San Roque

Today is the feast of San Roque who cared for victims of the plague. He is known among Italians as San Rocco (Rocky) and in English as Saint Roch. But I invoke his intercession as San Roque.

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Statue in the Cloisters Museum, MMA, NYC

I use his Spanish name because my first experience of pastoral work in Latin America was in the church of San Roque in San Salvador, accompanying the pastor, Padre Pedro Cortes, for two months in 1987. The parish was in an area of San Salvador which was deeply affected by the October 10, 1986, earthquake.

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The church of San Roque, San Salvador, about 1987

San Roque was, in my mind, a fitting name for this parish.

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Heading out on an excursion with the youth of the parish of San Roque, 1987

San Roque was born in the fourteenth century, in Montpellier, France, of wealthy parents, who died when he was ten. When he was twenty, he sold his goods and went on pilgrimage to Rome. There he began to care for victims of the plague. He contracted the plague and went to the forest to die peacefully. There a dog came, bringing him food and licking his wounds. He was cured and returned to caring for the sick.

There are two versions of his death. He is said to have returned to his native city of Montpelier and continued his care for the victims of the plague, dying when he was about thirty-two years of age. The other version is that on his way back to France he was arrested by soldiers in northern Italy and accused of being a spy. He was jailed and died in prison.

Though little is known of his life, what we learn from him is commitment to the poor, to those at the margins of society, even to the point of becoming one of them.

These past two weeks I have been reading Henri Nouwen’s ¡Gracias! A Latin American Journal, which he published in 1983. It is a book full of wisdom for anyone in ministry and especially for us in missionary countries. He noted that

Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.

That is what San Roque was for the victims of the plague. That is what I experienced at San Roque in El Salvador. That is what I hope I do here in Honduras.

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