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Touching Hope in El Salvador

December 13, 2010

By Jean Stokan, Institute Justice Team

Our closing gesture in El Salvador was to sing De Colores, the bookend on a pilgrimage that spoke to witnessing and touching hope.

Though we wept many tears at sites of martyrdom, it was hope that had the last word. From the many visits over the week a sample of the signs of hope in El Salvador included:

• The women’s coalition ORMUSA shared that after a 6-year advocacy campaign, the Salvadoran National Assembly voted on November 25, 2010, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to approve a new law: “A Life Free from Violence for Women” Act.

• A grassroots anti-mining coalition has so far kept in place a law in El Salvador to prevent mining by international companies, despite lawsuits by Canadian and US companies and killings of several of its anti-mining activists.

• Young teens, recipients of SHARE’s scholarship fund, inspired us with their strength and passion to educate themselves, raise consciousness on women’s health, challenge machismo in their culture and bring in other young women into the work of transforming their society.

The dream that “another world is possible” is enfleshed in El Salvador. Out of the large-scale martyrdom and war that took 75,000 lives, “another world is being built” as we witnessed in these initiatives, and more.

Of course the challenges continue as we saw homes made of cardboard, tin and plastic garbage bags directly across the street from a modern mall. Pushed off their land after years of following the free trade policies pushed by the U.S., only 20% of the population has stable income, and a fifth of all children have stunted growth. Widespread crime, trafficking and femicide also are deepening in scope.

Dean Brackley, SJ, teaching at the Jesuit university in San Salvador (UCA), captured it well when he spoke to the roots of immigration and why 400 people per day attempt to go north even though they don’t want to see their families disintegrate. “People are coming to the U.S. not to pursue the American dream; they are fleeing the Central America nightmare.”

Suyapa Perez, feminist theologian also at the UCA, shared with us the need to name the idols in our world today (i.e., accumulation of riches) and the significance of reflecting on the martyrs and of linking our lived history with the Salvation history of the Bible. She described the “kingdom of God” as “solidarity” with its offer of underlying pools of hope, waiting for us to tap.

Our Mercy delegates return from this pilgrimage having tapped into that hope. We return with a commitment to address how US policies, as well as our life styles, contribute to producing immigrants by the thousands each year. And we return with a commitment to put wind in the sails of the pockets of hope we touched.

We are grateful for your prayers and we invite the broad Mercy family (our schools, ministries, friends) to help keep alive the legacy of the four US Churchwomen martyred in El Salvador and to help strengthen the hope:

• View the SHARE Foundation’s web site with its host of educational and reflection resources, more blogs and pictures from our delegation, information on participating in other delegations, as well as descriptions of the projects of hope that need financial support to help them grow.

• If you are not already on the Institute Justice Team’s email action alert lists (for immigration, women, nonviolence, poverty) and would like to be added, send an email to

• Keep the people in prayer — especially those carrying the weight of so much poverty, family disintegration and violence throughout the world.

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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