“Falling in Love with El Salvador”

“God calls you to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” These words, written by Frederick Buechner, so aptly describe the vision behind Le Moyne’s immersion experiences. On January 10, two staff Lead Mentors and nine students embarked on Le Moyne’s inaugural immersion trip to El Salvador. This trip involved months of preparation for all involved and was lead by the phenomenal organization, CRIZPAZ, Christians for Peace in El Salvador.  What made this trip unique was that its purpose was not to “work” or “to help” as we were informed by our CRIZPAZ leader as well as other El Salvadorans, “our country has no lack of labor, what our people want is an is opportunity for work…and to be heard.” The goal, instead, was to be present with the people of El Salvador and to bear witness to their narrative and history, in essence, to be in solidarity with them, with their only request being to share their reality with others.  


We spent time with various organizations who assisted with the missing and murdered, who disappeared trying to cross the border to a better life, teachers and social workers working with children who are still impacted by the trauma of the El Salvadoran Civil War, communities working to prevent gang involvement in the youth of El Salvador, and cooperatives empowering women.  One of our most profound experiences was spending two days in rural El Papaturro with people who had been displaced to Honduras during the war and then who returned to El Salvador and created small communities. We each lived with a host family and experienced right alongside them not only the challenges of poverty and oppression but also the joy and pride in their resilience and survival!  


The other important part of this immersion trip was the first-hand experience with significant Jesuit history and its role within the  El Salvadoran culture. Our very first day we visited the site where four churchwomen were murdered in 1980; this was especially meaningful for me as I was a senior at Le Moyne at the time and remember that day vividly. The importance and the honoring of Fr. Oscar Romero who was canonized in October 2018, was also front and center throughout the entire trip as we visited his home, the church where he was assassinated and his final resting place. Listening to his last homily where he condemned the violence in El Salvador, we were able to hear the gunshot that killed him, a chilling and powerful experience for us and so significant for the people of El Salvador.


We visited the University of Central America or “UCA”, the Jesuit university that was the site of the massacre of six Jesuits and two women in 1989, a significant turning point in the war.  We were able to spend time with students there and realized that we had much more in common than we had differences!


Our collective experience was deepened by our prayer and reflections in the evening and the sharing of our vulnerable selves with each other.  In the world of psychology, this is known as “a parallel process”: while sharing of ourselves with the people of El Salvador, we found that at the same time, we shared with each other on a much richer level.  We collectively agreed that we were changed by this trip, by this country, by these people. The following are the words of Fr. Dean Brackley, SJ, regarding El Salvador: “…have the courage to let your heart be broken.  Have the courage to feel these folks. Have the courage to fall in love. Have the courage to get ruined for life.” I think for those of us that participated in this experience, no truer words were ever spoken.