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