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Day 6 in El Salvador

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Day 6 – Monday June 20

We meet in the hotel to listen to Margarita who lived in El Salvador in the early days of the civil war. She told us of the persecution by the right-wing party and of their attempt to capture her, even though her family had ties to the military. She fled to Mexico with her children to escape the war, but one winter holiday, her children begged her to let them go home for a week or two to visit their friends. She relented and after only a day, her two oldest children were ‘disappeared.’ For three days she had no word and lived in agony that she would never see her children again. There was an international effort to free her children, and her family used their connections to intervene. After three days, one child was released, but the other was sent to prison – her only crime was that she was related to someone who had been close to Archbishop Romero. She appealed to a U.S. Senator who was visiting both Mexico and El Salvador, and, after he visited the child in prison, he (apparently) intervened and the child was released.

The experience destroyed the family unit – she underwent a divorce and the children have had a rocky relationship with their mother ever since.

We watch a documentary on Jean Donovan, a lay church worker, who was murdered along with three nuns. They were picked up by the military, raped, shot execution style, then buried in a mass grave. The incident became international news, and although the lowly soldiers who carried out the crime were eventually convicted, the higher-ups who ordered the killings were never prosecuted. Father Paul Schindler, who is in the documentary, visits with us and gives more background and details of the incident. A number of people in the group are quite moved…

After lunch at the hotel, we go back to the neighborhood where we had attended Mass the day before and visit Fe y Alegria. We are met by a Sister of the Sisters of Charity. From their website, “Fe y Alegria is a ‘Movement for Integral Popular Education and Social Development’ whose activities are directed to the most impoverished and excluded sectors of the population, in order to empower them in their personal development and their participation in society.”

Fe y Alegria is a school where students can be in a safe environment. We see students in their uniforms hanging around before classes start and we move into a classroom for a talk. Unfortunately, the area has just been fumigated, a music lesson is starting a few feet outside the door, and we move to another classroom. We hear stories of hope as well as a story of tragedy. Of kids who begin an ascent out of poverty, and of a star student who was killed by gang violence. We are told of the building of a wing of the school and how, almost by divine providence, funds become available.

Our last stop of the day is with Rick Jones at Catholic Relief Services. He has a wealth of information about present day El Salvador and what he sees as many of its problems. He lists as his top five issues: a) the economy (unemployment); b) violence; c) emigration (to the U.S.) as splitting apart families; d) global warming; and e) health care. It is insightful and articulates what we have been trying to define during our stay. The problems can seem insurmountable, but there are people like Rick who are fighting a daily battle to make people’s lives better all over Central and South America.

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