On the feast day of Mary Magdalene, I visited a San Salvador parish, Maria, Madre de los Pobres, (Mary, Mother of the Poor) with Sister Patti, a Sister of Christian Community from Baltimore who has been coming there every summer for 21 years to work/play with the children (she teaches them to draw clowns) and to visit with families in crisis or in need.
It's a good thing I went with Patti, because I could never have found the church - located at the center of the La Chacra community - on my own. We took three buses and then went in by way of the railroad tracks, which like all railroad tracks here have sprouted a community of rundown houses - built of plastic and lamina, tin sheeting - on both sides of the abandoned rails. Patti walked us down the tracks and then down a narrow lane between houses and suddenly we came to the open gateway to Madre de los Pobres.
The church was the last thing to be built, Patti tells me, because Padre Daniel, the Spanish priest whose vision and energy created Madre de Los Pobres, wanted to be sure the basic needs of the people were served first. What he and the community created, with the help of Spain, Germany and U.S. parishes, is amazing: there's a big day-care center and an elementary school, a library with books and computers, a ludoteca (toy library - a great playroom for the kids) a medical clinic, dental clinic, and eye clinic where glasses are made, a natural medicine store, a social worker, a senior center, a scholarship program - and that's only the parts I can remember.
With all this support, the problems of poverty continue to erode life in the community. Gangs are very present; violent deaths are frequent; families are broken. But because of the church and the hope and presence it offers, there are other possibilities for the families of La Chacra. I met -among many wonderful people - Maria, who's studying to be a teacher and speaks excellent English, and Lucas who's going to be a systems engineer. They are the hope that Maria, Madre de los Pobres, makes possible.