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Mercy Touches Wounds of El Salvadoran People

December 2, 2010

By Jean Stokan, Institute Justice Team

Nine members of our Mercy family are traveling to El Salvador from Nov. 29 to Dec. 6 as part of a 50-person delegation commemorating the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of four U.S. churchwomen who were working with those who are poor and oppressed in that Central American country.

We started our first full day in El Salvador going to the chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated. On a wall leading up to the chapel is a powerful mural of Romero surrounded by his beloved people.

Some are depicted as under weights of oppression, others are smiling. Romero in holding a child with one hand and the other hand is raised, with a striking blood-red stigmata in the center. His feet as well are imaged with the stigmata.

My eyes were then drawn to the people all holding up their hands, each bearing the stigmata, their feet as well. Our group stood across the street to get a full view and gazed a long time in silence. Quietly, Claudia Ward, RSM, from St. Louis, broke from the group to go and touch the stigmata. One by one we followed.

This reverencing of wounds, and the gazing on the wounds of the many, seems to capture what this week-long pilgrimage holds.

I am privileged to be in El Salvador with eight Mercy Sisters and 41 others who journeyed here to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of four churchwomen for their work with people who are poor and oppressed. The delegaton is sponsored by the SHARE Foundation, and co-sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Pax Christi.

Our hearts are already filled with many stories and images. We walked through Romero’s tiny house and saw his blood-drenched vestments. We gathered around the altar where he was shot while saying Mass, laid our hands and prayed in silence from places deep.

We spent the afternoon with Salvadoran women legislators and a coalition of women’s groups in a symposium on femicide, the killing of women. They were still celebrating last week’s passage of a law for a life free of violence against women.

We learned that violence against women in El Salvador has increased 197% in the past 10 years, making El Salvador No.1 in the world for femicides. It’s one of the causes for immigration. Pat Pora, RSM, who works with immigrants in Maine, and Kathleen Erickson of Omaha, Justice Coordinator of the Mercy West Midwest Community, spoke on the experience of immigrant women in the U.S.

We heard too an impassioned plea for our advocacy in the U.S. on immigration reform, especially the DREAM Act being debated this week in hopes that it will provide a path to legal residency for young people brought to the U.S. as children. (Please contact your legislators to urge passage of this bill.)

The stories broke our hearts, yet the unwavering conviction and untiring work of the Salvadoran women’s groups to promote nonviolence cannot help but enkindle hope.

At the end of this first day, we are mindful that the Mercy journey to draw close to the wounds of the Salvadoran people has a long history for which we give thanks.

The earliest history I know is the journey of Betty Campbell, RSM, who came to El Salvador from Chicago in 1980 with Carmelite priest Peter Hinde six months before the deaths of the four U.S. churchwomen. They had come to know Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, as well as Carla Piette, whose lives and deaths we commemorate this week.

Others also have come, including many Mercy sisters and associates who have been involved in refugee work, sanctuary and other solidarity efforts in the U.S. and Latin America.

Thus, our Mercy delegation is humbled and honored to be representing the broader Mercy family here for this 30th anniversary commemoration of the four U.S. churchwomen. We especially will hold you in our prayers at their site of martyrdom on Thursday, Dec. 2.

Other blog posts about the experience in El Salvador:

More photos of the El Salvador delegation can be found on our Facebook Page.

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