A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question
the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside,
but that will be only an initial act.
One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed
so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed
as they make their journey on life's highway.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar:
it is not haphazard and superficial.
It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Last night I returned from my first trip to Central America. I traveled with 12 UD students to El Salvador for an immersion experience. To say that the trip was eye-opening, educational, moving, and inspiring are all understatements. It will be a long while before I can process everything. However, I would like to share with you all a few lessons learned... some serious and some not so much (as is my typical way)...
- The Salvadoran people that I met are people of great resilience, hope, faith and compassion. They have suffered so much injustice through the years - and continue to suffer, truth be told - and yet they continue to believe... to work for justice... to care about the people around them. It certainly put things in perspective for me.
- The men and women religious working in El Salvador have been key in some of the most desperate situations - people depend on them. They are trusted by people because they work for and love all people. And the religious I met are people of joy and hope - the type that is contagious for those around them. That's the kind of religious I hope I grow to be- unselfish, joy-filled... and working along side of those who are marginal in our society.
- You don't need an alarm clock with a small town full of roosters.
- Archbishop Oscar Romero may not be canonized by the institutional church, but he is a saint... and he, even in death (or perhaps more so?), is the hope of the people of El Salvador. Entering the home in which he lived and the chapel in which he was martyred, one can sense so strongly his presence... and his impact on the country. Amazing...
- I met many women who are survivors of torture (some of them had been tortured many times) and rape at the hands of Salvadoran military people and law enforcement during the civil war years. Their stories - and their plea to help them close the "School of the Americas" or "WHINSEC" (www.soaw.org) will not soon leave my memory.
- When entering the US upon returning from Central America, do not attempt to bring fresh fruit - even if it's "just an apple" - if you do not have at least 45 minutes to go through a separate security line. Also, don't attempt to throw said apple in the trash. The check point people don't like that.
- The illiteracy rate in El Salvador is estimated to be 19%. Chances are that's a low estimate. Unacceptable.
- Many people who live in the outlying areas depend on their coffee growing for income. Much of the coffee, from what I saw, is being grown on mountain sides where it is steep and difficult to harvest. Buying "fair trade" coffee would be so helpful to many of these people. Harvesting coffee isn't easy. And the big coffee manufacturers are not paying these laborers nearly what the work is worth. Something to think about.
- US foreign policy is not something to ignore. Our policies and our lifestyle have a much larger, global impact than what we might realize. I need to pay more attention. People's lives depend on it.
- You never know how much you miss something like oatmeal until you eat beans for breakfast for 10 days.
- One can learn all about liberation theology, the history of a country like El Salvador, and be moved to feel many things. But it doesn't mean anything unless it translates to concrete actions. Those actions don't have to be big or dramatic. But, all the learning is for naught if something doesn't change. With learning comes responsibility - that's why people say "ignorance is bliss." Ignorance, however, is not an option. And therefore, neither is non-action.
Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other's faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.
Many blessings to all who read this!