Today was about setting the stage, I believe. We learned a lot about the country of El Salvador, its history and current situation, politically, socially and economically. In a nutshell, this place is in bad shape. No surprises there.
While visiting Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), we learned that more than half of the population is either un- or under-employed. Due to the dollarization in 2001 (El Salvador now uses U.S. currency) and the general economic recession, costs are going up on an elevator while wages are taking the stairs. There is absolutely no control of guns. (Armed soldiers patrol the streets here like meter maids to control the violence.) Despite a new political administration (FMLN) that campaigned on hope and change (sound familiar?), homicides are up, to almost 17 per day from 10. In fact, El Salvador is the most dangerous place on earth to live if you are aged 15-25. And we think we have problems.
We visited Divina Providencia Chapel, the beautiful chapel where Archbishop Romero was assassinated. We toured his home as well. It is interesting that there appears to be a faction of Salvadoran society that wants to remember and cherish Romero's mission to "stop the repression," as he famously yelled from the pulpit before a bullet took his life. Others want to forget the civil war and move forward. Similar to what we face in U.S. classrooms, many Salvadoran students, we were told, want to get a degree and find a job that pays some real money. They are not as much interested in social critique, developing a critical consciousness and searching for "truth."
And therein lies the challenge. The vision of Romero and the ideology of the Jesuits must be carried on. To do so, we need to find creative ways to infuse the Ignatian paradigm in all we do.
Photo: Bust of Archbishop Romero at Universidad Centroamericana (UCA)