A very special pilgrimage – part II

Debbie is certainly living a very special experience in El Salvador. Here is a summary of her travel journal so far, which gives us a taste of what she is living and allows us to follow her on this extraordinary journey.

Day 1:

Arrival to San Salvador. As the plane hovered over the capital city of El Salvador, we were struck by how dim the city lights appeared from above, not what we normally see when we travel to big European capitals. We felt this was a sign, the first perhaps, that we were entering a very different world.

Day 1

Arriving to San Salvador

After a rather adventurous landing (an unexpected power cut shortly after landing and a 90 minutes wait to go through passport control) we were able to leave the airport and happy to meet our hosts, who took us to Centro Loyola, which will be our base for the next fortnight.  We arrived shortly before midnight and can’t tell yo how delighted we all were to find a room and a bed for the night.


Day 2:

A visit to the site of the assassination of Oscar Romero in 1980, now turned into a cancer hospital, run by the Carmelite sisters. We learned about Romero’s time as Archbishop of San Salvador, and especially about the events leading up to his martyrdom. We celebrated a very moving mass in the hospital chapel.

Day 2

Julian explains about Romero’s last few minutes in the chapel where he was martyred.

After a delicious lunch, kindly prepared by the sisters, we were given the opportunity to visit the hospital, and we were able to talk to some of the patients, but also to members of staff and doctors.  It was very moving to witness people’s joy and the love staff have for the patients! 


Day 3:

Today we visited the monument to “memory and truth” in downtown. The monument is a long wall covered with more than 30,000 names of all those who disappeared or were murdered during the repression of the 1970s and the civil war that followed from 1980-1992. A the monument we were met by Pepe, a member of the Tutela legal team, a rather lively character, who turned up with a group of young singers and musicians. Pepe had been an altar server to Romero and also received his first Holy Communion from Romero’s hand. He explained to us the significance of the monument and invited us to lay a flower on the memorial wall.  Scrolling through the names on the the wall, we spotted the name of Oscar Romero. He was there, among his people, one among the many. For some reason, I was very moved. It just seemed so fitting! Imagine my joy when I discovered that on the wall was also the name of CAFOD, an organisation that stood in solidarity with the people all the time throughout the repression years.

After the monument, we went on to visit the metropolitan cathedral, in whose crypt is the tomb of Oscar Romero.

Day 3

Oscar Romero’s tomb

We laid flowers during a very emotional ceremony. Just as we were leaving, one of our party had some difficulty climbing the stairs. A local lady appeared from nowhere and offered to assist her, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I was incredibly moved by this simple gesture, which to me symbolises the spontaneity and generosity of the people of El Salvador.


Day 4:

Today, a visit to the Centro Monseñor Romero at the Jesuit run University of Central America (UCA), where there is a permanent exhibition of the life of Oscar Romero.  Here on the university grounds, six Jesuit priests with their housekeeper and her daughter were brutally murdered on this day 28 years ago.  We were welcomed by the Centre’s director, who himself had escaped the massacre just by chance. He was due to address the group, but because this was a significant date for him, he found it too difficult to speak about the events. Instead we were accompanied by two of the students, who knew all about the site and were able to convey to us  the importance this place has for them, as part of their own history and background.  We also met with a renowned theologian, John Sobrino, who had also known the UCA martyrs and had escaped the same fate by chance. Particularly moving was to find that in the place where the killings occurred, the housekeeper’s husband had planted a rose garden, as a sign of hope and new life.

In the afternoon, we visited El Despertar Parish Centre, where  a priest and four young catechists were murdered by the Army. The priest’s sister told us about her recollections of her brother and the events surrounding his murder. The family had to exile and live as refugees in Honduras for 8 years. What was striking about this lady was that she bore no resentment or anger against those who murdered her brother. She said: “our plan is to build a different world and to bring gods love into it”.

Day 4

Talking to Anita whose brother was assassinated.


Keep attuned for the next chapter of Debbie’s travel journal!


A very especial pilgrimage

This time the news are about our very own Debbie Purfield, who has flown all the way to El Salvador for a two weeks pilgrimage on the footsteps of Oscar Romero. From the 13 to the 24 November, Debbie will be visiting some of the places linked to key moments in Romero’s life. What motivated the trip? Debbie told us:

C2-El-Salvador-2016_opt_fullstory_largeI have always been so inspired by Oscar Romero and his remarkable life. When I heard that the Romero Trust were organising a pilgrimage to El Salvador, I felt it was an opportunity not to be missed, which would allow me to walk in the footsteps of Oscar Romero and learn more about him and his country.  At the same time, CAFOD’s presence is very active in El Salvador (with projects such as the Connect 2 El Salvador and Eldermira and her community who was the Harvest Fast day focus), and this gave me an additional motivation to visit the country and experience CAFOD’s work first-hand.  I am sure I will be inspired by the people and learn more about this saint whom I find so human and yet God-like! When I come back I hope to be able to transmit this incredible experience and my enthusiasm to our volunteers and supporters!

This year marks the centenary of the birth of Oscar Romero which makes the pilgrimage even more relevant.

Debbie assured us she will be praying for the work of CAFOD and holding us all in prayer. And we will pray for her and her special spiritual (as well as physical) journey.

More than academic performance at St Paul School – Milton Keynes

The new Year 12 Sixth Formers at Saint Paul’s School in Milton Keynes are exploring ideas for extending their personal development through curricular enrichment. This could mean many things,  for example volunteering for community service.


Cathy talks to Year 12 students – St Paul School Milton Keynes

Cathy Stormonth, our CAFOD Education volunteer was very happy to talk to the Year 12 group and give them some useful ideas.  Some students are already working with the local primary Catholic schools helping with reading and supporting other areas of learning. The schools are also keen to see their  past students return to take part in CAFOD activities too. This could be leading an assembly, a pilgrimage, a class workshop or supporting the school’s CAFOD campaigning or fundraising activities.

The students were particularly interested in the ‘Power to be’ campaign and were concerned about the World Bank’s limited investment in sustainable energy (only 3% of its total budget). The Sixth Form Chaplain Sharon Robinson was enthusiastic about helping with more publicity and posters about the ‘Power to be’ campaign. She felt that students would be very keen to campaign and raise awareness of this massive global challenge, as one in five children globally lacks access to electricity.

‘Sustainable solar energy is such an obvious solution to improving the lives of the poorest in African countries.’

>> Sign the Power to Be petition here


Cathy also told students about other CAFOD fundraising activities and advised them on how to get involved not just at the school but also in their wider parish communities. Cathy challenged students to be entrepreneurs and lobbyists, to raise funds for great global causes and to protest about injustices which keep people in poverty.  The reaction to these ideas was very positive and Cathy will continue to work with staff at St Paul’s to support students who want to get involved.

>> Add your voice to the thousands by signing the Power to Be petition