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El Salvador: Day 3

Br Cesair telling the pilgrims about the assassination of Oscar Romero.This is the altar at which Oscar Romero was saying mass when he was shot.

An outside view of the church.

Today began for many of us with a return visit to San Alfonso, the school that adjoins the Retreat Centre. The students and staff had been so generous with us the day before and were keen for some more visitors to their English classes. This visit was then followed by an excursion to the Church where Archbishop Romero was assassinated. It was quite moving to stand in that Church and look upon the altar behind which Romero was standing when he was killed. The beauty of the fronds from the trees that surround the church, and are incorporated in the architecture of the building through large windows, formed a poignant backdrop as we imagined Romero celebrating Mass and dying in this place.

The Carmelites run a Palliative Care Hospital that is located beside the Church. One of the Carmelites showed us through the Church and spoke with us about Romero’s life and legacy. It seems that as far as the people of Central America are concerned Romero is a saint, papal decree or not.  It’s easy to understand why they feel this way. Next to the Church is a small, four-roomed house that the Sisters presented to Romero as a birthday present shortly after he chose to live in their community. To look in that house was to be confronted by the fact that Romero was definitely a man who lived what he preached. This tiny house was fitted with the sparsest of furniture; his cupboard contained the simplest of clothing. On display was Romero’s crosier – no gold for him, but plainly crafted wood. The photographic displays did not adhere to any censorship laws that we would have at home, and their graphic presentation of the death of this man who was slain for daring to ask why people should be poor, and for striving to care for those most in need, was confronting.

After our visit to this place, we moved on to the San Salvadoran Cathedral where Romero’s body is entombed. In order to view this memorial we had to ask someone to open the crypt for us – it is clear that it is not desired that people should visit this tomb. Some people have begun to tie Romero’s life and death to a political message and this has impacted greatly on the treatment of his legacy by both Church and government officials. What should be remembered and celebrated is his fidelity to his faith and genuine care for other people. That is an example we can all strive to follow.

Our afternoon has involved a stop at a shopping centre for lunch and a brief visit to a market. El Salvador is not a place geared for tourists, and thus the quest for magnets or other customs-friendly souvenirs was a challenge! Nevertheless the shopping centre was filled with recognizable labels, a stark reminder of the huge gap between the have and have-nots.

We are now packing and preparing for our final liturgy and meal together. To think that this Pilgrimage is drawing to a close is odd – our time in Paris seems so long ago, yet we seem to have arrived at this point quite quickly. A number of us have talked about what it feels like to witness the deprivation of so many of these people while knowing well that we are about to jump onto a plane and leave it all behind: it feels wrong, and yet there is nothing that we can do in the short term. As Romero said, however, I suppose we do have to step back and take the long view: we can’t do everything, but we can do something very well. Hopefully each of us will return from this Pilgrimage with a passion for ensuring that educating for social justice is not simply a 'buzz phrase' in our schools, but a reality. Marcellin wanted us to teach the children that Jesus loves them, but more than that, to bring the children to Jesus. That must mean developing their understanding of their call to serve others.

I’m not comfortable attempting to speak for the group about what this Pilgrimage has meant for us; I’m quite sure it has been many things for each person. What I will say is that we have been blest, not only with the many locals who have guided us through our visits but also with the composition of this group. This has been a great chance to witness that we are a part of a global Marist family, but it has also been a wonderful opportunity to get to know members of our Australian Marist family. I’d like to thank everyone who has given so much of themselves on this trip, and particularly John McMahon, Marie Dorrington and Paul Herrick for their care, wisdom and generosity.

Carolyn Young

Final Meeting of Pilgrims

Visiting El Salvador: Day 1 & 2