I hope your not-so-new-anymore Year 2020 is off to a great start!
Here in El Salvador, I continue trying to help people realize that we have to change the way we live if there is to be a planet left for future generations. No one likes change, especially if it means leaving behind comforts and conveniences, so it is an uphill battle. But I am encouraged when I see a few more people planting trees, using fewer plastic bags, rejecting Styrofoam plates and cups or recycling bottles and cans—or even better, choosing to make and drink natural fruit juices instead of purchasing all those bottled beverages.
For the last year, our parish environmental ministry has been trying to develop a watershed management plan for one of our rivers. We are working with the national Departments of Agriculture and of Environment and Natural Resources as well as the municipal governments of the four towns through which the river flows. Over the last year, we’ve collected some data from the river and from groups of people involved in each town.
Now we are working to get even more people on board, especially those who irrigate crops with water from the river. They will be the ones most directly affected by any changes made, so it is important that they be part of process. It takes a lot of patience and persistence to call them to yet another meeting when they failed to show up to the ones before, and to look for ways to help them realize how vital the stewardship of water is. The government technicians are always impressed that it is our parish environmental group that took the initiative and that keeps reigniting the process each time it sputters.
Our parish agricultural group also continues to promote sustainable agriculture. It’s not easy for families to change their farm practices for new ones that often require more work and from which the results are not so spectacular at the beginning. Many people who have experienced hunger, understably tell us, “We need to have enough corn and beans to survive.” But that keeps them from taking the risk of growing their staple crops without chemical fertilizer or diversifying into other crops. Still, I encourage them to try small plots, and the results we’ve had in our community field are being noticed. We’ve also started a poultry project, trying to grow most of the grains necessary to feed the chickens.
I also continue supporting leadership development and promote active participation in society so that the rights of all will finally be respected and the common good will take priority over personal gain. This year will be campaign time for municipal elections, and our parish efforts will include training people to be more conscious and critical of what is being said and promised. Too often people here tend to vote for whoever throws the best fiesta, gives free meals or T-shirts at rallies, or promises tin roofing for their homes. Our hope is that someday they will actually be able to experience a government that does what the people need and demand, instead of just waiting to see what the winner offers after helping him/herself to public funds like most of the previous administrations.
Last year we put a lot of effort into learning more about the Salvadoran martyrs, of whom there are many more than just St. óscar Romero. Numerous other priests, religious and lay people were also killed during the country’s civil war of the 1970s and 80s, and the history of those years is not being taught well, as the politically and economically powerful aren’t interested in the truth being told.
Last Nov. 16 was the 30th anniversary of the killing of the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the Central American University in San Salvador. I attended the commemorations along with some people from our parish, who were excited to learn more about the impact the lives and deaths of those martyrs had on their country. This year will be the 40th anniversary, not only of the slaying of Archbishop Romero (March 24) but also of the four U.S. churchwomen martyred here as well. Every year we missioners and many Salvadorans commemorate their martyrdom on Dec. 2, remembering the two Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missioner Jean Donovan who were killed by the Salvadoran military in 1980.
Amid all of this I share daily life among the simple Salvadoran people, rejoicing in their triumphs and crying with their sorrowing: Recently the daughter of a hard-working, humble couple earned her teaching degree. Fátima is now the fourth of their nine children to graduate from college! My landlord, whose common-law wife took off for the US a little over a year ago with their two daughters, now has a new wife (legally married) and they are expecting a baby soon!
My next door neighbor, Isabel, died on Dec. 26 after almost three years on dialysis. Her wake—all night and until the next afternoon—and the following nine days of evening prayers were all held at my house in our common yard. Her nieces, who lived with her, are not Catholic, so it was up to us neighbors and other family members to carry out her wishes for the usual rituals. It was very interesting to see how much the nieces appreciated the community support during those days. And the last night everyone enjoyed tamales and coffee and live music!
I hope that you are having more joys than sorrows in your life, and that 2020 will be a year of even more happiness and peace for you and yours.
Love and prayers,
P.S.: If you haven’t seen it already, you may want to watch a new video that features some of my work: mklm.org/sustainable-agriculture-in-el-salvador/