Friday, January 11, 2013

Otra vez, Eleanor in El Salvador

The past week has been filled with joyous reunions, only slightly interrupted by the serious work of getting the paperwork ready for our doctors' permits and our customs clearance.

One joyous reunion has followed another since Sister Eleanor Gilmore walked off the plane last Saturday.  Eleanor's long history in El Salvador goes back to time during the civil war in the 1980s, when she worked with the Archdiocese of San Salvador and with Jesuit Refugee Service, was twice picked up for questioning by suspicious authorities, and helped people coming in from the campo, including a few guerillas, get some much-needed health care.

Eleanor left El Salvador after the signing of the peace accords in 1992, but the people had found a place in her heart, and she returned in 2000 to begin the El Salvador Health Mission of PeaceHealth and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.  She and Kathy Garcia developed the PazSalud mission over the next nine years as Eleanor continued making friends.

She's stayed away for four years and a few surgeries, but this week she's back at last for a good visit with those friends.  We began the celebrations on Sunday with Mass in the Crypt of the Cathedral, where Monseñor Romero is buried, followed by a festival dinner at Estela and Susy Garcia's home, with almost all the Garcia family in attendance.  Here's Susy and Estela with Estela's mother and Eleanor- it was a glorious afternoon and wonderful Sopa de Gallina India, la abuela having provided the gallina. 

It's been like that all week - we've connected with many, many friends, and each connection has been a delight.  I get to share in the memories and in the joy that Eleanor's presence - in El Salvador again! - brings to her and to the many, many folk who know and love her.

Eleanor and I were both saddened that Sister Noreen Linane died while we were so far away.  Eleanor says she was ready and completely at peace - it's good to know that, and no surprise.  Noreen was a tiny woman full of life and energy who loved gardening and sewing and creating the most beautiful flower arrangements.  I first got to know her when, as a novice, I was told to shadow her in her work at Jubilee Women's Center, transitional housing for homeless women in Seattle.  As I quickly found out, Noreen's shadow had to move fast and listen hard to the wonderful stream of Irish talk that moved with her - I was exhausted by the day's end, and enchanted.  She's continued to be one of the hearts of our community at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, and while she's gone through many serious health crises, she always before has emerged full of energy, ready to move fast, to talk fast and to create beauty.  We will miss her so much.

Oh the permissions?  I hope all is's always an area of headache and worry until that moment when the customs people wave goodbye to us, and that's still a little more than a month away. 

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