Tag Archive | El Salvador

Women of El Salvador’s War

Canciones frente de la catedral

On the anniversary of the 1992 peace accords in El Salvador, I wanted to share this video of Women of El Salvador’s War by Lyn McCracken and Theodora Simon. The film features Esperanza Ortega, one of the interviewees in Birthing God.  She is the woman in yellow in the center of the photo below. http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/52583/Mujeres-de-la-Guerra–Historias-de-El-Salvador.

Esperanza was one of an estimated two million Salvadorans—a third of the nation’s total ???????????????????????????????population—who fled their homes in terror. She recounts the Guinda del Mayo (the Flight of May, 1980), when she and her neighbors ran for days, finally hiding in thorny underbrush and capping their children’s mouths to avoid detection. “We were surrounded by the troops. They were combing the whole zone, helicopters machine-gunning from above, and we were under the chupamiel bush, praying for our lives.” She says that they had been running away from the massacre that had taken place at the Sumpul River and that they had been without food for two days. “The soldiers were so close that we could see them eating the mangos from the trees. How I longed to eat one of those mangos! We were hungry and so were our children. Instead, we covered the mouths of our babies to keep them from crying. But thanks be to God, even though in our group there were three of us who had recently given birth, our babies didn’t cry. The soldiers were close by, but they didn’t detect us.”

Esperanza explains that in that moment, God accompanied her and gave her strength. “I thought to myself, ‘This is the Spirit of God that gives strength and trust.’” She says that this moment is an example of what she calls la fe vivida—a faith that is lived. “It is confidence in your own self that God is within you. We had to trust in ourselves with that confidence. For example, there were moments when we felt we could uncover the babies’ mouths because we sensed that they wouldn’t cry. And they didn’t cry. We were not discovered.” Esperanza survived many such encounters, learning to trust the Spirit of God that was within her to guide her. “I felt this tremendous courage in my body.… This knowledge born from within gave me energy, and I felt a great confidence in my own person, that I could do what was needed.”

In another incident, Esperanza, her husband, and several others were fleeing an army incursion when her husband was hit by gunfire. “It was another experience with this lived faith, this really deep trust in myself. My husband was shot through the back, through his shoulders.” Using her hands, she shows me how the two G3 bullets exited his body. Her left hand, starkly brown against the canary yellow of her T-shirt, bursts open beneath her left breast, and her right hand splays above her right breast. “Two giant holes, here and here, and the flesh hanging out, and the blood running. And I thought to myself, ‘He’s going to die,’ because just looking at him you could see that. But a health promoter—one of our own, trained in first aid—cleaned the wounds and then covered them so that they wouldn’t get infected. It was a miracle of God! Not a single organ was touched! No infection! And we were there hiding in the mountains, in the brush, for a month! I say this because we need to have faith in our own capacities. Sometimes you think that only the doctor can heal, but no, it’s faith that heals.” The health promoter, she emphasizes, was a campesino—a subsistence farmer like herself—who had faith in his abilities to save her husband’s life.

“You have to have trust in your own self. Esta es la fe vivida. The importance of having faith is to see it concretized in your own self.”

Excerpted from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine


God Among Us

Hermanas.1Remembering the Martyrs

Thirty-three years ago today, four U.S. church women were martyred in El Salvador. They had been working with the Salvadoran poor, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke in Chalatenango, and Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan in La Libertad. They were returning from a retreat when their vehicle was stopped by the Salvadoran National Guard at a road block. Their desecrated bodies were discovered in a mass grave a few kilometers away. Today we commemorate Ita, Maura, Dorothy, and Jean, and what better way to celebrate their lives then to continue their legacy of working with the Salvadoran poor.

In honor of the U.S. church women martyred this day in 1980, I am excerpting from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine my interview with Sister Teresa, who continues their pastoral work in Chalatenango.

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Dressed in light cotton and sandals, Sister Teresa motions for me to take a seat in the tiny adobe-style house she shares with four other women religious in San Jose Las Flores, El Salvador. For nearly four decades, she tells me, she has lived and worked among Latin American’s impoverished communities. “For me, vocation has been very much defined as living my life among the poor.”

Still it was a big shock for Teresa—“un choque grande”—to arrive at the nearly destroyed community of San Jose Las Flores in the midst of El Salvador’s civil war. For Teresa, “the shock was to realize how far I was from the great suffering that so many people were living.” Yet one day, during her contemplation time, she heard God speaking to her inwardly. “It was a crisis but also a great revelation. God told me clearly in the words spoken to Moisés: ‘Take off your sandals, because this place, the place you are entering, is holy ground.’” At another time, Teresa recounts, “In a state of prayer, I felt Jesús come and take hold of my shoulder. ‘This is your place,’ he said. ‘I want you right here.’”

God was telling her in no uncertain terms that this community she was serving in the midst of extreme poverty, isolation, and war was holy, the dwelling place of the Almighty. “After that experience, each day I felt more dedicated, with greater commitment—entrega—because to me it was clear that the people were the face of the suffering, crucified Christ, with their willingness to give their lives for the good of all, and at the same time, they also exemplified the resurrected Christ with their vitality, solidarity, and courage.”

Sister Teresa describes the constant shelling in the surrounding hills, the periodic military incursions and occupations of their small village, the strafing of helicopters flying overhead, and the fear that these acts generated. “During the war,” Teresa says, “the Armed Forces High Command required that I and the other sisters with me report to them every two weeks. When we left the community to go report ourselves, the people entered into a state of fear. When we returned, they shouted, ‘Ay! The sisters have returned!’” Teresa laughs. “We didn’t feel that it was really about us, but rather that the people felt this presence of God that for them was tangible with our reappearance.” The people also perceived God’s accompaniment, Teresa says, in the miracles they witnessed as they survived attack after attack on their community.

She stretches out her hand and places it on the flower-dappled tablecloth. “This is my experience of God, in the people who are an expression of the incarnate Christ. In the midst of the war, the people here showed joy, solidarity, and compassion. They were available to one another. When terrible things happened, they were afraid; they wept and trembled, but nothing stopped them from having faith and moving forward. It was an experience that changed my way of being.”

Teresa ducks her gray head slightly before revealing her affluent background. “See, I am from the bourgeoisie in my country, and I was able to study. But my greatest education has been the poor, to see their living conditions, to feel how everything is denied them, to feel how much they are underestimated, how much they are despised. I feel their condition in my being”—her hand moves to her chest—“and their reality changed me, converted me. Encountering the poor, you encounter yourself with God in a totally different way.”

Excerpted from “Teresa: God Among Us” in Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine .

Maria leyó de Jeremías frente de la iglesia en Las FloresOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA