The SHARE Blog

Delegate Spotlight: Mary Louise

April 1, 2016

Our blog series, Delegate Spotlight, feature past participants from SHARE’s major delegations. A delegate is someone who travels with a group (delegation) to El Salvador to learn about the history, politics, and people to better accompany the Salvadoran people. Interested in becoming a SHARE delegate? Check out our major delegation page for information on the upcoming International Solidarity Delegation in July!

Mary Louise Chesley-Cora

Spotlight On: Mary Louise Chesley-Cora, Hockessin, DE

SHARE Delegation Experience: 2015 Churchwomen Commemoration Delegation

Why did I decide to participate? There was a strong spiritual “pull” to look at this possibility and then to take steps needed to participate. Initially, I knew no one in the delegation and went by myself.

What did I gain? I gained a much greater understanding of what happened in El Salvador in the past 50 years and the unfortunate role the US government played in the civil war there causing the deaths of thousands of the people as well as a greater appreciation of what is presently happening to build up hope and justice for the people, especially those who continue to suffer injustice and threats of terror from gangs and organized crime (mostly women and children).  I was inspired by the strength of the women who seem fearless and determined to make their country a beautiful and safe place to live.

What was most memorable? The most memorable day was being with the people at the Mass on December 2 to celebrate the lives of these courageous and faith-filled women who were martyred at that spot 35 years before. It was also the exact day a year ago that I was celebrating the life of my dear husband, George, (12/2/14) at our parish of the Resurrection in Delaware. I envisioned them all “in glory”…rejoicing with us!

What was my favorite part? I was very touched by the great hospitality shown to our delegation as well as the gratitude of the people toward us to have come to “walk with,  pray with and celebrate with” on their journey for greater justice and peace. Despite the tremendous losses and hardships, they showed great resilience, compassion and hope for their lives and those of their children. I also valued meeting all the delegates and sharing with them. I found “connections” I couldn’t believe with various ones. It was a wonderful group of “new friends” journeying together.  Our team was also “outstanding”!!!

How was I challenged? I was challenged to be open to all kinds of new experiences, people, travel, language. I welcomed this opportunity to grow in faith, to support those who continue to work for justice and peace and to join them in prayer for a  more hope-filled future.

For those thinking of joining a SHARE delegation: The SHARE opportunity was so well planned and organized. It included important meetings with representatives of the government, media and local people, meaningful prayer experiences, enjoyable times for meals and conversation as a group and with the local people. It was a wonderful, worthwhile experience and it made such a difference for the people there and for each of us in the delegation.

How does it continue to inspire?: It is only 2 months since the trip and I am still “unpacking” the experience and discerning how this can inspire and inform others to reach out in  mercy, justice and reconciliation to these sisters and brothers in El Salvador. I would like to continue to be involved in some way but it is not yet clear what that will mean. I am filled with GRATITUDE for this experience and all the people I met during those days.


Delegate Spotlight: Maryanne

March 18, 2016

Our blog series, Delegate Spotlight, feature past participants from SHARE’s major delegations. A delegate is someone who travels with a group (delegation) to El Salvador to learn about the history, politics, and people to better accompany the Salvadoran people. Interested in becoming a SHARE delegate? Check out our major delegation page for information on the upcoming International Solidarity Delegation in July!  

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Spotlight On: Sister Maryanne Ruzzo, SC

SHARE Delegation Experience: 2015 Churchwomen Commemoration Delegation

Wanting to go to El Salvador started with a movie long before I entered the Sisters of Charity. When the American missionaries were killed in 1980 I was just out of college and really didn’t know much about what was happening in El Salvador nor did I remember much, if anything about their story.  About 5 years later I attended a retreat and a movie about Maura, Ita, Dorothy and Jean was shown.  I remember being emotionally drained and challenged by that movie and realized then that God might really be calling me to religious life. Their courage, their passion, their strength, their faithfulness inspired me to take steps toward entering the Sisters of Charity  where I have met many other women who have inspired and influenced my life and taught me how to live the Gospel call of making the love of God visible in our world. So when the opportunity came for me to represent LCWR Region 1 on a co-sponsored trip between LCWR and SHARE to EL Salvador for the commemoration of the 35th Anniversary of the martyrdom of these women, I was excited and extremely grateful. These women were not dead but were very alive everywhere we went!

And we went everywhere! To the Cathedral where Romero celebrated many liturgies, to the Crypt downstairs where he was buried,  to the wall called the Monument of Truth and Memory which names over 30,000 who were either murdered or disappeared, to the University of Central America and to the rose garden memorial where the 6 Jesuits and the housekeeper and her daughter were killed, to the Chapel where Romero was killed and to his home, to 3 base communities with connections to the missionaries and SHARE, to the site where the Missionaries were killed, and to the cemetery where the Maryknoll sisters were buried. We met with grassroots movement leaders, human rights defenders, mothers of the disappeared, government leaders and with farmers from an organic co-op who are planning now for the challenges from climate change. We heard stories of those who survived the war and of the root causes of migration.

What stayed with me the most? I’ll try to share a few of these experiences with you. The first was when we drove to the site where the women’s bodies were found. When the bus turned off the highway we were told that that was when the missionaries suspected that something horrible was going to happen. We rode in silence imagining what that had to have been like for them. The silence was piercing, and so were the bangs we heard that sounded like gunshots but later we found out were fireworks. We met up with a procession, had mass in a chapel at the site and then heard testimonies of how the missionaries had saved so many people’s lives at the risk of their own. We heard from a woman who had been 10 when Maura and Ita had saved her life by stashing her in the car trunk as they drove to safety through check points with the military.  Later we met her at one of the base communities and this was the second experience that has stayed with me.

This young woman, Monte, along with many other women her age shared with us all the organizing and advocating they are doing for human rights and for their children and for their land and for each other. These women would have all been children of the women who were leaders with the Missionaries during the war.  These women have kept the gangs out of their area (gangs have taken over almost ¾ of the country). They have kept 4 mining companies out of their area. They have organized youth groups and farms and co-ops. I found myself challenged by what they have been able to accomplish considering all they have been through. It was evident that the church women were as alive in them today as they were 35 years ago.

Another experience was when we went to the last of the base communities. It was night. As we got off the busses to process up the hill we were met by children singing and others holding candle lanterns that were given to us to light our way toward the plaza where fireworks were displayed. Together we walked forth in solidarity to remember and continue to celebrate the God who is alive in all of us through the memory of these women. There wasn’t a dry eye in the procession. After speeches and music and poetry and a meal all 117 of us were sent off with different families to spend the night in their homes. That would be another story!

Probably the event that haunts me the most was a skit done by a youth group. They acted out a letter that they wrote to Maura, Ita, Jean and Dorothy.  Five of them wore names of countries or cities that are presently experiencing or causing violence. They held a deep red cloth and bounced the globe back and forth toward each of these places. They spoke of how they know that they have experienced the ravages of violence and war in their own country but were also concerned about what to do because “Our whole world is bleeding because of war and hunger”.  These young people who have very little are so aware of the need for God in our world and desire to make things better.

This image of the globe being tossed in the bleeding red cloth challenges me as the whole trip has challenged me to look at my own call once again. Over 25 years ago the witness of the lives of Maura, Ita, Dorothy and Jean opened a door for me to say yes to Jesus and become a Sister of Charity. I find myself asking what is the yes that God is inviting me to today through the hopeful, passionate, faithful, resurrection people of El Salvador? And how will I live Charity today in this place we call home where God desires to be birthed over and over again? And I ask you, what is the yes that God is inviting you to today?


Delegate Spotlight: Margie

March 11, 2016

Our blog series, Delegate Spotlight, feature past participants from SHARE’s major delegations. A delegate is someone who travels with a group (delegation) to El Salvador to learn about the history, politics, and people to better accompany the Salvadoran people. Interested in becoming a SHARE delegate? Check out our major delegation page for information on the upcoming International Solidarity Delegation in July!  

MargieSpotlight On: Margie Carroll

SHARE Delegation Experience: 2015 Churchwomen Commemoration Delegation

Why did you decide to participate in SHARE’s major delegation?
Knowing that it was the 35th anniversary of the four Churchwomen’s martyrdom, I searched the web and gratefully discovered that a delegation was being sponsored by SHARE/LCWR. Immediately I knew that my heart was leading me to be a sojourner! I was so excited that I invited my daughter, Megan, to accompany me.  She was born on December 4, 1979,and was about to celebrate her 1st birthday when the women were killed on December 2, 1980.  I promised myself then that some day I would visit the community where Dorothy, Ita, Maura, and Maureen served. To my surprise and delight, Megan decided to join me at the last minute.  I treasure the experience we shared.

How were you challenged?
I did not feel particularly challenged until a crown, which had been on an upper back tooth for 32 years, decided to fall off just before leaving on an overnight visit with the welcoming community of Chalatenango. How like the “God of Surprises” to zap me with ongoing pain from a jagged exposed tooth for the next five days until I could get back to my dentist in San Diego! The experience was a good lesson of being in solidarity with the poor who cannot always seek medical assistance.
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How does your experience continue to inspire you in your work/life/passions today?
The delegation experience reinforced my commitment to be a voice for those who may not have the freedom to speak out. I serve on the board of Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego whose mission is to provide quality pro bono legal services to victims of human and civil rights violations, particularly for asylum seekers, unaccompanied children coming over the border, domestic violence, and human trafficking.  We use every opportunity to interact with the public to clarify media misconceptions about immigration and why people are fleeing Central America. The delegation experience also provided me with much to share with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps NW National Alumni Council and the new JustFaith program on immigration that we are starting in our parish.

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Fasting to Lift Oppression

February 25, 2016

Today we share reflections by Sister Janet Marie Peterworth, OSU, President of the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, about her participation in our December 2015 Remembering the Churchwomen Delegation.

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Sr. Carol Reamer and Sr. Janet Marie Peterworth at a memorial to the four churchwomen.

My reflections today come from the last part of this day’s reading from Isaiah (58: 1-9a) on the kind of fast that our God wants. I was reflecting about this in the context of my recent trip to El Salvador. The background of that trip started many years ago. A brutal civil war was raging in that country. The military was propping up the government and the two together were truly oppressing the indigenous people and the poor by confiscating their land for big multinational corporations—land that had been theirs for many years. The government was using the scorched earth policy. That meant the military went from village to village burning everything so that the people would have nothing to come back to. And with monetary help and training from our United States government, they murdered over 72,000 people in that civil war. Read More »


Monseñor Urioste: Champion of the Poor & Oscar Romero Sainthood Dies in El Salvador

February 3, 2016

By Eileen Purcell
January 17, 2016

Salvadoran Monsignor Ricardo Urioste died in the early morning of January 15th, 2016, having suffered a fall in San Salvador. He was ninety years old. Thousands gathered to celebrate his life at a Mass at the National Cathedral in San Salvador.

Urioste

Ricardo Urioste was a beloved Catholic priest and pastor. Born on September 18, 1925 in San Salvador, he was the youngest of three.

Ordained in 1948, he became a pillar of the Salvadoran Church of the Poor. He served as the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of San Salvador for four decades, founded the Romero Foundation and led the global movement advocating for sainthood for Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. He was a firm supporter of the human rights organizations calling for “truth, justice, and reparations” as pre-requisites for authentic reconciliation in El Salvador in the aftermath of the Civil War.

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Revisiting El Salvador 35 years after the churchwomen´s deaths

December 18, 2015

Today we share a reflection by Judy Ress, a participant on our Remembering the Churchwomen Delegation.

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She told me her story in bits and pieces as we bounced along in our rickety yellow school bus into the lowland hills of Chalatenango en route to her village.

Mercedes Montes was only 15 when Sisters Carla, Ita and Maura came to San Antonio de Los Ranchos in early 1980. A dangerous time. The Montes family was known to be consecuente. They´d produced catechists, youth leaders and comandantes—and had paid dearly for it. Twenty-eight of the Montes clan perished as a result of the “scorched earth” policy implemented by the Reagan administration to help the Salvadoran Armed Forces to rid the country of “communist subversion.”

Mercedes’ father, Angel Montes, had been the village’s revered catechist, but because he was illiterate, he had his nine-year old daughter read the Biblical texts to him. By the time Mercedes was 15, she too was a catechist and a dynamic youth leader.

Now an old man, Don Angel had spoken the day before at the anniversary Mass held on the site where the bodies of the four churchwomen were found. There stands a simple white monument in the shape of a cross. The inscription reads:

Misioneros Catolicos

Dorothy Kazel,

Maura Clarke,

Jean Donovan,

Ita Ford.

Entregaron sus vidas el 2 de diciembre de 1980.

Recíbenlas Señor en tu Reino.

An enormous pine tree shelters the monument, now declared a historical site by El Salvador`s Ministry of Culture. A chapel stands on the site as well. That day it was filled to the brim with folks like myself—old-time or one-time missioners—and lots of Salvadorans of a new generation. I was part of a 100 plus delegation that had traveled to El Salvador to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the churchwomen´s assassinations. Our delegation was sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the SHARE Foundation. Most were religious Sisters who were or had been in positions of leadership. Our age range: 65-75, an aging but highly committed troop. I was welcomed as part of the delegation because I had been a member of the Cleveland Mission Team to El Salvador (1970-72), like Dorothy and Jean. I had been invited to launch my historical novel dedicated to these nuns. Blood Flowers had just been translated into Spanish.

That day, as we gathered around the memorial and heard the testimonies, I caught a glimpse of who these women might have been. Don Angel described how Carla would stop the jeep rather than drive into a passy of butterflies in flight. Mercedes told of how Maura made her a skirt out of a burlap bag because she didn´t have any clothes. “I was hiding out in the woods behind my house when the Sisters found me,” she whispers. The National Guard was hunting for her.

It became clear why the Sisters were considered an obstacle to the “scorched earth” assault. They were protecting the villagers by scurrying them away to safer areas; they were bringing in food, medicine and clothing; and they were systematically tracking the abductions and disappearances for the Catholic Church´s Legal Defense Office.

As we coasted along the now paved curved road leading deeper into Chalatenango, Mercedes showed me the book she was reading—the translated version of Vessels of Clay, a biography of Sister Carla Piette by her good friend and classmate Jacqueline Hansen Maggiore. “My dad was in love with Carla,” she said. “They had these long conversations together.”

Carla arrived in San Antonio in March, on the day of Archbishop Romero´s funeral. She died in a jeep accident on August 23. She and Ita were coming back to San Antonio after having taken a seminarian to his home. It was dark and raining. Carla must have miscalculated the river´s strength as she nosed the jeep into the river crossing. The current caught the jeep. Carla pushed Ita out the window. The villagers found Ita the next morning clinging to a branch alongside the river. She was dehydrated and covered with mosquito bites—but alive. They found Carla´s naked body 18 kilometers down river. “We couldn´t find them in the night,” Mercedes wailed. “My father couldn´t look at Carla´s body. He just wept and wept.”

When our caravan of three buses finally arrived at San Antonio, we were invited to form a procession into the village. It gets dark early in El Salvador, so people met us with colored lanterns, fireworks and drum rolls. We were astounded—the whole village had turned out to welcome us. As we approached the outskirts, we crossed the river. Now there is a bridge. Carla, presente!

As we processed into the main plaza, Beethoven’s Song of Joy filled the air. The local authorities and a children´s choir greeted us. Each child was wearing a t-shirt with a photo of one of the four churchwomen. They sang the sophisticated Cambia Todo Cambia. Mercedes was by my side the whole way. “Here`s where my house was.” “Back there is where Maura and Ita found me.” “Here is the embankment where we searched for Carla.”

We stayed the night in San Antonio, grateful for the simple hospitality. I got to sleep in a hammock again—and grudgingly had to admit to being out of practice. The next morning we were treated to breakfast in the town’s Memorial Park, where a bust of Carla honors her as one of the village`s three outstanding heroes.

San Antonio, which borders Honduras, boasts of being a “new town”. Its inhabitants were forced to flee to refugee camps in Honduras to escape the ¨scorched earth” campaign. There—for nine years—they learned to live together as a community. When they returned home, after the 1992 Peace Accords, they had to start all over. Mercedes says that they learned to work together when they were refugees in Honduras. Now, each family has been granted a piece of land and the government supplies seed and fertilizers. In this corner of El Salvador, the smell of hope filters through the dusty streets.

During the week-long trip, we visited other villages and co-ops and heard testimonies of how the seeds of the churchwomen ´s sacrifice—along with so many others (75,000 dead or disappeared, 134 massive massacres)—are bearing fruit.

El Salvador is described by some as a “failed state”. The country is listed as one of the most violent in the Americas. Yes, there are gangs of disaffected youth who roam the streets. They are learning fast from Mexico´s narco-mafias. They are feared. Many Salvadorans are trying to flee—and are willing to pay a high price for a “good coyote” who will deliver them safely to the United States.

But against this El Salvador is another version found in the newly organized efforts to become food independent, to re-forest the land, to recover the indigenous way of nurturing one´s own milpa. As one expert told us: “With the influx of the maquiladoras (sweatshops), El Salvador switched from being an agricultural country to an industrial one. But the maquilas only helped about 250,000 families. Our people need the land. We must return to the land.”

El Salvador is the only country in the Americas to reject imports in the name of food security. Food security versus food sovereignty.

Thirty-five years is a long time. Mercedes is now 50, has grown kids and coordinates 14 different women’s groups, each engaged in producing—either food or crafts. The four churchwomen have long been dead. But as we drove in silence along the road where their van had been hijacked and they had been abducted, raped and shot once in the head in a “potters’ field,” I sensed the terror they must have felt,.

What actually happened? Did they scream for help? Did they plead for their lives? Or did they just give up and went to their graves in silence? Did Dorothy, the elder, try to calm Jean, the youngest, who planned to marry her sweetheart the next season? Did Maura sing one of her Irish love ballads as they shot her in the head?
Did Ita feel relief that she´d be joining Carla there in the San Antonio cemetery?

If I fast-forward my own journey by eight years, I could have been driving that van out to the airport to pick up Ita and Maura.

There but for you, go I.

I walk in these women´s shadows.


Girls in El Salvador Become Protagonists for Change

November 25, 2015

Youth are key to a country’s development. Proper care, quality education, recreation and respect of rights can help ensure a country’s just development.

In El Salvador, unfortunately children and youth are particularly vulnerable to social problems such as poverty, violence and abuse. The most vulnerable of these are adolescent girls.

According to various studies, over 31% of adolescents between 10 and 19 years become pregnant and 85% of teenage mothers do not finish school. Many cases of abuse and sexual harassment occur within schools and family environments. In the first half of 2012 the PNC recorded a total of 1,190 complaints of sexual offenses against children, adolescents and women. The highest risk group, with 608 cases, belongs to adolescents between 12 and 18 years old.

Currently CRIPDES San Vicente is carrying out a pilot project in nine schools in the municipality of Tecoluca in the department of San Vicente, with groups of girls ages 14-18 years.

Girls in San Vicente doing an activity during a workshop

Girls in San Vicente doing an activity during a workshop

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Women Fight for Food Sovereignty


On October 28, SHARE participated in a forum organized by CORDES and CCR titled “Women Fight for Food Sovereignty.”

Food sovereignty is a concept that encompasses principles of social justice, the dignity of peoples, solidarity, and respect and harmony with the earth.

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Participants begin with exercises to start the forum

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A Brief History of El Salvador’s Mining Struggles


By Lauri R., SHARE’s Communications Volunteer

El Salvador is one of the smallest countries in the Americas with a high population density and high levels of environmental degradation. The combination of these two factors means that a natural disaster or shortage of resources greatly impacts large numbers of people.

For some time, lack of usable water has been a serious concern in El Salvador.

The Lempa River is El Salvador’s largest river and a vital resource on which thousands of people rely for agriculture, fisheries and drinking water. Mineral deposits in this area have attracted mining operations. This precious resource is now in great danger of being polluted to levels that would make it entirely unusable.

El Salvador's Lempa River

El Salvador’s Lempa River

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Visits to CRIPDES Regions

October 30, 2015

Youth

On September 27, university and high school students from the UCRES region (northern San Salvador) gathered together for their monthly scholarship assembly.Three university students, who have been participating in workshops on peace culture focused on youth, led the assembly. The participants were very motivated and worked in teams to propose solutions to the situation of violence in their communities.

During the following scholarship assembly on October 25, students reported on their recent activities and progress in school. Graduations are coming soon with some on November 28 and others on the 30th. Students discussed making plans for a celebration of the past year on November 15. The last assembly of the year will be held on November 29. Read More »


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