I fell madly in love with El Salvador 20 years ago. I suppose the conditions were perfect -- two years after the peace accords; a connection with the humanity of the hospitable and organized community of Las Vueltas; encouragement from a trusted teacher to examine my own privilege and opportunity as a U.S. citizen to incite change; and midway through a transition myself. This 17-year-old kid was looking for the next step, the new frontier, and I wanted to commit myself to a just relationship.
A former superior general of the Society of Jesus captured this sentiment in these words: "Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love. In a quite absolute, final way, what you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you up in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything."
I didn't know that immersing myself into a new culture would begin a lifelong movement from infatuation to kinship. As a teen, my Catholic education around the Eucharist and among people pushed me to take risks. I thought everyone felt this passionate about faith and competent enough to take initiative in just relationships.
I fell hard for the children in Las Vueltas. The joy amid the suffering spoke to my deep formation and experience of the paschal mystery. I was tenderly touched by the memories of civil war and the desire for a new society. Hope was in this new generation, those who survived, and those willing to say yes to truth-telling.
Looking back, I can begin to see this romantic notion in a new way. No longer is this relationship on a scale of one-dimensional rhetoric in my head: "If you are not doing anything for El Salvador, you are failing as a human," or "Thanks for the experience, off to the next thing to be consumed."
20 years later, I can understand and appreciate the profoundly deep impact those 14 days of living in community with my classmates and neighbors had on me.
I am taking part in an active witness of the lives and work of the martyrs of El Salvador through a delegation of Jesuit-affiliated high school teachers, university staff, parish participants, and colleagues through the Ignatian Solidarity Network. We arrived last Thursday, and through the help of Crispaz, an organization committed to companioning Salvadorans and those willing to walk with them in their pain and joy, are receiving an experience of reality and an education of justice. There are 46 of us on this journey, culminating in and illuminated by the celebration of the life of St. Ignatius this day.
We listened to stories of colleagues here in El Salvador, including university president Jesuit Fr. Andreu Oliva at Universidad Centroamericana and Catholic Relief Services Deputy Regional Director Rick Jones. Stories filled with facts and figures that rooted their work in the reality of the current situation helped ground us in the overwhelming truth. We also have listened to our friends -- organizers in the countryside and their stories of war, repopulation, and tribute and history.
I am scared, though. We are coming to end of our trip, and I don't want these stories and experiences solely listed among the things that I have done or the people I got to see.
We have heard much about the misery associated with immigration, especially the plight of the unaccompanied minors. I don't know why my love for El Salvador and its recovery from war blinded me from actually letting in the stories of horror and injustice. American society -- both Central and North -- must create a way, a safer way, a healthier way to live together peacefully in this world.
My love affair compels me to act with responsibility and clarity. The migration issue is not just a headline or a shallow blip open the radar of my consciousness. This issue must become my issue now, too.
I want to be held accountable. I want to open my door just as Rosa did for me and my friends in Arcatao, Chalatenango. I want to put my education at the service of the least of these, just as the six Jesuit martyrs -- Ignacio Ellacuria, Juan Ramon Moreno, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Armando Lopez -- and their companions, Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina, had done. I want to denounce evil and injustice. I want to live with open eyes to the truth and make no accommodation for irresponsibility.
Good and gracious God, help me recommit my life, my choices, my purchases to encounters of peace. In a world so broken, so divided by power, poverty and self-concern, strengthen me to become an instrument of courage, compassion, forgiveness and unity.
For more reflections and ways to take action, go to contemplativecompanions.org.
[Jocelyn A. Sideco is a retreat leader, spiritual director and innovative minister who specializes in mission-centered ministry. She teaches bioethics, feminist theology, Christian sexuality, and Christian Scriptures at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. Visit her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, at contemplativecompanions.org or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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