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Set My Hands to Heal

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Ann Manganaro was a Sister of Loretto who died 21 years ago. She and I were two of seven women who opened the St. Louis Catholic Worker back in 1977. The next year, living at the Worker, Ann started medical school. She did her residency in pediatrics, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and at five years cancer-free moved from the Catholic Worker to El Salvador to be the only doctor in Guarjila, Chalatenango. Six years later she died of a metastasization of that cancer.

An old friend of Ann’s, Marilyn Lorenz, gathered the efforts others had made and produced a movie about the Ana Manganaro Clinica de Salud in Guarjila. The movie, Set My Hands to Heal, is about the war in El Salvador, about the politics of health care there, and about how Ann taught the health promoters. She never saw a patient alone; it was always an opportunity for learning. One midwife describes how Ann talked her through delivering a breach birth. Others tell of her smuggling antibiotics through checkpoints.

One lovely aspect is that when English is spoken, the Spanish rolls at the bottom -- and when Spanish is spoken, we can read the English. The emphasis is always on the community. Before Ann ever arrived, they had to decide to leave the refugee camps in Honduras* and return to the middle of a war zone. They were in this together and Ann walked with them. Then, two decades after her death, they had to decide whether to incorporate the clinic into the government health care system.

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Marilyn is mailing out DVDs, hoping to break even on the project. Probably the best way to order a copy would be to find her on Facebook and leave her a message. I do recommend the movie. It reminds me again of Pope Francis’s exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. Evangelization is about walking together. See it here.

*An earlier version of this post referred to an inaccurate location.


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November 20-December 3, 2015


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