Tuesday, November 23, 2010

VMM and Vigil in El Salvador

About two weeks ago Greta and I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador to visit our fellow VMM volunteers and attend the annual vigil commemorating the Jesuit martyrs killed in 1989 at the Central American University (UCA). I had a great time hanging out with the volunteers, visiting some of their project sites, and attending the vigil.

I arrived in San Salvador Thursday afternoon, and after a long and sleepy bus ride was thankful for the opportunity to hang out at Stephen’s house. Stephen, our Central American Missions Coordinator, lives in Las Palmas, a favela-like community in San Salvador where he volunteers as a catechist with the local Catholic Church. Walking around Las Palmas felt so different than walking around a barrio in Managua. Houses stacked on top of each other and narrow, winding passages create a labyrinth I got lost in.

Friday I spent the day at Passionist Social Services (SPSS), where Maggie, a volunteer I attended orientation with, is part of the non-violence department and works with children. She does a variety of activities, including teaching English, tutoring, parent formation, and workshops. In the morning we went to English class, where a new group of students learned the basics of greetings and practiced their number pronunciation. In the afternoon, Maggie facilitated a culture of peace workshop with about 30 children ranging in age from three to twelve years old. Maggie told the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and taught us how to make our own peace cranes. It was fun to work with the kids on origami; they understood Maggie’s instructions better than I did!

Friday night I attended a Celebration of the Word at the New Dawn Association of El Salvador (ANANDES), where Olivia, a new volunteer, oversees a scholarship program. Her responsibilities include managing its finances, maintaining contact with donors and families, and providing continuing education for students and their parents. The service I attended was celebrated in the style of the ANANDES founders, and included readings, lots of singing, and commemoration of loved ones who have passed away.

Saturday I spent all day at the UCA experiencing the annual vigil I have heard so much about. The event commemorates the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter in 1989 during El Salvador’s twelve-year civil war. The Jesuit theologians, writing from the perspective of the poor, were considered dangerous by the conservative Salvadoran government because of their willingness to speak out against oppression. Early on the morning of November 16, 1989, the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military invaded their home on the campus of the UCA and forced the priests onto the front lawn to kill them. Shooting them in the head symbolized the desire of those in power to end what they viewed as the intellectual force behind the revolutionary forces. The international community responded with outrage, marking the beginning of the end of the war in El Salvador, where the government was finally pressured into signing peace accords in 1992. The celebration consists of a soccer tournament for youth during the day, the making of alfombras, or carpets, made from dyed salt and representing themes of liberation theology, and of course the vigil itself, which includes a candlelight procession, Mass, and various concerts.

My favorite alfombra depicted Jesus taking a campesina (rural) woman down from a cross.

Sunday was my last day in El Salvador, and I spent it relaxing with the other volunteers. We had a community brunch in the morning and talked about “VMM business” and about our experiences in mission. I always feel so renewed after sharing with the VMM community because I am reminded how many others are living cross-culturally and hoping and working for a different world.

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