Remembering God's love — a prayer - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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In El Zaite, El Salvador, older community members share memories.

During Lent we are called to prayer. There are different ways to define or describe prayer. To converse with God; to praise and give thanks to God; simply to notice other people and all creation — all of these can be forms of prayer. Another is to remember.

Jews celebrate Passover and other religious festivals throughout the year. The word in ancient Hebrew for these religious celebrations is zikkaron (memorial reenactment), from the verb zakar, which translates as to remember. In celebrating their religious festivals, Jews remember the saving action of God in their lives. As recounted in the Gospels, Jesus and the apostles actively participated in these religious observances.

Participants of the group recalled joys as well as great hardships and losses.

El Patronato, the community center in El Zaite where Liz and I work, recently started a group for ancianos/as (older persons). Programs for older people in El Salvador are almost nonexistent. The founding of El Zaite was part of a resettlement of internally displaced people as the civil war in El Salvador was coming to an end in the early 1990s.

The older generation of men and women in the community have experienced great hardship and suffering, and while a culture of silence prevailed following the war, they have lived to tell their stories.

We had our second gathering of the group this past week. One of the goals for this group is to promote health and self-care, and so the agenda included participants being weighed and having their blood pressure and oxygen levels measured.

The medical care was provided by two nursing students, young women in our Tú Decides (You Decide) teen program, who volunteered their time and talent as a service to their community. It was wonderful to witness the interaction between the younger and older generations.

Another goal is to provide opportunity for socializing and connecting with one another. Before the medical part of the program, we had an activity focused on sharing memories from childhood. The facilitator passed a ball to each person and asked them to recall a happy memory and a sad memory from their childhood. The sharing provided a catharsis of sorts. It was incredibly moving to hear these elderly people share their memories.

We heard about intimate moments with loved ones who are no longer with us, experiences of hard work and lack of essential resources, fun celebrations and childhood games, precious friendships, and great sacrifices made by parents and grandparents.

This sharing stirred memories of common experiences and circumstances, even little things like certain clothes and favorite foods. There was a lot of laughter, but with the recollection of hardship and loss, tears were shed as well. In remembering — the good and the bad — we prayed.

During this season of Lent, may we heed the call to prayer and may we all be blessed with the gift of remembering the saving action of Love in our lives.

Two nursing students from our teen group provided health check-ups.

Community members shared happy and sad memories.

The sharing provided a catharsis of sorts and was incredibly moving.

Bob Cunningham
Working together with his wife, Liz, at Patronato Lidia Coggiola, Bob Cunningham accompanies and supports the education and empowerment of the people in El Zaite, El Salvador, particularly children, adolescents and women.