Blood Flowers: A Novel
By Mary Judith Ress (iUniverse, 2010)
In the late 1970s Mary Judith Ress was a young nun arriving in Latin America to do work among the “poor.” Like many coming from the United States, she soon found herself caught up in struggles for social justice for which she had been little prepared.
In this novel based on her own experience, Ress writes of Sister of Charity Meg Carney from Ohio. Meg and two fellow sisters, Theo and Molly, were deeply bonded in the novitiate. All chose to go to Latin America to work, Meg and Molly to Chile, and Theo to El Salvador.
Chile is caught up in the excitement of revolutionary hope, led by the presidential campaign of Salvador Allende. But the country soon becomes a nightmare with Allende’s overthrow by the Pinochet regime. Priests and laity with whom Molly and Meg work are its victims.
Meg joins Theo in El Salvador, which seems calm but soon reveals deep turmoil, as peasants led by priests such as Rutilio Grande seek a more just society. Theo and Meg, assigned to the community led by Grande, are soon caught up in his ministry, which results in his assassination and violent reprisals against his supporters. Meg and Theo flee into territory held by the guerrillas where brave peasants struggle to survive against the military attacks of the U.S.-funded army. In this struggle Theo is wounded in the Sumpul massacre and dies of her wounds.
Ress’ story recalls a time of political conflict and its effects on church communities seeking their prophetic role. But it also tells of complex relationships: among the three friends, with their religious community, and among people with whom they identified in Chile and El Salvador.
Ress, a leader of feminist thought, does not impose her criticism of the contemporary church on 1970s U.S. and Latin American church and society. Rather she lets her story, with all of its emotional intensity, stand in its own right, rooted in the world of experience she knew as an American nun in that period.
This article appeared in the November 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 11, page 43).