When I was a Jesuit Volunteer in 2005, I went to El Salvador for a week. In retrospect, most of it was the kind of white savior poverty tourism trip I’d spend the next 12 years of my life trying to prevent. And yet…
Our first full day in El Salvador was Easter Sunday. Francisco piled us into the van and we drove for about 4 hours in search of a Jesuit and an Easter Mass in a town called Arcatao.
Upon arrival, we found the priest we were looking for had been transferred two weeks earlier.
So without a Mass to go to, Francisco convinced a local man to take us around the town. He filled us in on the history of the town. Because of its location in the mountains, it had been rebel territory during the country’s civil war and had been primarily under rebel control. When the army attacked, most of them were slaughtered in the town and others were ambushed at the bridge over the nearby river. Everyone caught was killed, regardless of age. They army dumped the bodies off the bridge and into the river. It ran red with blood for three days straight.
We left Arcatao in search of another Mass in another town. The ride was silent and I spent most of it frustrated and overwhelmed in the face of a history and a narrative of humanity that just seemed to be one litany of pain and oppression and violence after another.
The van started down a large hill and neared a bridge. Francisco pointed and explained it was the one the massacre occurred on. One of us asked to take a picture for who knows what reason.
I looked out the window at a place that 12 years before had run red with the blood of innocents, a place that exhibited the sheer unadulterated evil a human person is capable of and I opened the van door.
And the first thing I heard was laughter.
The river was teeming with people. It was Easter Sunday, so hundreds of families from the area were out having picnics, swimming, laughing, and celebrating life.
In a heartbeat, the reality of the Resurrection slammed into my heart. I saw the will of a soul continuing to claim it has dignity and worth no matter much or how long systems, suffering, and sin try to destroy it.
In today’s first reading, Peter recites the scriptures he grew up with: “Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exalted; my flesh, too, will dwell in hope.”
Christ’s Resurrection was the physical form of the power and indestructibility of hope. Human dignity can be ignored but never destroyed, and hope teamed with love can wear down any obstacle.
As we move into the Easter season after a Lent that began in the bloodshed of a school shooting, how will we, like the two Marys in the Gospel, run to announce the Good News we know? How will we witness with our words and our lives the hope that continues to unfold in the world?
Susan Haarman is the associate director at Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Experiential Learning, facilitating faculty development and the service-learning program. She has degrees from Marquette University, Loyola University of Chicago, and the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, and previously served as the faith and justice campus minister, also at Loyola University Chicago. In addition to having a Masters in Divinity, she also holds a Masters in Community Counseling, a certificate in directing the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises, and is currently in a doctoral program. Her research focuses on the intersection between social justice education, civic identity, and imagination. She is also an improviser storyteller in Chicago.