El Salvador: Courage and Hope
By Sister Theresa S.
Sisters of Mercy participated in a delegation to El Salvador Nov. 30 – Dec. 5 to commemorate the anniversary of the martyrdom of four U.S. churchwomen and to honor U.S. women religious through recognition of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). The following reflection was prepared by one of the Sisters of Mercy who was involved in this pilgrimage.
While the scenes of assassination have been transformed into memorials, chapels and a rose garden in El Salvador, the memories of the people who knew, loved, evangelized with and were saved by the men and women martyrs remains startlingly fresh and immediate. Each day of our pilgrimage brought us closer and closer to the women martyrs, Ita, Maura, Dorothy and Jean; Oscar Romero and the Jesuits of the University of Central America, as well as their housekeeper and her daughters, Elba and Rosa. Nothing, except a personal live experience of those days of repression in El Salvador could have prepared one for the events described so vividly and painfully, by the eye witnesses or first responders who met with us there. In the very chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered, during a prayer of reflection on his life, each one of use stood and spoke a word describing Romero. Words like: Courageous, Martyr, Bishop of the Marginalized, Conversion, Evangelizer, Committed to the Poor, began pouring forth like a waterfall, a litany of a life lived on the edge, on purpose, just like Jesus.
The terror retold and the pictures in albums at the Romero Center at the UCA describe the unspeakable and leave one without words or stomach to recount. That justice hasn’t been served for the many, many thousands of victims in the country is one of the most difficult aspects of the reign of terror felt by those who survived. At the Memorial Wall filled with names of the disappeared, killed and “re-found,” I spoke with one of these women, in her 30’s, who was found in an orphanage when she was 16 yrs old. I was struck with the resilience and passion with which she lives her life and strives to make a new El Salvador possible. Those thoughts would re-echo over the course of the pilgrimage, as we traveled through the country and met many, many groups and individuals working to restore an authentic historic memory of the country named for “The Savior”.
Those who were forced to flee for their lives, either alone or in small groups, to languish in refugee camps in bordering neighbor countries, have come back to repopulate the country, in organized, supportive communities. The CEB’s or Base Christian Communities, with the basic mandate of a preferential option for the poor are alive and continue to give hope to many small groups of “returned” Salvadorans, despite the fact that daily life is far from ideal.
Like many places in Latin America today, violence, in the form of gangs, poverty and exploitation by government-sanctioned mining operations is very common. Nevertheless, those who receive scholarships for studies, impossible during wartime and repression, are serving their communities as social workers, teachers, lawyers and community organizers. The presentations that they made in various venues we visited were very hopeful. All of us were touched by the vulnerability and depth of hope present in the Salvadoran people we met and the religious communities committed to serve them. The words I come away with from this pilgrimage and would shout when asked are: Courage and Hope.
To read more about the Sisters of Mercy’s participation in this delegation, click here.