El Salvador: Open to Growth, with everything

written by: Don Clarke, Director of Campus Ministry, Jesuit High School – Portland, Oregon

The following is a part of a series of reflections from our 25th Anniversary Delegation to El Salvador participants.  This post was originally posted on Jesuit High School’s blog here.

churchwomen_memorialThe clouds broke as the plane started to drop in to the region around San Salvador. It appears as a mountainous region with small clusters of houses on the hillside. I am not much of a world traveler so landing in a foreign land is a big deal. The airport is pretty modern like Portland without the carpet and the airport liquor store owners pouring free shots of various drinks to get people to purchase.

Half of the group we are with came early and half will arrive on two later flights from the United States. As we loaded the bus, our tour director told us we would be going to the site where in 1980, four American church women were stopped by the military right outside the airport, taken to a small hill top, raped and murdered.

I thought to myself that this was then the same route those women were taken that December 2nd evening. It was a sobering ride for me. The names Sr. Ita Ford M.M., Sr. Dorothy Kazel O.S.U., Sr. Maura Clarke M.M. and lay Maryknoll Missioner, Jean Donovan are etched on my brain. Honestly, my initial interest was because Sr. Maura spelled her last name right. Jean Donovan, the young laywoman, grew up in a family that did not want for much yet she chose to return to El Salvador. Her story, without the way she died, has been emulated by a number of students from Jesuit. All four women, had to explain to their friends and family just why someone would make the choice they did to continue working in El Salvador.

We stood silently around the white cross (see picture above with the monument in front of the Church) marking where the bodies were found by a man walking on the road two days later. This man, knowing the way the police would probably act if he were to contact the police, realized he  could be silenced to continue the cover up. Wisely, he called the Archbishop. The news went around the world quickly. Their deaths forced a desire for awareness as to what was going on in this country. (In another picture, I noticed that Jean Donovan’s picture is placed with the stations of the Cross…not a coincidence).

Lunch consisted of peanut butter sandwiches, a ripe banana and some warm orange pop. My mind went to all the Jesuit High students who were eating simply on their service trips. I am thankful they put themselves in that position. It is not the way I usually eat. Open to Growth.

On the way back to our housing and the Centro Loyola close to the Jesuit University of Central America, (UCA… pronounced ooh-kah) our guide explained some things about the economy of El Salvador. She said that the wages are given in stages such as farmers and small town workers will get $100 a month, clothing manufacturers (see if your shirt is from El Salvador) will get $185 a month, service workers (waiters, store clerks) in the cities will get $ 225 a month, teachers will get $600-800 a month, there are people who get $ 2,500 a month but you have to know the right people. As we went by a gas station, the price per gallon was $ 4.15.

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