BY KELLY SWAN | October 9, 2018
The Central American University (UCA) in El Salvador announces the new Centro Ignacio Ellacuría, directed by Trena and Kevin Yonkers-Talz, co-founders and former co-directors of Santa Clara University’s Casa de la Solidaridad study abroad program in El Salvador.
“The work of Centro Ignacio Ellacuría builds upon our 20-year experience of working with Santa Clara University’s Casa de la Solidaridad and, in many respects, expands it in creative ways that will better serve the Central American cultural context,” shared Kevin and Trena Yonkers-Talz. “We are taking Casa’s praxis-based pedagogy of solidarity rooted in the Ignatian tradition and creating a variety of programs that target both UCA students, as well as students from around the world, in the hopes of forming leaders who will be capable of confronting the many global challenges we face.”
The center will incorporate four primary programmatic areas:
- Casa de las Américas: a semester-long study abroad program that integrates accompaniment with those living in poverty, rigorous academic reflection and study, living simply in community, and fostering spirituality;
- Programa Ellacuría: a 5-week formation program for UCA students to learn about the national reality through direct contact with people experiencing the impacts of poverty;
- Graduate Volunteer Program: directed toward graduates of Jesuit colleges and universities from around the world who wish to work to create peaceful, creative, and sustainable responses to the current reality of El Salvador, offering the opportunity to accompany a community in Chalatenango for nine months while participating in environmental, educational, and economic projects;
- International Solidarity: promote international solidarity in El Salvador by welcoming academic groups and people connected with Jesuit institutions, engaging with and learning from the people of El Salvador. Centro Ellacuría is committed to a) receiving and facilitating conversations with visiting delegations and maintaining ongoing contact with groups once they leave; b) creating opportunities for Jesuits in formation to visit and learn about the Salvadoran reality, the legacy of the Salvadoran martyrs (Monseñor Romero, UCA, etc.), the Center’s praxis-based pedagogy rooted in the Jesuit tradition, and the work of the Central American Province; c) supporting faculty and staff from Jesuit colleges and universities who want to visit and conduct research in communities suffering from conditions of poverty; and d) co-designing academic programs in collaboration with other Jesuit colleges and universities.
Andreu Oliva, S.J., president of Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA) writes: “Our hope for UCA’s new Centro Ignacio Ellacuría is that it honors the legacy of [the Jesuit] martyrs by forming leaders who are competent, conscientious, compassionate, and committed. We are excited to offer unique educational opportunities specifically to UCA students through Programa Ellacuría as well as to university students from around the world through Casa de las Americas.”
Kevin and Trena Yonkers-Talz shared the following story about the roots of this new initiative and their hopes for its impact in El Salvador:
Last January, 15 UCA students participated in Programa Ellacuría, one of the programs that will continue under Centro Ignacio Ellacuría. Each day, the students went out to a poor community and in the evenings participated in different types of activities—community nights, different types of reflection, spirituality night, etc. One night, Padre Andreu, president of the UCA, came and had a conversation with the students about Ignatian spirituality and, in particular, Ignatian discernment. Later in the week, we went with the students to visit young men in prison. For a variety of different reasons, these young men had gotten mixed up in gang life. One of our Casa de la Solidaridad alums has been working with this population for the last 7 years and generously offered to accompany us so we could meet some of the young men and witness what it is like inside a prison. Needless to say, entering a prison with gang members covered in tattoos created a bit of anxiety for our UCA students. Fortunately, our former student gracefully facilitated the interaction between the two groups so that people could get a sense of each others’ stories. It was striking to see not only the hesitation on the part of the UCA students but also the fear and hesitation of the young men in prison. Afterward, we were curious as to how the UCA students would make sense of the experience.
On our way home, we stopped at a local restaurant to get some lunch. At our table, the most amazing conversation unfolded. The UCA students were commenting on how moving it was to be able to meet and listen to the stories of the young men. They reflected on how society had taught them to fear and even hate these young men and that, after hearing some of their stories, they began to recognize the complexity of the situation. They reflected on their experiences in the praxis communities and how they saw the ways in which poverty pushed young men to gang life. They then started reflecting about what Padre Andreu had shared about Ignatian spirituality in relation to their own calling or vocation. They kept asking where they could learn more about this spirituality and how they could find more ways of connecting it to their experiences in the marginal communities. They were insisting that more opportunities like this be created for UCA students.
This is the plan for Centro Ignacio Ellacuría. The energy and enthusiasm here at the UCA around Centro Ignacio Ellacuría is palpable and contagious. In the end, we share Padre Andreu’s hope that Centro Ignacio Ellacuría honors the legacy of the UCA martyrs, Blessed Oscar Romero, and the many women and men who, motivated by faith, lived their lives committed to the struggle for justice here in El Salvador.
Kelly Swan has served as communications director for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2016. She grew up in West Virginia and is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University. Kelly has worked in parish social ministry, child and family advocacy, community education and organizing, and publishing. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area with her children.