A ‘Holy Week’ - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
Home » MKLM » A ‘Holy Week’

Participants of the Friends Across Borders trip to El Salvador visit the watershed where the Monte San Juan Parish has been doing environmental work.

On March 2, 2024 nine visitors were welcomed to El Salvador for a six-day Friends Across Borders immersion experience with Maryknoll Lay Missioners. One could say it was a “Holy Week” experience. The warm welcome by all of the seven active lay missioners (and the Altman children, Eli and Evey), retired missioner Ann Greig and Maryknoll priests resembled a festive Palm Sunday arrival. We felt the anticipation of a special opportunity to listen with our hearts and minds to consider the lives of the people of El Salvador.

The days quickly immersed us in the lived experience of the Salvadoran martyrs and the many people who suffered deeply through years of civil war, trauma and violent situations. It was a sobering reality to know that many of the people we were meeting knew first-hand the pain of loss, fear and struggles. I felt moments when there were no words — at the murder site of Sisters Maura and Ita, Jean Donovan and Sister Dorothy, the church where Archbishop Óscar Romero was killed, and the university where the six Jesuit priests were murdered — there was just the silence of a Good Friday.

And still, each day we met the amazing people that Pete and Melissa Altman serve through the Soy Program, the joyful children and women helped by Bob and Liz Cunningham through the Patronato, the hopeful youth and families impacted by Josh Wetmore in the El Cedro community, and the engaged members of the environmental and agricultural pastoral social of Peg Vámosy’s parish community at Monte San Juan.

These Salvadorans did not live in resentment and lamentation, their lives spoke of deep faith, love for one another and yes, great hope for the future. The adults are focused on addressing the challenges in their lives for today, and the children and youth embody the determination to change their reality for the better through education and hard work while embracing the best of their culture and history. Difficulties exist, and there are many — extensive poverty, unequitable distribution of wealth, low access to education, and political vigilance that has mixed results, to name a few. However, I left El Salvador with the hope of the seeds that have taken root as St. Óscar Romero predicted.

For me, the reflections that remained at the end of each day arose from the dedication I saw and heard from the lay missioners in their commitment to live and work beside Salvadorans. In Asuchio, we witnessed the poor serving their neighbors whom they consider poorer. Like these ordinary leaders in the Asuchio community, together, lay missioners in El Salvador are about extraordinary service that includes accompaniment and sharing with humility and joy.

This resurrection hope extends beyond one country and one people. During the very same time of this Friends Across Boarders trip, the situation in Haiti grew increasingly violent and uncertain for the Haitian people — and for Sami Scott, the lay missioner still living in Gros Morne.

The situation led us to the decision to evacuate Sami for her safety. It was not an easy decision for Sami because she continues to live in solidarity with the plight of ordinary Haitians who must navigate the violence and complex political developments in the country. Sami and many around the world wait in hopeful prayer, advocacy and action for the Good Friday of Haiti to see a glimpse of the peace and joy of an Easter Sunday.

And so the story of the Passion of Christ is not all in the past. We just need to look around the world. The reality of suffering, communion, fragile humanity, hope and resurrection against great odds is repeated over and over.

I thought of Maryknoll Lay Missioners as I read these words by St. Óscar Romero: “Those who believe that my preaching is political and that it provokes violence as though I were the cause of all evil in the republic, forget that the word of the church is not inventing the evil that exists in the world, instead it illuminates them. The light illuminates what exists, it does not create it.”

As people of faith, we celebrate Easter Sunday, knowing that we are not alone. Maryknoll lay missioners endeavor to journey with marginalized communities and individuals who are living on the margins of society to bear witness to the good news of Easter!

Elvira Ramirez
Elvira Ramirez is Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ executive director.