On May 7, 2012, eight youth and faith formation ministers and two CRS staff members traveled to El Salvador through the Called to Witness program. Sponsored in collaboration with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (www.nfcym.org), Called to Witness provides short-term, firsthand experiences of the developing world as seen through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching. Bill Staley, Associate Director for the Office of Youth Ministry, Diocese of Nashville, filed this reflection.
El Salvador isn’t an easy country to prepare for, whether it’s immunizations, state department registry, or packing for a variety of “what-if” situations that could arise on a nine-day tour of a country where the memory of a horrific civil war is still hovering over the people of this Massachusetts-sized nation. Despite the detailed guidelines we received from Catholic Relief Services, one thing they failed to prepare us for is how fast we would fall in love with the Salvadoran people.
Driving through the crowded city streets of San Salvador, the remnants of political tensions and barb-wired rooftops tell their own story. However I was struck by a wall painted with the words “PAZ Y AMOR,” translated “Peace and Love.” The sentiment was amplified by the young people participating in various youth-development programs.
Speaking to several classrooms of children in a school funded by CRS and USAID, I expected them to express interest in having their share of the “American Dream”. However, each of them, on several separate and isolated occasions, expressed how they just want to learn job skills to help their families. One young man in particular, Raul, shared with us how he has worked at a bread factory for the last year and saved enough money for his family to replace their home’s corrugated tin walls with bricks and mortar. Not parties, not fancy clothes, not a new car: Raul wanted to literally build on his family’s foundation for a more secure future.
In the dozens of people we have encountered over the last few days, hearing stories of hope for the future, and heroic legacies of the past, there is one constant message: a desire for a strengthened presence of peace and an outpouring of endless love. The Salvadoran sense of love is expressed in greetings, meals and gratitude for all the blessings God has given them.
One parish church—Mary, Mother of the Poor—was filled with people who have survived the utmost evil in their land, but still praise God and thank Him for blessing them despite the loss of loved ones, poverty, and everyday strife.
Our brothers and sisters in El Salvador have changed my life forever. My prayer for them today is continued Peace and Love. One small flame still shines brightly even in the darkest hour. Salvadorans are a chorus of Christ’s radiating light.
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