Yanira’s Story, by Michael Reyes

A lot of the stories we’ve heard seem different at times but are still related. Listening to Capirio’s story one would immediately realize that he is pro-FMLN from his red star FMLN Baret. His story that followed of course was consistent with his values. I did like hearing his story since he spoke honestly and humbly. It was not some political ad that was trying to get us to support the FMLN party today. It wasn’t a speech full of hate although he had many reasons to hate. However, when I heard Yanira Muñoz there was a different tone to her speech.

Her story is one that all the civilians, who suffered from the war the most, shared in. In her town of Tenancingo, the guerrillas encountered the army after the guerrillas had taken the town a second time in 1983. What followed was a loss for the army, but the commander of the platoons was called in an airstrike and claimed that there were no civilians, only guerillas. This was a lie.

Yanira, at 7 years old, had to run away from bombs and bullets from planes and helicopters. Her story is an escape from death, which I think is the story that holds more weight than any side that claims they were right. These civilians were the ones who suffered tremendously more than either of the sides who were fighting the war. Furthermore, she found a hero who was able to help out the victims of war: Madre Yvonne.

Yvonne Degroot was a missionary from Belgium who was helping the citizens of Tenancingo and other towns. She helped get food for them, and kept them safe by providing some refuge. She even was able to get Tenancingo repopulated after contact with the guerillas and the army commanders, even reproaching them for not upholding their agreements with her to disarm Tenancingo.

Personally, hearing Yanira’s story reminded me of my values and even gave me a role model. Madre Yvonne helped in the best manner; she was neutral and very active. Yanira’s story is important to me and I think it is important for people to be reminded of who suffers from war.

I Fell in Love, by Arnold Dates

Who could have known in just two days a seventeen year old boy could form an unbreakable love with a seventy-six year old woman? The love I have experienced is of a supernatural one that floods from a well that ceases to dry. By well… I mean Victorina Maria from the village of El Junquillo, El Salvador.

It pains my heart to know that I will never see her again, but her impact on my life is one that will be cherished for eternity. Each morning Victorina wakes me and my bunkmate Osman up by gently rocking our hammocks and simply whispering in the softest voice, “Levantanse, Levantanse” (Wake up, Wake up). In the afternoon she dances with me barefoot on her dirt floors as Latin music plays to tunes that only she understands. In the night, she makes it her priority to help us into our hammocks so we get a good night’s rest. Her acts of kindness only help to justify her as the sweetest person I have ever encountered in my life.

Her patience is unmatchable as she showers me with questions in Spanish only to get the response from me, “si”, over and over again. Her generosity is unrelenting as she wakes up from her sleep at two a.m. to hold a flashlight that illuminates my path to the outhouse, to make sure I have made it there okay.

Her smile… Her toothless smile brings forth tears to my eyes as a warm surge of chills hits me to the bone. I can only reminisce of her tender presence, but I can vividly picture images of her smiling that make my stomach churn as I smile a smile of endearment.

Late at night she told me that I was one of her own children now, and she would miss me more than words could describe. Upon hearing this I turned my head and grunted as I tried to hide the warm tears that now had stained my face. I hugged her for a minute and laid my head to rest knowing I had to break up with the love of my life in the morning.

Writing this is nearly impossible as my heart longs for her and there is nothing I can do to fulfill my hearts desires. The love she gave me is one that settles in my heart, breathing, as I journey through life trying to find this unparalleled love again.

Pongan Rosas, by John Grindey

Cautiously walking into the Jesuit Garden, I was numb. Numb to my feelings and numb to my experiences. Prior to walking into the garden, we were faced with the gruesome and atrocious reality of the murder of the six Jesuit priests and two women.

Having been forced to look through photo albums which illuminated this reality, my classmates and I were bewildered by the barbaric nature of what happened on the 16th of November in 1989.

Now, in the garden, I began to observe my surroundings. I began to attentively make notice of how I was feeling. Having been instructed to separate and sit down somewhere in the garden, I chose to sit next to the door which housed the six Jesuit priests. In the light of Saint Ignatius, I allowed my imagination to command my time of reflection. I was imagining what the scene must have looked like as it was unfolding. I then began to tremble. Having my eyes closed, the chilling reality of the events that took place here truly made me quiver in fear.

 

In the silence which loomed on the surface of this place, I was left empty. Empty to my feelings and empty to my emotions. I authentically desired to experience a physical response to the sadness and heartache which this place and event holds. However, the roses. I saw the roses. Instantly I was brought back to the Garden of Innocence at El Mozote. This garden was the place where around 150 innocent children were tragically murdered. In this garden, there was a single rose. As I exited this place, I told myself to keep the memory of that rose in mind. Now, back to the Jesuit Garden, I saw many roses. I naturally compared these to the one rose at El Mozote.

In a concrete observation, the roses in this garden were all facing down. Only a few of them were upright, rather the roses were almost drooping. Not knowing what to do with this, I again let my imagination take over. This imagination was not one of stories and anecdotes, but more of reimagining. I saw everyone began to line up around the garden for a prayer and I was still sitting. Seeing my classmates, my brothers, walking all in a line, the roses all of a sudden came to me. I am the rose. We are the roses. I began to encourage myself to think beyond the idea of “planting roses” as a metaphor for action, rather reimagine myself as the rose. In this realization, I began to categorize it into two main factors: what is a rose and what does it mean to be a rose? In the context of El Salvador and based on my experience with the trip, the rose represents hope. I, we, are hope. In the communities of Junquillo and La Hacienda, Mr. Broyles approached the scholarship students and made it clear to them that they are the hope for the future.

These parents want their kids to attend school in hope that they will create a new and better society in El Salvador. Again, they are reimagining a new and better world through their kids. Now, examining the question of what it means to be a rose, I want to relate this to my own life.

Hope in this world can be manifested in many different ways and is often characterized with people who are “agents of change” and people who make drastic changes in the world. However, again I am reimagining how one can effectively manifest hope in their life. I am brought to my own home. In contemplating how I can create hope, I engage in a simple reflection. How can I be a better son, brother, friend, boyfriend, cousin, and student?

How can I continue to live my life more virtuously and have it aimed at not necessarily being the most successful and make the most money, but rather how can I be more like a saint? How can I live like Jesus? In summary, gazing onto the roses at the Jesuit Garden, I was inspired to be the rose. I encourage us to be the rose which pollinates a world which is fundamentally broken. In our re-imagination, we learn what the rose really represents: hope.

We are the roses.

Expectations, by Jack Taylor

Having been on other immersion trips such as Guatemala and KBI, I did not think this El Salvador experience would have a sustaining impact on me; I was completely wrong. Not only has this trip enlightened me on the realities the Salvadoran people experience everyday, but it has also redefined what I think a hero is.

Yesterday we visited the Jesuit University of Central America in San Salvador. It is the sight where the Salvadoran Army brutally murdered six Jesuit priests and two women in 1989. I knew walking through the Jesuit garden would be impactful, but I did not experience the emotions I thought I would. While I did feel sadness and also anger, most of all, I felt inspired.

The priests knew how dangerous it was to be at the University during the civil war, yet they felt called to serve the people of El Salvador. They fought for the rights of those who could not fight for themselves. They were not doing it to one day be remembered, but rather because they truly loved the El Salvadoran people. I no longer see sports stars, celebrities, or even the military as heroes, but rather those people who stand at the foot of the cross with the marginalized.

In my own life, I have always felt some pressure to follow a certain path. While that path has never been explicitly defined, I have always assumed my life will involve getting a degree, getting a high paying job, and supporting a large family. While these can all be good things, I think that too often in society, people look up to those with a lot of money, or power, or influence. They want to emulate or even become those people in their own lives. I have come to see my heroes or role models as people like Oscar Romero and the Jesuit martyrs, and I hope that others can do the same.

We should want to be known for our humility and compassion rather than wealth and power. My parents are so loving and supporting and in no way have they ever told me that is the life that they want me to live. However, through social, familial, and other constructs, I have always felt like that is the path I am set on. I find myself slipping into a sense of complacency with this as well.

Whenever I have thought about breaking from this path, I eventually just revert back to the same mindset. Whether my boomerang self-expectations are because of my brothers, or the rhetoric I hear from my friends about their dream lives, I have always carried the burden of expectations that I live my life a certain way.

To be clear, you can still do great things with a business degree or any degree for that matter, but I know that God is calling me to something more than “just a business degree.”

All of us on this trip have the capability to thrive in any field of study and live “safe” lives, but after experiencing the devastation and heartbreak that is this El Salvador trip, we know that our lives must be centered around helping the oppressed people of the world. I challenge everyone to redefine what they think a hero is and who their role models are. Then, they should do everything possible to emulate those people’s lives in whatever walk of life they choose.

A Mother’s Love, by Victor Beck

The day before my freshman year, my mother passed away. She was a woman of complete and absolute love and beauty. My sisters and I look back on our time with our mother with nothing but happiness and joy.

She instilled within us the importance of approaching the world with an insatiable desire to learn and grow. While going to El Salvador, I put her teaching at the forefront of my mind.

Ignacia, my host mom in La Hacienda, is a stoic beauty. Her eyes could simultaneously give you the chills and warm your heart to the point of melting with a single glance. She is the mother of two incredibly wise and loving girls.

 

 

Gloria and Margarita are two girls who if you had the privilege of meeting them, would instantly see the pervasiveness to which their light could reach. The wisdom that exuded from every little action they committed, reverberated and brought joy to everyone around them.

My first interaction with Gloria was her reminding me to fill up my water bottle before going out, and if it were raining both the girls would do their best to assure we had an umbrella and clothing that would keep us warm and comfortable. After a day of working in the corn fields, fertilizing the crops and a vigorous soccer tournament Patrick and I were seemingly dead to the world.

Ignacia was locking up the chicken pen for the night when the lights started to turn off. I was already half asleep when I felt a blanket cascade across my body. Ignacia had noticed that I was sleeping only with a towel, and without me asking had automatically stepped in to ensure I would be comfortable. This small interaction lead me to think back to the time my mother would do that for me.

The love a mother has for her child is one that is everlasting and has no limits. The love I felt from Ignacia that night was a mothers love, a love that I haven’t felt for three years. It is in those small expressions of love where we can begin to grow and encounter each other. Finally, allowing ourselves to see all the beautiful forms that humanity is capable of taking.

 

Fresh from the Garden: A reflection on the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, by Justin Smith

I was pissed at first. Well, not exactly. When I saw some of the first photos of the aftermath of the murders I was sad, initially, and disgusted on a physical level. Those bastards, I thought, enjoyed watching them suffer. This wasn’t a calculated silencing of political opponents. This was a party, to the soldiers. It took me sometime to calm down from that. It was the same rage I felt when I was told the soldiers at El Mozote skewered babies with bayonets. How could such a culture arise in the military that so easily turns men into monsters?

The garden represented something different. It calmed me down, for one thing. It was shocking at first to know that the front lawn captured in the background of so many of the photos was that close to us, to me. Now the bits of brain and blood were replaced with roses. I know that it might have been disrespectful, but I wish the martyrs were buried here rather than the stone chapel a block away. They don’t live on through plaques in a wall, unmoving. They live on in the garden, in the voice that saw this place of death and said, “Pongan rosas.”

Sometimes, when confronted with a grave, I talk to the person buried there- it’s pretty one-sided. This time, however, I talked to God. In that moment, I was scared about the prospect of serving God in such a dramatic way. I didn’t want to be the subject of one of those gruesome photos. Sometimes, we all want the fundamental concept of Prosperity Gospel- that serving God leads to physical rewards- to be true. But, like Jesus, we are called to take on the suffering of the world, to put our dedication to God above everything else. And every now and then, we are called to prove it.

I ended that experience with the Jesuit garden feeling a desire for commitment. I’m still not sure what that looks like, but I want to keep that feeling alive. A few hours later, during a reflection, I wrote this poem in an attempt to channel that same emotion.

Please, Lord, help me to bear the weight

Of the burden of belief in you.

Never leave my side

Grow me into something beautiful

And fitting for your Kingdom.

Now I know what I would do if in their shoes.

 

Run.

Of course I would. Without you, Lord, I am centered around myself.

So help me be a man for others.

And if that means my brothers will be praying ‘round my grave

So be it.

Uncomfortably Numb, by Henry Nelson

I didn’t expect to feel what I felt. The garden itself had a different essence than the rest of El Mozote. We walked in a silent line, single file, into the “Jardines de los Inocentes”, the burial place for 149 children… casualties of the infamous massacre. Even after learning about the devastating truths of this massacre for the past few months, it wasn’t until I knelt next to one of the countless plaques of names that I actually began to feel something. But it wasn’t the consuming sadness I expected.

Instead, I was consumed by fear. Not due to Monterosa’s cruelty. Not afraid of my own safety in the area. Rather, as I reflect on this experience, I realize this fear stems from the fact that I wasn’t sad.

I had lost touch with my humanity to such an extent that I couldn’t feel for a garden of 149 dead, innocent, children. Day after day, my life in the United States forces me to confront horrific headlines, “12 dead in Mosque”, “31 dead in school shooting”, “52 dead after bombings”, teaching my heart to harden to what was happening in our world. Kneeling alone in that transcendent garden, I felt the gravity of that harsh reality crush me. I needed to learn to feel, and thus I turned to God.

I sought out a capacity for compassion, longing for the day in which I could know their heartbreak. In that moment, I remembered the people of El Junquillo and La Hacienda. I remembered Carlos, my friend who danced with me as we celebrated his second birthday and always greeted me with his beautiful smile.

I remembered Maria Teresa, my gracious host with such powerfully inspiring dreams for someone in her economic condition. I remembered Rene, my kind host in El Junquillo who opened up his heart to me about those he had lost in the civil war.

These were the types of people who had died in that fateful day of December 11, 1981. They were kind… they had dreams… they were children. Children who had no part in the grown-up conflict around them, who could have been the spark needed to change to world.

Now my eyes were welling up and the hardened seal was finally broken as the first of many tears streamed down my face. It was one of the worst feelings I had ever experienced, but at the same time it was one of the best, most liberating experiences I could have asked for. In a society in which emotions come at an unfortunate premium, the ability to feel has become the most inspiring gifts I could have asked for on this journey.

 

In the Garden of the Innocents, by Osman Servin

As soon as we landed in San Salvador, I was nervous that my heart was going to be broken. As Marcos Gonzalez, S.J. told us in one of our lunchtime meetings, “Be prepared to get your hearts broken so that the whole world could fall in.”

When we visited El Mozote, home to one of the largest massacres in the history of Latin America, I found out what he meant. My arms ran with goosebumps. While I felt sad, I also felt enraged. How could nobody in power have done anything to prevent the massacre?

What really forced me to encounter injustice was the Jardin de los Inocentes: The Garden of the Innocent. This serves as a memorial for all the children who were killed in the massacre. As I stood there, I began to think about my little brother and all the kids that I met at Junquillo and La Hacienda.

These kids filled my with joy and a happiness that I had never before experienced in my life. I remembered how I was laughing with Isaac, Wendy, Rigo, and Mario, crying tears of joy.

Then, I saw the wall. The enormous wall on the side of the church was decorated with a pop-out mosaic of children playing, surrounded by butterflies. Painted with bright and vivid colors, this wall immediately reminded of all the kids I had met. The wall represented the joyfulness of the kids that had been killed, raped, and tortured during the massacre and now were buried in front of the wall.

I couldn’t even look up at the wall because I would start to tear up. In my throat, I could feel how I was holding back my emotions. I never want to hold back my emotions like that again. As I approached the wall, I could see myself and all the kids that I had started to love in the broken mirrors on the butterflies and I broke down.

I don’t know how to explain my feelings at the moment, but they moved my heart. Realizing that all of these atrocities could have happened to my siblings and the kids that I met, made me ask myself: how can I help prevent things like this from ever happening again? Personally, whenever I see an injustice, my heart aches to fix it and THIS was the biggest injustice that I have ever seen. We can’t afford not to act. “El Mozote Nunca Más!”

 

Happy Birthday To Me! by Frankie Pastor

I must admit, I am HOMESICK! This is the longest I have been away from my family in my life. On the contrary, I feel content in El Salvador. Yesterday, I celebrated my 17th birthday. Let me tell you, it is by far the best birthday I can remember. What better way can a 17-year-old boy celebrate a milestone birthday than be in a different country with their Brophy brothers? I woke up to my hosts (Marta y Santiago) singing Las Mañanitas and Happy Birthday alongside Mr. Broyles, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Gonzalez.

Then at breakfast, I was surprised by the people of La Hacienda with three different birthday cakes, a handmade shirt and homemade candy.

Oh, did I mention Mr. Broyles shoved my face in the cake? Well, I guess I can’t get away from La Mordida, no matter how far away I am from my family! While I am homesick, I am so happy that I got to celebrate my birthday with my Brophy brothers, teachers and hosts. Favorite moment so far: Marta and Santiago telling me, “Happy birthday to our newest son!”

Broken Hearted, by Patrick Grindey

As I sit here back in San Salvador after four days in Brophy’s sister communities and reflect on the pilgrimage I have embarked on so far, I can’t help but think about the love and joy that I have experienced these past days. There are so many stories and moments I would love to share, but there was one that really stuck out to me. At the first village we stayed at in El Junquillo, Morazán Province, my heart was shredded to pieces. I witnessed what the poorest of the poor actually look like.

 

These Salvadoran people have absolutely nothing. They live in horrible conditions with the constant battle of weather and disease. They have little to no money and everyday is a struggle to survive. Yet, as I lived there, I realized that these are the wealthiest people on earth. They are rich in love and compassion. They are plentiful in their pure joy for life. They have God and each other, which somehow becomes enough. They have truly taught me how to love. Not how to simply be nice to someone and smile, but how to truly will the good of the other. They have shown me, by action, that love conquers everything. Amor Vincit Omnia.

Patrick and Osman planting Yuca.

There is one specific story I’d like to share where I got to use this love that has been bursting through my heart. After a night of dancing and singing and running around with the little kids, I was exhausted and I just wanted to lay in my hammock. I walked into the kitchen of the tiny house I was staying in, and I saw Exaltación sitting there listening to the radio. Exaltación is an elderly woman who has been through hell and back in her life, and she is still here willing to be with me.  I could just tell she wanted to keep dancing. My heart burst open wide as I extended my hands to her and said, “¿Quieres bailar conmigo?” Do you want to dance with me?

She jumped up in joy and we slow-danced to the music. It was pitch black in the middle of the night with a woman I barely knew, and it was the most beautiful moment I have ever experienced. I was in a foreign country with foreign people sharing the most beautiful moments with the most beautiful people. I can’t comprehend all that has happened so far. My heart has been opened wide and I can’t help but just want to love. I am brokenhearted for the people and for the way I have treated others. I want to love properly. I desire to share the gift of love that God has given me.