I'm really tired but I want to post about this while it is still fresh and I have internet. So disregard the rambling and spelling errors, I may or may not correct them later.
So, I simply cannot believe I have already been in El Salvador for a week. What a crazy time! It is so different here in so many ways, but I think I need to save that for another post on another day. After spending the week in the city of San Salvador, we headed out in small groups to do a week of "church accompaniment". This basically consisted of shadowing various clergymen and sitting in on community organizations for the weekend while learning about how Liberation Theology has impacted their community. I went with three others from our group to a community called Arcatao. In my own words, Liberation Theology is a movement in the Catholic Church to declare that the Church believes that God wills a just and free life for all on this Earth. This contrasts a stance that a person has the lost in life that God has willed them, something that perpetuated socio-economic oppression and structural poverty. Liberation Theology, in contrast, aknowledges that the sin of humanity has created pervasive injustice in terms of poverty as well as various demographically- based forms of discrimination. This view took hold very strongly in Latin America, supported by the Vatican II.
Spending the weekend in Arcatao allowed me to really experience why this movement has been so important to Latin America. The violence these nations have experienced is unspeakable. They have faced oppression from outside nations (culprit #1, United States), devastating civil wars, dictatorships, repression, disappearances, and widespread poverty and lack of resources that continues today. This form of theology has given them a starting point and a structure to base their communities around fighting against these injustices. In the 1970's and 80's it rationalized the participation in armed conflict. Today, it is the foundation of lives lived in the name of solidarity with the poor. We saw countless examples of organizations within the community that work not to hand things out to hungry people, but to do the dirty work of fighting the causes of poverty and working to better society from the foundation.
This blog would not be complete without discussion of Monsenor Romero. He was the archbishop of the country and publicly declared his support for the poor and for fighting structural injustices. This was not popular within a Church of wealthy and powerful elites who reaped the benefits of land and resource monopolies. He was assassinated on March 24, 1980. I couldn't understand how deeply this impacted El Salvador until being immersed in the church in Arcatao this weekend. It definitely caused a widespread culture of fear in a land where people were already being disappeared by the government daily. (It is believed that up to 1% of the country's population of 6 million were killed or disappeared during the 11 year war). If they killed the archbishop, who wouldn't they kill?
Anyway, Monsenor Romero lives on essentially as a saint to El Salvador. His pictures are everywhere the community of Arcatao reveres him as such. He is a symbol of honesty, courage, and martyrdom, much in the same way as Jesus.
The community of Arcatao emptied out during the war because the army was killing and disappearing many of the people in the area. Before the war, the population was 12,000. Now, it is 3,000. There was several massacres in the area and most people we met in the community had lost at least one immediate family member in the conflict. This experience is what it took to let me realize how deeply engrained into their lives, culture, and religion. They draw distinct parallels between the life, persecution, and death of Jesus and their lives of suffering and death. This is why liberation theology is so important to them. It gives them a hope for a better future, and they are fervently pursuing it. By no means did the war fix the injustice and poverty of El Salvador, but it is very apparent these grassroots organizations are taking hold and affecting change here.
Okay, one more thing I can't leave out. On Saturday morning we got to sit in on a conference of college students from around the country. They are all involved in community projects and meet once a month to talk about their progress and such. It was so cool and inspiring to see something that wasn't a presentation prepared for us, but a genuine interactions of lively, motivated students talking about what they are actually living and doing! We even watched an hour long movie they produced about the life and social problems in a country that is seeking out their cultural identity.
Then, on Sunday we travelled to two other, smaller communities with the priest. He is responsible for 3 masses, one in each of the communities each sunday! So, we heard them all! By the third, I think I understood it all. The accents here are so strong and they speak quickly, chopping off parts of their words. I am really struggling to understand things here, even after getting to where I could understand the vast majority of what was said to me in Guatemala. But don't worry, Padre Miguel let us each introduce ourselves in front on the entire congregation at each mass, as well as the student conference and the meeting of all the church clergymen we attended (this one included personalized questions about our area of study!). so check off my public speaking in spanish for the year. or maybe my lifetime.