Honoring Women Religious: Our Journey in Photos
In 1981, Eileen Purcell, a community organizer working with Catholic Social Service of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, made a presentation to the Lectionary Group meeting at the University Lutheran Chapel. Eileen had been invited by Reverend Gus Schultz to share her work with Central American refugees and the findings of her 1980 fact-finding trip to El Salvador. Archbishop Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador had been assassinated while saying mass on March 24, 1980, 4 US Church women had been raped and killed by the US sponsored military in December, and thousands of Salvadorans were killed or suffering persecution and fleeing the country seeking refuge. Many who reached San Francisco turned to the Catholic Church for help. The Archdiocese in San Francisco was turning a bright light on the situation. Catholic Social Service was committed to building effective services and advocacy for the refugees in our midst while at the same time addressing the root causes of the exodus. Included in that Lectionary Group was Reverend Gustav Schultz, Pastor at University Lutheran Chapel. Also included were several other future key players in the Sanctuary Movement.
Eileen Purcell presented the Lectionary Group with the startling facts of Salvadoran brothers and sisters; Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Pastors, Nuns, and more importantly thousands and thousands of people – peasant farmers, women, men, children, who were being slaughtered in a brutal civil war that raged with no end in sight in the very small country of El Salvador. That day the Lectionary Group heard of how the war arrived violently and destructively taking away any chance of safe ground within El Salvador. Those who spoke out against the impunity were killed or disappeared or fled for their lives. Many were arriving in the U.S. with no where to go. They wandered through the desert and through the cities traumatized and seeking safety.
Today, more than 50 Women Religious will travel to El Salvador to honor the memory of Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, who were martyred in El Salvador 32 years ago.
Guest blog by Eileen Purcell, former Executive Director of SHARE El Salvador.
Thirty two years ago, I met Jean Donovan on the steps of San Jose de la Montana – the minor seminary and Archdiocesan headquarters of the Catholic church in San Salvador. I had traveled to El Salvador as part of a San Francisco Archdiocesan delegation to document the human rights atrocities convulsing El Salvador. In 1980 alone, human rights experts estimated 1,000 deaths per month (33 per day)) at the hands of the Salvadoran military and death squads, causing a vast exodus of refugees, many of whom came to San Francisco. An additional 25,000 persons were “disappeared.” This state violence was supported and financed by the United States government. It led to the assassination Archbishop Oscar Romero in March of 1980 and the rape and killing of Jean Donovan along with Ita Ford, MM, Maura Clarke, MM, and Dorothy Kazel, UR on December 2, 1980, just a few months after our meeting. Their deaths galvanized world opinion and solidarity with the people of El Salvador.
The trip represented a turning point in my life: I witnessed unthinkable human rights atrocities and sweeping state-sponsored violence funded by my country. I placed my hands and heart in the open wounds of men, women and children who shared stories of torture, loss, and despair. At the same time, I experienced the extraordinary faith, organization and resilience of a people, “a resurrection people living Good Friday.” Hope grounded in solidarity and action overcame fear.
“A fight against impunity implies a long term struggle. If one remains firm in one’s position, a well-rooted seed will take hold and the consciousness of new generations, new professionals, will change as well.” — Jesuit Father José María Tojiera
During the Honoring Women Religious Delegation we will visit the museum at the UCA, built to pay homage to those eight martyrs and other Christian martyrs of the Civil War in El Salvador. We will also see the Rose Garden, where the Jesuits were found, now a memorial garden, and the Chapel, where they are buried.
When Patricia was imprisoned in El Salvador and exiled to Mexico for her role as a human rights activist, she thought of the moment when, at nine years old, she shook hands with Monseñor Romero. His support through out her time in prison and Both his support in her life while imprisoned and his current role in her life have greatly influenced her work as an activist.
A victim of the violence and oppression of the paramilitary and government, Patricia is a part of the Romero Coalition. The Coalition is working to obtain justice in the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and for the more than 8000 other victims of the right-wing regime in El Salvador during the armed conflict. A delegation from SHARE and the Volunteer Missionary Movement had the privilege of meeting Patricia during the week long VMM delegation in October.
Delegates spent the week learning about the Salvadoran reality and the work of VMM missioners for justice in Central America. Among the delegation were VMM board members, VMM founder Edwina Gately, supporters and friends. Included were SHARE’s Sistering Accompaniment Coordinator and Human Rights Advocacy Coordinator, as well as several missioners in Nicaragua and Guatemala, all of whom are all supported by VMM-USA.
In March 2012 a truce began between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18thStreet gangs. The homicide rate in El Salvador dropped from an average of 14 a day to 5, and has continued at this level for just over six months now. This fall, the Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) and the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD) hosted a forum on the opportunities and challenges the truce provides for creating a sustainable peace process. This is part two in a series on the truce and features two perspectives presented at the forum: Raúl Mijango, one of the mediators of the truce, and Geovanni Morales, Coordinator of SSPAS´ Reinsertion Program.
Raúl Mijango, mediator
As one of the mediators of the gang truce, Raúl Mijango expresses great excitement for the possibilities the truce opens up. He sees the beginning of the truce in March as a historic date in the Salvadoran peace process, and a game changer in addressing ascending levels of violence in El Salvador and the world. Mijango called attention to the truce´s success in preventing the deaths of over 1,600 Salvadorans who would have been killed in the last six months if the violence had remained at 14 homicides a day. He also noted that while the international community has reacted with amazement and support, the Salvadoran society has had very little reaction to or support for the change.
For Mijango, in order to address these issues it is crucial to recognize that El Salvador´s struggles with violence, gangs, and criminality is not simply a rising wave of crime, but is in fact a new manifestation of social conflict. He sees this conflict as rooted in a failure to move forward with public policies that addressed socio-economic divides after the armed conflict. Instead, the socio-economic gap has only widened and the government did little to respond to the initial development of the gangs in the 1990s.
During the civil war, government security forces forcibly disappeared seven of Magdalena´s family members and held and tortured Magdalena as a political prisoner. On October 29th, The Salvadoran Government officially apologized for their role in the disappearance of six specific children. Magdalena was there to hear their apology along with Madre Guadalupe, other victims and their families.
Between 1981 and 1983, Ana Julia and Carmelina Mejía Ramírez, José Rubén Rivera and Gregoria Herminia, Serapio Cristian and Julia Inés Contreras were forcibly disappeared in three separate incidents in Morazán and San Vicente. Pro-Busqueda took the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Court. In the end, the court ordered the state to recognize their responsibility and apologize to the families of the deceased. On August 31st, 2011, the court declared the Salvadoran state to be responsible for their disappearances.
On the weekend of October 28th, mayor of San Salvador and 2013 ARENA presidential candidate Norman Quijano ordered the violent removal of 970 informal vendor stalls from 33 blocks in San Salvador. With a bulldozer. That’s right, he demolished hundreds of stalls containing thousands of dollars in merchandise and a few vendors inside, with a bulldozer. Such rampant disregard for other human beings requires action.
As can be expected, national and international communities are outraged and calling for justice to be served. When Quijano literally bulldozed the vendors’ livelihoods last week, he extensively violated the rights of every affected individual and created an even deeper divide between the middle and lower classes.
SHARE partnering organization, FESPAD, was among the first to speak out against this appalling disrespect and oppression of the working class. FESPAD is demanding that the government recognize the needs of the targeted low-income community and respect the dignity and vulnerability of this population.
On October 21st, FESPAD held a press conference during which they released a position statement recounting how Quijano violated the vendors’ rights. The statement charts out a number of demands for justice, including a formal apology to those affected and for the government to recognize that they violated both the municipal law and human rights. For background on this event, read our blog. For the full position statement from FESPAD, visit their position paper, published in the Diario Colatino. For more background under the “Read More” tab, Equipo Maíz has published a informative comic.
Nov. 1st is All Saints Day in the Catholic Tradition and Nov. 2ndis Día de los Fieles Difuntos, or Day of the Dead in El Salvador. In honor of these traditions and as part of their work for truth, justice, and reparations, the Pro-historic Memory Coalition organized an ecumenical service to commemorate the martyrs of El Salvador.
Madre Guadalupe Mejía of the Committee of the Family Members of the Disappeared (CODEFAM) and SHARE Board member, opened the commemoration with a stirring reminder of the still unfulfilled right to truth and justice and call to continue forward with the struggle.
“We gather to remember our martyrs. We want to know the truth about our loved ones, what happened to them so we can give them a Christian burial. We must create justice because otherwise this will continue happening. And the reparations, both moral and material, which we have a right to as family members of victims. We have to say to the government, here we are waiting. Mauricio Funes’ government has in its hands the reparations policy we presented to them in November 2009 and we still have not advanced. Wherever we are we have to remind them that they have a debt and we are waiting.
“We also invite other family members to join us in one united front to continue in this struggle. We cannot stay with our arms crossed. We must remember our family members. Their death was not in vain. Let us remember who were the disappeared? They were children, youth and adults and they took their lives away just because they fought for a better country with no hunger, with justice, with true peace. We have to continue forward with pride until we achieve reparations, justice and truth. This is what we want.”