Prophet and Martyr…

The last day here in El Salvador took us to the Hospital Divina Providenzia to the home of Archbishop Oscar Romero and for Mass at the hospital chapel.

It was at a 6:15 Mass on March 24, 1980 in the evening that Romero finished his homily and a single shot rang out from a red Volkswagen that had driven outside the main door. He had to have seen it coming because he was preaching from behind the altar looking out at the people…and through the back door. The Mass was remembering the one year anniversary of the wife of a friend who had died.

The shot went through his heart and he was dead within minutes. The Romero movie has some inaccuracies of facts but the story is true, the Archbishop is dead.



On the back wall… At this altar Monsignor Romero offered his life to God for the people.

This day, as we wrote yesterday is a pivotal day in the war, the escalation of the war, and it is a marked date for the Salvadoran people. The chapel is as it was 35 years ago and you can see the spot where he died. A young Jesuit from our group who will be a classmate of Mr. Rallanka SJ’s next year sat on that spot in prayer for a while. I am grateful on this day for the Jesuits, their prophetic voice and the commitment they have made to the Church.


from the plaque in the UCA where the Jesuit martyrs are buried…because it is St Ignatius Day…

What is the significance of being a Jesuit today?

The commitment of the Cross in the crucial fight of our time:

the fight for the faith andnthefight for justice that the same faith demands…

We won’t work for the promotion of justice without paying the price.


We then went to Romero’s home. Mr. Allen’s post to this site tells you what that looks like.


This sign is right outside Archbishop Romero’s home…(see the car in the background) the sign says Monsignor Romero  Prophet and Martyr. A Church official saw this sign and may have said something like, you can’t be a martyr without the Church saying so (it has to do probably with sainthood and the path to sainthood and the speed of the path to sainthood). So a small sign was added… The poor call you this, without the judgement of the Church. You cannot go into any Catholic structure in this country without his picture. And all souvenir shops will have his image somewhere. He is adored in this country and there are groups all over the world who hold him in the deepest regard, the deepest regard.


This picture is of the garden right outside his home. It was built by the Carmelite sisters who live there. Romero’s heart is buried beneath the big bolder underneath Mary…the lady standing in that picture writes a column for the National Catholic Reporter and here is her assessment of our trip…for older Jesuit people, she works with Mr. Greg Moore ’84 in Oakland at O’Dowd Catholic School.

At 4:15 am the bus takes us to the airport…It will take a while to sort all of this out.

I am thankful to the school and Mr. Charlie Schreck and Ms. Carol Wyatt and Mr. Hogan for the backing to do this trip and for Ms. Tuenge’s blog care.

God bless and may you receive that blessing with courage.



Another post from Mr. Allen!!!

7/31/14 El Salvador

Today we went to Mnsr. Romero’s residence at the hospital where he lived as Archbishop and also visited the Chapel on that campus where he was shot and killed March 24, 1980. When he first asked to live and moved to the hospital grounds, he chose to live in a very tiny room of simple means. The Carmelite nuns there felt he needed a larger and better place to live and so raised funds to have a small 3-room house built a few hundred yards away from the Chapel. This is where he lived until his assassination. This house is set up very much in the same way that he lived in it, with books still on the shelves (including the car manual for his Toyota which sits in the driveway). image

We saw the table and typewriter that he use to compose a letter to President Jimmy Carter in February of 1980 pleading for him to stop sending arms and support for the military who were only using these to repress the people of El Salvador. One of us read that letter aloud as we stood in solidarity in his home. We heard stories of how he feared for his life as the death threats mounted as he stood more resolutely with the poor and oppressed people of his Archdiocese. We heard a recording of his voice at the last mass he said that night of March 24th, followed by the shock of the shot that ended his life. I could not hold small tears of sorrow back after that shock took hold of the room as we realized we had just heard the shot that ended his life.


With joy in our delegation’s presence and solidarity, we celebrated mass in the Chapel where he was killed, just a short walk from his house, on this feast of St. Ignatius, united in our delegation community formed this week, united in solidarity with the Salvadoran people who have suffered such injustices, and united in the hope and faith that Romero’s life and martyrdom calls us to. I have known and taught this story for decades now. Being present at these sites has made it more real and more challenging than I could have imagined. Romero’s life and martyrdom show us a way to find hope in the midst of painful injustice. It shows us a faith that overcomes real fear, transforming it into a courage that inspires still today. And it shows us the truth of the resurrection that we profess to believe in. It is a lot to take in and process. I am ever so grateful for this opportunity to learn and reflect and pray and being to discern the voice of God calling in this experience.


Who are you becomes Whose are you… Sr Peggy O’Neill SC

imageimageToday was mostly site seeing but the sites were deeply significant to this trip. Mr Allen has contributed some pictures to this blog. The one above  with the windows is not the Cathedral …I just haven’t figured out how to move it lower.

We started out going to the Cathedral of the Savior of the World in San Salvador. We first went into the lower level where Archbishop Romero is interred. You will see the place under the form of his body. You will see a little red ball right in the middle and that is to signify his heart. There are two levels to this Cathedral… The top level is for the main Masses on a Sunday and the lower level is for…poorer people. When Archbishop Romero would say Mass (1977-1980) he would say Mass in the lower level and before he would give his homily, he would read the names handed to him on all kinds of paper of those who had been killed or disappeared. One person spoke that from 1977-1980, on a Sunday morning you could walk all over San Salvador and hear Mass…on the radio. He was a voice for the people and of the people and certainly inspired the people.

The upstairs part of the Cathedral has huge murals of the life of Christ and two large pictures of John XXIII and John Paul II. In fact one of the major thoroughfares is name John Paul II boulevard.

The square beside the Cathedral was the site of the massacre right after the funeral Mass. Military stationed on top of the national palace that borders one side of the square stated shooting and throwing grenades as people ran for their lives. The government said that it was the gorilla army FMLN did the shooting but a document written by the attending bishops at the funeral was sent out to the world saying the government was lying. The people in the Cathedral and not in the park thought that the military would take Romero’s body and “disappear it” so they picked it up and passed it back into the corner of the Cathedral in a side apse.

As you stand in the square and see the buildings, you can only imagine the terror of trying to escape only to be blocked by military tanks. 60 people were killed, some by trampling. Each year on the Saturday closest to March 24 there is a huge gathering in the square and people come from all over in busses and trucks. Romero does indeed live on in the hearts of the Salvadoran people.

We then went to this Dominican Church near another massacre site. This photo (way up at the top of the blog) from Mr. Allen is from the inside of this cement and glass structure that houses very thought provoking art and the lighting is amazing and brings a sense of peace.

The afternoon was spent in a church center for the arts in Suchitoto, about an hour and a half from San Salvador. It is run by a fireball, east coast accent, no messing around, nun who loves ….she loves. Her name is Sr. Peggy O’Neill SC

imageShe and Sr. Pat Farrell started this adventure in 1987…she told the story of hiding below the windows of the rooms where she and Sr. Pat were staying as the government and gorilla forces were firing at each other saying “what the hell are we doing here?” which transitioned in true church obedience questioning to “who the hell sent us here?” (that is a very funny church joke if you don’t get it)

Sr. Peggy told us stories of what it was like to,start the center and be a pastoral presence in the town. The center is amazing. It houses a museum that makes no bones about violence and what it does. It contains dance studios, art rooms, a cafeteria, and music rooms. It matches the loving force with which she moves among the kids at the center.

She told a story of riding in a truck during the war with a number of villagers and they were all starving. A baby started to cry and the mother pulled back the blanket to reveal not only the baby but a stack of tortillas. The truck grew silent as the mother started to share the tortillas …one other person said “no we can’t take your food,” to which the mother said, “tonight we share our food, tomorrow we will share our hunger.”

Here are some of the kids in front of a mural they had just signed…two kids were off to the side because they didn’t want to have their picture taken.image

Tomorrow we will have our last day here. It is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As Fr. Adams SJ presides at Mass at Jesuit at 8:30 am, Mr. Allen and I will be at Mass in the small chapel, where Oscar Romero was killed. Romero’s voice was profoundly guided by his relationship with the Jesuit priests who were his close friends and stood by his side.

I can’t believe I am here…. This is a picture Mr. Allen took of the Chapel we get to use each night…it overlooks San Salvador…image

The Catholic Church is on the front line in this country in fighting this nightmare…

Today we were confronted with the subject of immigration…from this side of the world or this side of the border…

We heard from a mother who lost her son on the way to the USA. She started a search for him and found him but through that process realized that many more were searching for their children and decided to form an organization to help mothers with that process and the process of grieving. The following are notes she spoke…

In 2013 we joined with mothers from Guatemala and Honduras going into Mexico to bring to light our desire to know where our family members are. Migrants are merchandise for organized crime. There is money involved in their transport. If they are caught in Mexico, they are spared if they will carry drugs, if they don’t carry, odds are that they will be killed. The cost to move an adult is 6,500 – 7,500 dollars and the cost to move a child is 10,000 – 12,000 dollars. This mother said her son told her “I will help you mom and send you money and it will be better mom, don’t worry mom I will help.” He died in Mexico. She said the girls, teenagers that try to make the journey to the US border take a contraceptive shot before they leave because they know (or at least expect that) they will be raped…more than once. They were told in 2008 that if a child got to the border, they would not be deported. Now the United States is deporting bus loads of children.

“Three things we cannot lose …faith hope and love. The Catholic Church is on the front line in this country in fighting this nightmare.”

And then came another voice, this time of a father who lost his son, through tears … This was hard to get my mind around…it was a story of deep pain and trying to get his son to a better life in the USA. He paid a coyote (transport agent…formal word for a very shady transaction) and eventually learned his son had been killed in Mexico. His son left April 12, 2012. He last heard from him May 20, 2012… There is big money in these dealings…they promise hope, they are not successful. My son died when after days of not eating, he was given energy drinks so he stay awake and keep going. He started shaking and died. (He said this is a common experience with the practice of administering energy drinks to keep the refugees going.)

We the heard from an Archdiocesan official who spoke about what he saw as going on with the migration. He cited escaping violence as the main reason and then poverty and then third family reunification.

-some Schools here have separate cafeterias for gang member.
-Teachers pay extortion so they can teach.
-we are overcome by fear of violence
-communities are organizing but at times the law looks the other way
-our shelters are overflowing
-drugs and the trafficking business is at the core…at times with the support of the government, that is why we call it “authorized crime.”

There is no easy answer or story to this phenomenon in the world. The morning was full of stories of this very real and painful human situation.

In the afternoon we heard from the regional director of Catholic Relief Services. His name is Rick Jones and he spoke to us in English.

What are some of the intense issues facing El Salvador?

1st issue is water, they have it but there doesn’t seem to be a political backbone to get it to people. No river here is clean. There is serious concern about the privatization of water…the country does have water though. (As an aside, he said that climate change is not a future problem, it is here and the flooding, the change in rain patterns and the drought patterns are very real and have been for over 20 years.)

2nd issue immigration – remittances (money sent back from relatives in the USA… The currency here is in US dollars) make up 18 percent of the economy.
Coffee has dropped due to a leaf disease so poverty is growing.

3rd Violence… Homicide…68 people per 100,000 in El Salvador (in the USA it is 3-6, Monaco 0, Honduras 92). The police used to be trusted in the early 90’s …no longer so. The violence controls us.

There is good news… The political impetus for the protection of women with many government programs in health and education and protection.
It is interesting to spend today studying this issue knowing the news stations back home are trending big time on the immigration story.

Mr. Allen took this picture of me with my UN looking earphones on…the people here are amazing in their ability to do this. Spanish to English as we go along.

Tomorrow we are back on the road visiting the Cathedral and then to another small town about an hour and a half away.

“We cannot place the martyrs inside a window”

This morning we bussed over to the UCA for a full morning of talks…

The first was from Fr. Andreu Oliva SJ, the president of the University of Central America

He was born in 1956 in Barcelona, and came to Nicaragua and then was inspired by what he saw in the Jesuits and entered.

The UCA in San Salvador founded by the Jesuits 49 years ago …it was a response from parents that wanted a higher level of education for their children. It wasn’t until the mid 70’s that they started to move beyond just teaching engineers and developed a matrix of studies and cooperation in the midst of their academic experience at the UCA. There are 9500+ students at the school. There are 13 research areas that study the social needs and problems and addressing them with an intellectual emphasis; that is important to the Jesuits.

Over 90 seminarians study at the school with high emphasis on social work and organization and all in the light of the message of Christ for the world.

Fr. Oliva SJ was emphatic all the areas of the school should be tying into the mission of the university. He cited another university down the road that didn’t have to do that but the UCA has that purpose of sending its students out to be present to the people…one has to do 600 hours of service to graduate.

Dr. Omar Serrano was next to speak. (We got to wear these real time translation headphones where the translator spoke as the speaker was. ….felt like the UN.) Dr. Serrano set the context of where the University finds itself today.

El Salvador finds itself in the top 5 countries in poverty and in the top 4 countries in violence, and 4th most affected with climate change and the UN says it is the first most environmentally unstable country…floods, earthquakes, storms, etc.

What place does the university have?
We cannot go backwards
We have to transform the reality

We cannot place the martyrs inside a window…

The third round of talks were from students at the UCA …all of them very articulate as to what the University’s mission was for them. One woman student (Claudia) said that she had heard all about the preferential option for the poor in her high school but that it didn’t make sense until she started to attend the UCA. While she was too young to remember the war, she has heard the stories and she is challenged to go beyond just herself looking up and into each one of our faces she said “I will embrace you even though your country’s flag has meant death for our people.”

She then said “We need to live out the challenge of the University and not just know it . We need to give the things we learn to the people of our country.”

Another young women spoke with sadness about hearing fellow students today at the school vaguely knowing about the Jesuit martyrs and being sad when a younger student over and over again mispronounced Fr. Ellacuria’s name. (The college students today were born after the peace accords of 1992.)

The afternoon was pretty intense for Mr. Allen and me…

Pictures below

image image

The lawn where the priests were shot…now a rose garden…the hallway with an open door is the room where the house keeper and her daughter were killed…the garden is at the end of the hallway… and the picture of Archbishop Romero from the Jesuit’s residence where the soldiers shot it through the heart on that evening…image image

In the last blog, I spoke about the reconciliation part of the war. One year after the war ended, the UN released their findings of the atrocities in the war and there were names mentioned… Five days after that the El Salvadoran government declared an amnesty or basically a no-fault, no-blame, no-responsibility for the personal actions in the war. While it may have looked like a “let’s move on” move it basically removed the ability to reconcile, heal or really move on. This is what it looks like in reality…the man who ordered the assassination of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter (really – “kill Ellacuria and anyone else there”) is now a businessman in El Salvador.

The afternoon we spent at the Romero museum and the home of the Martyrs their house.

The story is known…the University voice in its study and documentation was pointing out the fraud in the government and led by the Jesuits with a deep religious and Biblical based concern for the poor were seen as enemies. Fr. Grande SJ is killed in 1977, Archbishop Romero in 1980, and the 4 Church women in 1980 too and in the next decade possibly a dozen diocesan priests and more nuns all are killed by the government to silence their voice and instill fear. In 1989 November, the soldiers (who were stationed in the retreat house where we are staying) were given the order to kill the Jesuits. They dragged them out and shot them in the to silence their brains, they found another one inside and shot him, and then found the house keeper and her daughter and killed them in the room where they were sleeping.

In November we will celebrate the Martyrs 25th anniversary at our school. The picture of the small rose is from the garden where the dirt of the land shares its place with the blood from that horrific night.

To be here is a halting blessing, listening for the voice of God in the midst of such violence, knowing that the God I experience in love continues to ask me “what is your next step?”

How does one start to heal…


Sunday morning at Arcatao

It is energy sapping for me to listen to stories of war. After a while I start humming “when will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?”

This morning we were led by a woman named Rosa who is the head of the memory and history group of the village. She is a short human with tremendous energy and dedication to make sure memory of the war and especially whom she called the martyrs of Arcatao. Some things we learned about her…

-her parents were killed in the conflict (late 60’s to 1992)
-she has two daughters who attend university and a husband
-she lived in the area during the war and was forced out by fighting
-during 1980-1985 they had nothing to eat due to the factions clearing the land (she said “I had no idea you could eat roots of plants.”)

As the war grew more and more intense in El Salvador, villages, such as the one I stayed in and the one Mr. Allen stayed in, left the mountains. They slowly came back to the burned out towns in a program called repopulation.

Rosa took us first to the place where they will start to build a chapel of the Martyrs who died in the war. That picture is the one with the cement block (a tomb with the remains of 6 bodies) and the building in the background. Two high school groups from London have helped tremendously in that effort. And they got a monetary gift from the Romero Society of Germany.

Next we went back to the parish Church of St. Bartholome (picture of usual looking church) where Rosa told the story where the government army brought all the children and women into the church, took the men outside and cut Crosses into their chests and they all knew there would be a massacre. It was then found out that there were two foreign reporters watching and the action stopped, three helicopters were brought in and the reporters were taken away and the people were set free. The presence of the two reporters saved over 90 lives.

I asked Rosa if the people being tortured knew who their torturers were? And if there has been any attempt at reconciliation or healing. Her answer was short and I could see some tension. She said that they needed to know who to reconcile with in many circumstances because of the amnesty offered after the war ended. (I’ll try to address that later.) That was a tough answer for her.

The next trip up two huge hills in some significant heat was to the museum remembering the war. I wish I wrote well enough to give you the sense of the pictures, recovered shells, recovered bullets, remnants of children’s clothing and objects of war. Rosa then told the stories of running into the hills to escape the violence, caring for so many wounded and what it was like to experience those years in the region. In the picture she is holding a burned plate of corn and beans that was found in one of the destroyed homes.

She told of the Jesuits who never left them (the parish there has been run by Jesuits for many years). You will see a picture of one of them…a Fr. Manolo SJ who was with the community for 8 years and went back to Spain for health reasons and an operation…he returned (a recurring theme as to why the Jesuits are so loved in this country) and when he got sick again he told the community he would give them the money for his return to Spain and the operation because they needed it more…Fr. Manolo SJ got sick again and died and is a martyr in that community. That mural picture is of him. She ended this section with an emotional line “the Jesuits were mothers and fathers to us.” Before we left the museum, Rosa asked us to stand in a circle and feel the breeze. She prayed that we will feel the lives of our love ones each time we felt that breeze. And she blessed us to spread the love of God’s Son and his Mother.

There is another picture that will take a little courage to study. It is a mural in a picnic area that shows the war… Carefully look in the river.

As we left the area, Rosa, our guide, before she said goodbye said she wanted to talk once more about the question about reconciliation. She said that she knew in her heart that forgiveness and reconciliation had to start with her heart and her openness to love. She wanted us to know that she was working on that. I hugged her and thanked her…she is the voice of Christ.

Into the mountains …



I’d be dangerous if I knew how to place pictures on this thing… So Antonia and Rodney are above, St. Bartolome is in the middle and Fr. Miguel is toward the end…

Oh my gosh this was a weekend of stories. On Saturday morning we loaded on the busses to three different communities that were part of the “repopulation” that happened toward then end of the war. Villagers would assemble and try to go back to the villages that had been flattened and torched by the government troops trying to route out the insurgent military. It has so many angles but what we saw in action was a strong group of people that took back their village during the closing years of the war and after the peace accords were signed.

I was in a group that went to Arcatau which is very close to the border with Honduras. We met with three groups and the mayor of the village. The groups were the council of the town, a woman’s advocacy group, and the memories and history group.

In a short summary. The council spoke about what they wanted to do with the village including the introduction of coffee crops in the hills. Another man spoke about protecting the community from outside pressures and he cited some Canadian mining companies that are asking to mine for gold and that will mean that their water could become tainted with cyanide. They had been turned down but that now they are asking Hondurimage

as for rights and it is so close … well the same thing will happen because water doesn’t know country’s boundaries. His most powerful statement that caused murmuring amount the villagers was this… “We have to fight against the privatization of water resources.”

The woman’s advocacy group (don’t mess with this group) presented a forceful argument for the position of women in society and cited that the El Salvadoran government has recently passed national laws against the abuse of women. We heard some pretty powerful statements from a woman named Esperanza about how women had been treated and she ended her impassioned plea with this line “if women are not safe, then no one is safe.”

It was late so we postponed the memory and history group until Sunday morning.


The family where I stayed was so nice. I thank Ms Trusckowski at school for letting me sit in her Spanish class to get my ears ready to hear Spanish again. Aninta is the mother and Antonia is her daughter and her newly married husband of six months is Rodney. They welcomed me into their home and then offered me a chair…it was one of those plastic patio chairs that was held together with wire. I sat gingerly and started in with my three Spanish words when the chair broke into a million pieces….so I broke one chair and on my way to the tile floor, I grabbed for another one and that broke into a thousand pieces…there they are staring at me, laughing and we all had a good laugh… Things got much better.

Antonia helped me up and got me a stronger chair and we had a great lunch of chicken, great homemade cheese and rice. Rodney and Antonia are lawyers in the area and her mother stays home. They have people close to them in the United States.

Back to the villagers. We met at 8 pm with the pastor of St. Bartolome parish who had been a seminarian for Archbishop Romero. His stories about the time of Romero’s murder were captivating. Padre Miguel was a diocesan seminarian until Romero’s death and then asked to join the Jesuits. This parish has a sister parish in the United States… St. Joe Parish in Seattle…small world as that is my daughter’s home parish. He  told the story about assistant bishop Romero not supporting a parish where a massacre of citizens had taken place…and then with thought and  insight and seeing the struggle of the people so close, as Archbishop, he returned to the parish and apologized for being with the people.  Padre Miguel said there were many tears that night and the people knew that had an Archbishop who was with them.

This is getting long…so I will write about the very powerful (for me) visit with the committee of history and memory of Arcatua soon. Tomorrow  I hope.

Tomorrow we go back to the UCA and spend a quiet afternoon in the garden where the Jesuits were killed with their housekeeper and her daughter in November 1989.