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Maryknoll sister ministered in El Salvador
Romero Days' Forum Honors Sister Carla

"Romero Days" is a forum at Notre Dame University that explores social justice issues every year on the March 24 anniversary of the death of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980. Later that year, Maryknoll Sister Carol "Carla" Piette died during a flash flood while serving the poor in El Salvador. Author Jackie Maggiore knew Sister Carla. During the Romero Days forum, Ms. Maggiore talked about her new book on Sister Carla. Here is her report:

Jacqueline Maggiore (left) and Sr. Joan Ratermann (Maryknoll sister who worked in Chile) with Sr. Carla's photo

"What a privilege it was to attend Romero Days at Notre Dame this year on 30th anniversary of the death of Monseñor Romero in El Salvador! People around the world gather on this day, inspired by Romero’s courageous love and support for his suffering Salvadoran people. Each year Robert Father Bob Pelton, CSC, coordinates Romero Days to honor Romero and to issue a call for social justice.

"The highlight of Romero Days was a showing of Monseñor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero, a world-class documentary film focused on the last three years of Romero’s life, showing how he was engaged—and inspired—by his relationship with the Salvadoran people.

"Candid interviews with ordinary Salvadoran campesinos who knew Romero, interspersed with archival footage, place the people at the heart of Romero’s mission. I was touched by the words of one Salvadoran woman, as she quietly spoke of Romero: 'It is as though Christ walked through El Salvador.'

"The film’s first premiere, in the spirit of Romero and spearheaded by Father Bob, was held for campesinos on March 19 in the cathedral crypt of Romero in San Salvador. Many audience members came to the film team in tears, thanking them for capturing the real spirit of Romero. Later, the film was shown for leaders of the country. In coming months, this excellent film will be submitted to key international film festivals in hopes of showings worldwide.

"Major speakers this year included Monsignor Alvaro Ramazzini, bishop of San Marcos, Guatemala, and Ana Carrigan, the Colombian-Irish journalist and film-maker. Monsignor Ramazzini has been a strong advocate for human rights, sustainable environment, and agrarian reform in Guatemala. He stands up for the poor as did Romero, particularly against harmful mining practices in his diocese, which adversely affect the indigenous population.

"Ms. Carrigan, the human rights champion who has published works on the life of Jean Donovan, spoke of her book, ‘The Palace of Justice: A Colombian Tragedy.’ Based on years of meticulous investigative research in search of truth, this recounts the 1985 siege of the Palace of Justice in Bogota, the Colombian army’s brutal counterattack and attempted government cover-up.

"My new book, ‘Vessel of Clay: The Inspirational Journey of Sister Carla,’ premiered at this event, with a colorful display and early copies for sale, Father Bob’s personal recommendation, and a chance for me to speak during the program. It was Father Bob, always a champion of women in the church, who first brought Carla’s story to a publisher and serves as General Editor.

"Carla spent 15 years as a Maryknoll missioner in Chile, living in the poblacion, La Bandera, during the dictatorship of President Augusto Pinochet, before volunteering for El Salvador. Carla came to El Salvador to work with Romero but arrived on March 24, the evening of his death. Carla then worked with Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford on an emergency team to rescue refugees in Chalatenango amid the country’s dangerous violence. She died in a flash flood accident on August 23, 1980, while pushing Sister Ita to safety. Later that year on Dec. 2, Sister Ita, along with Maryknoll Sister Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, a lay missioner, were murdered by members of the National Guard.

"On a personal level, this visit was an opportunity for me to meet Father Bob and, after five years of work, to get a first glimpse of the book! I am thrilled with the ‘look’ of the book – the cover design captures Carla’s compassion as she interacts with a mother and young children in Chile. Carla, always a champion of Ignatian spirituality, would be pleased that the book is published by a Jesuit university, the University of Scranton Press.

"'The Lord is calling me to be poor with his poor' was the constant theme of Carla’s life. She lived a life of radical poverty and commitment to the poor. The Vessel of Clay display featured this theme, along with photos of Carla and selections of her writings from Chile and El Salvador. Here are a few of those quotes:

'I have cried so much since arriving here. I am tired from mourning—not tired of it but tired from it—so I ask the Lord of the Beatitudes to open me to the comfort He always sends.' (Following Romero’s death, El Salvador, March 28, 1980)

'There is great poverty… But I believe more that real poverty consists in the lack of hope that can push a man to despair.' (Chile, 1964)

'Every day of my pilgrimage has been one of learning and receiving… in the university of listening to the little people… I won’t come out with a title or degree, but a more valuable education could not be achieved anywhere.' (1980)

'If I had to choose another name, I’d choose Rahab, who also did her best to defend life. I leave the future in the Circus Master’s hands.' (August 1980)

"Documenting Carla’s journey has been a labor of love and blessings. I am grateful to so many who have shared their memories of Carla: Maryknollers and former sisters who worked with her, friends, and family. Thanks to Carla’s own writings, we can learn from her struggles, her deep and constant faith, her authentic commitment to 'the little people.' Even in the midst of violence and danger, she was sustained by her faith in her 'Divine Circus Master.'

"In El Salvador, Carla is still remembered as Martyr of Charity, where each year the local community of San Antonio los Ranchos gathers for a memorial at the river where she died. Our next venture is to publish a Spanish translation version of Vessel of Clay so that Carla’s authentic spirit and actions can be more fully appreciated throughout Latin America."

Jacqueline Hansen Maggiore and Carol "Carla" Piette grew up together and were educated by Sinsinawa Dominicans at St. Mary Parish in Appleton, Wisconsin. “Vessel of Clay” will be published in July by the University of Scranton Press. Click here to pre-order or for more information.