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Amanda Lauer reviews a new AppleTV+ documentary about a religious sister nicknamed the Mother Teresa of Central America.

It would be hard to find someone with as much of a devotion to their home country as the late Sr. Maria Rosa Leggol, OSF. Known as the Mother Teresa of Central America, during her 70 years as a sister, she helped over 87,000 Honduran children escape poverty and violence through an ecosystem of social, educational, and entrepreneurial projects, inspiring an international network of supporters to expand her work.  




The documentary With This Light, produced in Spanish with subtitles in English, tells Sr. Maria Rosa’s story in her own words, while focusing on two particular teenage girls, Maria and Rosa, who are struggling to break familial cycles of poverty and violence to create lives of their own. The subject matter is appropriate for teens and up. It’s an intriguing look at life in a third-world country—one rife with poverty, desperation, homelessness, food scarcity, political uncertainty, and war.  

That being said, there are moments of joy in life of the teens featured in the film, and being part of the community that Sr. Maria Rosa built helped facilitate that for them. They’re offered the greatest gift—the gift of education—which is a godsend for females who otherwise may be relegated to early marriages and starting families before they are physically, financially, or emotionally ready.  




The foundation of this film is the devout faith of Sr. Maria Rosa and how she dedicated her life to the Lord and promoting her Catholic faith. She had gumption, no doubt, and would approach just about anyone—regardless of their fame or stature—when she was looking for funding for the hundreds of projects that she worked on, which included housing (more than 500 homes built for children, teens and single mothers), education, healthcare (more than 150 medical clinics built), jobs, and disaster relief.  

Another native of Honduras, Jessica Sarowitz, is equally passionate about her home country, and she’s giving back in another way, by financing this film project. Sarowitz personally knew Sr. Maria Rosa for decades. They’d first met when she was 8 years old and her parents were doing mission service work in their home country. “I saw this ball of energy, a lot of activity, she was running around, bossing everyone around. I could tell she was really loved.” 

Sarowitz noted that Sr. Maria Rosa is considered one of the foremost figures in the social justice movement. “I had a relationship with her for about six or seven years. In that time, I saw people coming up all the time and saying, ‘Thank you, Sister.’ She’s a great healer, she’d done so much for the country in establishing public health clinics in rural areas. She helped orphaned, abandoned, and abused kids. Her story was truly inspiring. She was a complex character. There was this historical context to her work. You had all the wars, the Sandinistas, yet she prevailed, she did so much to help so many children.” 

Nicole Bernardi-Reis, who co-directed the film with Laura Bermudez, has something in common with both Sr. Maria Rosa and Sarowitz, the Catholic faith. “Sr. Maria Rosa is a Honduran hero. She transformed that country and she was such a character. What a beautiful powerful woman she was. We went down in 2018 and did a whirlwind research trip. We went back in 2019 and started interviewing Sister and did background research on Maria and Rosa.” The documentary was completed after Sr. Maria Rosa’s death at the age of 93 in late 2020 from Covid-related issues. 




With This Light is already making an impact on the world. This film has caught the attention of Pope Francis. He is said to have been so moved by Sr. Maria Rosa’s story that he’s supporting the start of her cause for beatification, with the hope that someday she will be named a saint.   

According to Bernardi-Reis, this documentary offers several messages for its viewers. “You don’t have to wait for something to do good in the world. This was a woman who at the age of 6 knew she wanted to help people. She wasn’t a millionaire; she had a 5th grade education. Because she believed in God and in her mission, she transformed a couple of generations of people and gave them life, dignity and hope. Her faith drove her. All of us can find faith in our hearts to do good for people.”  

With This Light is available for viewing on AppleTV+ or for downloads through iTunes.


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Copyright 2023 Amanda Lauer
Images: copyright 2023 AppleTV+