Sister Ana Rosa Moran, DC shares with us her 40 years of missionary service in Tepecoyo (El Salvador):
I am happy to share my missionary experience. After having ministered for a few years (very happy years) among the indigenous people in Guatemala, I was sent to minister in the rural community of Tepecoyo, El Salvador (1982). In that community, because of the absence of a parish priest, the Sisters had assumed responsibility for the parish… this was the result of an initiative that had been introduced by Bishop Luis Chávez y González, that is, Sisters being involved in pastoral ministry and supplying for the absence of priests.
The Sisters there engaged in evangelization and service on behalf of the poor through maintaining a dispensary, visiting people in their homes, forming catechists, youth ministry, preparation for the Sacraments, the Celebration of the Word, and praying the rosary every day. In short, it was a service of integration and commitment to and with the community.
During the time of the civil war the Sisters’ service was not well received by the military authorities. The fact that the Sisters supported the poorest was seen as support for the anti-government forces.
They were prohibited from teaching catechesis in schools and their visits to the various communities were restricted.
When I arrived and became situated in my new environment, I asked the Sister Servant for permission to go to the nearby Institute in order to provide the young people with some Christian formation. I was given permission to do so. When I spoke with the Director at the Institute, he seemed resistant but finally said: “Come on Wednesday.” I arrived with great enthusiasm and introduced myself to the young people: I am Sister Ana Rosa. I have been given permission to offer Christian formation in this school. Since this is a secular school, if you do not want to participate in this class you are free to leave the classroom. I waited to see what would happen. No one left. At the end of two months, the Director asked me: You, Sister, what have you studied? I replied: In addition to being a Daughter of Charity, I am a teacher. Then he asked: Would you like to work here as a teacher? I replied: I would like to, but I cannot. I have been sent to work in a parish and we are only three Sisters. The Director spoke to the Sister Servant who told him the same thing. Later the Visitor came to our house and we told her about the proposal made by the Director. The Visitor told us this would be a good opportunity to reach out to young people… and that is how I became involved in this work. The director began to change his attitude and become more collaborative in activities that were proposed to him with regard to the formation of young people … and eventually he began to support us in our work in the parish.
Since it was the time of the war, young people (regardless of their age) were often recruited at the very doors of the Institute. By the time we realized what was happening, it was too late: the young men’s hair had been cut and they had been assigned to a detachment. The mothers came to the school crying and begging for someone to accompany them to the place where their children had been taken. This was a very difficult experience for me… entering the encampments and feeling the hateful gaze of the military who thought that being servants of the poor was equivalent to being anti-governmental (a part of the guerrilla). After negotiations, the children were returned to their families, but not before being beaten for being cowards. I was telling myself: I will not return here! What am I doing in this place? Just for you Lord… and also just for these boys.
The next month, the same story. Again, the mothers begged me, and said to me: If you don’t go, they will kill us. Some had already been killed as they were placed in front of the squadrons. And that is why I returned to that dreaded place. God gave me the strength to accompany these mothers and I also began to see that God had brought me to this place for this very purpose: to accompany people during such moments of anguish and uncertainty.
There were also happy moments with those young people. Despite the situation of uncertainty, we formed Vincentian Marian Youth Groups and there, young men and women learned to love Jesus, the Virgin and Saint Vincent and they made a commitment to serve the poor: they visited the sick, they helped in the catechetical program and in the liturgy. This is how they discovered their vocation. Five young women who were members of these groups became Daughters of Charity and today are great servants of Christ and the poor. Four members of the various groups also became priests. The others started families: some are members of the Miraculous Medal Association and are still very committed to the parish and to ministry on behalf of the poor.
Now, due to a shortage of vocations, there are no longer any Daughters of Charity in that place, but the Vincentian charism and spirit continues to be lived there.
Love, perseverance and reaching out to people transforms them and brings them closer to Jesus Christ. All this is the work of the grace of God … praise be God.
Sister Ana Rosa Moran, DC