it. In the risk of loving, faith is found; hope grows from misery. This is the challenge to every culture and economy.
I want to thank you who have risked investing yourselves in my work here. Your financial help, your spiritual support, your willingness to risk your heart and care about what I do here, has been real in affecting how I could have impact. You have been present to the people of Chalatenango. We are grateful to you.