by Jackie Parker
So much to say about El Salvador, it’s hard to know where to begin. My heart is filled with the beauty and generosity of spirit of everyone we met and with the sheer horror of the tragedies that have taken place in their country.
Our delegation was so warmly welcomed by each of the three Christian base communities in which we stayed. Rural families living with very little, opened up their homes and hammocks, sharing food and stories about their experiences prior to, during, and since El Salvador’s gruesome civil war.
It was hard not to feel overwhelmed by the collective history of the Salvadoran people, none of whom, it seemed, hadn’t been touched by the atrocities which took place. Most everyone we met had lost family members and friends during the twelve years of violence. Hearing countless stories about the senseless killing of civilians, the murder of Jesuit priests, and the assassination of Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero for practicing—and teaching—Liberation Theology, really hit home. The fact that many were labeled communists and seen as a threat, simply for seeking freedom from political, social, and economic oppression—was particularly poignant, given RMC’s mission. In my short time in our church community, I have witnessed the commitment of the congregation to work for social justice, to join with the traditionally marginalized and disenfranchised, and to help give voice to those who, in our society, have a hard time being heard. A mural in the meeting/church space of Comunidad Colón, the first ecclesial base community we visited, summed it up perfectly: “Una iglesia que no se une a los pobres no es verdadera iglesia de Jesucristo.” A church which does not align itself with the poor is not a true church of Jesus Christ.
To meet the Salvadoran people, both in urban and rural environments, and to bear witness to their experiences, was something I will never forget. When visiting the town of El Mozote, which (with the exception of one survivor) was completely wiped out during a Salvadoran military-led massacre, I asked our guide how those, like herself, who had previously fled to Honduras, could return to a place of such unbearable sadness. She answered, “La vida continua. Los niños siguen naciendo; hay que seguir viviendo.” Life goes on, children keep being born, you have to keep living.
And this is what I experienced, time and again: Salvadorans persevering and sharing their history, while looking toward their future. The current social and political landscape of the country is not without its problems; while the war is over, the struggle for social, economic, and political justice continue. There are those who mourn now, for friends and family members—new generations of desaparecidos—lost during northward migrations. There is much left to be understood and to be done. In thinking about A Year at the Table, it became increasingly clear that for many living in Christian base communities, the practice of communion is as much about solidarity and a reaffirmation of a devotion to Christ’s teachings as anything else. Whether it was gathering over corn coffee and tortillas, a birthday cake or a shared meal, the commitment to uplifting and supporting each other, working together to move through difficulties, was palpable.
My feeling is that, in our church community, with our wealth, resources, and relative privilege, we have a tremendous opportunity to align ourselves with our Salvadoran siblings and to affirm, yet again, that we are a church for those without a voice, in the service of Jesus Christ.