So far on this trip there has been one prevailing feeling, journeying. Whether this be when I journeyed from London to Miami on that first day of the trip, to the journeys we have made to the 3 various communities that we shall be visiting over the next few weeks here in El Salvador.
The distinct history and character of each community, Puenticitos (where we shall be from Monday-Thursday of this week), Arcatao and Guarjila, are all clear to experience and see, however the importance of faith and the providence that God offers is so strong a belief that the harrowing stories that are told and the evident difficulties that each day entails could easily be forgotten.
Pope Francis talks about going to the end of the world to elect a Pope and often the communities we have visited seem remote. On Sunday we went to Arcatao a place that experienced atrocious massacres by the Salvadoran army during the war, since many Guerrillas lived in the town and the surrounding countryside. The youth group we saw thanked us and said that we had ‘gone to the edges of the country to visit and see them.’ The journey of faith we are on is one that is greater enhanced when the reactions of those remote communities is felt. Faith is a journey of life, here in El Salvador I am seeing things that even though are bad are held together by the community’s faith; this often offers comfort when it is difficult to understand why.
Even during these first 5 days I have met some incredible characters. In La Palma, a town on the boarder of Honduras, we met Lazaro the man who may have painted your CAFOD Romero cross. His son is in prison because he was friends with the town’s gang. He has been imprisoned since April last year. In these most difficult of times Lazaro and his family still need to work to buy food for themselves, but also for their son in prison. They are so grateful for CAFOD and giving them the opportunity to paint the Romero crosses, this thanks was apparent in their hospitality even though they have little. Lazaro constantly said that it was God, and only God who provides, and therefore this keeps their faith continuing.
Lazaro’s story is only one of the many others that we have heard on this trip. When in Guarjila we met Marlene who told us an amazing story. She told us that during the war many Salvadorans were made refugees in Honduras, and she and her family were one. They decided to journey back to El Salvador and formed the community of Guarjila. They built a health clinic that today is thriving and has been called ‘a model of rural health.’ What is amazing about Marlene, and the people of Guarjila is that they did all this during the war when they were constantly caught up in battles, or had the army threaten their community, harassing both men and women, as well as children. Faith and motivation kept Marlene and she is an admirable and strong willed women and mother.
I want to finish off this first blog from El Salvador with something I heard in Arcatao. I really struggled when we arrived on the Saturday evening as the town was so remote and the trip so stressful, but during the Sunday parish Mass and our conversation with Rosa the need to continue for the common good was heartfelt. Rosa has dedicated her life since the end of the war in 1992 to remembering those who lost their lives during the massacres of Arcatao and to continue the legacy of justice and peace that those men and women fought for alive through her dedication to building a museum and chapel of rest. What is profound is that she has continued with this dream even though funds are difficult to come by.
During the parish Mass Father Miguel emphasised the need to continue the work of Christ, and to be men and women who are proud to be baptised as Christians; men and women who fight for what is right and help those in need. Father Miguel ended his homily with something that is apt for us baptised Christians today, ‘we have just celebrated the anniversary of the peace accords. We must continue striving for peace and justice, peace is fragile, peace is not about ending the bombs and bullets, it’s life for people, health and an abundance of crops. Pope Francis in his Christmas message said ‘let’s all be builders of peace.’