|Omaha, Wednesday, October
One month from today we leave.
“Why are you going?” my mother asked on the phone Saturday when I told her about the trip. I tried to explain how Fr. Bert Thelen, SJ, had asked me to accompany him to help translate. Ken, my co-worker here at the Creighton Center for Service and Justice encouraged me to go, for my own faith and to facilitate students going in the future. “A mother of three young boys. No me gusta,” Mom replied.
John, my husband was more supported and wondered out loud if he could also go. We decided quickly that someone needed to be with the kids. We have no family here in Omaha. John would stay.
What can I bring back to John, to my children, to my colleagues and students?
Prepare me, Lord, to receive.
Last week with the visit of Dean Brackley, SJ and John Guiliano from El Salvador, we saw the evidence of the hunger for meaning and mission among students here at Creighton.
Enliven me with the faith of the people of El Salvador. Strengthen me and all of us who are going, with the courage of the people.
Omaha, November 1, 1999:
I’ve been anxious this past week. John’s instability at work and his resultant anxiety has affected me. He worked Monday-Wednesday evenings and I went to Kearney overnight for the Service-Learning Conference Thursday, so we hardly saw each other. We missed our Friday morning coffee date. Not good.
I began to get anxious about the trip last week—began admitting to myself and to a few others that I had made the decision to go quickly, hadn’t reflected on how difficult it would feel to leave the family now. Thankfully Halloween is over and it went well. Luke’s balloon “grapes” were a hit and Martin was a happy jester. Philip chose to be with friends rather than family for the first time this year. Par for the course at age 13. Now Martin’s 11th birthday looms on the horizon next weekend and my sister Marge and family (six children!) are coming for the long Thanksgiving Weekend for the first time ever to our home.
Where does a pilgrimage to El Salvador fit into this life of mine?
Today is a good day to ask this. I feel more peace today. I love this feast of All Saints. I want to give many people flowers and tell them I am grateful for their witness of faith and holiness in everyday life.
I also think of mis hermanos who died in El Salvador: Rutilio Grande, SJ, Oscar Romero, Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, the Jesuits and companions of la UCA.
I am reminded of an article Bert gave me that I read yesterday by Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, about the “communion of saints.” She says these friends of God and prophets having “drunk deeply of the cup of crucifixion, they call forth special mention in anguish and lament.” I remember those in El Salvador” killed in godforsaken incidents of terror, war, and mass death, their life projects cut down in mid-stride.”
“To say of all these people that they form with us the company of the redeemed is to give grief a direction, affirming that in the dialogue between God and the human race the last word is the gracious word of life.” (USCatholic – Nov.’99)
This is some of what I hope this pilgrimage is about, to dialogue with others and with God in seeking paths of life.
When Bert first asked if I would accompany him, I thought about how the “friends of God and prophets” of El Salvador have long strengthened my desire to give of my own life.
I remember at Marquette when at 20 years old, Luis Rodriguez, SJ, gave me a paperback newly printed biography of the recently murdered Salvadoran pastor Rutilio Grande, SJ. I remember reading the newsprint pages in Spanish. I did not find it easy to believe in such evil.
I discussed with Dad the political implications of faith. He cautioned me.
I was getting more involved in the Hispanic community of Milwaukee and wondering often about my own vocation, my role in the church, in society.
After graduation, during my first year of professional ministry in inner-city Detroit, Archbishop Oscar Romero was killed and then later, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke were killed on my birthday, December 2, 1980. The politics of faithfulness. I wondered and felt confused. I was grateful for the Day House Catholic Worker community and the Little Brothers of Charles de Focauld to pray with in my neighborhood.
John and I committed ourselves to marriage in this context of believers seeking justice. We both felt the desire to learn and grow with the people and church of Latin America. We considered joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners, but instead decided to return to Milwaukee for me to work again in Hispanic ministry there. We again were touched by the Salvadoran struggle as the church of Milwaukee was offering sanctuary to many refugees. We helped with translation, transportation and publicity.
Our desire to work together with the church in small Christian communities working for justice took us to Immokalee, Florida in 1984. There we were so immersed in the work with agricultural workers, more attentive to the laws and conditions in Haiti and Guatemala and Mexico and the needs of the local community and our own growing family that we hardly were aware of the deaths at the University of Central America in November of 1989. It was Bert’s letter after his trip there on the first anniversary that awakened me to the horror of their deaths. Bert had been changed.
Now, we are part of a group of ten here in Omaha on “retreat” with the Spiritual Exercises in everyday life, walking the lightly trodden path of Ignatian Associates. We are not sure where this will take us… as I am not sure where this visit to El Salvador will take me.
When Dean Brackley, SJ, and John Guiliano spoke on campus earlier this month, I realized how much I have to learn from the soul-searching the Jesuits and collaborators at la UCA have doing about the purposes of a Jesuit University. . We are asking among ourselves these days… what does justice mean for us here at Creighton? I want to learn about Ellacuria and to be in relationship with those who are there and nearby now, Jon Cortina, Brackley, John Guiliano. I, as a laywoman, married with three children want to be influenced and challenged by the Jesuit discernment and commitment as my father and family have been before me.
I wonder what drawing near to the saints of El Salvador and this
land of saints will mean for me.
I am grateful a good number of Creighton students and staff will be going to Fort Benning to the School of the America’s vigil and protest and the Ignatian Family Teach In before it. Part of me wants to be with them. We will be needed to help with the follow-up after.
I go for my Hepatitis A shot today at 4pm.
Omaha, November 9, 1999:
Today is my son Martin's 11th birthday and on the news I heard it is the anniversary of the Berlin Wall being torn down ten years ago.
I am beginning to let some excitement for the pilgrimage seep in. I talked with John Guiliano's Godson from Guarjila, El Salvador where we will be visiting. He lives in South Omaha and works at a meatpacking plant here! He seemed so happy to hear from me. "Would you like to send a message to John," I asked.
"Tell him I love him very much." "Can you take letters for me? A lot of letters?" "Yes!" "Anything else that would be good to take to your group?" "Pelotas!"
Today I saw Wayne Mumford, director of the Fitness Center. He gave me 5 basketballs, 6 nets and a hoop to take!
Tomorrow I will pick up Guil and take him to dinner at Ken and Jennifer's house and get the letters from him to take to his friends and family.
I also met with another member of CU staff who has a tie to El Salvador through students at Iowa Western in a scholarship program organized through Georgetown!
I wonder what will come of this trip! Espiritu Santo, you are with
Omaha, November 11
I long for time to read and pray before we go. I had a low fever and chills yesterday, but I am better today, not sick enough to stay home. It is my day to interview candidates for Spring Break Service Trip Coordinator position. Protect us all from illness, Lord.
I haven't seen Dick Super around in ages. I am looking forward to time with him and Lori and Bert. Yesterday Bert, Lori and I gathered in Lori's office to see "A Question of Conscience," the film about the story behind the massacre at UCA. How clear it becomes that this killing was not a fluke attack out of rage, but a well-planned, ordered killing. Those who gave the orders have yet to be identified and prosecuted, Bert said.
The scene of the earlier bombing of the computer and printing center days before the shooting reinforces how much the military wanted to eliminate the source of the "dangerous ideas" about the truth of El Salvador coming from the university. To hear Ellacuria himself on film talk about the priorities of the university, existing not only for excellent teaching and research, but to work for elimination of the unjust poverty of the people... this challenges me.
The film shows young men, special military forces, repeating chants as they march, chants about "killing the terrorists" "killing as many guerillas as we can," " we are the best of El Salvador." And scenes and evidence of US military training and financial support. The brainwashing and training of these young men to believe in the righteousness of their military cause to eliminate the evil of the communism taking hold among the peasants and spread by the subversives at the university....I remember.... but how hard to believe when it was happening... 75,000 peasants killed.... this is the country I am traveling to. This is not a pleasure trip.
Last night I picked up Wil Rivera, the 19 year old godson of John
Guiliano from Guarjila where we will be visiting. I was glad the
house and neighborhood he lives in looked pretty nice. He was waiting
for me outside and did not invite me in. I brought him and my boys
to dinner at Ken and Jennifer and Maya's house for arroz y frijoles negros.
It was so good to have some relaxed time to get to know him. He is comfortable
and charming. Maya took to him easily, showing him her books and trying
to get him to dance to the music. I felt a close bond among
us, because of our common friendship with his godfather, John and our common
faith in a liberating Christ and community. We took many pictures
for me to take to his family in El Salvador. We asked him about his
town and how he feels about having left Guarjila, the "Tamarindo" youth
group, and his new life in Omaha. He told about how his family had
populated Guarjila when it was left abandoned by others because of the
war. When people returned to reclaim their homes after the peace
accord in '92, he helped build his family a home with some international
assistance money. He feels he made a good decision coming to Omaha.
"I am not so skinny now" he noted. But it was obvious he misses
his friends very much. He misses the youth group and all the fun
they had and the reflection on the weekly scriptures. Wil has switched
jobs to work at the QPI pork packing plant with his brother and many other
Salvadorans. He told us he misses being able to read books like when he
was in school. I talked to him about how to obtain a library card.
He asked about obtaining internet access and how much it cost. Ken
gave him a disc with free aol hours and offered help to get set up on the
family computer at his uncle's house in South Omaha. He hopes to visit
a Notre Dame student friend, Brendan Egan, during Christmas Break.
Brendan spent three months living with Wil last year.
Omaha, November 12 2:55 pm
This will be the last time I write before we go. We were commissioned today at noon mass. The four of us and about a dozen of the students and Omaha faithful traveling next weekend to the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia. The four of us were given wooden crosses made in El Salvador, to pray with and perhaps give to someone from whom we receive a gift of the Spirit there. I am glad John, Philip, Martin and Luke were present for this commissioning. Our pizza after was the last meal we will share as a family as John has to work tonight. I wish I could take them all with me.
They saw a bit of the film, "Question of Conscience." Luke, I am sure was very confused about the violence. I wonder if they will ask John questions when I am gone. We have talked some. Martin and Philip are a bit aware of the history and the reality of why the Jesuits were killed. It must be very strange to have their mother going to commemorate a massacre. I was about Martin's age when the civil rights riots broke out in Milwaukee. I began to realize that not all is well for all in this land... It was later that I became aware of what strong faith led leaders to risk their lives for truth.
Luke celebrates his "First Reconciliation" at Pius X tomorrow at about the time our plane arrives in El Salvador. He is reading the introductory prayer. Be with him, Great Spirit. Help us all to learn a little bit more about reconciliation.
I went to bed last night thanking God for my former bishop, Rembert Weakland, and his bold statement of acknowledgment of our Church's complicity in the Holocaust. Perhaps this is part of what we are called to do in our prayer with those gathered in San Salvador next week: to acknowledge, as Clinton did in Guatemala, our complicity in the killings and tremendous suffering of El Salvador.
I felt a lightness this morning as I picked up the antibiotic to take with me from the pharmacy, picked up some bread from Great Harvest to leave for the family, drove to work and walked from the far-away parking space. I was aware of the sunlight, the warmth, the leaves, the people at Creighton. I caught a glimpse of the newly designated President of Creighton, a head taller than those around him! May these be blessed times of searching and growth and courage for us to more clearly discover and live our mission.
I give thanks now that I am going tomorrow. I am grateful for
the Spanish that I do speak, for my Cuban roots and my faith roots.
Thank you for all who have offered to help with the kids, and all who are
with us in prayer.
November 13, 10:30am
A few notes on the plane between Houston and El Salvador. I am by the window, Lori is in the middle, Dick by the aisle. Our walk to the gate was long. My carry-on, with all I would need for the week, grew heavier and heavier. The Houston airport was wildly congested with people going every which way and cart drivers calling their warnings. When we arrived at Continental Gate 22, we had already crossed a sort of bridge into a new world. More than 100 Salvadorans sat and stood close together around the gate. They were dressed quite formally, most women in dresses, men in dress shirts and pants. I felt rather unisex and unfeminine next to the women around me, with my boyish hair little jewlery, kahki’s and plaid flannel jacket. I didn’t see any others that looked like North Americans until Pat Coffey and his daughter Kathy Coffey-Guenther from Milwaukee found us. I hugged Pat, a former Philosophy professor of mine from Marquette U. I had heard Bert talk much about him as a founding member of the original Ignatian Associates group in Milwaukee. “I remember you!” he said warmly. Kathy introduced herself. She recently moved back to Milwaukee with her daughter and husband. She is in private practice combining therapy and spiritual direction. Sounds interesting.
A man in a red jacket called out "Rows 20 and higher" in Spanish. Everyone moved tighter around the gate.
Dick plunged in, the rest of us hung back a bit. Once inside,
it was a challenge to find space for our carry-ons and to get them up.
Dick helped me and we both tried to help rearrange luggage to get Lori’s
in. I had never seen a more crowded plane.
Just after our lunch was served, the captain’s voice came on the speaker: "A while back some of you heard a noise on the right side of the plane. Our right landing gear popped out on its own. We are going back to Houston rather than risk landing in San Salvador where there is insufficient mechanical assistance. Everything seems to be working normally, but we don’t want to take a chance.”
11:31: “This is the Captain. We’re going to lower our altitude to use up some of the excess fuel we’re carrying.” The attendant asked those of us in line for the restroom to take our seats for another viewing of the safety video.
Dick turns to me, “on the way back, I’m going to say the prayer,
not you,” he said in good humor. I had spoken a brief prayer for
our health upon take-off back in Omaha. A woman in front began to
sing in Spanish, another in back, began to pray the Hail Mary. Lori
offered us lifesavers and we all chuckled. She went back to her crossword
puzzle, Dick is quiet. I am frustrated with the bad translation of
the captains’ words into Spanish by one of the stewards. It is surprising
how calm everyone is remaining. I wonder if we would be able to arrive
in San Salvador today. Bert will be waiting, Jon Cortina and the
others. Bert had changed his flight to meet St. John’s parishioners
and Creighton students at the School of the Americas protest and vigil
the weekend of the 19-21. He was not on this flight with us and was
supposed to arrive after us. Just us five lay folks on this one.
We landed fine. Everyone clapped. One Salvadoran said
“This is why you have to live well each day and be ready when it is your
2:20pm Saturday, November 13
Soon Lori points out the volcanos in the sunset out the window! As we near landing, I try to identify the crops in the lowlands near the beach. It looks like sugar cane to me!
The warm, moist air greets us when we step on to the jetway.
After passing easily through customs and paying the $10 entrance fee, I begin to hear my name “Maria Teresa!” in loud and lovely Spanish. It was 3 year old Rose Guiliano. She and her father, John, gave us big welcome hugs.
They had been waiting since noon when our plane was supposed to arrive. It was 6 pm. Rose let me carry her. John took my bags. We waded through the hundreds of people waiting for their loved ones to arrive and headed toward the parking lot. Bert greeted us happily and we were introduced to Maria Antonieta, John’s wife, and the man I had seen on Don Doll’s video and heard much about from Bert: Jon Cortina, SJ. John loaded our bags on top of the van, the famous VW van held together with duct tape! We needed to wait a bit more for two more from Berkley who would be joining us for these days of pilgrimage. I didn’t mind waiting, I was so glad to be here finally. The jacaranda trees were pleasantly familiar. Rose was amazingly friendly and free.
New word: “champa,” a thatched roof lean-to where people cook and sell food on the side of the road. They are everywhere leaving the airport.
John comments on the murder of the four American women. It took place on the side of this road we are on in 1981.
We drive the hour or so on the road to the capital. I am in the front, on half a seat next to John, with the shift at my feet and Pat Coffey is by the window. Bob, Joe and Bert go with Jon Cortina in his blue 4-wheel drive Mitsubishi. Many people walk on the side of the highway. I see some corn off the husks, drying on the side of the highway. I am amazed at the mature sugar cane with huge, beautiful light tassels waving high above, of the hills around us and begin to see the hills in the distance. to the San Jacinto convent of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Sister (Sor) Flora, a small, soft-spoken nun in a tan-colored habit greets us and unlocks the gate. John Guiliano introduces himself and us and negotiates with her to see how late we can come in this evening. Ten thirty is fair, he thinks, stretching it a bit for Sor Flora. We take our luggage and she shows us the way to our rooms. One for each. One bed in each room and three bathrooms to share. “Showers!” we marvel. “And even hot water, too,” she boasts graciously. We leave and drive to another area of the city where Jon Cortina lives during the week with Michael Cambell Johnson, SJ. It is called “Despertad.” (Awakening) We pass very ugly areas that by day are open-air markets John said. He points out the tin shacks people close themselves in who sell at the market. This is a very tough area dominated by two very violent gangs, the Mao Maos and the M16s. Michael Campell Johnson plays ping pong with the leader of one of them on Tuesdays and they talk. There is very little vegetation, low apartments and building after building, commercial and residential all mixed up it seems. Now and then a beautiful fucia bouganvillia or what looks like a flowering tababoullia, conquers the dreariness. The parish is called San Antonio Abbad. I wish I had gotten a picture of the painting on the metal sliding door at the entrance to the parish complex. A few young people are around on the street near the parish. I don’t even notice a church building. We pass through the parish gathering area on our way to the house. John points out the paintings on the walls of the young priest and four boys who were massacred during a retreat here during the war. “It was a conflicted zone.” We enter the humble kitchen. There we are offered soda, beer and as many pupusas as we can eat, a kind of bean-stuffed, hand made fat, corn tortilla. Michael and Jon welcome us into their simple, colorless living room. We gather extra chairs. Rose is asleep in the adjacent room. It feels very good to be here. The pupusas are warm and tasty. I count twelve of us: The four of us from Creighton, two from Milwaukee, John and Maria Antonieta (“Teca,” as John calls her) from Guarjila, Jon and Michael our hosts, and Bob Saenz de la Salle and Joe Doust from Berkley. I feel like we are in the “upper room.” Cortina seems happy and relaxed. Lori, Dick, Kathy, Pat and I are the new ones here. Lori, Kathy, Bert and Pat know little Spanish so the conversations are mostly in English. Bob is writing a book about the Jesuits and has obviously been here several times. I learned later that he is married and a father of three also. He and his wife lived in the Catholic Worker in San Francisco for many years. He was in the Jesuit noviate with Guiliano years ago. Bob now does similar work to what I do in field placement in Berkley and teaches ethics. Joe is the President there, a former provincial like Bert. He speaks Spanish too and seems to have been here a couple of times before also. He seems gentle and wise. Cortina tells us what he would do if he were Pope for a week. He tells us about his first coming to Salvador in 1955 at age 20 …like the 6 groups of Spanish Jesuit novices before him. Ellacuria of la UCA was in the first group to come. Campbell-Johnson sits on a book case in the corner. He is quiet. (John said to me later he thinks of Campbell-Johnson as one of the most important Jesuits of all time.)
Jon Cortina’s father was a persona-non-grata in Franco’s Spain earlier in his life. They had to flee to France and were saved at one time by English ships. “Did I ever tell you that, Michael?” I don’t remember all the details, but Cortina fascinates me already. His English is very good, but once in a while he switches to Spanish for the correct quote or expression and looks to me to translate. I am honored.
I ask him to tell us about Rutilio Grande. The time becomes magical for me. Everyone is listening as the pupose for our visit begins to unfold with the stories about “Tilo” as he is affectionately known. I give Bob my journal to take notes in. Tilo believed that in the heavenly banquet all would have their own place at the table, their own stool (“taburete”) and tortillas “y el con que.” Not just tortillas, but also the nourishment to fill them. “The words of the song about the banquet are attributed to Tilo” Jon explains. I ask him to sing it. Joe, John, Teca and Bob join in. Yes, I know it too! “Vamos todos al banquete, a la mesa de la creacion, cada cual con su taburete, tiene un puesto y una mision.” (Let us all go to the banquet, the table of creation, each with his stool has a place and a mission.)
(This song was sung at the vigil mass on the night of the 15th.
The second verse is this, just like Cortina said Tilo described:
Cortina told us that on March 9 of 1977 he had talked with Rutilio
about helping him out on weekends, “to help and to learn from him.”
Three days after that conversation, on his way from Aguilares to Paisnal
to say Mass, Rutilio was killed.
The plan tomorrow is to gather early and drive to Guarjila for mass where John and Maria Antonieta and Rose live and Jon Cortina lives on the weekends and pastors the community. The plan is to stop for breakfast at “Mr. Donut,” on the way out of town and on the way to Guarjila to visit the spot where Rutilio was killed and stop also where Ita Ford and Maura Clark, MM, are buried. Guiliano says to pack light. “You won’t need much.”
Inside the convent we meet Josh Orman and Bob Tschida from St. Luke’s parish in St. Paul, Minnesota. They are staying in our same area. Bob looks about my age, Josh, around 17 or 18. I wish them well, and though tempted to talk more, I go to my room. It is near 11 pm.
I pack an overnight bag and try to recall and journal about the first day. I feel such luxury here in this little room. We are safe here. Gracias, Senor. My room is perhaps 6’ by 8.’ It is furnished with a dresser, bed, a table about 12”x 18”, a metal framed plastic chair, an 18” sink with a stopper. The bed has a foam pillow and the window has louvered glass, a screen and a solid blue curtain. The floor is gray tile and all is very clean. The walls are tan and bare. The running water and warm shower feels good. I hit my knee on the metal frame of the bed twice. That doesn’t feel good. I forgot to use purified water for brushing my teeth. We have a few gallons that John bought us and the nuns also have a cooler in the hallway. I open the window for some fresh air. Sleep comes easily.
I awaken at 4:30 am. I go to the bathroom and go back to sleep until
a large bell rings at 5:30. Soon I hear a group singing. It
is Tilo’s song!“Vamos todos al banquete…” Sor Flora told us there
was a Honduran group here on retreat. I realize they are celebrating
mass in the garden just on the other side of where we are staying.
I close the window, put my earplugs in and try to sleep a bit more, not
knowing how the next nights will be. At about 6am, I give in to the
music and words of the songs and decide to get up. “Hay que morir, para
vivir, entre tus manos, todo nuestro ser..” ( You have to die in order
to live, in your hands, is all our being.)
At 7 am we are met by John at the convent gate. We load in for what feels like the beginning of the real pilgrimage today. John G. tells story after story as we drive along. Some I have heard Ken refer to. I wonder how many groups he has welcomed and led in his 15 years here. As we drive downtown, he points out the cathedral. He explains how it was never finished by Romero or Rivera y Damas after him. They believed the church of the people needed their attention and resources rather than the cathedral building. The new Archbishop has almost finished it. Romero’s body is in the basement crypt area. We will plan to go when we are here. We pass by the colonial theater building also. It is a beautiful building, John says, but the rich do not like to come down here so they built another theater for themselves. That is where Jon Cortina will receive a Human Rights award on Monday night for his work in searching for the children of the war. The traffic is thick in the city and I am happy when we begin to get out of town. People are still all over the sides of the streets, many carrying things on their heads: baskets of fruit, of bread, pots of water, large limbs of trees… Horses and even oxen-drawn carts begin to appear as we get further away from the city. I notice one man carrying a huge, flat basket of what looks like fruit. He is carrying it on his upper back, all hunched over. I try to sketch what I can. John asks Bert how he likes the new road. “Remarkable,” Bert says. What used to take four hours on the dirt and pot-holed street, now takes less than two to complete the 93 kilometer trip from San Salvador to Guarjila. Pat remembers Rembert Weakland commenting on the road after his visit to Guarjila with Bert on the first anniversary of the UCA martyrs.
Mr. Donut is rather a shock after what we have seen in the city so far. It is clean and modern. It is in a town adjacent to the city in a protected area, just off the main road. Dominos pizza is next door and other stores and eatery chains, but the poverty is still very close. Two armed guards stand watch and patrol. Private guards are hired by most business establishments because of the rampant crime, John explains. The place is not full, but it is early. Several young Salvadoran families are eating, dressed very much like us. There is a buffet of hot local food and a long case of every pastry you could imagine. I ask for a plantain, a tamale, beans, a roll and coffee. I pay for Bert’s and mine at a cost of 32 colones, about four dollars American for both breakfasts. (The exchange rate is 8.72 colones to a dollar.) I gave some tamale and beans to Bert, Kathy, Pat and Dick to taste. The corn tamale was sweet and fresh tasting. It reminded me of a Cuban tamale. The beans and plantain were great and the coffee too! Rose sat with Bert, Lori and I. She ate a pancake and played with choco flakes. Bert teased that he would steal them and she laughed and played along. Lori played peek-a-boo by another table as we waited for Cortina, Bob and Joe to arrive and eat.
The mountains are right with us on almost all sides. .
Ahead and high in the mountains is Chalatenango, John explains. That is
where we are going. John points out the the lack of vegetation on parts
of the hillsides. . The military used chemical defoliants in this
area like those used in Vietnam. The military dropped bombs for a month
and defoliated parts of this chain of mountains that connect three states.
He talked about the area as a communications stronghold for the guerrilas
during the war. “I spent most of ’86 on the Guazapa volcano,” John recounted.
We walked for days crossing the mountains. I knew this man had stories
that could fill weeks.
I observe the sugar cane and ask about the other plant that I don’t recognize. Sorgum, John explains. I notice lots of coconuts, small, round watermelons, oranges, chickens….
We get to the town of Aguilares. This is where Rutilio Grande
worked. He also said mass in nearby towns, including Paisnal, which
is where he was born. In Aguilares there are soo many people in the
streets. I want to take pictures from the van, but it is hard to
with the bumpy roads and we are following Cortina who is driving quickly.
Soon we stop on the side of the road in an area outside of town with sugar
cane on both sides of the road. There are three white crosses.
This is the site where Rutilio was ambushed and killed and the two companions
traveling with him, a boy and an older man. Cortina explains how
cross in the middle has been stolen and or repeatedly destroyed.
Even this one has ax marks at the bottom. He also told a story that
he heard from a Catequist:
I took a picture, touched the crosses and walked ahead a little bit, wishing I could walk the two miles or so to Paisnal. I begin to cry and feel very sad. Cortina decides to drive on to Paisnal, not in the original plan for the day, but John seems pleased. We arrive in the very poor, small town of Paisnal. A large mural depicts “Tilo and Romero.” Pigs run in the street. A few people are at the small open-air store across from the church. Four people are working inside the church also, cleaning and repairing pews. The roof is half off. Three tombs are on the floor in front of the altar. I touch each one and cry. Rose comes in the pew next to me and asks me why I am crying. Because Tilo was a very good man who loved God and his people very much and he was killed because of this, explaining as much to myself as to her. I felt the flood of memories of times when I had shirked opportunities to defend the rights of the oppressed in my world. I begged forgiveness for the lack of courage and clarity and action at times when I could have taken a political action for justice’ sake and did not. Rutilio, give me courage. Forgive me for my cobardia.
Cortina told more stories of Romero and Tilo. Bob taped him. One of them was that at Tilo’s funeral, the the procession started in Aguilares and people walked the 4 kilometers to Paisnal. There were so many people that when the first arrived at Paisnal, the last were just leaving Aguilares. I talked a bit with a man working on the pews. He was very kind. “If you don’t have a project and you would like to help our community,” I wondered if he was going to ask for money to repair the church, “our youth have energy and good ideas, but they need training and materials to learn skills.” “This is where we need help in financing our youth training. This area has been very abandoned socially and church-wise, but the new pastor, Orlando, seems very interested in the people," he said. I am glad for that. I couldn’t believe how poor and run down the church and town seemed.
This is where it all began, John said. This set the standard. They feared and hated the priests working with the poor so much. The campaign of “be a patriot, kill a priest” began with Rutilio’s death.
We passed 16 cows on the way back. In front was the Guazapa volcano. At one point John recognized a woman senator driving on the road in the other direction. She was a big leader of the FLMN and now an elected representative. John announced that we would be stopping to buy water and this would be the last porcelain toilet we would be able to use. There are none in Guarjila where we were spending the night.
Our next stop was the graves of the American Maryknoll sisters. John recounted the story of their abduction and killing.
The brilliant red poinsettas
On the road back, Guazapa loomed ahead.
November 14, 1999 Around Noon, On the way to Chalatenango
On the way to the gravesites of the Maryknoll sisters, John told us the story while driving. Ambassador Robert White knew that Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel were going to pick up Ita Ford and Maura Clark, MM, at the airport the next day. He asked them to call him when they returned safely. They worked in this region in the ministry of "acompaniamiento," being with the people in their faith and struggle. This was a whole different story, John says, from that of Rutilio Grande, Romero, the UCA martyrs. These women were only being with the people, the refugees, but their deaths were also ordered. "This death," John stated, "is what gave real birth to the solidarity movement" (of people from North America and Europe with the cause of the people of El Salvador.)
We are driving on winding roads and suddenly a dog darts in front of the van. An oxen drawn cart of coconuts is on the other side of the road. There is nothing we can do to avoid hitting the dog and not injure anyone. Thud. The van continues. John pauses, then keeps going with the story.
On their way home from the airport, the four American women, Dorothy, an Ursuline sister and Jean, a lay volunteer, and the two Maryknoll sisters Ita and Maura are captured, raped and murdered on the side of the road from the airport. White goes to investigate later that day when he doesn't hear from them. He goes to the National Guard barracks where knowledge of the women is denied, but he sees white paint on the side of a red truck. The sisters' car was white. He later finds their car and sees the red paint from the truck on it also. David Canales, a former national guardsman has spoken about the incident to Ita Ford's brother, Bill. He said there was an ovation in the barracks of the National Guard when the killings were announced. There was no remorse. The generals believed to be responsible received amnesty with the peace accords and are now retired in Florida.
The van pulls into a space on the side of the road just before a sign that says "Welcome to Chalatenango." There are two locals sitting near the entrance to the cemetery. A little open-air store is across the street. Jon Cortina explains as we walk into the cemetery that the graves are so freshly decorated with colorful flowers because of the "Day of the Dead" on November 2. I take some pictures of the white stones, the colorful decorations, the towering royal palms and mountains in the distance. It is a beautiful, clear, warm and sunny day. We can hear some music from a radio in the distance and what sounds like parrots calling and shrieking in a tree nearby.
John talks about this event as so important for North Americans. Cortina talks about how some people say to 'forgive and forget.' "It is impossible to forget. It is not human. It is against our nature. And forgive? Who am I going to forgive? No one has asked for forgiveness." He talks about making impunity grow…This is a word I have heard often since we have been hear. Some of the group talks about the School of the Americas, about the first torture trainers being the Argentineans then SOA. Cortina quotes Romero "I ask you, I beg you, I demand you stop the repression against the poor." John recommended reading Jean Donovan's diary. She was at mass with Romero on the day before he died. Kathy is crying. I can't believe we are here. I look at the date on the plaques of Ita and Maura. December 2, 1980. I take Lori's picture in front of them. I touch them. Help me to carry on some of your life and faith and spirit, Ita and Maura, Jean and Dorothy.
We arrive in Chalatenango, "Chalate" for short. It is a city of about 10 thousand, John says and about 30 thousand counting the "cantones," or hamlets around it. Beans and corn are being dried along side the road. Its narrow streets are lined with low buildings all in a row, businesses and homes. A man with a horse loaded with long grass hanging down on both sides passes us on the road. We stop at a bakery to buy bread for dinner and breakfast in the morning. I have to get out even though they expect us to stay in, I guess as they said, "We'll just be a minute." A boy of about 10 or 11 on a bike comes up and asks me if I am from Los Angeles. "No, we are from another North American city called Omaha," I explain. He asks me for a dollar from Los Angeles. I explain that I left all my dollars in San Salvador. "Come on, I want to frame it." The bakery, open to the outside is bustling. A young woman is decorating a large cake with bright strawberries. I see at a glance at least 20 kinds of bread and pastries with many loaves on carts in back of the counter. Here is a place I would love to come every day!
We climb higher up the mountain, lush with vegetation. John tells me to be sure that we ask Jon Cortina to tell us about the work he is doing to reunite children with their families after children were taken by the military and sold as orphans during the war. We arrive in Guarjila. I get out with Teca at the community kitchen-restaurant where they have ordered lunch to go. Women, mostly single mothers run this kitchen as a cooperative, I understand. I go in with Teca who I thought was going to carry the food walking to Cortina's house where the rest would be waiting for us. This is a simple almost pavilion-like building. There are four long picnic tables covered with plastic tablecloths, a refrigerator and 2 crates with empty soda bottles. In another enclosed room with doors that are open, I see the storage area of the food and on the outside back corner, a crude stove where a woman is grilling meat. The heat source is burning wood. A tall Caucasian man (not the mixed mestizo Caucasian-Indian blood of most of the Salvadorans) is sitting eating alone in a corner of one of the tables. He and Teca greet each other affectionately. Teca introduces us, offers me a soda, and leaves us to go talk with one of the women cooking. Mauricio is a doctor of the clinic here in Guarjila. He is originally from Guatemala. Could pass for any Nebraskan. He just returned from a regional conference on AIDS where he was serving as translator, another profession he practices around the world. I didn't ask him how many languages he knows, but I wish I had. He lives in a house built for him by the community near the clinic, not far from this center of town.
In front of the restaurant is someone's home. I see the papayas and flowering plants all around the simple house. On the side by the road is another building. It looks like a store. About five guys are hanging around. On the other side is what looks like a little park. Mauricio explains it is the new plaza the community is building with new round cement tables and benches for gathering. North of the plaza is the church. I don't notice the bell from the tall, leafless tree until later.
Teca says the food is ready. We take two pots and a wrapped bunch of tortillas into the van that has returned for us. We drive up the road passing small, adobe houses. Many have hammocks. I notice many children near the houses. Chickens and pigs run around freely. The road is difficult to maneuver dirt and rocks with deep ruts in places. We are climbing higher. We arrive at Cortina's driveway and pull in beyond the gate made of fencing and metal poles. I carry a pot into the porch area. Lori is in a hammock, Dick in a chair in the yard. I turn to the back yard and my breath is taken away by the incredibly gorgeous view of the hills and mountains! So vast and broad. What a marvelously beautiful place to be able to relax, draw deeply from the well of God and recharge. I don't want to move. They call me for lunch. I want to stand still, to stay still here, overlooking the mountains. I join the others for a blessing and portion of the still warm sliced guisquil (a kind of light green squash-like vegetable called 'chayote' by Mexicans) topped with an egg and cheese and sauce mixture and yellow rice. It is delicious. We talk for about an hour . John explained that the people who live here now had been together in a refugee camp in Honduras. They were from different towns in the state of Chalate, many from Arcatao. When it was time to return to their homes, this group wanted to stay together and they decided to come to Guarjila together. Before the war the town was just a few hundred people. Now it is has a population of about 3,000. Cortina came to say mass here once. That is how he became involved with the community. It is obvious that he is deeply committed to the people and feels much at home here. He told stories of how they protected him during the war. I heard from the others that Cortina told them about the the night of the 15th of November of 1989. He had been trying to get back to the city and the road was blocked. He was going to try another way, but the community urged him to stay in Guarjila. That was the night the rest of his community, minus Sobrino in Thailand, was murdered in their house in San Salvador. Jon told us about the Bishop assigning a new pastor to Guarjila. They were concelebrating mass, the new priest, Jon and the bishop. The bishop explained to the people that this new person was being assigned. The people spoke up. Where was this guy during the war? Jon Cortina is our priest. He has been with us through it all. Cortina explained to the community that we are not of the bishop or of any priest, we all belong to Jesus Christ. The bishop just wants to give you more attention, he convinced the people. After, the bishop told Cortina: "Boy, these people really support you here!" He did assign the new priest, but Cortina is allowed to stay as well.
We talked about the plan for the rest of the day. John invited people to stay here and rest or some come to his house for part of the afternoon until it is time for Mass at 3. At night we will have a barbecue at John and Teca's, distribute ourselves for sleeping and in the morning visit the "Tamarindo" youth group's gathering place, the radio station and clinic before we head back in the afternoon. Jon needs to return to San Salvador for the award he is receiving Monday night and Monday night is also the big mass and vigil in commemoration of all the martyrs of El Salvador on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Jesuits' assassination.
Bob, Kathy, Pat and I went with John, Teca and Rose to the Guiliano
home. Bert, Lori, Dick and Joe stayed at Jon Cortina's house. To get to
John and Teca's house we descended the torn up gravel road and then followed
the paved road farther beyond the town's center. We set up a big,
tall cot made by the Tamarindo's of white canvass and pine. Pat fell
asleep immediately it seems. Kathy took a hammock. I unpacked gifts
of the basketballs, letters I brought from Wil, pictures of Wil, books
and a few toys for Rose and gave them all to Teca. John started working
on the motor of the pump for his watering system for his citrus.
I used the latrine and looked around the place a bit. I helped Teca
peel potatoes after I was not successful at convincing her that we could
mash them with the peels on and all would be fine with that. We talked
a bit about our lives, though Rose wanted attention too and needed bathing.
Teca brought out a kettle she had heated on the stove and washed Rose with
a mixture of the hot and cold water. Rose knew the routine, stepping
up on a brick and putting on her flip flops after. I washed my face and
hands too and examined the cement adult bathing area. I finally laid down
a bit on what looked like a van bench seat. Bob and John talked
about Plowshares. I overheard a few names I recognized, but drifted
off. Soon it was time to go to Mass.
November 14 – The Afternoon and Evening
Outside, near the plaza, the woman who had cooked our lunch is making
empanadas of corn masa with mashed potato inside. Several children are
hanging around the table where she is working. A young girl of about
10 fries them in a pot of oil on a small, wood-burning metal stove about
two feet tall. I greet them and ask permission to photograph them.
The ten year old doesn’t want to be photographed. The woman urges
her to give me the OK.
Teca points out Wil’s younger sister. I walk over to the side in the back where she is standing and introduce myself. She is lovely, 14 years old. She is quiet and holds the hand of her friend next to her. She tells me she plans to come to Omaha in February to live with her two brothers and uncle already in Nebraska. I ask her if she is planning to go to high school and describe South High a bit. “I’d like to try it,” she says quietly. I ask permission to take her picture.
She points out her older sister outside the back with others looking in. I walk over to introduce myself. She gives me a big hug when she hears I know her brother Wil in Omaha. She is dressed in a lovely royal blue suit and the young daughters she introduces me to are in frilly white dresses. They are all beautiful. I ask them if we could go over to the side of the church so I can take their picture in better light to show Wil. She tells me two more brothers are somewhere around. I do not meet them. Mass is starting. I go toward the front to get a picture of the choir and Bert and Bob standing on either side of Cortina at the altar. Jon welcomes the community, introduces Bob and Bert and the rest of us. He says we are here to meet the community and to celebrate in solidarity on the occasion of the anniversary of the deaths of the Jesuit martyrs. His affection for the community is obvious.
He announces the bride and groom and they begin to walk in with three parents or Godparents. The children crowd in and climb higher on the fence to see. I feel uncomfortable with children and women on every side of me, but I can’t move now. The others of our group are standing at the back. I notice young men inside filling in the back and the side of the church. The wedding party sits in the five white plastic chairs for them at the front. The songs are strong and heartfelt and the community joins in heartily. Lectors come up to the altar to use the only microphone in the church. They proclaim the word with conviction. Cortina asks the children several times to quiet down. I notice it is not only the children who are talking. I get the feeling some near me are only here because of the wedding. It is hard to pray. I am self-conscious.
Fr.Cortina comes down the altar at the time of the homily to ask questions to the congregation about what the anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs means to them. It is very hard to hear, as his microphone is not long. Older women speak up about the Jesuits, but I make out little.
After the mass Fr. Cortina calls me up on the microphone to sing a song. I am caught by surprise. Is this Bert’s doing? Cortina looks at me, “Hurry up, you are losing them.” I feel like I have to do it for him. Nothing comes to mind. Finally, I took a guitar and with a few members of the choir still present I sang “We are walking in the light of Christ,” a South African freedom hymn, in English and Spanish. I did enjoy it after all, and they joined in!
A traveling comic mime troupe from Costa Rica begins clearing off the altar area and setting it up as a stage for a free performance this evening. It is great that such entertainment comes to Guarjila. The church is filling up again. It doesn’t look like we are staying.
I talk outside to three young men leaning against a fence. They all know Wil Rivera. We talk about school opportunities in Guarjila and what their futures might hold. They ask me a few questions about the United States and about Omaha. Starting this year in Guarjila, they now have up to ninth grade. Before school ended at sixth. For more schooling they can to go to Chalatenango, about a half-hour drive. They know of no way to be able to attend university in the capitol. We got talking about different racial and ethnic groups in the states. They wanted to know if Blacks really had the same civil rights that whites enjoy. These youth are intelligent and polite, handsome and healthy looking. They all work out in the fields they told me. One seemed discouraged about his future.
Kathy comes up to say that the others of our group are waiting to we walk up to John Guiliano’s house for dinner. The exercise feels good. The sun has set and it is beginning to get dark.
Two of the Tamarindo youth group members are grilling chicken on
a wood-burning cement grill when we arrive. It smells so good.
John is mashing potatoes in a large pot. Chairs are gathered in a
circle on the porch. John asks one of the guys, Nelson, to please
go buy soda and beer.
Discussion after dinner offers us the opportunity to learn about Cortina’s work in reuniting children who were abducted during the war with their birth families. The effort is called Pro-Busquedad. The organization had a staff of 4 in 1995. A staff of 18 persons now works on investigation and reunification with families who had children taken from them during the war. They have accumulated 30,000 files on children. Several grants and awards have acknowledged the value of their work. UNICEF is a name I remember. The purpose is to give families the peace that their children are alive and well and give the children an opportunity to know their true identity and meet their family and country if they choose. Teca brings out the February 7, 1999 article in the New York Times Magazine written by Tina Rosenberg. John recommends we obtain copies of the 60 Minutes news piece that was done and also, of course, of the Nightline special scheduled to air in the States tomorrow, the 16th. Cortina quotes the number given in a Boston Globe article: 2354 children adopted into the United States alone in the 1980s. Most were illegitimate adoptions where the families were told that the child was orphaned or completely abandoned. Ninety-eight have been found. Fifty-two abroad in the USA, France, Italy, Holland, Britain Honduras and Guatemala (I am missing a few) and 46 in El Salvador. They have received one death threat. “We strive for identity and truth. We don’t strive for justice.” I feel very honored to be in the presence of this man. Que vision. Que dedicacion. I feel this way about John Guiliano and his wife, Teca also.
Kathy asks about the reasons that this occurred during the war. Cortina explains that it was a military strategy. It served as a way to terrorize the civilian population. The stealing of children is worse than killing. This way the families can’t mourn. Also it became a source of money. Military men had lawyer relatives who were able to obtain about $10,000 for each child.
John brought out a gift of posters for each of us. Salvadoran martyrs. These are my last eight.
We began to clean up and set up for sleeping. We set up three cots in their house. That is all that would fit. Pat and Kathy chose to go the the “Hotel Aleman” with private small rooms and showers. Bert, Dick and Joe went to Cortina’s for the night. Bob took the cot in the kitchen, Lori and I took the ones in the living room. Before bed I used the latrine, a simple cement toilet-shaped structure. The edge had been smoothed out a bit. I invited Lori to go out to the road and look at the stars with me. Magnificent. Es otro mundo. This is another world. It feels as if this day were the equivalent of a year --- all that I had seen and heard and felt.
Teca had warned us that it would get cold at night in the mountains
here. I had one light blanket. John had borrowed blankets
from the “hotel,” but I don’t believe there are extras. I feel
cold. I get up and put on all the clothing I had brought overnight with
me which included socks and a sweater and my wool shirt. I had not
brought pants. I put on my slip and a t-shirt over my legs and wrapped
myself well in the blanket. I put a towel over my eyes as John and
Bob were out on the porch talking and the light came in. I loaned
Lori my earplugs. The cot feels fine. I am grateful for the little
pillow I brought with me. Le doy gracias a Dios por estas personas que
he conocido hoy, por este pueblo, por estar aqui.
November 15, 1999
Second day in Guarjila, El Salvador
I hear John awaken early. He said he would awaken before five to water his citrus trees. I hear him out there doing the dishes we left from the night before. I also hear carts and people walking in the street behind the house. There is just a bit of light and I check my watch. 5:45am. I feel rested and eager enough to exercise and pray, to experience the morning here. I take off my leg layers and walk to the wash area. The cold water feels good on my face and hands. I dry off and grab my camera. I frame the picture with banana and papaya leaves, the muted orange blanketing the still dark mountains. I get my shorts and tennis shoes on. I ask John if it is OK for me to go for a run and ask which way I should go. He explains that I will come to a stream down the hill and further on, to another community. If we had time he would love to take us to the Sumpul River, he says. “Enjoy.” It is a jog he loves to take, but does not offer to come along this morning.
A man is walking a saddled horse. I am struck by a patch of lime green grass on the hillside above me. Corn is all around. Dry corn next to fresh, green corn growing. I come upon an old woman hunched over by the side of the road. She is stripping some vine-like weed of its seeds. I stop and greet her and ask about what she is doing. She has no teeth it seems and I have trouble understanding what she tells me. I take note of her blue skirt and tattered white apron, her string bag at her side and curved machete-looking tool under her arm. I learn later that it is called a “cuma.” On her head she has a tattered, brown cloth wrapping part of her gray hair.
I keep jogging-walking. A truck filled with men standing in the back pass me. I am glad they do not call to me. Mostly it is quiet. I hear rushing water below on the opposite hill. It does not look easy to get to. I keep going. Two men are harvesting corn by hand. On another hill I hear singing and see a man walking, cuma in hand. Finally I get to a large stream that has paths from the road. I walk over to the side and notice lots of large boulders in the stream. I climb and sit on the largest one to rest and pray a while.
I told John I wouldn’t be much more than half an hour, so I don’t feel I can stay, though I would like to. I return up the hill, wishing I had my camera.
The plan this morning is to meet for breakfast at Cortina’s at 8:30.
I am glad there is plenty of time.
One of the Tamarindos appears at the house. It is Luis, the boy Ken sent a Creighton cap for and a note. I give it to him happily. He is rather tall with dark complexion. He is well groomed and mature looking. His face brightens with the gift. I ask if he and Lori would like to accompany me down the hill so that I can take a photo of the corn on the hillside, the new next to the old. It is a picture for me of the country.
Luis tells me he 20 years old, not married yet, but interested. He still lives at home and helps in the family cornfield. He is active in the Tamarindo group. I learn later he is one of the young men Guiliano and Cortina are trying to provide housing and scholarship money for so that they may attend the university in San Salvador.
We get in the van to go to Cortina’s. Teca brings hot, scrambled eggs, beans and more bakery bread. Again I am drawn to the mountain view at Cortina’s. Guiliano’s is not as vast and more obscured by vegetation. This is incredibly vast and breathtaking. Jon has hot coffee and Teca also serves bananas and tangerines. The food is wonderfully delicious.
Bob asks me if we can talk. He wants us to discuss seriously the idea of committing ourselves to raising the money for one student to attend university this year. If tuition is about $2100 for the state university, if we split that between the six of us, that is about $350 a piece. “You are a good organizer, can you get us talking together about this?”
I agree to try and wait for an opportune moment. We get into a big discussion about different ways we can support their work. I ask about Catholic Relief Services and other organizations.
We all agree that helping with Pro-Busquedad is important, fund-raising and helping develop parish contacts in the States would be helpful. Even more, they agree, the need is great for support for the house John envisions in San Salvador for Tamarindos to live in and attend university, either the state university or la UCA. John has identified a location, but it needs work and the students would need money to pay expenses the first year. After the first year, Jon says they would be able to work part-time to cover many expenses. They will have to learn to live on their own, how to cook for themselves and live in the city. The figure $5000 for a year was thrown about.
We started an email list and Kathy agreed to copy it and send it to all of us. John Guiliano explained that a parish in Indianapolis has established a “Salvador Outreach” account and money could be channeled through them as a non-profit. A business manager there is handling the account and John trusts them. It turns out it is the parish of my John’s cousin, Gene and Edie Witchger. Teca is the one that remembered the connection! John had not remembered because I do not use the Witchger name regularly! What a wonderful, small world. Teca and John stayed with Edie and Gene this summer. Edie took care of Rose when Teca had eye surgery! They are very close. We, too, are very close to Gene and Edie. They spent their first 18 months of marriage with us volunteering in Immokalee, Florida! Now they have seven children!
At one point we must have been talking about how to live justly and in solidarity in the United States. Jon Cortina gave us an example of the disparity in use of resources here. He said the US Embassy in Salvador uses 640 cubic meters (equivalent to 640,000 liters) of water in two days in the summer. Guarjila, a town of 3,000 allocates 80 liters per person per day. They only use about 180,000 liters in a day in the summer. What the embassy uses in two days would last the whole community of Guarjila more than three days.
Jon showed us a small clay oven he designed and the community was marketing to help people use less fuel and burn less trees.
We talked about other efforts in the community and the assistance of outside help, like Spain funding the 40 brick homes that are being built just like Cortina’s. “Never give money to help build a church,” he cautioned. “Other groups in Europe will give for that. And it is the responsibility of the bishop. I also believe the people need decent housing first.”
We cleaned up and drove to the three places in town that were essential to see before we had to leave. First we stopped at the meeting place of the Tamarindos. It is a building made in the oldest way with mud between bamboo. The outside adobe plaster was peeling and it revealed the layers of bamboo and mud. Inside there were a couple of smaller rooms. One had several bicycles, posters and the banner of John’s healing journey when he rode his bike after the war from Guarjila to the United States and went around telling stories and trying to connect with people who had helped Salvador during the war and others who would hear him. A larger room in the back had some old weight lifting equipment. He said, “You should see how we clean this place up and make it look nice for dances.”
On one wall, a mural was painted with a basketball and soccer ball, some fruit and a quote of Romero’s, “May my death be a seed for freedom.”
We were going to go to the sewing cooperative as several of us wanted to take back hand-made gifts. Two women appeared with samples of the work of the cooperative. Kathy, Bob and I bought beautiful, embroidered shirts. Bert bought a couple of beautiful stoles. I walked with the women to where they have their building and I was impressed by the brick structure. They showed me many more kinds of blouses, T-shirts, tablecloths and napkins that they sew and embroider. I took a picture of some of the T-shirts with embroidered worlds with children all around that they said are very popular. They explained that they currently have no orders and they are just making things with no one to sell them to. Perhaps some students would want to take on this project of giving them a market for their time and talent. Ten women are in this group. I wrote down their names and how to contact the two of them: Suyapa Serrano Cruz and Morena Palma at Taller Jesus Roja, Guarjila, Chalatenango, El Salvador. They seemed hopeful and grateful and truly in need of people to buy the fruit of their labor.
I walked down from the “taller” to where I thought John was going to pass by in the van. I was able to get a closer look at some of the older housing that Jon is hoping to eventually replace. I greeted an older woman in a hammock with a little girl. They came to the fence to say hi, recognizing me from the mass the day before. They introduced themselves as Sophia and the baby was named “Wendy!”
We stopped next at the office and station of “Radio Sumpul” where
Teca works. We took a picture of Teca and Miriam, her co-worker,
in front of the banner of the radio. I asked Miriam what is the yellow
bird that they have pictured singing into the microphone on the banner.
She said it is called “el chillo mensajero,” the ‘messenger song-bird,’
and so they chose it as their mascot. The Sumpul river is the river
nearby that in part forms the boundary with Honduras. In May
of 1980, the army and paramilitary groups massacred 600 campesinos at this
river. We were all given T-shirts of Radio Sumpul. The
radio station has a great story of unity and courage with it, we
learned. During the war, the military ordered the simultaneous closing
of the ten community based radio stations. They wanted to control
all communication in the country. A group of guards drove up to Radio
Sumpul and started to remove equipment and load it in their trucks.
Someone rang the bell in front of the church. That was the signal
for the whole community to come out and see what was wrong. They
began to gather at the radio station and cut down trees to form a blockade
in front and in back of the trucks. The military tried to get
out where there still was some unblocked space. A man without
a leg and others laid down in the road. An officer took out his gun
and threatened to shoot the people if they did not get up. A woman
shouted to them, “We stood up to the Atlacatl battalion, (the most violent
of the special armed forces and the one that killed the Jesuits) and you
think we are going to be afraid of you?!”
I began to understand why no ordinary priest could replace Cortina here. He had been through a great deal with them. I also marvel at the commitment of Teca and John, lay people like me, now with a daughter. I had seen a small picture of their wedding day in the room I slept in. They were dressed simply, both in white, holding hands in front of Father Cortina. What a sacrament they share.
We went on to the clinic. Marlena, a health promoter for 14 years greeted us and gave us a tour, with Jon and John spicing it up here and there. Mauricio was also there seeing patients. He was introduced to the rest of the group. Bert, especially, was introduced as the “Padrino,” Godfather, of the clinic. Jon had requested $5,000 from the Wisconsin province at the time that Bert was provincial. Bert did not remember this clearly, but Jon did. He did not send $5000, he sent $25,000. I took a picture of Bert and Jon in front of the ambulance in front of the clinic.
We were showed the office with patient files and introduced us to other workers. We saw the waiting room, the “cholera” room with a red plastic draped over a wooden frame of a cot. In the middle the red plastic had a sleeve-like bag. They explained that this is where people would lay and the bag would catch the constant diarrhea. No one ever died here at the time of cholera. They have not had any cases lately. The clinic was so well known for its care that doctors from Chalatenango would send their patients here to recover when cholera was rampant. We saw a room where special medicines are kept. Marlena explained that common medicines are kept at the pharmacy. They showed us a delivery room, a room that is used for emergency surgery and the lab, equipped by St. Pius parish in Indianapolis we were told. Dick looked in one of the boxes of eyeglasses for the eye-clinic they hope to start. They looked new, but Jon explained they are all used, but clearly marked as to the strength of the lenses.
There was so much more to see, but we needed to get to the city.
I hated to go…
November 15, 1999
La Universidad de Centro America – “La UCA”
The drive back to San Salvador is uncomfortable. It becomes fatiguing and frightening with the traffic in the city. I put a handkerchief over my mouth and nose at times. The exhaust from the old buses is nauseating. We stop at a friend of John’s that works on motors. John was unsuccessful at fixing the motor himself of the water pump for his plants. He drops it off. John has difficulty getting us back to the convent, the roads are jammed and there are many unfamiliar one-way streets. It is frustrating for all, because we would like to be able to get to the UCA early for the procession. John has slept little, but he does not lose his cool with the horrendous driving conditions. I ask him what the street vendors are selling. “Cashews,” he says. I buy some for the group for 10 colones a small bag. They are dry roasted and very tasty. We finally make it back to the convent. John waits as we quickly shower and change.
When we pull into la UCA about 5 pm, my spirits change. I give a little cheer. I feel excited and relieved and grateful to be here. Just after we park, the Guarjila buses arrive also! John invites many of the Tamarindos to join us. We have not eaten a meal since breakfast and decide to go to a “pupuseria” on the edge of the campus. John is greeted by several people he knows as we snake our way through the crowds on the sidewalks of the university.
Our group of about 20 fills the tables at the outdoor café. A woman is standing at an open stove making bean and cheese pupusas. I watch her. She takes some of the rice flour dough, pats it skillfully to make a small fat tortilla. Next she takes a spoonful of beans and pats it on the tortilla. She puts another small ball of dough on top of the beans, cups it in her hand and pinches off a bit of excess dough. She pats it into shape and adds a bit of grease on the outside then slaps it on a griddle. This takes her about a minute!
Some of us “norteamericanos” also order fresh fruit shakes from “Senor Jugo” across the street. The cost 7 colones, under one American dollar. I am reminded of endless smoothies I made for the kids in Florida in order to get them to eat the papayas we had growing practically wild. I order one with papaya, pineapple juice and banana.
The Tamarindos find it interesting that Pat was my professor 20 years ago. John and Teca treat them all like their sons.
We walk back on to the university grounds. We pass through a large stand of eucalyptus trees. The campus is pleasantly green and the buildings seem well maintained. When we arrive at the area where the Mass will be we choose a place close to the front center. There are no chairs. It is not too crowded. John encourages us to walk around. I buy a few cloth, embroidered napkins from some people from another town in Chalatenango province. I keep a look-out for Peggy O’Neil who I used to know from Florida. She is the only one I know will be here, thanks to email. I came to the back of the lot where mass was to be held and began to see people with candles arriving. I sat on a grassy berm with others to watch the procession. The woman next to me had lost her husband during the war. Some people carried banners, many sang with the chorus on the loudspeaker, “Hay que morir, para vivir, Entre tus manos…” (In order to live, we must die. Into your hands..) I sang along and so did the women next to me. We talked and she shared part of her newspaper with pictures and quotes of Romero and the Jesuits. She talked about the importance of the young people joining in to understand the purpose of our gathering.
I translate during the mass for some of our group. The songs are beautiful and powerful. During many of the songs and readings pictures of the Salvadoran people, especially in the rural communities were flashed onto a large screen to the left of the stage. Ignacio Ellacuria’s brother, a priest from Spain, read the first Scripture reading. The gospel reading was about the shepherd who knows and loves his sheep enough to lay down his life for them. Rodolpho Cardenal preached the homily. Prayers of the faithful were read in eight languages. Thousands had filled in on all sides around us and all the way to the back of the lot. We alternated standing and sitting for parts of the mass. Rose Guiliano came over to my lap at one point. I prayed for her. It would be the last time I would see her as she and her mom were leaving with the Guarjila group in the buses that morning.
We stayed for only a short part of the all night vigil celebration. People all around us joined in the songs of solidarity sung by the local UCA student band, “Grupo Etnia.” In between songs, persons who lost loved ones during the war and are working to bring justice share stories and ask for prayers and support.
Dick brings over a former student to where Lori and I are sitting. Cynthia Kennedy, a Creighton alum, recognized “Dr. Super” in the crowd. She is working as a volunteer youth minister in a parish in Arcatao in Chalatenango! How great to connect with her here. It seems that she is still adjusting, but glad for her decision. She will receive much in her two years here. We invite her to come to Creighton to speak next time she is in the Omaha area.
The UCA was offering free food for all. The lines for the tamale, bread and coffee was long, but no one seemed impatient when we passed them on the way out.
Back at San Jacinto, Sor Flora graciously allows us to disturb her to open the gate for us at midnight. We walked in quietly. The Honduran group was planning to stay at the vigil till 5 am and then return to San Jacinto for breakfast. She tells us their driver is staying the night in the extra bedroom in our wing.
12:50am This is about the time the Jesuits were killed. I am trying to stay awake on the floor of my room, trying to pray with your people, vigiling. I am very touched by the faith and devotion, the commitment of your people, Lord.
John Guiliano picks us up at 10am. He slept in the van last night for a few hours he says. I share some of the fresh bread from the convent. We drive back to la UCA. In front of the Romero Chapel, John tells stories about the bloody days of the war just before the Jesuits were killed. He tells us about the FMLN final offensive trying to take the city after much fighting in the hills. Ellacuria had tried to persuade the guerrilla leaders against it. He said it was immoral. The cost of lives would be too great.
John gives us a brief tour so that we can become oriented to the
grounds of the Centro Pastoral Romero and be on our own for a while.
He needs to deliver a box to a radio station in town so his wife will talk
to him when he gets home he says. We agree to meet in front of the
Romero Chapel again at 12:30pm.
I follow Kathy and Pat into a room in the Romero Center with posters of Romero and of the Jesuits lining every wall. There are a few chairs and one long table. On the table are four photo albums of the fading pictures of the fresh killings. I look and look to shout to the deeper, doubting parts of me…. Yes this kind of evil exists in this world I so love and that was so loved by these companions of Jesus. Yes, the idea of the “opcion para los pobres” infuriates some to the point of blowing the thinker’s brains out. I am moved by Pat’s visible sorrow. No one utters any speech. Three or four UCA students are with us, but there are no crowds in the Romero Center today. I expected and feared there would be many, many people.
I follow Jon Cortina into the museum where he is guiding Joe Doust.
It is about a 20’x 25’ room. First there is an area displaying things
that belonged to Oscar Romero. Following this are glass cases where
pictures and artifacts are displayed that illustrate some of the interests
and characteristics of each of the Jesuit martyrs. Their graduation
medals are huge! These give new meaning to Dad’s saying, “pin a medal
on you!” Three songs on small slips of paper catch my eye in
Martin-Baro’s case. “Si Se Caye El Cantor” is written by hand, as
is “Gracias A La Vida.” The third song, “Yesterday,” is typed on
a typewriter with red ink chords above the black lyrics, just like my sister
Ani used to do. I know I would have liked this guy. I am glad
to see an area dedicated to the American women also, Ita, Dorothy, Jean
and Maura. There are posters and pictures, but no artifacts.
Next to that is a large cross, “made by one of the communities,” Jon says.
It has the heads of the six Jesuits and Elba and Celina painted on it with
flowers and leaves all around. “It is used on special occasions.
Perhaps it will be used tonight,” Jon speculates. He lingers over
the photos and articles that used to belong to his friends….
I walk through the open area of the Romero Center passing Jon Sobrino. I tell Bert and he stops him to say hello. He is on his way to hear the Archbishop from Italy speak. He wishes us well. I slowly climb the stairs into the garden where Ellacuria, Montes, Martin-Baro, Lopez Quintana and Moreno Pardo were forced to lie down and accept death. (Lopez y Lopez, the oldest and only Salvadoran native, was killed in his room.) This must be what it is like to be in the Holy Land. I never recall having been at a place like this before where such brutality and beauty blend…. The rose garden is framed with flaming poinsetta bushes on one side, a succulent small-leaf plant forms a low fence around the roses. I pinch a small piece off. It is so strong I have to cut it with my teeth. A majestic mango tree towers over a plaque in the corner with the names of the six Jesuits and Celina and Elba. The garden is part of a much larger yard where I can imagine reading, contemplation and stimulating conversations still flourish. I wish I had known Ellacuria. I am grateful that others knew him and that his writings and convictions can still influence us. We need him.
I recognize the older man with thick white hair that joins several of us in the garden. “Are you Ellacu’s brother?” I ask in Spanish. “Si.” He describes the original configuration of the roses and Obdulio’s eucharistic theme of doing this in memory… always to remember. I ask about Obdulio, the gardener, husband of Elba, the cook. “Obdulio died four years ago,” he explains. I felt a mixture of sadness and relief for him that the sorrow he had to live with was over. Ellacu’s brother went over to a man who worked on the grounds and asked him to cut five pieces of the rose bushes. The family back in Spain wants to start a similar garden from the cuttings.
Jon and Joe join us in the garden where several of us have gathered.
Jon leads us over to the residence where he fumbled for the key of the
gate that opened the rooms off the hallway. “I thought I kept the
key I got when Don Doll, SJ was here.” He told us the story of how
recently they had come to live there…how he personally had disagreed with
the move and had never lived in that new residence. “I didn’t think
we needed this. The other house was adequate.” Ellacuria wanted
to move there because it would be quieter and more secure he thought.
The women had asked to sleep in a parlor down the open walkway lined with
low palms. He took us there. I could imagine the women caught
in the embrace of terror and mourning.
Cortina answered someone’s question as to who the military really wanted to kill. “Ellacuria, mostly.” And they wanted to make it look like the guerrillas had done it so they used an AK-47 that they had taken from the guerrillas. “Did they want to kill you also?” someone asked. “I don’t think so,” Jon answered.
John Guiliano meets us outside the chapel. Mike McNulty, SJ
also shows up! “I had heard you were in these parts!” I told him
with a hug. I hadn’t seen Mike since my days at Marquette 20 years
ago, though we were kindred spirits then too. He is finishing a semester
teaching Philosophy at la UCA. He predicts that I will return to
Salvador as he has done and continues to want to. He decides to join
us for lunch as does a young, North American woman named Bridget, a friend
of John’s. She is in the Jesuit Volunteer International program in
Belize. I ask her if she knows Ken’s friend and former co-worker
from Loyola, Brenda Gonzalez. She says yes, though they are not in
the same part of the country. She describes Belize as much more Carribean-like.
We go to lunch at a small, Chinese restaurant across from where we
had pupusas last night.
After lunch we drive over to the hospice hospital and care center where Oscar Romero lived. John speaks highly of the work of the Carmelite sisters here. We walk in the gate and gather outside the house. Jon Cortina invites a sister in a dark brown habit to speak to our group (Bert, Lori, Dick, Pat, Kathy, Joe, Bob, Jon, John and I) It is quickly evident that this is someone that new Romero well and loved and respected him deeply. Her name is Hermana Rosa Avalos Escobar, a Carmelite Missionary Sister of Santa Teresa.
“Su doctrina y la luz, no se puede ocultar,” she said. His
teaching and light cannot be hidden.
His house is so simple. His bedroom, like a small dorm room with a single bed, typewriter, desk and dresser.
Over in the chapel, Cortina stands at the altar where he was killed
and walks over to where he fell and was first cradled in the arms of the
sisters who reached him after the one, deadly 22-caliber bullet.
Back at la UCA I buy it and posters of the anniversary.
We gather for the “Solemn Mass,” this time on chairs and with electric piano music. I feel badly that the way we are seated, I cannot translate for Pat and Kathy. It is not the same vitality or community as last night. It is not as moving for me, though I appreciate several parts: the gifts presented during the offertory; professors of la UCLA bring recently published works offered in memory and in the spirit of the Jesuit colleagues; representatives of the men and women religious of Central America offer statements of recommitment to the option for the poor and for justice in all their ministries; youth groups offer gifts. At the end of mass, a letter from Vigilio Lopez Trujillo of Honduras and other letters of support are read and the Jesuit provincial of Central America speaks strongly.
Dean Brackley, SJ, invites us all to dinner at the Casa San Ignacio, the Jesuit retreat house, where many visitors are staying, John Guiliano needs to get back to Guarjila as the next day he leaves for a two-week speaking tour in California. It is hard to say goodbye. John has treated us with boundless generosity, warmth and cemented a sense of partnership in mission. Again I think of Ken and give thanks for his relationship with John and that Ken is now with us at Creighton. We get lost looking for the retreat house. I feel badly for John, I know he needs sleep and time with his family. We pass through the first middle class neighborhood we have seen all trip. We feel that we are close, but can’t quite find it. At last, we see someone on foot who wants a lift and knows the way. “Hang on to the door of the van, will you?” John asks. I can see our newest passenger is thinking that maybe he would have been better off walking.
We finally arrive. It is heavenly being with so many Latin Americans and so many Spanish-speaking Jesuits! I meet and have a chance to talk with Kevin and Trena, the new directors of the joint UCA-Santa Clara U. “Casa de Solidaridad.” I arrange to visit them tomorrow if I have an opportunity. I meet my former political science professor at Marquette, Peter Marchetti, SJ. “Your Spanish is good!” he tells me. It is fascinating to hear a bit about his development work throught the diocese in Honduras. I work my way over to a group of young guys, hoping someone will know Matt Walsh. They turn out to be from Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and the Domincan Republic. Yes! Several remember Mateo Walsh with carino.
The meal is a great contrast to our elaborate spreads in the US. We serve ourselves some of the rice, pork and lettuce available at the serving tables. For drinks I notice soda, beer and rum on the counter and water in a cooler. I feel like making myself a “Cuba Libre,” but I already have a Sprite in hand. I meet a scholastic named Jose Luis Gonzalez from Spain. He is working with gangs and drug addicts as his pastoral work. He asks me about “therapeutic communities” in the States. I bring Pat Coffey into the conversation and translate for them. Pat explains about the work of AA and about a recent book by a Jesuit about the Ignatian Exercises and the twelve steps. I ask him how many hours a week he does pastoral work. “Sometimes every afternoon and for sure every weekend.” I tell him how it is hard for some of our guys to fit it in to studying and meetings, etc. He directed me to one of Ignatius’ letters to the … community where he says that “Los pobres seran nuestros formadores.” We need to let the poor be our formation directors and teachers. How do I bring that concept back to Creighton?
On our way out, I overhear a conversation about the GAP and globalization.
It is Ricardo Falla,SJ, from Honduras, author of the book Matt Walsh wanted
me to read before coming, The Story of a Great Love.