By Alice Feeley, RDC
Just today, or at least this week, a label in a jacket or shirt, a wrapper on a pint of blueberries or bunch of asparagus, or a tag on a piece of electronic equipment has probably reminded us of our global connections and dependencies.
And then there are the images of wars around the world to be observed at home on TV, along with sports, politics, celebrity, selected bites of global news, and, of course, our distress at the gas pumps.
During this Easter and Passover season, I would like to share the story of some people who have helped to make global connectedness more than something we observe, tour, consume, read or complain about; this community has taken steps, made commitments that bring mutuality, learning, empowerment, compassion, interpersonal relationships to one area of our global connectedness, El Salvador.
About seven years ago, members of the community of researched and identified for a twinning program a parish and school in Soyapango, a municipality adjacent to the capital of El Salvador. The twinned or sister parish, Reina de la Paz, is comprised of three churches in three sectors.
Two sectors are poor, working class, industrial areas; the third sector is an area of slums, marginal employment, and a base of gang activity.
St. Joseph the Worker Lower and Middle School, where Transfiguration parish members support 140 of the 290 children with $40 a year scholarships, is located in this third sector.
The twinning program has been organized and continues through the leadership of two parish committees, one in Tarrytown and one in Soyapango. Regular email communication between the two committees assures updated information, clarity about current needs and resources, plans for the future.
Bi-lingual skill is limited among committee members, but has been sufficient to communicate effectively between Spanish- and English-speaking participants.
Partnership between the parishes and personal relationships has been greatly enhanced by annual visits of committee members from Tarrytown to Soyapango or Soyapango to Tarrytown. In February of this year, nine persons from Transfiguration traveled to El Salvador carrying, in addition to their own luggage, suitcases full of Transfiguration basketball and soccer uniforms, as well as medicines.
After a bumpy ride on a rutted dirt road, we spent a day with the school community at St. Joseph’s, saw the children enjoying the playground built through Transfiguration donations, met with families whose very specific burdens had been lightened by support from Tarrytown, e.g., medical treatment for a child’s serious chronic illness, funeral expenses for an orphan’s mother.
At Mangini High School we met other children supported by parish scholarships funded by Transfiguration and listened to the principal’s strenuous efforts to counteract aggressive gang recruitment of adolescents through effective high school education.
A young woman who completed her studies through such a parish scholarship and then qualified for a scholarship to the University of Central America in San Salvador served as a superb translator during our trip and shared her plans to become a high school teacher.
This visit blessed us with glimpses of what it is like to grow up, to live, pray and continue to hope in a country where poverty and violence abound.
I remember smiling children who are able to keep school uniform shirts white when they live in hovels put together with scrap materials, without electricity, running water or sanitation. I remember martyrs’ stories and shrines, a church roof that had been riddled with army bullets, the remains of a thirteen-year civil war that claimed 80,000 of its people by 1992. I remember barbed wire and uniformed men with rifles everywhere and gracious Salvadoran hosts anxious to keep us visitors safe, well fed, and aware of their appreciation.
One of the many gifts each of us received was a brightly colored cross designed by Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort with handwritten words on the back, “Thank you for helping to carry our cross.”
The cross hangs over my desk, an image and small reminder of the meaning of the global context in which I live.