Over the past 20 years, I have had the immense privilege to know many amazing people in El Salvador, specifically in communities on the margins. The gospels have come to life for me in conversations with children, experiencing profound love and generosity in the elderly, witnessing hope in the midst of some very difficult situations. Once again, it proves to be true with these readings. I want to share with you a dear friend, Rosario, whom I thought of immediately when I read the readings for the day.
Rosario, an elderly woman, is from a small town about 45 minutes from the capital. Over the many years of visiting Rosario in her humble home, I got to know her quite well. She stopped going to school when she was 8 years old to help raise her younger siblings. She spent her younger years in the surrounding hills, selling fruits and vegetables (whatever grew wild in the area that could be sold for small amounts of money). Over the years, she fell in love and had a child. Her life was simple, yet complete.
As Rosario aged, she had complications with diabetes. Because of her financial situation, she did not have access to appropriate medical care. Through the years, she had problems with circulation in her legs and eventually lost her mobility and later her vision. She had become bound to her small shack and depended on the local soup kitchen for her daily meals. She had lost her health, her vision, her job that sustained her, and her freedom to walk throughout the community selling fruits and vegetables and visiting family and friends.
The Responsorial psalm reads: Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy.
Rosario lives this psalm. We would sit with her in her yard surrounded by mango and avocado trees. Her home was made of a collage of broken pieces of wood and recycled sheet metal. Her ‘table’ was a recycled cylinder that was once used for telephone cable. The few chairs she had were cracked and broken yet she would immediately pull them out when visitors came, insisting that they sit down with her in her lush patio. She would share stories of her youth and talk about her failing health. She would often talk about how she can no longer see well enough to do what she loved, walking through the communities selling fruits and vegetables while visiting with loved ones. It was a life of immense physical suffering and loss. But she always comes back to giving thanks to God for what she has: “I am almost blind, but I thank God that I can still see where the tree tops meet the sky,” and “although I do not have fruit or vegetables to eat, I still have corn to grind to make tortillas.”
Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy.
On one of our last visits to see her, I went with four of our students. I was so eager to share the wisdom, love and faith of Rosario with these students. As she always did so faithfully and lovingly, Rosario shared her story with the students. She would stop periodically to gently touch someone near her and thank them for taking the time to visit her and keep her company. As she spoke, I noticed the students looking around at her simple home. Although we were in the ‘kitchen’ there was no food. There was a colorful basket (called cestasin El Salvador) hanging on a wooden hook near the entrance to her home.
Towards the end of the visit, she stood up slowly from her chair and went to the cesta. She took it down and pulled out a bunch of ripe bananas and green mangos. She gave each of us one of each. I remember the students looking at me confused and asking, “how do we take what little she has?” I encouraged them to say ‘yes’ to her generosity, as with that act we are saying ‘yes’ to her life and her story.
Rosario embodies for me the first reading of wisdom:
Yet all good things together came to me in her company,
and countless riches at her hands.
All good things definitely came to me in her company. Rosario was one of the most faith-filled people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. To this day, I give gratitude for the privilege of knowing her, for being able to learn from her, for seeing the bible come to life in her midst.
When we look the gospel reading from today, I think the point of the passage is that, without riches and money, we are able to enter love and life in a very different way. We are able to see clearly what is most important, because the material things don’t clutter our view of what matters. Rosario had the gift of clarity. She knew what it meant to be a woman of faith, she knew what it meant to share what she had with others, and she knew what it meant to always give thanks and praise to God.
Thank you for allowing me to share Rosario with you today.
Trena Yonkers-Talz has lived in Central American for over 20 years working in Jesuit higher education. She and her husband, Kevin, co-directed Santa Clara University’s study aboard program, Casa de la Solidaridad. The Casa program provided an educational experience that integrated faith formation, community living, accompaniment of people on the margins, and academic excellence. Over 700 students participated in the program over the course of 19 years.
Currently, Trena and Kevin are launching Centro Ignacio Ellacuría (CIE) with the Jesuit university in El Salvador, Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA). CIE develops academic and formation programs that integrate the exploration of faith and the promote of justice through a praxis-based, liberationist pedagogy. Inspired by the UCA martyrs and the Jesuit educational tradition, the mission of the center is to promote the formation of leaders who are competent, conscientious, compassionate and committed.
Trena has a master’s degree in Theology from Boston College and a master’s degree in College Student Development from Miami University. She is a very proud mom of four daughters (Sophia 18, Grace 16, Hannah 13 and Emma 8). She is originally from Hastings, Michigan.