‘With This Light’ Film Spotlights ‘Mother Teresa’ of Honduras
The life and work of a sister who helped nearly 90,000 children shows there is hope even in what appears at first to be hopeless situations.
As Sound of Freedom continues to draw large audiences and is set to open internationally, a film about helping the hopeless and suffering children is rolling out in August. Called With This Light, the docudrama details the life of Franciscan Sister Maria Rosa Leggol who has been called the “Mother Teresa of Honduras.”
With only minimal grade school education, she went on to save more than 87,000 children living in destitution in Honduras, showing them there is hope, and bringing them into new and productive lives. From the story, it’s also obvious she helped some of their families along this journey too.
The docudrama begins with Sister having those she helps burn the past by putting it on paper and tossing it into a fire, to forget the past. Her gesture and words bring a double light — the firelight that burns the past and the light that will brighten their future for them.
“Now we are going to start living a new life,” she says, “A life full of light.”
Because it is a dramatic story in documentary form, Sister Maria Rosa herself appears throughout the documentary, as do some youngsters who found both hope and worth through her love, concern and guidance.
To do that, she got the children out of their situation and into small-group family-style homes which she founded and had constructed. Her first-step method of having the children come to a stable, safe home reminded of the late Italian Sister Elvira who founded Comunità Cenacolo, focusing on reclaiming and rehabilitating addicts, by getting them off the streets and living in homes away from negative influences and environments.
Whenever Sister Maria Rosa is the main subject of the scene, she appears as the loving mother or grandmother, but at the same time one who is as solid and immovable as a mountain when it comes to helping the Honduran children.
“My life is about how to provide relief to others,” she says, “so they can improve their situation. In Honduras, more than 67% of people live in poverty and more than 260,000 children are orphaned as a result of violence.”
Being driven to one of the locations, Sister Maria Rosa sings a happy song — “I fell in love with Mother Mary’s son, and I gave him my love forever.” That is also obvious throughout her story because here, and wherever she is, she is always holding a large crucifix, often facing it toward the people as if to constantly remind them of who the Savior is. In the car, she kisses the crucifix several times too. On the dashboard are statues of the Blessed Mother and a St. Michael icon.
Another time she would say, “My life is how to relieve others. How can I make them feel, even a little bit, that God loves them?”
Her “preaching” to the children seems to be mostly by her example, love and her ever-present crucifix, showing them Jesus’ love for them.
Her small, neat home shines with faith and friendliness. Speaking there, she holds a rosary and is close to heavenly friends appearing in the beautiful statues near her. She is very calm and peaceful, even when recalling that when she was 6 years old and growing up in an orphanage herself, she saw how the orphans there were being treated, and even then she said, “Someday I will build a home for the orphans.”
Soon, at the same age, she saw two Sisters of St. Francis arriving in the country and she determined to join them one day. Clips of black and white photos show her already as a young nun taking care of little girls — at first, the children of women who were in prison and feared for their safety. Everyone told her she was crazy. Yet she initially got 10 homes built for children, even running after an airplane that was about to take off to get one of the passengers to help.
Sister Maria Rosa got a school for girls going, and transitional housing for university students once they were ready to try to apply for college. “You have to help them, guide them, and not take away the reality of life,” she says.
She was a gold mine of hope and help who was then joined by a Canadian priest who saw the good she was doing. She would continue to build dozens of medical clinics over the mountain areas, too, along with more than 500 homes for children. We get to see some as she talks. Her projects are interspersed with stories of some specific children — teens here, such as during sessions they have with their counselors, sometimes working through their troubled pasts, and lots of times about their goals and hopes and how they are doing.
We hear her say, “My job is to give out mercy. … That's why children remind that you have a mission. Because you have to extend this mission everywhere.”
The documentary also follows the plight and story especially of two of the girls — teenagers. Their struggles and how Sister Maria Rosa’s homes made all the difference in their lives. Not all are successes immediately. In one case, one girl starts slipping back into old ways, moving in with her boyfriend with his mother’s okay where her treatment leaves much to be desired spiritually and physically. But as that light of hope still flickers as she looks at what is happening, she still wants to get a high school diploma to better her lot.
Then there are three sisters whose lives are dramatically changed when they come to live in one of Sister Maria Rosa’s homes. These are all the actual teens, not actresses or actors.
“God's will drives me,” Sister Maria Rosa says. “I'm not afraid of anything, not even bullets. Those kill your body but not your soul. I care about my soul, not my body.” She had enemies because of what she was doing. At one time the Contras looked for her but didn't find her. But they found her helper the Canadian priest, and shot him.
“He's a martyr whom no one recognizes, but I do,” she said. “I asked God for the strength, faith and trust to overcome all this and to keep living.”
She was afraid of no one. In one instance when there was the threat of money being withheld if she continued running the homes her way, she withdrew from that group and told them,” You can keep your money. God's projects are not determined by money. God shows me a light.”
After 70 years of being a Sister of St. Francis and helping more than 87,000 children through her 500-plus homes, schools, hospitals, medical clinics and other places she founded, Sister Maria Rosa died in 2020, leaving a lasting legacy.
In light of all this, With This Light’s goals include wanting to inspire people to help support Sister Maria Rosa’s missions and to “cement her powerful legacy by ensuring that her organization can continue her mission of advocating for, and protecting, Honduran children.”
After With This Light was privately screened in 2022 at the Vatican, it was announced that the archdiocese in Honduras was gathering testimonies, in hopes that a cause for beatification for Sister Maria Rosa could succeed.
The film, which is in Spanish with English subtitles, will screen in limited locations in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago Aug. 11 (see specific places and dates at WithThisLight.com/events). On Aug. 15 it will be available on demand on Apple TV+, Vudu, Google Play and YouTube TVOD in addition to iTunes.