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There Hope for the Future of El Salvador?
El Salvador lived through a twelve-year war. It was a war between two factions of brothers. By the end of the war, there was no work, but everybody knew how to use the arms of war. In El Salvador today there are 175,000 registered arms and 450,000 illegal ones. Today we have lots of other wars among all these brothers: the war against hunger, the war against poverty, the war against robbery, kidnappers, Emaras (groups of youths organized into gangs), the war of ambition, and the clash of economic and political powers. For some, arms help them to eat; for others, they make them wealthy. For the society, arms foster a culture of death and chaos.
Is there hope, given this panorama? As long as there is faith, there is hope. And there is hope because along with these delinquent groups there are lots of other anonymous groups that maintain an ethic of respect, justice, and love towards one another. But these groups are not noticed. Its just like the way that it is noticeable when there is an airplane accident, but no one notices the thousands of flights that complete their routes without incident. There are millions of good acts of kindness for each act of violence happening in El Salvador. The good acts are not noticed, only the bad ones.
With the hope of certainty we have to keep working on the conscience of each individual: through the churches, with a preferential option for the poor; through NGOs; and moreover, from the testimonies of those who are convinced that there is a future.
There are also other non-governmental organizations that work to awaken the conscience of groups and individuals towards the culture of life.
I dont believe that the official institutions, with their rules and prisons, can solve these problems, nor do I believe that those churches that pretend to impose order, with threats of sins and hell, can change anyones conscience. There is much more profound work to be done. The example of those who live and believe in harmony is apparently slower and more difficult work. Bad deeds are contagious, but good deeds are contagious as well.
"You will be what you believe," Wayne W. Dyer tells us in his excellent book EI Poder del Espiritu (The Power of the Spirit). We believe in real change. There is faith and hope and we will change, because in our believing there is the action of those who are sowing. And the sowing will bear fruits when the time is due.
The work is slow, difficult and sometimes painful. But here we come, "God first," as the Salvadorians say, and we are going to make a better El Salvador for our children because the sowing is coming true.
Years of Ministry in the Anglican Episcopal Church in El Salvador
I came from Nicaragua to El Salvador on March 14, 1972. I was enthused about a Salvadorian group known as CREFAC due to the social work that I saw them doing. I understood that churches like the Anglican Episcopal Church still had no impact on the society.
I thought that our Church would have more impact if I got engaged in social work with people who had been set aside from society. I was left alone in San Salvador, aside from the hope that a priest would come within the next three months to help me out but he arrived eight years later.
Years later, my church, San Juan Evangelista, would appear on the embassys list of "suspicious places."
I had the idea of creating CREDHO (Consciousness for the Spiritual and Economic Recovery of Humankind) when I noticed that the CREFAC organization was not a changing structure, and it had no pressure on social structures.
I preferred to give the people some integral breath and to show them their process toward liberation, rather than teaching them to pray. Through CREDHO, we attempted to create a consciousness among the people on how and why they were in their social context, that is to say, to wake them up. Some foreigners told me that we were scaring people by making them protest against hunger, and they were right. We worked organizing cooperatives, agricultural and cattle departments, community organizations, medical and psychological clinics, and we acquired a farm called La Florida in Santa Ana, which is still operating. CREDHO became so popular that it was nationally known.
CREDHO was ferment for the church. We prepared the ground for seeding; we sowed and harvested the church. In 1975, I got the juridical capacity for CREDHO and it legally separated from the Church, but it has continued collaborating with the Church whenever it proves useful.
By the mid-70s, the foreigners had moved out of San Juan. I had spent four years writing the Eucharist bulletin in English and another in Spanish, but the English-speaking community that I found upon my arrival was no longer there. During U.S. Ambassador Ann Pattersons period, she never missed a Sunday coming to church with her husband David, and at present, the only ones who visit with us are a family of U.S. embassy personnel.
During the 1989 military offensive, two days after the murder of the Jesuit priests, I was arrested and imprisoned by the National Guard. I was then sent initially to Mariona prison, and from there to Santa Ana prison. I spent 45 days in prison and was interrogated. I remember that when I was being transferred to Santa Ana prison, a guard tied my thumbs, such that two years later I still could not move them. I was condemned for carrying corn and beans packs in my pickup truck for one thousand refugees that we had in San Juan. I was accused of helping the offensive, together with [Roman Catholic] Bishop Medardo Gomez.
The killing of the Jesuit priests created reactions. It was maintained abroad that another priest was in prison; the international pressure collaborated to save my life. At that time, they did not distinguish between a Roman Catholic priest and an Anglican Episcopal priest. I was just one more priest.
In the 90s, the countrys history was changed by the signing of the Peace Accords. The Churchs path also took a turn. Political prosecutions had ceased, and the time came to make an emphasis on pastoral work, without setting aside our commitment to minister with the poor. In 1992, a captain was already at the helm of our ship, and together we would seek new ways, make new goals and take new steps. We had a new bishop, the Right Reverend Martin Barahona.
In 1991, Bishop Barahona was consecrated as the first native Salvadorian bishop in the Anglican Church. His first years were to explore diocesan possibilities. Through 1994 he devoted his time to training the clergy and his office staff, addressing their needs and carrying out the planned work.
Now, he has completed ten successful years in the episcopacy. The bishop and his pastoral team have immersed themselves in the Salvadorian reality, devoting a great deal of time to ecumenical work. They have been committed to important themes, such as: women rights, poverty, delinquency, emigrants, public security, and, after the recent earthquakes, to national reconstruction.
The Rev. Luis Serrano is rector of Iglesia San Juan Evangelista in San Salvador, El Salvador, and director of CREDHO, an ecumenical social action organization. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org