Pilgrimage Retreat to El Salvador
The following is an account of the experiences, discoveries, and my revelations while on a mission exposure trip to El Salvador with Maryknoll’s own missioners, Matt Rousso and Bill Donnelly as our guides.
Before leaving for the pilgrimage, I reflected on what grace I hoped to receive from God. It was the grace to forget myself, to lose myself in the experience, to let the spirit of the Salvadoran people mingle with my own spirit. God gave me that grace and more.
June 1, 2009
Travel to El Salvador was mostly uneventful but tedious as air travel usually is. After spending several hours in an air-conditioned plane and airport, stepping outside for the first time in the Salvadoran air was quite a shock. The temperature at the airport was the high 90s and the humidity near 98%. I remember thinking, “God, give me strength to do this.” Looking around, I noticed several presidential airplanes that brought various Heads of State from Latin American countries and the U.S. I learned that Hillary Clinton was attending the inauguration which had commenced at 8am that morning.
The first president from a leftist party (FMLN) had been elected, Mauricio Funes and like Americans for the U.S. President Barak Obama, his constituents are holding out great hope for change in their country. Driving from the airport to San Salvador we passed the stadium where the inauguration was still taking place. Brightly colored busses with all sorts of graphics lined the streets for blocks...no two busses were alike. I would soon learn those are the city busses, many with Bible scriptures and images of Christ adorning the sides and windows.
Once in San Salvador, the temperature dropped into the high 80s but the humidity was just as high. We stayed at a nice little Bed and Breakfast called Casa Clementina. Lunch was ready for us when we arrived—bologna and cheese sandwiches on white bread with chips, papaya, cantaloupe, and lemonade. We would sample many varieties of delicious juices in the next 8 days. Our hosts were very gracious and for dinner we were treated to Italian style spaghetti. We teased our hosts about being more Italian than Salvadoran!
Prayer and reflection followed dinner and off to bed!
June 2, 2009
After breakfast—cantaloupe, pineapple, toast, juice, and coffee, we met with a free lance reporter named Eugene. He asked us not to share his photo and spoke freely about the history of El Salvador, the many long years of oppression and exploitation.
Following a lunch of tortillas and cheese with guacamole and beans and we parted ways with Eugene and headed off for the Cathedral in San Salvador to visit the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero. The sacristan was not around and as we made our way down to the basement below the sanctuary we realized she was the only one capable of turning on the lights! Having just entered near total darkness from bright sunlight, most of us were blind. We could faintly see there were 2 small candles at the very far end of what seemed like a black cavern. Moving very slowly and all holding onto each other, we began to creep towards the small flickering light, the bravest of the group taking the lead. Midway into the space, the leaders discovered steps going down, then going up, then down again. I still couldn’t make out anything around me, just darkness and was quite anxious that I would manage to trip over something or fall into something that I couldn’t see. By sticking close to each other, and trusting one another, we were able to make our way up and down steps and around large columns to Romero’s tomb.
There we lighted another candle and were able to hold the candles close and see the red stone in the brass tomb representing Romero’s heart and the 4 angels standing at each of the corners. We read in turn passages from some of Romero’s homilies. We prayed, sang the refrain to “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” , knelt, and touched the tomb, hoping to invoke his spirit and the spirits of all the martyrs we had come to visit to fill our hearts and make us one. By the end of our time with Romero, everyone’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness and we could see clearly our surroundings. Where I had feared that objects lay in my path, or pits I risked falling into were no longer there. Everyone was able to walk out on their own and we reflected on how our eyes had literally “been opened.” The darkness had been pushed away and we could see clearly. It was to be my metaphor for the pilgrimage.