Faculty Immersion to El Salvador

The program is to deepen our sensitivity to the conditions and challenges that confront almost two-thirds of the world's population. El Salvador, its history of civil war and repression, and its legacy of Jesuit martyrs and others who spoke and lived the truth despite the most adverse circumstances, offers a unique context for fresh thinking and moral reflection on the mission of a Jesuit university today.

2014 El Salvador Faculty & Staff Immersion

2013 El Salvador Faculty Immersion

2012 El Salvador Faculty Immersion

Kimberly Rae Connor, Associate Professor & Director of Interdisciplinary Studies

Fidel Castro once remarked: “A revolution is not a bed of roses.” While in El Salvador I observed the crushing reality of this statement as the country continues to recover from years of civil war and corruption. But I also saw its opposite—a country where roses flourished in the midst of depravation, just as they had for the peasant Juan Diego, on the dry and barren Tepeyac Hill. It was December when the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to reassure Juan Diego by blessing him with roses as proof of God’s everlasting and ever-present love.

December is also the month when Jean Donovan, a lay minister, and three colleagues who were nuns, were raped and murdered for supporting the Salvadorian campesino’s revolution. As we learned from Father Schindler and the documentary, Roses in December, the women’s murders came not long after Jean wrote home to explain her recommitment to staying in El Salvador, despite its growing danger. Her love for El Salvador was expressed in her astonished appreciation: “Where else do roses bloom in December?”

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and her roses and their combined symbolic potency of restoring hope in the midst of despair continued to appear throughout our journey in El Salvador—in the rose garden at the UCA, planted to commemorate the martyred Jesuits; in the silk rose-draped image of Guadalupe hanging on the wall of the Ramos’ residence where mother and daughter were murdered by the Salvadoran military; in Archbishop Romero’s lyrical homilies that opened up hearts likes rosebuds and in the actual roses countless pilgrims strew across his crypt; in the serene bravery of Guadalupe who bloomed despite her desolate harassment by the state and the FMLN, persevering to eventually fulfill her dream to teach, finally, after she surrendered years of labor in sweat shops so her sisters and brothers could reach their goals; in the expensive floral tributes women sacrificed to buy and bring to the altar at Father Luis’s vibrant parish amidst the slums; in the rosy red soil that Vladimir, the FMLN veteran, shaped into adobe bricks to provide a home for his family; in the rosy cheeks of an ever radiant Maria, Minister of the Interior, whose FMLN origins were preserved in her utilitarian cropped hair; in the thorny persistence of Jenna and Maggie who won’t give up the struggle to create a country where young people can root and thrive.

All I encountered became a recurring reminder of the Lady of Guadalupe’s promise, symbolized in her roses that bloomed in December—“Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.”

This sense of protection in the midst of danger, of welcome among strangers, and of companionship among colleagues characterized a relationship that was building among those of us who had made the journey from USF to San Salvador. We began to see each other across the roles we played in our academic setting and to view each other with familiarity. Gently escorted around razor wire and armed guards by locals who knew us by name, we began to understand accompany as a theological concept. In coming to know each other and know El Salvador and its people, our familiarity was returning to its linguistic root: we were becoming family.

Taking a cue from this growing feeling of attachment, I made a point to make sure one of us had asked about the family of each generous soul we encountered. Whether cabinet minister or peasant, priest or infidel, male or female, young or old—what they all had in common was a joyful and grateful response to a question about their family: “How did your children grow up?” Did they go to school?” “How is your husband’s health?” “Where is your wife buried?” Whenever one of asked about someone’s family, the polite reserve dropped, the smile spread, the soul rested, and the essence emerged. We encountered humanity in its fundamental aspect in spite of the circumstances that that challenged the very existence of families. What we lived and what we learned was familia—from the intimacy of our community and those who opened it and entered in, to the intimacy we now felt as witnesses with a responsibility.

I initially avoided any thought of how to act on that responsibility when I returned home. I mindlessly resumed my routine, like walking my dogs on our regular route through a county park at the site of an abandoned quarry. But El Salvador continued to creep back into my world as I discovered on that first walk after returning home. Quite unexpectedly, while I had been gone, some earnest beings had built a labyrinth on the quarry floor. There is only one way in and out of a labyrinth; to walk it is to take an intentional journey of surrendering one’s own plans to take steps on a journey towards enlightenment and communion with magis. One walks a labyrinth as one reads a poem. Billy Collins advised that when reading a poem, it is a mistake to ask what the poem means. That question shuts down our imagination and limits what the poetic experience can accomplish. But when we ask, “Where is it going?” “How does it get there?” we open up a world of possibility and set out on an adventure that just might bring us to a moment of meaning.

When the universe presented in my own neighborhood a ritual reminder of Collins’ prescription, what I had learned in El Salvador came back to me as a journey I would continually repeat. Now every time I walk the labyrinth, another image from our trip returns, another sign appears. Moreover, even the received knowledge about which I had presumed expertise has begun to take on a new depth of meaning explicitly shaped by the encounter. For example, I went to El Salvador with academic proficiency in nineteenth century African American slavery, particularly the slave narratives composed by ex and fugitive slaves. But when I listened to the testimonies of those who had suffered or witnessed the oppression of others, I heard through my own ears and subsequently felt in my gut the sad reality that these narratives of slavery continue to be told by oppressed peoples around the world.

Maria, the rebel turned cabinet minister reminded us that “the biggest slavery is to be ignorant,” and everywhere we saw the effects of this maxim. But we also came to understand that ignorance extends well beyond those denied formal education. Even those of us fortunate to enjoy the privileges of earning advanced degrees were still, in some respects, slave to our ignorance of how much of the world lives. Fredrick Douglass’s claim about slavery, that “to understand it one must needs experience it; or imagine himself in similar circumstances,” came alive for me as I made the journey through my imagination by listening to the Salvadoran stories. I experienced what I thought I already knew. What I heard returned to me the same message communicated by countless iterations of the slave narrative tradition: Write because you believe in and want to inspire change; but do so knowing its only effect may be to reaffirm your own humanity.

How I heard music also changed. "The Ballad of the Fallen" is the title track of an album by Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra that I have written about and long appreciated. It is a song from El Salvador, based on a poem found on the body of a student who was killed when the U.S. backed National Guard of El Sal¬vador massacred people at a sit-in at the university in San Salvador. This song tells two stories: one the story of the martyred student who composed the words and also the story he tells in his poem. I had heard the song countless times before, had analyzed the diction and remarked on its historical context. But after being in El Salvador I heard more than I ever heard before.

"The Ballad of the Fallen" is a significant liberation anthem because, characteristic of the slave narrative tradition, the character of the protagonist is established in his humility; he wishes to be remembered as one of the people. He writes, "Don't ask me who I am/Or if you knew me/The dreams that I had/Will grow even thought I'm no longer here. /I'm not alive, but my life continues/In that which goes on dreaming/Others who will continue the fight/Will grow new roses/In the name of all these things/You'll find my name..." The poet directly links his own identity to the dream for which he fought and sees his immortality embodied in a future of liberation as symbolized, of course, by roses.

As happened in El Salvador, we are invited by the song to adopt his transfor¬mative imagination: "Cry with us all those who feel it/Suffer with us all those who loved them/Fall to the earth on your knees/tremble with fear/All those who on that fateful day...assisted in the murder." The poet es¬tablishes a clear sense of justice for the righteous and the unrighteous and links his identity with the future: "My true age is the age/Of the child I have liberated..."I only die/If you give up/For those who die in combat/Live on in every companero..."

The urgency of the poet is expressed as strong horns that bellow out a sweet and floral melody while maracas keep a gentle rhythm accompanied by the sensitive strumming of a guitar. Humming "The Ballad of the Fallen" again while walking the labyrinth after our journey in El Salvador, I let the mystery of the poem happen beneath the surface and kept walking. I understood better where the poet was going and how he got there. And this time I went with him as his sister. As family.

These experiential moments cast into sharp relief the more typical academic adventure I had immediately preceding our trip to El Salvador. I had come from Atlanta, Georgia, where the heat was similar but not much else. There I spent a week with 24 other academics, in a hotel conference room, discussing fine points of comparative theologies and theories of religious pluralism. While ostensibly the seminar was designed to promote dialogue across religious, cultural, and ethnic boundaries, this seminar was all in my head; it made few demands of my soul to wake up as El Salvador would do a week later. Mostly the seminar challenged everyone to compete for the title of who knows the most or says it best. The memory of this recent encounter came back to me as an extreme juxtaposition when Marco, our gentle and thoughtful and ever practical spirit guide, asked us to reflect on our El Salvador experience for a USF documentary video.

Language left me and all my academic Jedi mind tricks were useless in trying to conjure up a response for Marco. I realized that all I learned could be summed up in a word: surrender. There is no appropriate academic answer to a question about our El Salvador immersion experience. So I surrendered to the example of the people we met, described aptly by Sister Eva as “swimming in grace”: live life with alert deliberation, sincere gratitude, and enduring patience.

When Harriet Jacobs wrote of her experience in slavery and freedom, she traced the movement from one to the other as the result of a God who “raised me up a friend among strangers.” Those of us who went to El Salvador experienced a similar transition, an alteration that is particular to each of us depending on where we started but shared in our journey from strangers to friends to family.

Given the symbolic trajectory of my experience, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when my subsequent research into Romero unearthed a poem that said it all and said it best. “Rose Garden" has an evocative power that is the poetic equivalent of the experience we shared in El Salvador. Like the labyrinth it takes us in to God and sends us back out to the world believing that we can do something and do it well.

Rose Garden
It helps, now and then,
to step back and take the long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts;
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime
only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise
that is the Lord’s work.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted
knowing they hold future promise.
We lay foundations
that will need further development.
We provide yeast
that affects far beyond our capabilities…
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very, very well.

Bill Ong Hing, Professor

In the 1980s and 1990s, I helped to represent dozens of refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala who were applying for political asylum in the United States. The opportunity to travel to El Salvador this summer helped me better understand the plight that these individuals and families were facing back home even though decades have passed. I came away more moved by their strength and touched by those who are struggling to rebuild their country one day at a time.

I offer a few random reflections on some of the folks we met while there.

One morning we met with Jenna, a graduate of a Jesuit university in the United States in 2010. She grew up in the Midwest and first came to El Salvador as a high school student, then later as a college student on a public service program.

Jenna works in juvenile detention centers in El Salvador, where she and a friend have started a poetry project with girls and an art therapy program for boys. These efforts provide a space for the detainees to share what’s in their hearts and minds. Ella types up the projects for the youth, helping them to maintain their own portfolios. The programs provide a terrific outlet for the detainees.

While gangs existed in the country after the peace agreement in 1992, their ranks have swelled because of the deportation of gang members from the United States. There are two principal gangs here: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street Gang.

El Salvador is increasingly using repressive measures of enforcement, criminalizing youth. In prison, they are separated by gang affiliation, making prisons essentially into graduate schools for gangs so that the members can come out stronger and more violent.

The government appears to have given up on any hopes of rehabilitation; any reference to prevention programs is only lip service.

The system also is corrupt. Police beat kids, then throw them into holding cells randomly. People with money can pay their way out of the system. So the ones that Jenna and her friend work with are poor. Public defenders are overwhelmed.

One of Jenna’s acquaintances had been released from prison eight years ago, go married, had a son, and was leading a straight and narrow life. But one day he was stopped on his bicycle and thrown in jail for six weeks for not having proper papers for the bicycle. During his incarceration, the only food he got was what was brought to him by his family. He lost weight and when he was finally released, he was skin and bones. For 45 days he slept standing up because there was no dry place to lay down. Fungus was all over his feet; he constantly stood in water up to his ankles.

There really is no serious state effort or commitment to reintegrate former gang members into society. There is no effort at restorative justice.

Unfortunately, gang prevention programs are supported by funders who do not allow counseling individuals who have been incarcerated.

We did learn from a credible local journalist that the gang truce that is currently in force seems to be legitimate. Violence is down. Hopefully, the truce sticks.

We attended a joyful, Sunday Catholic mass at a local parish on the outskirts of San Salvador. The congregation was full of life; the priest inspirational, charming, and engaging. After the mass, we met with the priest, Father Javier (a pseudonym), who grew up in El Salvador. He entered the seminary in 1983, inspired by Archbishop Romero who had been assassinated three years earlier. Those were dangerous times when priests were being targeted, but Father Javier was not deterred.

Father Javier’s parish engages in health service programs along with the regular services provided by the church. Residents suffer from serious respiratory problems. There also appears to be a high rate of cancer. This unusual cancer rate was confirmed by a surgeon we met at the local public hospital.

The parish lies in the middle of street gang activity as well. The two rival gangs (18th Street and MS-13) are all around, but church and community leaders do their best at try to intervene and provide other options, but the challenges are difficult.

Father Javier notes that even though the current Archbishop of El Salvador does not appear to have the same commitment to combatting poverty and social injustice as Romero did, he at least allows those with commitment to do their work. This means that individuals like Father Javier meet and strategize with like-minded church and community leaders regularly, including the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists. In fact there was a visiting group of Presbyterians at the mass that morning who were from the Midwest of the United States. Father Javier and like-minded priests continue to work from the heart, undeterred by serious structural challenges. They are not afraid to engage in coordinating community groups who organize for social change, even timing certain strategies, for example centered on lack of resources, so that media will cover their efforts.

In meeting with environmentalists from the local Catholic Relief Services center in El Salvador, you begin to be overwhelmed by the environmental challenges faced by the country as well. Central America produces only 4 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, but climate change is evident. Rainfall levels are at an all-time low; droughts, earthquakes, and food security are omnipresent. More than 95 percent of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated; and they hope that a new water law will be enacted in a few months that will provide the framework for some reform. Almost 85 percent of fruits and vegetables consumed in the country are imported. In short, after Haiti, El Salvador suffers from the hemisphere’s worse environmental degradation.

We met with Maria Serrano who is now the Minister of the Interior of El Salvador. She is definitely not a prototypical politician. Minister Serrano is the subject of the film: Maria’s Story: A Documentary Portrait Of Love And Survival In El Salvador’s Civil War, first released some 20 years ago, telling her story. She was an activist and mother engaged in the armed struggle of the period on the side of the FMLN. Serrano, a onetime campesino organizer pushed into the revolution by government repression of the citizenry, gives a very personal account of El Salvador’s fight for resources for the poor. If you told her years ago she would be carrying a gun and leading military operations for the FMLN, Serrano says, she might have thought you crazy. But as the government became more intolerant and violent, hundreds of Salvadorenas and Salvadorenos linked up with revolutionaries in hopes of a better life and an end of measures that strangled with country’s underclass.

Today, as the Minister of Interior, Serrano is striving to push for meaningful educational reform. She believes that education is a basic human right, and she wants her administration to provide books, food, and supplies for all children to attend school in the country, because the “biggest slavery is to be ignorant.” She tries to work with the governors of all the states across the country to coordinate these efforts. She understands that things are not perfect in El Salvador, but progress is being made. The global recession, storms, dengue fever, and other natural catastrophes have made reform difficult. But the government is trying to engage in more community economic development in trying times.

In order for lasting change to occur, she reminds us that it is not “the state that is at the center of change. The person is.

On leaving El Salvador, my sense is that the country is in disarray, yet still has a sense of hope. The United States contributed to leaving the country in shambles by supporting the repressive right-wing government with more than $5 billion during the civil war from 1980 to 1992. The money flowed, in spite of the fact that that the government and its paramilitary guards killed nuns, lay workers, Jesuit priests, and thousands of innocent civilians. Yes, we also heard of some unjust killings by guerrillas as well. The result of the civil war was a country whose infrastructure was destroyed and a people that one worker described as living under a blanket of post traumatic stress.

Yet the hope is the people is clear. We heard from students who have elaborate plans for small businesses and community centers back in their villages. We met with the former Minister of Labor who listed important accomplishments in the area of human rights for laborers. The truce between major gangs that has been in force since March is apparently not simply a matter of smoke and mirrors, providing a true opportunity to institutionalize some progress in quelling violence. And although the Supreme Court is under attack by members of the Assembly for asserting its independence, a magistrate of the Court with whom we met is confident that its progressive rulings and its legitimacy will be upheld.

One thing is very clear, the United States owes a lot to El Salvador because of the mess that we helped to visit on its people, its institutions, and its psyche. We should all support its democratic institutions and its people who are striving to maintain justice for all of its residents.

2011 El Salvador Faculty Immersion

Xornam Apedoe, Assistant Professor School of Education

My experience in El Salvador was a profoundly moving one. Hearing the personal stories of those who lived through the violent and terror-filled years that mark El Salvador's history was an experience that at times was heartbreaking and at other times was inspiring. I left El Salvador with a deeper understanding of the events that have shaped, and continue to shape, the lives of the individuals we met, and also with a great respect and admiration for those who continue the struggle for equality, justice and peace.

Reflection of Brian Arao, Associate Director of Residence Life

2011immersion1In the U.S., when we hear or speak of very poor communities in less developed parts of the world, we are told that these are people that need our help. Often, we frame that help in the form of what Paolo Freire might call extension - imposing our own ways with the assumption that they are superior, and what poor people need. The members of Comunidad Oscar Romero demonstrate the fallacy of this myth. Though they have very few material resources, they know precisely what it is that their community needs to thrive, and a very clear vision about how to make it happen. They have maintained this clarity throughout many years of navigating a shifting landscape of bureaucratic red tape and government hostility to their presence as "squatters" on their land. All the community truly needed was for us to listen, and believe, and perhaps tell their story to others. In short, they wanted us to be in solidarity with them. Freire advocated for communication and partnership with oppressed communities rather than well-intentioned extension of dominant ways of thinking and being; for me, Comunidad Oscar Romero will always be a powerful illustrating example of this concept.

2011immersion2Our visit to el monumento a la memoria y la verdad was one of the final stops on our trip, and was a fitting capstone. The memorial consists of a black wall with the names of 28,000 the salvadoreños y salvadoreñas who were killed during the civil war in El Salvador. The number is staggering, and yet it is only a third of the total number of people who died during the war. The name of the monument is as powerful as the image of 28,000 names etched in stone. It is a monument to those who died, and it is also more than that. It is a monument to "memory and truth," calling us to remember the facts of mass death despite (or perhaps because of) the horror of it. I believe it is that much more important that I, as someone who does not personally know anyone who died in the war, maintain this different kind of memory. Such memory will always inform whatever labors I undertake in the name of protecting and educating about human rights.

2011immersion3Maria Navarrete, Minister of the Interior in El Salvador. Twenty years ago, she was likely called a terrorist for her many years as a guerrilla fighting fiercely against government-sponsored oppression and protection of the interests of the privileged classes. Now, in her very new and very different role, her passion seems unchanged, but rather channeled in a new way. Mrs. Navarrete strikes me as someone who loves her people. It was this love that animated her work as a freedom fighter in the most grueling of conditions, work in which she persisted even when it grievously harmed her and her family. Her position in the Cabinet is ostensibly less treacherous, but perhaps no less difficult in this government where democracy continues to be tenuous. Thankfully, her boundless love, which leapt out of her and into each of us during our very brief visit with her, should be a sustaining force as she evolves into a new way of freedom fighting.

Stephen Morris, Director Technology Innovation

Stephen Morris' El Salvador Immersion Blog

2010 El Salvador Faculty Immersion

Reflection of Terry Patterson, Professor of Counseling Psychology

The experience in El Salvador was unlike any other: it provided a conceptual, emotional, social, political, historic, contemporary and tangible opportunity to experience the reality of the country and its people. Although it was only a week, there could hardly be another experience with the efficiency, organization, timing, breadth and depth that went into our trip. There was little possibility for illusions to settle in.

Meeting with campesinos, intellectuals, politicians, journalists, teachers, and healers of all ages who had all experienced or been directly touched by the horrible war and oppression gave us a picture of the situation past and present, and a glimpse into the future of the Salvadorian culture and society in general. Some were both traumatized and optimistic; others displayed their resilience with realistic perceptions of events and remarkable achievements; only a scarce few seemed exhausted and defeated. Children of all ages were obviously prized, and amidst often difficult, chaotic situations they beamed with pride in their schools, churches, and families. Community leaders all shared a vision that people’s voices be heard and government and church officials support, rather than interfere with their goals. This was in no way a radical or subversive perspective, but rather a peaceful, humanistic view that reflects the communal spirit of Latin culture. In that sense, the martyrs seemed to be very much in harmony with the living.

We are certain that USF’s unique position as a Jesuit University and in particular, Father Privett’s passion for El Salvador allowed us unique access to key individuals and sites. We were also privileged to have colleagues with such engaging, generous, and fun attitudes that allowed us to see things in new ways and filled in the gaps in our individual backgrounds and understanding. Our evening reflections intensified and solidified both our awareness of “not knowing” and in another way, made us more cognizant of the strong resonance within ourselves of what we had seen and heard that day. In another way, we were thankful that our own life experiences brought us to be curious enough to want to take the trip.

We know that we must walk miles and decades in others’ shoes to truly understand their lives, but we are sure that we have had profoundly moving experiences that have been indelibly ingrained in our personal and professional lives. We look forward to continued contact with the people of El Salvador, and have begun to explore together ways to bring this awareness to our students and colleagues.

2010 El Salvador Video

2009 El Salvador Faculty Immersion

Reflection of Robin Buccheri, Professor of Nursing

I learned so much about El Salvador in only 8 days. I met so many beautiful people who welcomed us with smiles and hugs even when they were telling us of the horrible things that occurred in their country during the 12-year civil war. Such as when they were telling us something that I should have already known—that our government financed their repressive military government that killed over 70,000 people with death squads. Not only that, but that the US sent military advisors, helicopters, weapons and napalm (so they could destroy the fields) to find and kill the people to protect the world from “communism”. (How many people have we killed by trying to protect them from something that isn’t even a threat?) These advisors were involved with the torture that was going on. I was so ashamed and embarrassed but the people of El Salvador that I met were able to tell me that they don’t hate us because they have learned to separate the US government from the US people. I am not sure I could be so gracious. I think I would ask why didn’t the US people do something? Why didn’t they get involved and find out what was going on during our civil war and which side they were financing? Why did the overwhelming majority of people just do nothing? So how has this trip changed me as a professor of nursing?I think now more than ever I believe that it is our responsibility as citizens to know what our Country is financing around the World and to speak up when we think it is wrong. I also think that all USF students deserve to have an immersion experience so that they can meet the people and learn the history of at least one country.

I am one of the co-facilitators of the Nursing Student Multicultural Group and have been for many years. Now when I work with these students, I will listen a little longer about the stories they have to tell about their culture and their homeland. Lastly, I am continuing to work to balance my perspective from the trip. I would like to remember the wonderful people, their beautiful country and their inspiring hope for the future within the historical context of a nightmarish time in their country that people in the world need to understand and not forget.

Reflection of Mike Hughes, Director of Admission

I think first of the El Salvador Immersion Program that I experienced with USF faculty and staff as images, realizations, and information that I struggle to understand in the context of my life experiences.Then I become anxious that I can’t really do anything that will make an appreciable difference in the lives of the individuals in El Salvador that we met or have any impact on the immense problems the country and its people face as a whole. I think of the beauty of the country itself, and of the people that we met. A small boy with almost nothing, in terms of material possessions, gave us each a marble as a gift. A pretty, dignified girl of twelve or thirteen came to a bible class that we visited in the sweltering countryside in what I imagine is her best dress, purple silk or organza, as if she were going to a party.Then, barefoot, she and the other children played soccer. At the same meeting, campesinos, young and old, planned and organized so that they and their community would have a voice in the new government.This against a green, fertile, tropical landscape that we learned, in addition to indigo, coffee, corn and frijoles, grew injustice, oppression and unthinkable violence.I can’t separate one from the other when I think of them.

So what did I take away from the experience? If nothing else, I take away an awareness of how luxurious my life is relative to the people we met in El Salvador. Most mornings I wake up in bed and think of the women and children in the Communidad Oscar Romero, squatters in the hot countryside, bathing and washing in a river, growing beans and corn to eat, and I wonder if they’re sleeping on beds of leaves or palm fronds in the heat.I think of our students who go to El Salvador and learned what we learned and much more, for example the USF nursing student we met at the national hospital, working in an enormous, dilapidated ward.She stood out in American contrast to the patients in the crowded ward and greeted us, smiling, eyes bright. I remember the Jesuits at the UCA and the parish priests, most elderly now, who experienced the murderous brunt of the violence during the civil war, but who refused to be silent. I think of the government ministers who try to take the country forward,who experienced losses like everyone else during the war.And I particularly remember the story of a woman whose family was caught in the middle of the violence between the FMLN and the government military, and that, when she finished her story, I could not think of one possible thing to say or do or even where to look.

The common threads among those we met were, poverty above all, then hospitality and kindness, determination, weariness, I think, and often, laughter and humor in the face of their experiences. Why should they be kind to us? As one woman, with whom I agreed, pointed out, and who was the only one who mentioned it, how could she meet with another group of Americans, when we consume the world’s resources at the expense of those who live in poverty? She said she met with us so that we would know, would be aware that this was true. Leaving San Salvador, as we drove to the airport, cleared the choking exhaust of the buses in the city, and moved into the countryside, passing through neighborhoods of relative wealth, then destitution, I felt a conflicting sense of relief and guilt that I still feel. And for me, there remains an ominous undercurrent of uncertainty and danger for most of the people of El Salvador, whose reality is trying to survive against what seem to be impossible odds while I simply got on a plane and flew away.

2009 El Salvador Video



In Memoriam Fr. Dean Brackley, SJ