Our crash-course education in San Salvador continued into our third day, when we visited COMADRES (The Committee of the Mothers Monsignor Romero), FUNDAHMER (Brother Mercedes Ruiz Foundation), and UCA (Central American University). Each site bears witness to its own unique tales of deep pain and unwavering courage and these stories intertwine to weave the multi-paneled tapestry that is our experience of this country.
COMADRES was founded in 1977 to aid women searching for their family members who had been “disappeared” by government death squads. There, we met Paty, who humbly stated, “I will just say a little bit, but there is so much history,” and then proceeded to hold us at rapt attention as she first explained the organization’s fight to win justice and maintain hope and then moved on to matter-of-factly deliver her own account of the second time she was abducted and tortured. We never heard the story of the first time, which somehow added to the reserved power of her testimony.
At FUNDAHMER, a non-governmental organization birthed in the 1980s to promote development within the Christian Base Communities, we met Anita and Maria Elena. Anita’s brother is Octavio Ortiz, the first priest ordained by Romero, who was killed in 1979, along with four youths he was teaching. Following Octavio’s death, Anita’s other four brothers involved themselves in the FMLN and died, one-by-one, as the war continued. Both Anita and Maria Elena are committed to further articulating FUNDAHMER’s mission as post-war support for the Christian Base Communities wanes and they attempt to find ways to remain in love with a Church that continues to disappoint them, but who also gave them prophets like Romero and Rutilio Grande.
At UCA, we reflected on this Jesuit-founded school’s commitment to transforming the unjust realities of El Salvador and the price paid for such conviction by six of its Jesuit professors, their housekeeper Elba, and her daughter Celina, when, in 1989, Salvadoran armed forces murdered them all in one of the turning points of the war. We stood in the garden where the six Jesuit deaths occurred and stood outside the locked door of the tiny room where the two women were murdered in the assassins’ attempt to leave no witnesses behind. We saw the priests’ blood-stained martyrial clothing, preserved now behind glass, next to some of their simple belongings.
It is easy to be sad when listening to the stories of women who have experienced more pain in the span of a few years than I might (hopefully) experience in my lifetime. It is easy to be angry when standing in the place where eight people were brutally killed in order to silence the voice of undaunted determination. But the gentle humility of these women and the bountiful legacy of these slain religious leaders ultimately do much more than leave me sad and angry. They wake me up. They make me realize that memories have power beyond themselves. They make me know that sedentariness is not an answer. We are experiencing immersion in a culture where reflection is only the first step toward action, where mourning is only the first moment before doing. Silence is not an option in El Salvador. Rest is a thing that serves only as a means to refuel and go on.
It sounds trite when I say it. I feel trite typing it. I live tritely.
But the Salvadorans we’ve met don’t accuse us of triteness. They’re busy making things happen. They’re busy sharing their stories with us, showing us photos of those they remember, laughing at a translation hiccup or tearing up at the mention of a particularly raw wound, and then gently, humbly, simply, but always firmly reminding us to please remember these facts, to please mourn their history, but most of all, to please share these stories, not as flaccid historical narrative but as igniting invitation to wake up and stay awake.
- Micah Bucey