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Honoring the Martyrs of El Salvador

December 3, 2010

By Sister Diane C.

As our two buses turned off the main highway to the older road going out, out to a much less populated area, my eyes sought out the beauty and starkness of nature. Red poinsettias were in full bloom swaying in a gentle breeze. Greened bushes and trees (with their spring cloaks from recent rains) hung over each side of the road, linking their branches mid-way. Small houses switched from tin roofed, huddled shanties to old, more spread out, tiled dwellings.

Each of us quietly held our own prayers and reflections as we re-traced the road where the four church women made their final journey. Today, thirty years after that terrible violence and martyrdom of the night, the church universal of poor and pilgrim, foreigner and local base -Christian community faithful, would come together to celebrate their lives and their powerful legacy.

The tiny chapel built right next to the site where the bodies of Ita, Maura, Dorothy and Jean were found could not hold the crowd of 600 or more.

“La Biblia es la palabra de Vida” chanted the choir and echoed the crowd. “The Bible is the Word of Life” and the lives of these women were read as Word, model, and prophetic Life.

The large photos of the women’s faces drew tears, homage, and honor. Four North American women who had labored among the poor, oppressed and terrified people of this conflicted nation drew together the peoples not only of the USA and El Salvador but of the neighboring nations and the world.

The songs selected are familiar to the local people so the choral voice held gusto and passion. As we sang of the God who accepts the sweat of our labor, all there heard that this God invites all of us — especially the poor and the outcast, women and those who feel marginalized—to come to the table, come to the banquet prepared by our God. How well the words fit and focused the lives of the four church women and the lives of the innumerable martyrs of the time.

After the slow journey back to the capital, our buses left us off in the middle of the largest civic park in San Salvador. Families and workers were picnicking, students were jogging along the pathways, and amidst the activities of the people, Madre Guadalupe Mejia met us with a gentle smile and quiet, warm voice. She had come as a prominent representative of the civil society committee that had advocated, helped finance and pushed forward the construction of an enormous memorial wall with the names of more than 30,000 victims of the war. The United Nations truth commission had pushed the Salvadoran government to construct such a memorial but the government had never acted on the UN recommendation.

Guadalupe lost her own spouse to a horrible, brutal death in 1979. From 1983 to the present, she has not stopped meeting with families who have never been able to mark a place to honor the many innocent war dead, who have grieved terrible loss, and some of whom have never found nor been able to confirm the death of their loved ones.

Guadalupe told us about the long and arduous efforts to finally create a memorial about as long as a football field, beautifully executed with relief figures to show the history of the people and culture and a listing by year (1980 to 1991) of the names of those who died.

The wall gently curves along the natural hill at one end of the green park, and one could see the 50 of us in the Share Foundation-sponsored delegation spread out, praying and leaving a gorgeous fresh rose as a mark of faith, of touchstone in memory of those who gave their lives, and as a commitment to move to transform our planet to never again tolerate such violence, such breach of faith in humanity, and such denial in the face of the compassion of our God.

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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