Reflections on the Trip to El Salvador

Churchwomen shrineOur “El Salvador Ministry” is one of four new ministries getting off the ground here at Saint John Bosco. Twenty-five parishioners are already involved in this ministry. The parish community is strongly encouraging the growth of the partnership that we are developing with Centro Escolar Caserio Corinto – the school that our parish recently adopted in Corinto. It’s an exciting time for all of us as we anticipate building relationships between the people of our parish and the people of Corinto

Richelle Gnezda, Theresa Marzloff, Allison Schulte and I, along with six people from Saint Dominic Parish in Shaker Heights, spent 5 days in El Salvador last month. For those of us from Saint John Bosco, the focus of our trip was to strengthen the bonds of the friendship that we are establishing with the school community in Corinto. It gave us a change to visit the school and meet with the Principal, Isabel Noemi Alfaro, and the faculty. A few of the families in Corinto welcomed us into their homes – and we met with the leadership of Obras De Caridad, which is their Saint Vincent de Paul Society.

Here are a few memories of the five days spent in El Salvador.

The first day, after a warm welcome at the airport in San Salvador, we drove to the chapel that has been constructed at the site where the bodies of the four martyred churchwomen were found in 1980. As we journeyed to that site, I couldn’t help but think of what must have been going through the minds of these four Sisters on that December night. There is a memorial to the churchwomen at the grave where their bodies were found – and you pass by it as you walk to the chapel. Celebrating Mass in the chapel was a moving experience. Pictures of the churchwomen and Blessed Oscar Romero are on the wall in the sanctuary. As I stood at the altar, I remembered being in the chapel at Saint Mary Seminary on Ansel Road praying for these martyrs over 35 years ago, shortly after my ordination as a deacon. Attending the Funeral Mass for Sister Dorothy Kazel at Saint John’s Cathedral in Cleveland. And over the years that I resided at the cathedral rectory, celebrating Mass with Sister Dorothy’s family on the anniversary of her death. Yes, we were standing on holy ground! As Tertullian, an early church father, wrote in the third century, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians!

The visit to the school in Corinto was another moving experience. The children welcomed us with open arms and hugs! We were serenaded with traditional songs and dance. The Principal took us on a tour and discussed what we could do to help her and the faculty in the education of the students. They gave us a beautiful portrait of Saint John Bosco, painted by the art teacher, to bring home to Parma Heights. In return we gave them navy wristbands, with the phrase “An Ambassador of Mercy,” that we are wearing during the Jubilee Year of Mercy – along with a statue of Saint John Bosco, our Anniversary Pictorial Directory and letters from our PSR students. I saw this as the beginnings of the relationship that we hope to develop over the years.

The final memory that I would like to share with you was the visit to the chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980. I had been in this chapel once before – eight years ago on a priests’ retreat. However, coming back seemed to be a little more moving this time. As we prayed in that chapel I remembered the late Cardinal Hickey telling us at the Chrism Mass of 1980 about being at the Funeral Mass for Romero – and the violence that erupted with people running in all directions seeking safety. This “Voice of the Voiceless” – as he had come to be known, completely identified with the people whom he served by declaring “if they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.”

From this chapel we went to what I would say is similar to our Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC – a memorial wall with the names of those individuals who lost their lives in the civil war in El Salvador. I was again moved. This time by the number of names on that wall, especially those listed simply as “missing” – obviously representing families who have never had an opportunity to bring real closure to their pain and suffering.

These are just three memories. There are many others that I have brought back and for which I give thanks. As I reflect on them, they challenge the way that I live. The simplicity of life. A genuine sense of peace, happiness, and values. Warmth, welcome and hospitality. Deep faith and devotion. Rich culture, customs and traditions. Poverty.

Let us pray for our sisters and brothers in El Salvador – so that together we will reflect the face of Christ to those we encounter; which is the face of the Father’s mercy!

Question – As you look at your life, is there an experience that has happened along the way that made an impact on your life that you are willing to share?

March 2nd, 2016 |