A Journey for Life

By Fr. Gerald Waris,

This essay originally appeared in Hearts of Flesh published by the Salvador Faith Accompaniment Committee in May, 2006. To read the e-book, go here (PDF).

In 1988 I was privileged, though I did not know it at the time, to join a national delegation to El Salvador. Because it was the time when there was armed conflict among the people of this small country, we were very much aware of the danger we could encounter and the fear we were to experience.

When we returned home safely, we expressed our gratitude for our lives, for the comfort of our homes, for the security of our lives; we also expressed a need to return because our lives had forever been changed by the wonderful people who were facing oppression and hardship.

Most of us did return the next year with groups from our own parishes; most of us returned the year after that, and the year after that; and we continue to enjoy the wonderful friendship, companionship, solidarity and love of our Salvadoran sisters and brothers.

When people asked me: Why do you to go El Salvador?

I would answer, “It is such a rewarding experience,” or “It is as though we are on retreat,” or “We meet such wonderful people…”

The real reason was best articulated by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Dean Brackley. After having journeyed many times to El Salvador, I met Dean for the first time when our delegation was given a slot of time to meet with him. We arrived at the Jesuit University that day to be greeted by this dynamic man. He asked us where we were from. Some in the group said, Milwaukee, Des Moines or Minnesota. When we said we were from Kansas City, he remarked that he is not sure what it is about Kansas City and El Salvador, but there is a strong relationship. He said there is always someone here from Kansas City. (We were honored to host him in Feb. 2005 for a weekend.)

He then asked us, “Who is here for the first time?” When several people raised their hands, he remarked that something would happen. He said, “You will fall in love here and you will be ruined for life.”

Those of us who have been once, twice or more than ten times can truly testify: We have been ruined for life. What continues to bring us back is not the what but the who the beautiful people who have asked us to accompany them on their journey in life, and, with them, to pave the road of freedom and justice.

One of my most memorable and important events with the Salvadorans ironically took place not in El Salvador but the United States. Not in Kansas City, but in Washington, D.C. It was September of 1991.

In the spring of the 1991, the SHARE Foundation began to organize groups from every city and state in the country. The goal was to invite representatives from every state to rally in Washington, D.C. This was to take place in September to coincide with a visit from a Salvadoran delegation. We were to join our voices as one to make a plea to the Senators and Representatives to stop the flow of military equipment and aid to the Salvadoran army.

We met on that Tuesday night, Sept. 23, for a prayer service and vigil; there were ten of us from Kansas City who represented our state and diocese. On the morning of the 24th, we gathered for a brief prayer and then were asked to visit every Senator and Representative from our districts. The plan was to inform each Congress person of the situation; most generally the individuals were not aware of what was going on. We also made a personal appeal to garner a vote to cease the flow of arms to El Salvador. In effect what was taking place was a March on Washington with an appeal to each man or woman of Congress.

Was the day successful? One of those whom we met, Rep. Alan Wheat, commended us for our approach. He mentioned that most people who ask for a meeting want something for themselves or the company they represent (lobbyist).

He said, “You have come here to ask help for those who have no voice but whose lives are affected by decisions this body of legislators make.” He listened.

We were all delighted we made the trip to Washington. We joined with people from all over this country for a common cause. Our presence together gave us strength for the mission. Our common voice was the plea of the broken hearted and poor of El Salvador.

And, for that we were indeed blessed and privileged. When the peace accords were signed in January of the following year, when the flow of military aid began to dry up, we all felt we were part of an historic event and in some small way we had lent our voices, time and efforts to bring God’s peace.

 

 

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