A Pilgrim's Journey
Molly Davies
MAGIS: Catholic Teacher Service Corps

A journal on the experience of traveling to El Salvador on the 20th Anniversary of the deaths of the UCA Martyrs

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My first memory hearing of the civil war in El Salvador is from the fall of 1989. I was a freshman at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha, NE, and my theology teacher was someone engaged with the Ignatian family (maybe a former novice...we never got it out of him). I learned of the assassination of the Jesuit priests and their companions, and learned a little more from my father that night. I can remember thinking that I understood that a vocal priest could be viewed as dangerous. I am blessed to have been raised at Holy Family Catholic Church in Omaha and in the tradition of the social gospel. My first understanding of Christianity was that the gospel was a challenge to business as usual and that it left no room for the abuse of others.

My next memory of engaging about El Salvador, Latin America and the call of liberation for the poor was at Creighton as an undergraduate student under the tutelage of Roger Bergman in the mid '90s. The Justice and Peace Studies program offers students the opportunity to engage the world through the lens of Catholic social teaching and the call of the gospel. Spending time in class with Dr. Bergman ruins any idea you might have of the poor as just needy or worthy of your charity. We'll really be somewhere when we never use terms like "the poor" and are able to refer to people and friends that are not able to access what they have every right to possess.

When I received the e-mail announcement that Dean Lueger was looking to take a group of faculty/staff members to El Salvador for an immersion, I thought of these two experiences as well as past trips to the Ignatian Family Teach-in at the gates of the School of the Americas, and I responded immediately. The call to experience this story in our shared history...shared with our brothers and sisters in El Salvador, shared because our government participated, shared because of our common call to be men and women for others regardless of the cost...was deafening and welcome. I was thrilled to be accepted on the trip.

For me, the most significant portion of most days was reflecting on what we had heard and learned from others in the context of the liturgy. Each day we heard stories of the war and the people, stories of suffering, struggle, and hope. These stories came from campesinos, ex-combatants, children of the war, and from people still very much engaged in the work of healing there. Through shared homilies and prayers of petition, we processed those stories and connected their truths with our daily lives and prayers for the world. It was the first time in a long time I experienced liturgy as a sacred work of the people gathered.

I am still processing the trip, and hope that it will continue to affect me in my daily discernment and actions. There are a few ideas we heard that seemed to have the quality of gospel truth, that resound deeply with what I believe to be central to working at Creighton and, really, just being human.

Dean Brackley, SJ, suggested that we "allow students to see how bad things are and they will dig deeper to find out how good they are," and that doing this will lead to an "integral academic excellence" that reaches far beyond seeking achievement or the "prestige virus." I can see evidence of Brackley's truth in my Magis teachers, easily in our most challenging placements, but really in the openness of each teacher to the real lives of their students. I know they suffer with (and admittedly, at times, at the hands of) their students and that love results from the work they put in to addressing their students' needs and lives. Tasks, online coursework, papers and grades are minor matters in comparison. Compelling students to look at the truths of the world and move from text to life requires us, in our living witness, to do the same.

A second truth came through an ex-combatant, Maria Serrano, who shared her memories of the war and her vision of the Church with us. Holy and heroic deeds were done by members of our Church, lay and ordained, simply by going out to the people. Monsignor Romero, Rutilio Grande, SJ, and the four American Churchwomen killed in December of 1980, exemplified this and, much like Christ, paid the price with their lives. They did not go out to die, but chose each day to live in the truth of our human interdependence and a vision of Church where we all sit at the table, actively participating, choosing each other and thereby choosing God. Hundreds of other less-recognized people did the same. We are Church at our best when we remember this...not leaving sheep to wander or, worse, following the one sheep that quietly stays a safe course when it is the other ninety-nine that need our love, support and advocacy. Maria reminded us of this.

I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to visit El Salvador this year. I know that the history and people of this land named for Our Savior have lessons to share with the world and our Church, lessons that offer words and examples of salvation if we have the courage to listen and change.

Molly Davies
MAGIS: Catholic Teacher Service Corps
Creighton University


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