by Sister Maureen Wild
If I could see clearly enough through the doorway of my heart, with its profound gratitude for this journey and the moments that moved me deeply, I would want to tell you something wonderful. I would want you to imagine the crescendo of birdsong that greeted us as dawn broke and we stepped outside San Salvador airport. I would want you to hear the heart songs within those who spoke to our Delegation: distinct chords of absolute commitment to the common good, with melodies affirming everyone’s dignity and basic human rights, notes of yearning for the health of voiceless and vulnerable others, for the release of prisoners unjustly detained, for fair distribution of national wealth for the needs of the poor, and the extraordinary music of organizing for the well-being of communities inclusive of Mother Earth. On our third morning we awakened to an amazing coastal sunrise. All this was part of a wonderful symphony of our first week. All of this, and the music of the lives of four martyrs – three Salvadoran-born, and one Italian-born, Franciscan Friar Cosme Spessotto, missioned in El Salvador for thirty years, who loved the Gospel and the poorest.
Before I left on this trip, I was already hearing the song of great love while reading a biography of Rutilio Grande, SJ. He was born and raised among the campesinos, poor Latino farm workers, of El Paisnal. His upbringing, and formative years as a Jesuit, naturally and completely opened his heart and mind to embrace the vision of Vatican II: to see the church as ‘the people of God’ working together as community (rather than as hierarchy) with a preferential option for the poor. Rutilio worked to empower illiterate, penniless, landless campesinos to organize for better living and working conditions. He formed catechists to serve the people. Through the teachings of the Gospel, Vatican II and implementing the vision of Medellín*, he encouraged new life in his parish, even to hosting a harvest feast in the church where all sat at the table, and no one went hungry. He died a martyr, humbly serving and loving the rural poor of his birthplace.
More and more I felt drawn to witness, with Salvadorans, this joyful and momentous Beatification while feeling tremendous gratitude to Pope Francis for also lifting-up Manuel and Nelson (who assisted in parish ministries and died alongside Rutilio) so representative of ‘the Church of Rutilio.’ On the day of his Beatification, ‘Rutilio Vive’ was a banner message for all to see in El Paisnal. With the people, we walked behind it and other banners, in solidarity, conscious of and grateful for all the Rutilios - men and women – who were martyred following his death.
One highlight for me was meeting young Catholic adults in Aguilares and the Rutilio Grande Community near El Paisnal. They were totally engaged in banner-making and pupusa-making for the Beatification. They also served on committees organized to address the needs of youth, women, health and food security in their communities. It was inspiring to witness their engagement in the life and care of their communities. Unlike the growing individualism in our culture, they seemed resolutely motivated for the common good. Salvadoran Humanitarian Aid, Research, Education (SHARE) Foundation partners with all the groups we visited, supporting projects through fundraising. Wherever groups spoke, gratitude was expressed to SHARE and their decades of solidarity with the Salvadoran people.
Suffice it to say it was a great gift and blessed first week in countless ways! Our many encounters related so well to the spirit of El Salvador’s martyrs, captured in words of Jesus, ‘Come you Blessed Ones, enter God’s kingdom, for I was hungry, and you fed me, thirsty and you … a stranger and you … sick or in prison, and you visited me.’
*Following Vatican II, from 1965 and 1968, Latin American Bishops met in Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Brazil and developed the framework, language and focus that would characterize Medellín. Medellín revolutionized pastoral and theological reflection in Latin America.
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