Saturday, August 10, 2013
Today was a day of reflection and relaxation. We journey about an hour to the department of La Libertad. There we engaged in fellowship and experienced the awe and wonder of the Pacific Ocean and the country of El Salvador itself. Many of us took the time to enter the warm waters on the dark sandy beaches as well as comb for seashells. Some of us spent time talking with the lay missioners about their lives, work, and hopes for their missions. Some took the time to read or simply sit and reflect. Others lay in hammocks and let the wonderful soumds of the crashing waves lull them to sleep. There is a paradoxical feeling you get in such a serene place of suffering. Looking out and listening to the music of the ocean starkly contrasts with the images and stories of the people who truly bear the burden of the cross. Knowing that we will all journey to our own worlds of comfort is also a paradox of sorts. Having walked among the Salvadoran people, hugged them, listened to their stories,played with their children, broke bread and prayed with them, and shed tears for them has been both sad and liberating. Knowing that you'd like to take each one home to feed and nourish with comfort is so frustrating, yet realizing how much they've taught you about real faith, simplicity and respect for God's creation truly humbles you to the point that you don't think that you can give them even half as much as they can give you. I think the Salvadoran people live in an entirely different plane of human existence. And the only way one can get there is through complete surrender of the self to the mercy of God. I am humbled by such a sacred and holy people.
Posted by Fran Etter at 8:30 PM
Friday, August 9, 2013
Breakfast: platanos (fried bananas), frijoles (mashed red beans), coffee. We took a 1 1/2 hour trip to the Finca San Jorge Coffee Cooperative and passed through a small town called San Julian where we picked up Guillermo, an administrator of the Finca. He was waiting for us at the San Julian Catholic Church. From there we took a back road up a hill to the cooperative, which was very rocky and rough for our little microbus, but our driver Mario Andretti managed to make the trek in 15 minutes or so. This coffee cooperative belongs to an association of cooperatives called Nuevo Amanacer (New Dawn). During the civil war, the idea for the cooperative began due to a terrible number of orphans left behind by murdered parents. Since Monsenor Romero tried to find refuge for the kids and used the church for this, the cooperative got the idea to follow in his shoes. Then, after the war was over, the cooperative realized that there was even a greater need to help the orphaned children. The poverty was so great and they wanted to figure out how to help them. So, they started to organize into a group/partnerwhip to find a way to become an NGO. In 1993, they became that NGO after the Peace Accords. They got some aid from Sweden to fund the project. In 2000, they expanded to also provide education and food and job training for the children. They had a lluvia de ideas (or a brainstorm session) to figure out how to finance their ideas. They thought about starting construction companies, airlines, etc. But these ideas were not aligned with their goals, so they got the idea to buy land. They had some saving to put into the project and some help from the Swedes. One of their first objectives was to help the children and their second was to preserve the environment. 60% of the income of the cooperative goes to pay expenses to run the finca and the other 40% is profits that they use to maintain the five centers for children that they have set up around El Salvador. The cooperative has about 80 acres and is located about 900 meters above sea level. It is located in the mountain chain of balsam trees (balsamo). So, they grow coffee and vegetables and work the balsam trees. They also have bee hives of different varieties and produce some sorghum. They have also rescued some grazing land and planted trees for further development and profit making. Balsam is used for medicines, make-up, perfumes, soaps, shampoos, etc. They sell it pure to the companies who make these products. Another benefit they gain from their finca is tourism. They help people to learn about the preservation of the environment since everything they do there is certified organic. The five families who work on the finca live for free and the finca then provides them with formation to learn to better themselves economically and through education. The families who live and work on the finca have to commit themselves to the organic way of food production. The five centers the finca supports are located throughout the country such as in Morozan - where it is very, very poor and many people suffer from disabilities due to the war. They have a clinic there also to help those with HIV. University students often work in the centers for volunteer hours for their graduation requirements. Others come to help from other countries such as Spain. Of the 80 acres, about 40 of it is dedicated to coffee cultivation. Some of the arbustos, or little trees/bushes are old and some are very young. About 7 tons of coffee is produced a year at the finca, ready and packaged to ship and drink. They produce about 12,000 pounds of processed coffee. Part of it goes to the United States and another part goes to Sweden and still another part to El Salvador. The coffee is the main income of the finca. They have about 8,000 coffee trees/bushes that they just planted and they should be in production in about 3 years. They hope to increase the tons of coffee they produce annually. November is the harvest month. There is only one harvest per year. They have to hire about 70 people to harvest the coffee. Balsam is the other source of income. Balsam production goes back to pre-Colombian times, and the finca seems to follow in this tradition with its very primitive form of harvesting and processing it. They call it the black gold of El Salvador because it is culturally enriched by the primitive practices. Since harvesting balsam is a dangerous job due to the height of the trees and the use of fire to extract the balsam, those who harvest the balsam get to keep half of what they harvest. They have to oftentimes climb to the highest point in the tree with wood and a fire starter to burn the wood on the tree to draw out the balsam. Fifteen days after burning the tree, the worker has to climb again to retrieve the sap. They take cotton cloths to stick on the tree to soak up the balsam that comes out. They bring down both the cloth and some of the bark to process both the balsam and a by-product. The machine the workers use on the finca to squeeze out the balsam also appears to be very primitive. It takes four men to operate it. There is no technologically advanced machine in existence to this labor intensive work. The ropes the workers use to climb the tree are made out of maguey (cactus) because it is fire retardant. There are often many accidents - paralysis, death, etc. that happen as a result of balsam harvesting. Much of the balsam is sold to local markets and to Germany where it is made into products. The lunch served at the finca was our first real taste of meat in a long time. Because so many people are so poor, rarely is there an opportunity to put meat on the table for a meal. We then went to Izalco to the Adesconuz Proyecto Escuela de Arte at the base of the Izalco volcano. This is where we met lay missioner MaryAnn and learned a little about her work with young people to preserve the traditions of the Nahuat indigenous culture. We were greeted by a teacher, Carmen, and another student blowing on caracoles (shells) and a man playing the marimba. We were passed a drink called chicha (about the equivalent of hooch) which is a Nahuat drink of fermented fruit. MaryAnn helps the students there preserve the Nahuat culture by having the students make artwork and perform ceremonies of Nahuat tradition. There is a man in Izalco who is one of the last people to be able to make the marimba - an instrument made out of wood that looks a bit like a xylophone. The teachers and the students performed a traditional Nahuat service for us involving prayer to the Great Creator and incense. The government has since recognized the school and has contracted 5 teachers to teach Nahuat, flute, marimba, drums, and the vision of creation. There are 32 students at the school, both young and old. 85% of the indigenous groups from El Salvador are Nahuat. We took around the building which was originally owned by a Spanish family and then walked around the Izalco community, which was celebrating International Day of Indigenous Peoples. We saw some of the murals that students from the art school created. There were a few by each of the two Catholic Churches. Again, the division of Catholics is quite apparent here with them having two churches - one for the indigenous, and one for the others. The non-indigenous church looked much more like a colonial style Spanish church. In both churches we saw some of the floats or installations that the people carry on their shoulders through the streets of Izalco during such religious celebrations such as Semana Santa (Holy Week). Their statues of Christ, Mary, and others look like heavily made up dolls in very gaudy clothing. Most of their garments are very bright and some have agonizing expressions on their faces. One representation of Christ was quite alarming to me, as he looked terribly frightened. He had on a gaudy, ornate purple and gold robe, a crown of some sort, and he sported dreadlocks. I feel as though He was zombified, quite frankly. He was somewhat stooped forward with his arm cocked out in front of him as if to grab hold of something or stop a fall. It made me ponder the reason for this somewhat terrifying image of Christ. I could not even bring myself to take a picture of it. Also, in both churches, other images or doll-like statues of Christ are in glass coffins draped in white silky cloth. In the indigenous church, Mary is also in a glass coffin. These coffins are also in the Semana Santa processions. So, it seems about everywhere we go, we are reminded of the division of the Catholic people. It really challenges your faith. Dinner tonight: Egg/potato (quiche?) dish, green beans, bread, chicken and rice soup, oranges, and water.
Posted by Fran Etter at 7:54 PM
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Today began with a nice dish of scrambled eggs, beans, bread, and cereal. We boarded Mario's bus and headed to the UCA - The University of Central America where the 6 Jesuit priests were murdered during El Salvador's 12 year civil war. We heard a presentation given by Gene Polumbo, a free lance journalist, who was actively working during the civil war. He was able to provide us with some interesting perspectives on the causes of the war and the very controversial involvement of the US in supporting El Salvador's military troups, those responsible for the slaughter of many Salvadorans. This presentation was given in the Center for Oscar Romero. An interesting point that Polumbo made is that people in El Salvador have never had an opportunity to reconcile with one another. The war was essentially swept under the rug. Nothing has been put into place to let the people deal with things psychologically. They have not even had the opportunity to have funerals for the disappeared. When people can tell their stories, they can begin somewhat of a healing process. We also learned about what it really takes for a peaceful people to take up arms and fight againist the injustices by which they are repressed. Polumbo reminded us that it takes a serious repression to begin a war, and this particular war could have been avoided had people been given some voice and some stake in their own lives. The people in El Salvador had to be at their lowest point to resort to violence. So many people had to go back on their convictions regarding peaceful solutions to conflict. People just got to the Basta Ya - Enough! We can't take it anymore! We also learned that El Salvador's very small elite class got wealthy with the production of indigo, but as the world become more technologically advanced, they had to look for something else. That something else was coffee. They ran people off their lands to the mountains to produce inidigo, and when that went south, they ran the people out of the mountains to grow coffee. The campesino was forever at the mercy of the oligarchy. When people coule only find work picking coffee beans for three months of the year, the rest of the year for them was a scramble to live. After a tour of the campus grounds where the 6 Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered, we visted the chapel where they are buried. Here we saw much of Fernando Llort's artwork displayed in the form of a large crucifix, murals, and stations of the cross, all symbolically representing some of El Salvador's history and the repression. After the visit to the UCA, we went on to the Soy Project where lay missioner Ann Greig has engineered a food supply operation where she makes soy products to aid in providing better nutrition to the poor. When we arrived, they served us a soy lunch. We had tempe (a soy based meat), cilantro rice, boiled eggs, vegetables, tortillas and jamaica juice. For a sweet treat, she served us soy banana bread and coffee from the cooperative we will visit tomorrow. Around 25 families visit the soy project daily to get milk, bread, oatmeal and rice, etc. They bring their own containers for the foods. They pay about six dollars per month to do this daily. Most pay $1.50 weekly to be able to make ends meet and still buy the products. The soy helps to increase the height and weight of the children, but making the products is very labor intensive. Other parish communities have become interested in Anne's work at the soy project, which depends on funding from outside sources for her to be able to buy equipment, beans, bananas, and pay her workers. She buys about 50-100 pounds of beans per year, which are not readily available in El Salvador. So they must be shipped in from elsewhere. After lunch we saw how soy milk was made in her back room facility. Then we visited a base community, San Ramon, which is a few blocks away and serves about 40 families. We walked through littered streets to get there. Ann Beatriz, one of the leaders of the base community, told us how the community supports one another at their building by working together to find resources for things people need. They've also formed an association with 9 other base communities that do different activities together in parks and plazas. They go to the Parque Cazquetlan where the wall of memory is each 1st Saturday of the month. They promote activities to remember the things from the war to give memory to the people who died. Above our heads was a map of El Salvador depicting the 227 massacres that took place between 1974 and 1991. The groups often travel around the country to these sites to remember what happened. The idea here is to give the people some time to tell their stories and heal, something that neither the government nor the Catholic Church has done for them. As mentioned before, the Catholics in El Salvador are very divided over the war. Thanks to the Bishop there, this will continue because there has never been a directive from the Church to provide healing for the people. They've never been given a public apology for the war by anyone. Even though the people in the base community call themselves Catholic, they are not supported by their local pastor at the local parish because of their efforts to bring healing to the people. They have communion services, but the bread is not consecrated. Not even Rome (under the former Popes) recognizes the need for base communities. The official church in El Salvador does not celebrate Romero or any martyrs. The present archbishop says to forgive and forget, but this does not legitimize what happened for these people. The priests even paint over any images drawn on church property of the martyrs. The San Ramon base community sells arts and crafts created by its community members, students at UCA, and other artists in other base communities. We shopped here to support their work. So many beautiful things made by the hands of so many people who have suffered for so long. It's amazing that they can even create beauty given their horrid and detestable history. The store there has to be discreet about selling the items as gangs are very prevalent in the area and often times rob those who shop there or extort money from some of the artists who have their own shops around El Salvador. So, if it wasn't already bad enough for them, things can be worse.
Posted by Fran Etter at 5:21 PM
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Today we woke up to pancakes, beans, bread, coffee, and cereal. We left for our trip to Contrasida (Against AIDS) which is an agency to help educate young people and their families about the dangers of contracting HIV. Here we met with Daisy and Mercedes and Angel who all work for the agency and bring education and workshops to different schools and parishes. Most people in El Salvador contract HIV through heterosexual contact and are very much discriminated against both by their families and society as a whole. Mercedes talked to us a bit about how she does the workshops for young people and how she gets very frank with them about the ways one can get the disease as well as the myths prevalent in society about those who have the disease. They are working to change the perception of those with advanced HIV or AIDS. Contrasida also has a spiritual component to its mission in that it relays to people that God does not want people to suffer from HIV. In July during national testing day, 30,000 people in El Salvador were reported with HIV, and more than half were ages 15-20. Mostly husbands bring HIV to their wives because they live in a society of machismo in which men are considered manly if they have more than one partner. The clinic currently serves 130 people. Their resources are very limited and many of their donors are from other programs in other countries, usually in the form of grants. Fourteen people work at the agency. Two of the fourteen are vigilantes, or guardsmen/women. After the presentations, we divided into three groups and went into the homes of those who are infected with HIV. We traveled in a cramped truck with Mercedes and Angel to Aguilares to meet Sara Isabel and her five little boys. All five children have different fathers and Sara is pregnant again with a sixth child due in 5 months. At her home she was water for two hours a day two times a week from the city. She sells mangos on the side of the highway to support her family. Today her distributor had bad mangos on the load, so she lost about eight dollars in sales. She also grows corn and melons on the property that is owned by someone up in the hills from her home, but he does not use it for anything. This is very hard labor for her in her condition. She washed clothes in the nearby river, which she claims is clean. As we spoke to her about how she got her house, we found out that only her mother knows that she is HIV positive. Not even her children or other family members know. Due to discrimination, she has to be very discreet about coming to the clinic. She also just found out that her six year old, Victor, is also HIV positive, so he does not go to school with the other three older boys. He stays home with his four year old brother Jeramias. Her other three boys came home from school during our visit and we got a chance to talk with them a bit. They showed us the grades that they had received on some of their papers today at school. They are doing well in school. Before leaving, the other group member and myself each left Sara a little bit of money to try to make up for the mango sales she lost today. She was appreciative, of course. After a quick snafu of the truck we took to Sara's house getting stuck in the mud (and Max and Tony's muscle strength), we pulled away waving to the family. We returned to Contrasida for lunch which was a vegetable base soup with corn, greenbeans, and wiskil, as well as corn tortillas and cantalope juice (jugo de ensalada). Max seems to be having a very hard time with the vegetarian diet here. He did, however, scoot on down to the farmacia with Debbie, our guide, to pick up a Gatorade and a candy bar - hardly the nutrition he needs at this point! After lunch we went to visit Divina Providencia where Archbishop Oscar Romero lived and was assassinated. It's a hospital with a small church. He lived in a small apartment right near or adjoining the property of the church and hospital. Here a short little nun gave us our 1st tour in English! She told us about his living quarters. We were able to see his car and a small memorial garden where his heart is still burried today. He was shot in the heart. We learned that once the heart was exhumed a few months after his assassination, it was found in good condition and not decomposed as expected. This is considered to be the first miracle towards his canonization for sainthood. He needs just one more miracle - so bring on the miracles! We walked over to the chapel to see the altar he was behind when he raised the chalice for consecration when his murderer walked in and shot him in the heart. At his house you can see the vestments he wore stained with his blood. One priest that we had met on the trip, Father John, was one of the priests who hoisted Romero's casket on his shoulders the day of Romero's funeral when a bomb detonated near the cathedral funeral procession and everyone crammed into the cathedral for safety. No one could move in the cathedral because it was so crowded. They had to keep Romero held high to accommodate for space. It was amazing to meet a man who had direct contact with Romero in this way. Another interesting thing we saw among his collection was the watch he was wearing at the time he was assassinated. It had stopped at that moment and still shows the time of day of his murder.
Posted by Fran Etter at 4:40 PM
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Breakfast today consisted of eggs with peppers (way too many for me), beans, and bread. We left for about a one hour drive to Cojutepeque to Monte San Juan. We visited a family farm engaged in sustainale farming practices. Berta and Miguel have 11 children - 2 are adults with their own children, so they have grandchildren as well. Peg, our guide, works in the area of sustainable agricultural production. This family grows corn, rice, raises worms to make their own fertilizer, and have a fish pond where they raise tilapia. They also raise chickens, turkeys, ducks, a goat that is soon to give birth, two pigs, and have just started raising rabbits. Berta inherited the land from her mother and she and her husband just farm to sustain themselves. Her husband does referee - he has a licence/certificate for this - and makes about 12-15 dollars per game in the community and at other fields. The soccer field is down a steep hill from their house. It is always used daily around 4-5p.m. and on Saturdays for girls and Sundays for boys. The field is all but dirt and some rock, and it is a long trek up and down a steep hill for all players and fans to get there. It's really the only organized activity that kids have in the area. We ate lunch, which the family provided. We helped to make the tortillas by hand. We learned how the corn is dried on a clothesline for about 3 months and then shucked. The corn is then soaked in water and iime (not the fruit - the fertilizer) to soften the outter shell. The rinsing process takes a lot of rubbing and scrubbing the kernals to get all the lime off. Then we walked the wakal (large bowl) of corn to the mill about 1/4 of a mile down the road. A man has a small motor running which is hooked up to a grinder. Little by little, Berta added water to the grinder and a dough type mixture spit out. Berta then paid the miller and we walked the wakal of masa (dough) back to her house. When we arrived, her daughter lit the comal - a huge, flat iron skillet-like disc to ready it for putting on the corn tortillas to cook. We all pitched in to roll the masa in a small ball in our hands and then flatten it by patting it between our hands until we made about a 1/2 inch thick disk. Then we put it on the comal to cook, flipped it once, and removed it. It's kind of like making pancakes, only using much thicker batter. We made about 50-60 tortillas. It was a great hands-on experience. We were then taken on a tour of the farm ground where we learned how corn and rice were planted and harvested. Most of their property is on a hill, which means that it would seem to an American a treacherous and tedious job to do this. When we passed the corn fields, we saw how the nephews were fertilizing each corn stalk one by one by digging a small hole at the base of the stalk and dropping in small pellets of fertilizer. It seemed like a job that would take hours and hours. We couldn't believe how much work was involved with planting and harvesting by hand and hauling everything on their backs to their home. Basically, the farm is what sustains them. It is almost their only source of food. This is what they do - plant, harvest, eat, and sleep. After leaving Monte San Juan, we went to Rick's (our guide) house to see how he lives. He has a very nice little place in Cojutepeque with one bedroom and a bathroom with a flushing toilet and shower that is a small room on his back porch. We used the bathroom and then headed to his base community. This community is a squatter community along El Salvador's discontinued railroad. During the civil war, many people in the San Vicente region fled their homes and basically squatted on the tracks. This might be equivalent of our shanty towns. This is an extremely poor area with no plumbing. When you enter the community you can smell the stench from the homes. We met with community members in a small building that they use for a church. Children trickled in one by one to visit as well. We learned a little about how they are trying to make the community building a place for gathering, worship, discussion and support. After learning a little about the base community, we played games with the children. They are learning English, so we were instructed to be sure to make them practice as we played Uno and Go Fish. I introduced Max to a 16 year old girl name Yamey (Jamie), and he tried to practice his Spanish as she tried to practice her English. They decided that they might become pen pals through Rick since Jamie does not have access to computers or mail. It was a great learning experience for Max and one that profoundly impacted him because he saw first hand how kids his age had to live in such terrible conditions, yet they are always smiling and joking with you. We all left there with such a heavy heart because we know that many of the children face terrible odds of ever graduating or getting a good education and proper nutrition. They just wake up each day to survive.
Posted by Fran Etter at 7:53 PM
Monday, August 5, 2013
Today we woke up to a breakfast of pancakes, bread, beans, and fresh orange juice. We took a 1 hour drive to the community of Las Delicias where Maryknoll Lay Missioner Larry works with a small foundation to promote alternative youth activities to try to help young people extend their education and stay away from gangs. This community is in the hills outside of El Salvador and is very poor. The foundation and its funding sources have provided a library and other small buildings like a computer room and art room. Larry has also started a soccer organization for the kids. The foundation provides scholarships to the kids so that they can get the needed money to buy materials for school. It costs about sixty dollars a year to send a child to school. For other students at the high school age it is more because there is no high school in this community of 600-700 families. Students going to high school would need bus transportation money, and this is too expensive on the income of most families in Las Delicias, so the scholarships really help. Larry led us up into the hills to one of the student's homes to meet his mother and see where he lives. This young man was very proud to show off his medals in soccer and school to us. He had earned the highest average in his class, which was a C. School is very difficult for the kids, and many simply don't go because they get such a late start. Many students just hang out in the streets instead of attend school because they don't have the needed support to catch up. Larry tries to provide this needed support. The young man's mother was very proud of her son's achievements, as she had his certificates and medals hanging on the wall of their two-room shack. We then traveled up the same dirt road (very steep) to another student's home. For many kids, it takes them 1-2 hours to walk to school up and down the steep hills. When we arrived at this house, the student's mother offered us some corn (horse corn) which is called elote here. We squeezed lime on it and ate it. It was very tough. This woman supports 4 children, her father, and two aunts on her salary of 30 dollars per week making 3000 tortillas every day in the city. We then walked back down from the hills to the library to have lunch which was like a stew of rice, beans, corn, carrots, and wikil, which is a cross between a potato and a zuchinni. We also had a tortilla. It was really very good, but too hot for a hot day. They served Pepsi because the kids never get that. About 7 or 8 kids drank three 3 liter bottles of Pepsi. We saw the kids do some breakdancing for us to American music and then Max got to pass the soccer ball with a few of the students. After Las Delicias we traveled to the Volcano Boqueron where we walked to the top to see the inside crater. It was a long drive up on a narrow highway and then yet another drive on an even more narrow road. Then we got out to walk the rest of the way on a path. It was an impressive thing to see. I could not believe how many people actually live on the volcano where one can find many fincas of coffee. I can't imagine how they get their resources with such a long and steep walk up and down the volcano. The volcano erupted about 80 years ago and is due for another eruption sometime soon. Hopefully while we are not here! One interesting thing I learned today is that malnutrition plays a huge role in the size of the kids. Max met a boy today who was 22 and he appeared to be about 15. They don't get the proper nutrition for growth physically or cognitively, so this makes them appear delayed in appearance and intelligence. The poor are very, very poor. The people of Las Delicias live without indoor plumbing and hot water. It's amazing how clean and neat people keep their appearance among all the garbage along the roads. I also noticed today a number of soles of shoes on the path up to Las Delicias. They just simply wear out their shoes walking all the time.
Posted by Fran Etter at 7:59 PM
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Today we attended about three masses so to speak! After a breakfast of chorizo (sausage), cereal, and bread, we headed out to the Parque Cuscaltlan memorial wall where the four churchwomen, Bishop Romero, and the Jesuit priests, among about 30,000 other murdered victims or disappeared are remembered. Here we saw 43 panesl with not even half of the names of the murdered and disappeared during the civil war of the 1980's. Among the panels is a historical mural that, through stone relief images, articulates the history of El Salvador and much of the oppression its people endured. Additionally, the park had many military tents set up today. These weeks that we are here in El Salvador are considered their holidays or vacation time. There are numerous events going on and parades and such. The military were showing off some of their gear and tactical outfits. I didn't see anyone visiting the tents, so I'm uncertain as to how impressed the average Salvadoran is with its military. After the memorial wall, we took a thrilling ride through the downtown streets of El Salvador to 9:30 a.m. mass at El Rosario Church. Mario, our daily van driver, showed us some of his defensive driving techniques as we dodged several precarious traffic situations. It seems that most Salvadoran drivers don't follow any particular driving laws other than perhaps yielding at sporadic stop signs. They pass when they want, especially it seems in the face of oncoming traffic, make their own lanes at stop signs, and just basically peel out in front of one another. No driver wants to give up owning his/her own road...so no one really yields until they are about 2 inches from their opponent. We even burned a little rubber today to avoid a merging crash with another stubburn bus. We've dubbed our driver Mario Andretti. He likes it. The Rosario Church is very impressive. It looks like a warehouse on the outside. You wouldn't even know it was a church. But the inside is very contemporary with its seating arrangement, natural lighting, stained glass windows, and contemporary stations of the cross. The mass was said by a priest with a thick Spanish accent, meaning - he was from Spain. Definitely challenged my comprehension of the Spanish language. The Rosario Church is also famous for the massacre that occured across the street in the plaza La Libertad during the war. During the civil war, campesinos (country people) were protesting the oppression of the government. The military open fired on the people and they ran for cover across the street at the church. Those that made it to the church ran back to grab and drag the bodies of those who fell during their attempt to seek refuge there. At this time, the government would not send the military inside of a church. It was considered a sacred place that could be used for refuge. The people bolted themselves in the church while the military still fired shots at the doors. The bullets can still be seen in the doors today. Twenty-one people died trying to get in the church, so the people inside who survived the massacre and were inside with the bodies for several days decided to remove the flooring and bury the people under the church. Bishop Romero finally lobbied for the survivors to the government and the survivors were able to leave the church unharmed. Then we headed through the streets of downtown El Salvador to visit the cathedral. Under the cathedral in the crypt is the tomb of Archbishop Romero, a very controversial bishop in the eyes of Rome because he defended the poor during the civil war. He was martyred while saying mass and is now buried in this crypt. Mass is said in the crypt every Sunday and mostly the poorer people attend the mass in the crypt as the wealthier class attends mass upstairs at the same time in the cathedral. The Catholics are very divided over their allegiance to Romero. Some believe he was radical and should not have gotten involved with the civil war by protesting the oppression of the poor, and some believe he should be hailed as a true savior of the people. Rome is now finally considering Bishop Romero for sainthood, although, Rome has never complained to the Salvadoran government about Romero's murder. They just swept it under the rug. As the Catholics are divided over the casualties and blame for the war, so is the rest of El Salvador. Lunch at the retreat house consisted of fried chicken and french fries, so Max was certainly happy about that! We had lunch with a few Maryknoll sisters and several Maryknoll lay missioners working in the field and who we will visit this week. During the afternoon, we were able to get into small groups to learn about the work of each missioner. It gave us a chance to learn their ministry and continue dialogue about the current political status of El Salvador and the role of the church, which has always been quite controversial. Additionally, one lay missioner gave a short presentation on the realities of El Salvador today. These are some of the facts that we learned: El Salvador is in the middle in terms of world poverty. At least 1/2 of the world lives with less than the people of El Salvador and at least 1/2 of the world lives with more. There are 2.5 million Salvadorans in the United States. Four billion dollars annually goes into El Salvador from these people in the U.S. El Salvador is very tied economically to the U.S. So, the stock market crash in 2008 also deeply affected Salvadorans. Service workers earn about $220 per month. Factory/sweatshop workers earn about $190. Farmers - $97. So, a family of four would need about $170 per month to feed itself. Not much left after that. Even professionals with degrees earn only about $600-$700 per month. They too struggle. However, when Salvadorans in the US send money to their families in El Salvador, about they 80% of their money goes to commercial products, while only %20 is dedicated to education, health, and nutrition. They don't spend their money on the things really needed. They invest the money in commercial things because they want to be like people in the US who have things. We learned that gangs and violence are a major disruption in Salvadoran life. The MS-13 is the largest gang that mainly came from immigrants in LA in the US who could not fit into white gangs or Mexican gangs or black gangs. So, the Salvadoran youth formed their own gangs and their own power structures. As they got arrested for crimes and then deported from the US, they brought the gang life with them to El Salvador. The gangs are part of a long history of violence in the country. With so many fathers gone working in the US, it is easy to recruit gang members from even the smallest rural villages. The gangs promise them protection in exchange for their full fidelity. From 2004-2009, El Salvador had more deaths than Iraq due to gang violence. In 2011, it had the highest crime rate in the world. In 2012 the government attempted a truce between the two gangs, the government, and the Catholic Church. They negotiated with the gangs and some say that the murders were cut in 1/2. Others believe that this is a made up statistic. El Salvador is still among the top 20 countries in the world with the most violene. The gangs don't think that they are evil. They truly believe that they are protecting their own. Even the police are paid off by the gangs. They are very, very powerful. Later in the afternoon, we took a walk again to El Mirador (the lookout) where we could see a fantastic view of San Salvador from a high point. There is a cultural arts center there, so people were watching a youth dance troupe and browsing the many venders who tried to sell trinkets, souveniers, etc. There was also an art display and several street performers who dress in various costumes, strike a pose, and stand still for several hours for tips. After a short walk back and then around the beautiful gardens at the retreat center, we had a dinner of soup and pupusas. During our dinner, one of the infamous rainy season storms brewed up and we enjoyed a few minutes of eating in total darnkness while the wind howled and the rain pounded the tin roofs of the retreat center. We bolted back to our rooms and changed our soggy clothes into something drier and finished the evening off with reflection time in the auditorium where everyone shared something that impacted them about the day's events.
Posted by Fran Etter at 8:03 PM