(Click on the photos to scroll through the slideshow.)
Last month, a delegation from Brown Memorial traveled to El Salvador and reunited with our long-time Catholic parish partner there, Maria Madre De Los Pobres.
The delegation of nine spent a full week, June 18-26, getting “connected” with friends in San Salvador. The group helped build an irrigation system, visited the Godchildren supported by Brown families, learned first-hand about the violence the community has endured, and experienced how the people of San Salvador keep their spirits strong not only through faith, but also through soccer, basketball and salsa dancing.
The adult leaders of the trip were Associate Pastor Tim Hughes and Susan Saudek. The youth were Killian McGinnis, Dever Cunningham, Jake Schindler, Josephine Finney and Olivia Liang. Samirah and Shu’aib Franklin, friends from a local mosque in Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood, also joined the group.
We share with you here Tim’s daily dispatches from the field, as well as a slideshow of photos taken by Tim and Susan.
We wrapped up a full and very fun first day here. We arrived mid-afternoon and went straight to the parish, where there were cookies, mangoes and watermelon waiting. We took an initial tour of the parish and met a local family who are long-time friends of Susan Saudek. They shared some harrowing stories of life in this community. Then there was soccer and basketball and games and dancing with the parish council and members of the youth group. We are working on our salsa. The word our group kept using tonight in reflection: connected. It is great to feel connected to this community.
Today was our first full day in San Salvador. First things first: the coffee is delicious. We attended worship and were introduced to the congregation. We presented the quilt our youth group made last April, which Padre Luis draped over the communion table.
After worship we boarded a school bus with about 20 youth from the church and went to a park for games and small group discussions about being young people in Baltimore and San Salvador. Then we went swimming.
Afterwards we visited the site of the assassination of Rutillo Grande, a priest who was killed for criticizing the government. We sang a song written by him in worship this morning.
Today we rose early to visit the medical clinic for their early morning rush of patients. There is a small pharmacy, doctors office and dentist.
We visited the Godchild office and learned about the program that supports almost 300 community children with food, schooling and mentorship. Twenty-three of those children are supported by folks from Brown Memorial. We’ll meet those children at a party on Saturday.
We left the parish after lunch and visited three sacred sites in San Salvador: the Memorial Wall, the National Cathedral and the chapel where Oscar Romero was assassinated while celebrating mass. A very holy place.
Finally we traveled 2 hours through the mountains to the small town of Berlin. We are now staying at the mission house called Our Sisters House.
Today was an intense day. We traveled 2.5 hours east of Berlin to El Mozote. El Mozote is a small village whose entire population (save one woman) was massacred by the Salvadoran government during the Civil War. A woman from a neighboring village gave us the horrifying details and then we visited a beautiful memorial with statues of MLK, Mother Theresa and Ghandi. Oscar Romero was watching from a nearby hilltop.
Then we traveled to Perquin to tour a museum of the guerrilla soldiers. Finally, a well-earned and delicious lunch out before the long drive back to Berlin.
We are back safe and sound from our overnight in the village. We took a pickup truck 45 minutes into the woods until we reached the village – a community of 60 families. We met with the “directivo” or town council and a group of youth to talk about their life and challenges. Then we spent about an hour helping install a very cool irrigation system provided by the pastoral team. After that, we toured several homes in the community and played an epic soccer game. The pig eating grass on the field in the middle of the game was the highlight for me.
After the game we ate dinner and reflected with members of the community before settling into 3 homes for our overnight. Most of us slept in hammocks and shared our space with geckos, ducks, chickens, and pigs. The roosters got everyone up around 5:00am.
Today we visited another small village and met with their middle schoolers. Finally we returned to Berlin where the showers were the best.
We are back at Madre in San Salvador, swinging in hammocks watching rain clouds roll down the mountainside.
We got up early this morning and said goodbye to the Pastoral House in Berlin. Two hours later we were in San Salvador at the UCA, or University of Central America. Six Jesuits priests were killed there during the war, along with a housekeeper and her daughter. We visited their rooms and saw artifacts from their lives.
Then we met with Padre Tonio, a Catholic priest who has spent years negotiating with gang leaders. He was an amazing source of wisdom about the nature of the problem and potential solutions. “We don’t have violence because we have gangs, he said. We have gangs because of our culture of violence.”
We spent the afternoons playing games with the after school program and I realized my lifelong goal of playing on a drum line.
Today we started with a party with all of the “godchildren” connected with Brown Memorial – 23 in all – and their families. Godchildren are supported financially with help for school, health care and monthly meetings. It was great to connect with the kids and strengthen those connections.
We spent the afternoon in the city, shopping at an arts market, visiting an amazing modern church, and catching the end of the Salvadoran Gay Pride parade!
We had a nice going away dinner with the parish council and youth group, complete with parting gifts and two pinatas. A good final day.
Tomorrow, we’ll attend an 8 o’clock mass, pack up, and head to the airport by noon. We’re sad to leave but excited to get home.
Thanks for your prayers along the way.