By Regina Fitzgerald
I have always loved the excitement of doing something new, something for the first time. So on January 25th my eyes and heart were wide open as I arrived at Maria Madre des Pobres parish to join my fellow Holy Trinity travelers for my first visit to El Salvador. We were there to be exposed to the reality of life in our sister parish which is located in La Chacra, a barrio in the eastern part of San Salvador. What a wonderful welcoming environment of hugs and smiles which lasted the entire week! Our first evening there we shared a delicious meal with the parish council and staff who welcomed us with song and dance.
Our week followed Father Rutilio Grande’s words, “that the Gospel grow feet.” Our first morning was spent visiting the parish ministries (Senior Day Care Center, Health Clinic, the School, the After School Program, and the Godparent program). The afternoon had us doing home visits with Holy Trinity’s godchildren and their families. We walked through a number of different neighborhoods to join the designated families. At each location we were joyfully greeted and invited into modest homes. We may have observed some level of poverty, but never a poverty of hope or a poverty of spirit. There was always evidence of deep faith and an appreciation of the Maria Madre-Holy Trinity bond.
Who knew that our gospel feet would end up in a wave pool or swimming among the minnows in a natural thermal pool?–but there we were at Water Park on Saturday with two busloads of godchildren and parents. Our day included a fun game of hot potato and a delicious picnic.
Sunday afternoon we were again recipients of Salvadorian hospitality. We enjoyed lunch at the home of parishioner Ash Hawken’s goddaughter’s family. We dined outdoors in a covered area which included free range hens, a rooster, chickens and beautiful native plants. Our generous lunch was a delicious beef stew and choice of beverages including coconut water straight from the coconut. Thanks to the willingness of some of our group to be interpreters for the non-Spanish speakers, the conversation included all present and was full of deep hearted sharing as well as much laughter. We headed home that afternoon so full of gratitude that being a disciple for Christ does not always mean going beyond our comfort zone, but can include such loving, generous moments.
A true benefit to us newcomers were two well organized orientations conducted by Margie Legowski, Trinity parishioner and trip coordinator, and other seasoned visitors to Maria Madre.
The handouts, video, and the list of recommended readings all prepared us for the experience. This was particularly helpful when we began studying the history of the San Salvador area and visiting the sights of the assassinations of Fr. Rutilio Grande, Saint Archbishop Romero, four American nuns, Jesuits and other priests at the Jesuit University as well as their housekeeper and her 15 year old daughter. We also visited the Jesuit University Museum, the Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Information and Images. In order to learn the current realities of El Salvador, we attended an in-depth meeting with a staff member of the Jesuit University. She spoke with us about issues regarding unemployment, inflation, poor medical services and the Law of Exception.
Each day ended with prayer and reflection of the day’s experiences. We rotated through being the leader of this valuable experience, an ideal way to end each evening.
We ask you to keep Padre Luis and his dedicated staff of all the parish ministries in your prayers. As well as being the pastor of Marie Madre, Padre is also the director of Tutela Legal (Office of Human Rights) where he spends each day fighting for the rights of Salvadorians who may have been jailed for crimes they did not commit. Let us pray for Padre Luis, the staff and all the parishioners of our sister parish, Maria Madre. May God’s angels walk with them and keep them protected.