The Casa de la Solidaridad (www.scu.edu/casa) is a semester-long, Santa Clara University-sponsored study abroad program in El Salvador. The following is an edited version of a reflection given by Katie Dorner, of Gonzaga University, at the farewell Mass for the fall semester. The “praxis sites” she refers to are the field placements for the students in the program; many people from those communities attended the Mass. In her talk, Dorner refers to Dean Brackley, S.J., co-founder of the Casa program. He was one of the six Jesuits who moved to El Salvador to help replace the six who were murdered in 1989. Brackley died of pancreatic cancer in October. His death was noted here and here on In All Things.
Thanks to our friend Gene Palumbo for sending Katie's reflection:
Last Wednesday was our final praxis day in Las Nubes, a community that has been like a home to me for the past four months. I am so blessed that some of my family in Las Nubes is here with us today. My praxis partners Allison and Katherine and I brought a bag of assorted art supplies for the kids in Las Nubes on Wednesday. Doing that was a leap of faith: the kids are so active – always playing soccer and mica and flying kites – that we didn’t know if they’d be interested in doing art. But they were. Of course, not everything went as planned. When Jamie tried to pass a packet of glitter to his brother Isaiah, the wind got a hold of it and we all ended up covered with glitter – this, to the resounding laughter of the kids.
Our idea was for them to make whatever they wanted; it was never for them to make things for us. Yet we left that day laden with cards and drawings. This has been a theme throughout my time in El Salvador: receiving so much more than I could ever give. I left Las Nubes with arms full of art projects, and I will leave this country with a heart full of the most incredible love I have ever known.
In the first reading today (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11), Isaiah says the Lord has anointed him to bring good tidings to the afflicted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to grant to those who mourn the oil of gladness. I think that when we North Americans go to another country, sometimes our idea is to use our privilege to help the supposedly “lowly.” But when we got to El Salvador, we Casa students came to see that we, too, are the afflicted, the captives, the mourning. When we realized that we all carry pain and that we are all broken, we were better able to see how connected we were to other people.
To know God’s love we have to humble our hearts. Each time I found myself in Las Nubes, it was as if I were receiving an invitation to this love. When a plastic chair was pulled out for me as I entered another’s home, it was as if God were asking me to sit down and to admit that my humanity is just as fragile as that of the person in front of me. But this was always an invitation; it was always a choice.
In the second reading (1 Thes 5:16-24), we hear that the One who calls us is faithful, is trustworthy. Confianza (trust) is what our new Salvadoran friends freely gave us from the beginning – whether those friends were the people at our praxis sites welcoming us into their homes, or the dear cooks in our residences, who loved us as if we were their own, or the Salvadoran scholarship students in a sister project, the Romero program.
After the death of Father Dean Brackley, I remember walking into the kitchen at our residence and hugging Lidia, our cook, who knew Dean well; and I remember her saying, with calmness and courage, “but we have each other.” Whether they are saying this or showing it through actions, this is what my Salvadoran friends keep bringing me back to: no matter what has happened or will happen to us, we have each other, and this is a love that is strong enough to endure.
Each year, Casa students have the privilege of spending a week in the countryside. This semester, I was blessed to stay with an incredible family in Nueva Trinidad. There were many moments of grace with them, but one in particular I will never forget. One of the brothers, Robi, had been telling me all week about a place they often visit where you can see Honduras. On the last night of the week, we walked up to this sacred place. As we went to sit down, Robi picked an old bullet off the ground and told me that some were still there from the war. Earlier that week he had asked me what my favorite part of being in El Salvador was, and I told him it was that the people here love with their whole hearts. He said he thought that this might be so because, having experienced a terrible war and having known that pain, they never want anyone else to hurt like that, and so their response is love. Maybe a love that never wants to hurt is exactly what grace is, exactly how God loves us.
As I sat down, there was a slight breeze and all I could see was green: the mountains near and distant, all of the trees, and even little green birds. It was astounding to think that this beautiful place had known the violence of the war, and that people could have been so violent in such a sacred place.
The second reading also says, “May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness.” During my time in El Salvador I have often thought about why violence and injustice are part of the country, or part of any country for that matter. Maybe it is because we doubt our capacity to be holy people, and the power of peace that is our God. If we believed ourselves to be fully capable of goodness, maybe our sacred lands would stay sacred and we would feel our own holiness.
In today’s Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28), John acknowledges that he himself is not the light. Like John, we are not the light but we can be light in our own ways, fragments of the one Light shining together to reveal a world loved by God and a people walking with Christ. Like John, we are messengers of a greater love. We are grateful to have known so many of you whose light shines onto this path of greater love. I have had glimpses of this light in Anita, who has dedicated her life to the faith community of El Pueblo de Dios en Camino (The People of God on the Journey); in Hector, in the way he accompanied us; in William, in the guidance he offered us; and in the cooks, who have given us so much love. I know that I could name so many more and the other students could also name many who have illuminated their paths. Father Dean Brackley was right when he said that our hearts would be broken in El Salvador. Our hearts have been broken open to knowing a love that brings us closer to one another, and to knowing the grace of God. You will all be so missed, but today let us celebrate the memories and life we have shared together in the past few months.