Where does hope come from?

A blog from Wednesday, January 9, 2013:

Mercedes, Laurel, and Alvaro, students from the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador. Overhead posters of Oscar Romero, UCA martyr priest Ignacio Ellacuria, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

You’ve been reading about our extra-busy days and extra-profound discussions and experiences.  Today, Wednesday, was no different.  We began the morning with a panel of distinguished invited guests, the heads of the Episcopal, Lutheran, and Reformed denominations.  These are three of the Protestant denominations who supported the people throughout the times of conflict.  In the afternoon, we visited with three theology students from the University of Central America (UCA), the Jesuit university where liberation theology is still taught by the likes of Jon Sobrino.  Later we met with the former Human Rights Ombsbudswoman of El Salvador, a position that was created by the Salvadoran Peace Accords in 1992 to report human rights abuses of in El Salvador.  In the evening, we attended a house concert by Guillermo Cuellar, a Salvadoran musician who worked with Romero writing and performing songs expressing the struggles of the people, including the Salvadoran Popular Mass.

Right to Left: Episcopal Bishop Martín Barahona, Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez, Reverend Santiago Flores of the Reformed Church

In the panel of the three church leaders, Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez talked about how he was disappeared and tortured for his role accompanying poor communities during the war. International ecumenical pressure demanded his release.  The leaders talked about the role of the church in the more recent history, including how the Catholic Church helped negotiate a “truce” between the two major gangs in El Salvador in spring 2012.  One leader said that these churches understand themselves as united by a common ecumenical “Theology of the Cross”, which is a commitment to never abandon the most vulnerable.  This refreshed a place in me because I understand my own call to ministry to have such a theology, yet sometimes I feel timid to say it in front of church leaders and committees because I am constantly called on to defend how that is a legitimately “ordainable” church ministry position. The Salvadoran church leaders confirmed that an ecumenical and interreligious coordination between the north and the south of the continent is necessary to change the systems of injustice that are continental and worldwide in scope.  What form will and must that take?

The Human Rights Omsbudswoman was the biggest wake-up call yet for our group to the actual reality of El Salvador.  Our group came on this trip seeking to learn the liberative spirituality and praxis of Romero and his challenge for today.  But this takes for granted that much liberative spirituality and praxis based on remembrance of Romero exists here in El Salvador. Up until now on the trip we have been surrounded by the minority in El Salvador who do care about Romero and practice a liberative spirituality.  The Omsbudswoman laid out a frank reality in which the dominant consciousness has little commitment to follow Romero in a justice-seeking way of life and of being church. As I listened to the conversations in the bus after our visit, I heard such things as:  How could the Omsbudwoman say that the Salvadoran people are not a revolutionary people?  How could she say that the people are more status-quo than seeking to change the reality, after all we’ve heard about Salvadoran history during our visit here?

Lest we think that El Salvador is any different in this regard than the United States, I point out the quandary that the Salvadoran leaders with whom we speak must struggle to reconcile: how delegations of concerned people from the United States come to learn from El Salvador’s history; meanwhile, during the war and now, the US government’s policy toward El Salvador seeps life out of the Salvadoran people.  During the Salvadoran Civil War, the US sent $1 million EVERY day to fund the war that killed over 75,000 of the Salvadoran people.  And today, the United States dictates CAFTA free trade laws and norms of “development” and “aid” that benefit the world’s oligarchy more than change the systems sustaining poverty.  Deregulated flow of capital steals the wealth produced by Salvadoran workers in factories out of the country.

“We have to say the truth, without minding who it will bother. -Jon Cortina, SJ”

To reconcile these ironies, the Salvadoran leaders we speak with say “Oh, we know that the US government is different from the US people.”   But I no longer feel excused by that excuse.  The convicting question to us from the United States is thus:  are we a revolutionary people, with all the positive connotations this word can carry—of seeing through the lies to create domestic and foreign policies that work toward better lives for the majorities both in the US and countries like El Salvador?  Is the government in the US really much different from the dominant consciousness of the US people?  Can we use that excuse today?

Guillermo Cuellar, a Salvadoran musician who worked with Romero writing and performing songs expressing the struggles of the people, including the Salvadoran Popular Mass.

Sometimes when considering these difficult questions, I wonder if, and how, we’ll ever change dominant consciousness in the US enough to improve our own conditions and those of El Salvador.  It’s a question we’ve asked to many of our speakers:  from where does your hope come?  How do you keep doing the work you do amid frustration and violence?  In a meditative service at the Chapel where Romero was assassinated, our facilitator asked us what word we think best describes Romero. I responded “Inspiration” because I think that he was inspiration to people of his day and to us today to summon the courage needed for the required work to counter the normative power relationships and consciousness.  I accepted the facilitator’s suggestion to adopt this as a commitment in my own life for the next segment.  Thus, in the night, Guillermo Cuellar’s songs washed over my body and into that space where fear and courage negotiate.  He interwove his songs with the stories that inspired them.  He told stories of encounters with Romero and of the faith, suffering, and resistance of the Salvadoran people.  Contained within the Salvadoran organized “pueblo” and in the music that sustains them is the sometimes unutterable, often unspoken, assumption that we will ever seguir adelante (continue forward).

Having been in the city of San Salvador up until now, we have most of the country undiscovered—both its geography and its conditions.  Thus we head to the mountains today.  We have yet to have encounters with so many more things that are the realities of El Salvador:  poverty, young adults with fifth grade educations, scorched earth massacres, communities built in refugee camps.  Que nos vaya muy bien.  (May we have a good trip.)

- Jennifer Wilder, MDiv 2013

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