written by: Greg Allen, Faculty Member , Jesuit High School – Portland, Oregon
Over the past forty hours, my delegation group experienced home-stays in the rural community of Guarjilo, Salvador. The people we spent time among were incredibly welcoming, generous, and warm in their hosting of us, and it was obvious that the building and experience of community is the focal point of their full life. This is a community that has experienced devastating violence and hardships through the 1980′s during El Salvador’s civil war. Their telling of this story was central to our time among them. The telling of it is important to them and to we who heard and were affected by it.
Their community was targeted by the military of El Salvador in 1980 causing the thousands living there to flee into the hills with only the clothing on their backs. 600 were massacred at a river crossing while more drowned due to the dangerous crossing. They found themselves on the dangerous boarder of Honduras where, through efforts of international agencies, they were eventually given refugee status in that country. They lived in a very restricted camp until deciding to return to their home in 1987, a time when the war was still in full and deadly swing. They returned to find all their former community and homes destroyed. They had no water, no food, and no homes. They truly had to rebuild from scratch. Our time spent among them was a wonderful opportunity for them to show us how they have rebuilt their community, visiting a solar fruit dehydrating coop there, attending Mass in their new Church, speaking with community leaders in their community gathering space, and visiting the house where Fr. Jon Cortina, S.J. lived. Fr. Cortina was a much-loved Jesuit priest who journeyed with them through their rebuilding, employing his skills as an engineer to their physical rebuilding as well as his theological and ministerial skills to their psychological rebuilding. His home is now a museum in their community. They love to tell how Fr. Cortina was unafraid to say Mass in the center of the community as military soldiers on one hill above the town fired at guerrilla soldiers on the opposite hill who were firing back as well.
They are a warm, generous, and resilient people whose community is still beset by difficulties. They continue to lose many youth who decide to attempt the difficult journey to the boarder of the US in hopes of reuniting with family gone before them, or finding more economic opportunities than El Salvador which has very, very, very few for today’s youth. They welcomed us into their modest homes where we laughed, shared stories (which I did while also crucifying the Spanish language again and again on the cross of my attempts to bridge the language barrier with my distant memory of college studies in this language), shooed chickens out from under foot, petted dogs and horses, ate wonderful Salvadoran meals (one word: PUPUSAS), and experienced anew the wonderful truth of our common sister and brotherhood as members of the human family.