Magazine article U.S. Catholic

More Than a Candle in the Wind

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

More Than a Candle in the Wind

Article excerpt

It was a heavy week for the world -- the death first of Princess Diana and then of Mother Teresa. One has been transformed in death to a larger-than-life princess, the photogenic Rorschach who becomes whomever we need her to be, while the death of the world's most famous nun has already sparked agitation for speeding up formal canonization proceedings.

And while millions of British mourned and millions of Catholics mourned and many more took a voyeuristic or bemused interest in these deaths, their funereal rituals, and their nexus, I thought of another death, one noticed neither by the paparazzi nor the Vatican. I think of Mev Puleo, my late wife.

Since everybody else is expected to have some emotional reaction to Princess Di's demise (and, to a much lesser degree, Mother Teresa's), I am all too happy to add my two cents, as I have undergone what many might agree is a most excruciating loss: that of a beloved wife, soul mate, best friend, partner, and companera, who in January 1996 died from a brain tumor at the age of 32.

So here are a few musings from a widower who pondered all the hoopla over the passing of rich and famous celebrities.

Like Princess Diana, my wife was a child of privilege, although a distinctly American kind. Her Sicilian father lived the immigrant rags-to-riches story, and her mother nurtured her and her siblings and gave them wonderful opportunities about which most of the world can only dream -- vacations spent traveling internationally, excellent schooling, and a comfortable home environment. Mev got off to a good start, fast.

Like Mother Teresa, Mev was a daughter of the church. She went to Catholic schools for 20 years, went through a Catholic charismatic phase in her teens, read the Bible every day from her teen years until the age of 26, and had even thought of becoming a lay celibate like Dorothy Day. Mev was as Catholic as we come.

Unlike Princess Di, Mev did not marry a prince, nor did she hang out with a chic and powerful crowd. On the contrary, she was a befriender to Third World nobodies and an ally to the persecuted.

As a photographer, she pursued projects in Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, and El Salvador, where she documented the lives of people struggling for land, life, and justice. Unlike the paparazzi piranha, Mev would not begin to take photographs until she had gotten to know the people in a particular community. She was very careful to become acquainted with the Catholic missionaries in a village, who would then gradually introduce her.

From the first time I met her at the Maryknoll School of Theology in 1988, Mev was concerned not to be a voice for the voiceless poor -- "they can speak for themselves!" -- but to provide a means for their voices to reach our ears. Mev went to the places -- prisons, slums, Amazon jungles -- that we all too quickly consign to the dustbins of anmesia.

Unlike Mother Teresa, the saint who cared for the dying, Mev was an unabashed advocate of liberation theology, the ecclesial practice of opting for justice (not simply charity) for and with the poor. Like Mother Teresa (constantly) and like Diana (occasionally), Mev stood among those destitute and demeaned, but she also asked pointed questions about why these people were suffering. Mev's photographs surely pointed to the misery in people's lives, but she was not a proponent of cheap charity; for example, she practiced and encouraged U. …

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