What color El Salvador?
By Rick Galbraith
with Inspiration from Paige Galbraith
We live in a world of color; red, yellow, blue and green. The colors blend and form hues. As people, we assign feelings and emotions to the spectrum. Black, the absence of color and white, the blending of all color are considered polar opposites and can be assigned labels that evoke certain sentiments. These two ‘colors’ allow for the most absolute contrast our minds can grasp. To best see black, put it onto a white background and so forth. But, what is gray?
Truth and lies are black and white. Propaganda, rumor, exaggeration, gossip, and innuendo tend to create gray. Either of two groups taking sides in a social controversy know they are right and the other is wrong. To an observer where truth is difficult to discern, the controversy is usually gray. To me, the plight of the people of El Salvador is gray.
Those in the 2014 delegation to El Buen Pastor, Good Shepherd’s Twin community since 1987, were able to observe the current situation of a crisis which began over 500 years ago. Today’s strife can be easily traced back to the days when the Spanish settled this region. The Mayan and Aztec descendents were enslaved to ‘develop’ the land by their conquerors. And still today there exists a very well-defined social structure of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Generations of consequences of action and response (revolt and submission) have piled into a series metaphorical train wrecks. All the people of this land are building their lives and living the legacies of their forefathers on the ruins of mistrust, injustice and propaganda.
Twelve delegates from Good Shepherd, some new to El Buen Pastor and some returning, intensely and intentionally immersed themselves into the lives of people who stand on one side of a polarized society. Fr. Jim Ludwikoski, Teresa Aley, Rita Hyde, Marcos and Angela Navarro, Donna Cornett, Pam Stockman, Rick Galbraith, Katie Hyde, Paige Galbraith, Libby Hyde, and Nick Matthias embarked from Shawnee which has its own set of gray social issues to a world where the pendulum of polarization swings constantly into violence. The undertone of anger and fear weighs heavily upon the lush and beautiful countryside and on a people who are determined that justice be meted out.
We needed to understand the circumstances which led to the twinning of our community. We visited a shrine created where four American women (three nuns and a lay person) were found martyred. We toured the chapel where Msgr. Romero gave his life to the poor of El Salvador while saying Mass. We visited the University of Central America where a shrine has been created to honor six Jesuit priests, their housekeepers and children who were had been killed during a raid. We toured the black granite Monument to Truth and Memory which had the names of all those killed or disappeared by the government during the war. It is the family members of some of these people, whose names are etched into this wall, that were bound together and formed El Buen Pastor.
The memories of these events have been preserved so that the following generations will not forget. The reality is displayed in bright lights, with graphic photographs and physical evidence. It is portrayed with such polarized clarity that it quickly becomes intensely painful to us who have not yet (nor should we ever) developed calluses needed to protect our own hearts from prolonged exposure.
We learned of current events. Mirna Perla came and related to us how the communities are working to stem the tide of gang violence. There are cries for Justice. There are still inquiries being conducted. Amnesty has been granted to alleged perpetrators. The facts become blurred to a casual observer but not to those who live there.
We were able to meet with Msgr. Rosa Chavez (Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador) and Padre Fredis Sandoval, an educator at a school in San Marcos. The Catholic Church has become divided and some of those who lead lives of social justice have started to become disenfranchised. The gray is so pervasive. Gangs have infiltrated the communities and have the potential to stifle the healing so desperately needed in this weary land.
And yet there is hope. There is a strong, chest-swelling exuberance that Msgr. Romero will soon be canonized. There is a new President; a former guerilla who has sworn to live among the people and forego the opulent trappings of his office. I witnessed tremendous growth and maturation since 2005 at the UCRES facility in Aguilares where children and women are learning life skills like computer basics, driving a car, and food preparation. We visited Fernando Llort’s “Arbol de Dios” gallery. He has been commissioned to create our new Stations of the Cross and has been an artistic voice of social justice.
And yes, we saw it in our sister community, El Buen Pastor. One incredibly polarized, glaring fact must be communicated: Our relationship with our Sister Community is more vital to the sustainment of the well-being of these people than it has ever been.
What people need when they work hard is a place of respite. They need a place to feel safe; a place to rekindle. They need a place to call home. They need constancy and refreshment. Because of Good Shepherd’s contributions, the fragile chute of rebuilding, fed by an oasis of love has begun to take deep root. Where there once was an underutilized tract of land, there now exists a park. The community center provides a gathering place for ping pong, dance and fellowship. The water project allows all to have running water for showers and sinks.
There is laughter and joy. There are children. There is soccer. Families have a place where they can rest and relax and build friendships so their children can grow up as healthy and hopeful as possible. We were greeted like long-lost relatives returning home after years of separation. No longer is walking in the Macy’s Parade on my bucket list. I don’t think I could ever feel more excited than I did while walking the quarter-mile from the highway to the community center. Hugs, shouts, and laughter accompanied us past the homes, the school, the park, the cornfield and the livestock.
We played Bingo. Katie, Libby, Paige and Nick, the youth of our delegation, together with the youth of El Buen Pastor completely ignored language barriers and played football (soccer), laughed, sang and joked until the late into the evening. Dr. Hyde paid tribute to the community by delivering medicines to the houses and offering medical advice. Pam provided physical therapy. Donna conducted a sewing clinic that soon became a festival of cloth and color. Everyone contributed in ways that they never thought possible. Fr. Jim, Marcos and Angela greeted, consoled, comforted, hugged, and smiled. Teresa again bloomed bright and gracious. She is as much at home in El Buen Pastor as she is in Shawnee. I asked a lot of questions.
I contend that the people of El Salvador (and the world for that matter) are in dire need of the most gray concept: Wisdom. Wisdom must come from both sides of the controversy. From Wisdom, the gray can be lifted and the lines of our destiny as Jesus intended can become un-blurred. Please, pray for Wisdom. And, start planning your delegation trip.
I believe the Holy Spirit was working strongly through our first delegation in 1987 and I believe the Holy Spirit is guiding us strongly to help all of us reduce the gray in our lives. We must continue to support these people, our family. The relationship with El Buen Pastor can only remain strong so long as we continue to infuse new delegates into our trips. The stories need to be kept fresh and new tales of life events need to become heritage. That can only happen with personal interaction. Gray must be felt, seen, and smelled. And color, vibrant, hopeful and bright, must be shared.