Some years ago, I attended the funeral of a dear friend in St. Louis, in the United States. Sr Ann Manganaro was a Sister of Loretto and a physician who worked in El Salvador during the civil war, that lasted twelve years and cost 75,000 lives. We had worked in the same region of El Salvador, a rural area known for its poverty, but also for the strength and endurance of its people. It was also a battleground. There, Ann assisted the sick and the wounded in a make-shift clinic and was beloved by the people.
At the funeral a wonderful Jesuit, Fr John Kavanaugh, offered a moving eulogy. (Before moving to El Salvador), Ann had worked on the neo-natal unit of Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis and lived at the Catholic Worker House. One morning, she came to see Fr Kavanaugh and told him this story: The previous night, a child was born, four months early. She told how she held that child in the palm of her hand through the night, until the baby finally gave up the struggle for life and died.
Visibly moved and upset, Fr Kavanaugh asked, “What did that child ever have?”
Ann answered, “That child had the capacity to draw forth love from me.”
That story has remained with me through the years, as I remember our days together in El Salvador. When I think about what the church calls, “the preferential option for the poor,” I think of Sr Ann, and many, many inspiring others, especially the poor, who live that commitment every day.
Sr Ann Manganaro died of cancer in 1993. El Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down at the altar in 1980, celebrating Mass. Both loved and served the poor, and both spoke out against poverty, injustice and violence. They bear witness to the Gospel, by their love, by their service and by their prophetic voice for justice.
Before he was killed at the altar, in his last Homily Archbishop Romero reminded us: "Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies.”
Scott Wright is the Director of the Columban Centre for Advocacy and Outreach in Washington D.C., United States.