Many of you know the story of El Salvador's martyers well. I knew the story too, but I did not understand what it meant, really, until Dec. 2 2009.
On this day, about 30 years ago, 4 churchwoman, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, and Dorthy Kazel were kidnapped, raped, and killed for fighting for justice in El Salvador. But you see, altho they died, they were reborn in the Salvadoran people.
And before they died, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke taught Mercedes Monge about human dignity. They taught her to organize youth and to fight for justice up in Chalatenango in the 70s. They even helped her (and dozens of other families) to relocate to Santa Maria de la Esperanza, Santiago Texacuangos, when Chalatenango became too dangerous for women and children during the war. Maura and Ita bought land for this community, and taught them to farm organically, collectively, together. They founded an ecclesial comunidad de base with the guidance of Oscar Romero, one of many communities founded in the spirit of people with God-given dignity, a community that does justice.
Mercedes knew Romero. She ate tortillas with him in the mountains of chalate, when he told her never to lose hope (todo va a salir bien, hija). He told her the fight for justice is like birthing a baby. It is painful, but it will give light to something more beautiful that you could possibly imagine. new life.
As this story was told to be Dec. 2 , 2009, I finally understood Dec. 2 1980. At the risk of getting personal, let me confess to you that I have not REALLY believed in God in years. But Dec. 2, 2009, I found myself praying to Oscar Romero in a taxi in San Salvador traffic on the way to the Cartias office at the arzobispado. I was all out of hope. I had contact every NGO and person I knew to get food aid in an organized way, and it seemed to be a waste of time with only dead ends. I had nothing- I didnt even have hope. But I had the martyrs.
It was then I realized that the martyrs maybe one of the only things Salvadoran have to keep them going. There may be some who can only get out of bed in the morning because of the inspiration of the martyrs. There are others who tirelessly fight for justice, and the energy comes from the martyrs.
As I sat crying with Mercedes after our frustrating Cartias meeting, her friend took her hands and squeezed them. Tear rolling down her face, Mercedes told us she was all used up. She was tired. So many nights, she would come home to her house of nothing and lay down on a wooden bedframe, because she had given all her mattresses and blankets away. She had given away her food and water. All her energy. Everything.
Alma let her unload her pains, and then she squeezed Mercedes's hands, "Mercedes, Romero gave us his life."
A conservative church and conservative priest has broken the comunidades de base. It has actually painted over the Romero murals on the church wall. It not only shuts Mercedes out of the church and divides communities, but it publicly denounces her in mass of all places.
But on Dec. 2, 2009, Mercedes remembered that we have something the others do not have. We have Romero, Maura, and Ita. We have Diosito on our side. And truth. and the poor. and you!
Last night, nearly 40 people gathered in a classroom in santiago texacuangos. It was a mix of community leaders, me, 2 salvadorans from morazon (my personal friends and amigos in la lucha), and 3 members of the comunidad de base san antonio abad here in San Salvador. Of course, Mercedes and the community leaders stole the whole show. as it should be. "romero will give me words," mercedes comments before the meeting.
Mercedes told the stories of aid corruption with the church and mayor's office. She apologized that the leaders had worked so hard to gather information only to come empty handed to they hungry communities (expect for the food your donations have bought and a handful of NGOs that have done food drops once or twice. remember, the salvadoran government has declared the emergency to be "over").
However, the leaders were not to be defeated. Every single person in that room spoke his or her opinion. The affirmation that "we must be united in solidarity" that "if i ever had bad drama with any of you I am leaving it behind. we are together or we are nobody." "Has this country forgotten the martyrs'? I havent!!"
Among other inspirational words. I happily sat in the background, bursting with pride and the revolution Mercedes had begun. Let the people organize. Let them rewrite the letter Jonathan (one of our youth group members that has been volunteering here in San Salvador) wrote to the mayor's office because they want a better letter to sign and give THEMSELVES to the mayor. empowerment. Mercedes and I create space in a meeting, and the leaders realize thier own power and do the work. It was a moment of incredible hope, to see people who had lost hope regain it again and realize their own power. The martyrs are alive.
I am often asked my Salvadorans and North Americans alike- What is so special about El Salvador?
Good question. I have been to a lot of countries, a lot of developing worlds. El Salvador somehow occupies a bigger space in my heart, and I, as well as many of my young NorthAmerican friends, have spent hours wondering WHY!
A good friend of mine, Greg Stock, once asked Trena Yonker-Stalz, co-director of the Casa de la Solidaridad Program, What was so special about El Salvador?
"It's blood of the martyrs," She whispers.
Dec. 2nd, 2009, 29 years after 4 Northamerican church women were martyrs, I am finally beginning to understand.
Ita Ford, presente. Maura Clarke, presente. We feel your presence in Santiago Texacuangos. Please don't leave us.