Monday, February 8, 2010

El Salvador Immersion Blog: Day 3

Saint Peter's Vice President for Advancement Michael Fazio is visiting El Salvador until February 12 as part of Ignatian Colleagues Program. Today's blog entry is part of a series of his reflections during his trip. To read the series from the beginning, start here.

Today was a day full of hope. All of us here see the bleakness that is El Salvador. This country's problems are so immense that it would be very easy to throw one's hands up and ask, "In a few years will this country even exist?" The issues at hand in El Salvador make it seem like all of the U.S.A.'s problems could easily be solved over a weekend and a couple beers.

Today we attended Mass at San Francisco de Asis parish in one of El Salvador's most dangerous neighborhoods. Though I did not understand a word, the experience was moving and uplifting. The church was packed, everyone sang and smiled, and during the sign of peace people moved throughout the entire church to shake hands and hug each other. It was unlike anything I had seen before.

After Mass, we met with representatives of the parish's Christian Base Community (CBC). They work with the community to deter gang violence, abolish violence against women (which has increased) and support the community's poorest members. Their strength, they say, is derived from the many martyrs within their community. They believe their deaths were not in vain; they provide inspiration. And as one young woman said, "El Salvador isn't going anywhere. We've survived for hundreds of years and will survive still." For all the horror that surrounds them, they are a joyous people.

After touring downtown San Salvador and visiting Oscar Romero's tomb, we had dinner with Salvadoran students from El Salvador's Romero scholarship program and U.S. students from Casa de la Solidaridad, a study abroad program run through Santa Clara University. These two groups of students meet regularly and form friendships, learning from one another. The Salvadoran students, who are studying dentistry, accounting, marketing, business administration, etc. hope to use the skills they acquire to strengthen their communities and assist their families economically. And the U.S. students clearly are learning more than what's in their textbooks. Their worldviews are being shaped in indelible ways.

Though the magnitude of the Salvadoran experience is clear, the work of the CBC and the Romero and Casa students provide plenty of hope that perhaps one day, peace and justice can actually take root in this land. 

Photo: Interior of Iglesia Elrosario, the most uniquely beautiful church I have ever seen. The 55+ year old church was designed by a Salvadoran architect whose vision for it was "the church in an urban setting." The interior is best described as gritty and metallic but illuminated and animated through cracks of colorful light.

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