The Compañeros Delegation

Between lots of travel and lots of delegations, I feel like I haven’t posted in forever! Stay tuned: there are community updates, as well as a fun new feature written by the communities’ themselves, on the way in the near future!

Last week, we were accompanied by members of Compañeros, the committee within the Presbytery of Des Moines that oversees and accompanies the Our Sister Parish mission. It was a tiring week full of community visits and meetings with the Pastoral Team, but it was also a deeply meaningful week filled with shared prayer, food, and fun.

It was also a week filled with worry about the water situation in Berlín: many springs have dried up, and several communities connected to the local potable water project haven’t received water for TWO MONTHS. Please keep the people of Berlín, as well as all the people of Central America, the Caribbean, and East Africa in your prayers. These are the regions that experienced the most severe droughts due to climate change this past year.

If you want to learn more about the delegation’s visit, be sure to check out Alisha’s blog. She writes way more and posts way more photos than I do, so we were lucky to have her as part of the delegation last week!

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The colonial church in Salcoatitán, one of the small towns on the “Flower Route,” a picturesque tourist drive through western El Salvador famous for its churches, flowers, and scenic views.

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The colonial church in Apaneca.

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A beautifully-painted artisan craft shop in Ataco, one of the final stops on this “Ruta de Las Flores.”

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This once-active spring in Corozal has mostly dried up. The severe drought, exacerbated by a climate change-enhanced El Niño, is at least partially to blame. The people of Corozal also cannot rely on the potable water project right now, because their water hasn’t run in two months.

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Due to the lack of water at their first choice of spring, the people of Corozal travel even farther away to another source of water. It’s a mile downhill from the access road, which is already quite a distance from their community–and the water is not clean.

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Our meeting with the Directiva of El Rescate in their newly-renovated communal house. This is a community with no running water and no electricity–but plenty of organization and plenty of hope!

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Our General Community meeting began with a prayer by Jesús for our Mother Earth, recognizing the harm that we have done to her and asking God for forgiveness.

 

 

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Believing in the Resurrection of the Dead

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Manel Muñoz and Cecilia.

Friends, Christ is Risen! ¡Aleluya! To celebrate, here are a few pictures from the Great Vigil of Easter, accompanied by some beautiful words written by Manuel Muñoz, a Delegate of the Word from Cantón Las Delicias. There’s also a video of the lighting of the bonfire at the beginning of the Vigil! Enjoy, and a blessed Eastertide to all of you. 

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The Great Vigil of Easter begins with lighting the Pascal Candle from a bonfire in the middle of the street. The fire is lit from the belfry of the church. See the video below! 

Christ is the first one who has been resurrected and in this way ensures our resurrection because the Gospel says so clearly that God is not God of the dead but rather the living. Also the book of the prophet Daniel says in chapter 12:2: those that sleep in the land of dust some would wake up for eternal life and some others for eternal punishment in this way as well Revelation 20:12 says that the dead great and small will stand before the throne. Some books would be opened and after that another more the book of life. So the dead were judged in accordance with what was written in the books each one according to his works.

John chapter 11:23: Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” “I know that I will rise the day of Judgement,” and Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection…he who believes in me although he may die will live. Do you believe this?” “Yes Lord, because you are the Messiah.”

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We then process down the street towards the parish. The priest stops three times to chant, “The Light of Christ,” to which everyone responds, “We give thanks to God.”

Saint Paul writing to the Thessalonians 1st epistle 4:13-18. Saint Paul explains clearly regarding those that have already died. That we should not be sad because Christ died to come back to life. In the same way those that have died in Christ will also be taken together with him. In this way then those that die believing in Christ will be raised. The Apostle Saint Paul also tells us that if Christ had not been raised how our faith would be in vain.

John 14 tells us that Christ has gone to prepare a mansion for us and when he comes he will take those that have done his will to have joy where he is.

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Everyone then lights their own candle from the Pascal Candle, representing Christ’s presence in the world, and within us. 

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The God of the 14th Station

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In the Catholic tradition, Christ’s death is commemorated by remembering 14 stages or “stations” of his persecution and death, the last one being his burial. Salvadorans enact this 14th stage with a procession on Good Friday known as the “Santo Entierro”–the Holy Burial.

“It is not as if an ‘I’ exists independently over here and then simply loses a ‘you’ over there, especially if the attachment to ‘you’ is part of what composes who ‘I’ am. If I lose you, under these conditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself. Who am ‘I,’ without you?”

“Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.”

-Judith Butler

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

– Warsan Shire

***

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I wonder if people like Jesus—the prophets, the dreamers—know that something bad is going to happen to them. It certainly seems that he did, that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did, that Blessed Monseñor Romero did. I think that they all know.

Honestly, I think that many of us have this instinct, too. We are taught to ignore it.

But I can’t help but wonder if, as he sat atop that donkey surrounded by cheering crowds, he thought, Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe it won’t happen. Maybe it will all be fine.

Denial is human, after all. And Jesus was human.

***

3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Some theologians write about Jesus’ death in the context of scapegoating: the human practice of choosing an innocent victim to absorb our shared sins and insecurities in order to unite a community through that person’s humiliation and/or death. This is why teenagers bully the kids they perceive to be “different”: they’re afraid of being “different.” And we do indeed scapegoat our innocents.

But we also scapegoat our Judases. I understand why: it is our way of distancing ourselves from them, declaring them to be solo artists, excusing ourselves from giving them power and influence, from looking away.

In other words, Judas may have betrayed Jesus, but he did not kill him.

Yes, Judas kept the common purse and was stealing from it. Yes, Judas was the one to turn him in. But Jesus’ death was also the result of the denial and absence of his friends (personally), the authority of the Roman Empire and its complicated relationship with the Jewish religious authorities (politically), and—please let us not forget this point—all of us (theologically).

This is precisely the point, and if we miss it, then we miss everything. Sadly, we do miss it, because is always easier to blame Judas than it is to blame ourselves.

PSA: It’s always the one who keeps the common purse. Always.

***

We are all perpetrators and victims both. But we are all not equal perpetrators and victims in all situations.

I would blame our collective failure to understand this on moral relativism, or at least on a misplaced desire to be “nice” to our enemies, despite the consequences this niceness may have for their victims. But it is often those who see the world in black-and-white, absolutist terms who have the most trouble understanding this. In their minds, the bully, the abuser, and the perpetrator have an opinion and perspective as valid as the one who is suffering. This is sheer foolishness and not what Jesus preached (or lived) at all.

Yes, Jesus asked us to love everyone. He did not ask us to believe everyone, and he did not say that all narratives hold equal worth or truth. He made that extremely clear when he lived and died as someone rejected, convicted, and cursed.

Jesus died for both the victim and the perpetrator. But he only died as one of those. This is a distinction that has been horribly, inexplicably lost, and we must reclaim it.

***

The problem is not that they trusted Judas with the common purse. The problem is that they trusted him, period. The problem is that they were vulnerable to him. The problem is that they loved him.

Of course, love is always the problem. It is always our undoing.

In Jesus, it is God’s undoing.

***

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It is significant that Jesus’ final cry had little to do with the pain. It was a cry of abandonment.

It wasn’t the cross that killed Christ so much as the Silence. The endless, murderous Silence, both of his Father and of the whole system that surrounded him.

Honestly, it is never the betrayal that hurts. And it is not the nails, either. It is the fact that you look down, suspended, and there is no one left to stand with you other than the other people the system has made invisible by exclusion. It is not the death or deaths, physical or metaphorical. It is the fact that no one cares who you are or what your story is. It is the fact that your struggle is met with—nothing. It is not the people who actually hurt you, or even kill you, that destroy you. It is the ones who think that looking away from your pain makes them somehow neutral.

But that moment of abandonment was not, in fact, silent. It allowed the suffering of the Innocent to be seen, to be acknowledged. While the Cross does not speak in words, it does show. Where language ends, there is image. And there is God, always hanging in plain view.

Jesus made our suffering seen. Makes our suffering seen, and makes us see suffering. Maybe that is how he saves us.

***

But it is not even the God of the Cross that makes sense to me these days. The God of the Cross dies in front of us in art and sculpture and passion plays. The God of the Cross is betrayed and beaten and mocked and paraded and crucified and bleeds until be becomes too weak to keep himself from suffocating under the weight of his own body, nailed to the wood that he carried through the streets of the town that welcomed him with shouts of jubilation less than a week before.

No, it is the God of the 14th Station that makes sense to me. Not the Crucified God, but the Entombed One. The God Who Is Hidden, the God Unseen, the God Buried.

It is not just that God is with us in the noisy violence of our Fridays, but also in the silence of our Saturdays. Jesus knows all to well the uncertainty, the dark cocoon, the quiet crush of abandonment and forsakenness, the quiet room with whitewashed walls where you wait for the doctor to come in. God knows what its like to feel alone in our pain.

When we confess that Jesus descended into Hell, perhaps this is part of what we mean.

***

I have known them for over three years, so despite the fact that they hide their pain, I can tell when they are hurting.

“We ask that you sanctify these elements that they might be for us the blood and body of our Lord…” we all kneel. But when we reach the place where it is once again appropriate to stand, she stays on her knees, forehead pressed into her folded hands, and so do I.

The question of whether or not I should be kneeling, of whether or not I am submitting myself to an understanding of the Sacrament that would make John Calvin twitch or throw a fit, is irrelevant as it is tone-deaf. I kneel when they kneel, because I hurt when they hurt, period.

The differences in our Eucharistic theology are a moot point. Solidarity makes simple what the world makes complicated.

***

If Jesus teaches us anything, it’s that solidarity makes us bleed. It is not a malevolent Bank of America God who demands that someone repay our debts, offer remittances for millennia of accumulated sin in the form of flesh and blood, that makes it so. No. It is our fellow humans, our enemies who do so.

And If Judas teaches us anything, it’s that those enemies are usually our friends first.

***

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I am not one of those people who believes that the resurrection was not a real event, that it was simply a metaphor, or that Jesus rose from the dead in spirit but not in body. When I confess that I believe that “he rose from the dead according to the scriptures,” I really do mean it. If the Cross does not give way to the kind of hope that envelops our very bodies, if that level of grief on the part of the Father and abandonment on the part of the Son (with love and apologies to Moltmann) is not taken up into some kind of new life, then why bother to get up in the morning?

At the same time, I wonder if I would still be a follower of Christ if we were all still waiting for the resurrection. What if Christ had died, and a movement had arisen out of the hope of his eventual Resurrection…next week, next month, next year? What if Friday happened but Sunday didn’t? What if God suffered and died and remained dead? What if the ancient formula was simply, “Christ has died, Christ will rise again?” Not as pretty, I’ll grant you.

Even if the Christ of the Cross were still dead, I would still worship him. Perhaps that’s blasphemy, but that’s the truth. After all, it is not the Resurrected God, but rather the Crucified One and the Entombed One, that so often meets us where we are. That meets me where I am, now.

I still believe in the God of Sunday. The God of Sunday is the only thing that gives us hope. But I do not know that God anymore—the triumphal one who is met with “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” and a pancake breakfast. The God I know is the suffering one of Friday and the invisible, silent one of Saturday. The God of Sunday is seen only through a glass, darkly if at all.

***

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Between Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, the crucifix at the front of the church is covered in a purple cloth. Christ is entombed, buried, gone. His suffering is no longer seen.

During the Easter Vigil, when the account of Jesus’ resurrection is retold, Jesus is unveiled again to thunderous applause at his very same eternal, bloody, crucified glory.

This feels exactly right to me. It may always be Sunday, but it is also always Friday. The Risen One and the Crucified one are exposed as forever one and the same.

In this broken world in which only one body has lived the whole of the Resurrection, perhaps this is what Easter means: seeing things as they are. Maybe that’s all that Easter is—just a way of seeing.

I wish we could see it this way: that we have undone one another. That all our pain is shared now, is solidarizing. Then maybe we could look up at that unveiled crucifix and see the truth: that in the grief of our mutual undoing, we really will find Resurrection. Someday.

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Two Days, Two Processions

We’ve had a busy weekend here in Berlín! Saturday was the Feast of St. Joseph, Berlín’s patron saint, so there was a beautiful procession on Saturday evening to honor him complete with singing, rosaries, and (of course) bottle rockets. The celebration ended with a spectacular fireworks display! Yesterday was Palm Sunday, which meant another procession. It’s a blessing to spend Holy Week with people who take it so seriously.

Enjoy the pictures.

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The float at the center of the procession for the Feast of St. Joseph. 

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Processing through the streets of Berlín. The young man with the metal pole has a very important job: gently lifting low-hanging decorations, telephone, and cable lines out of the way so that the float can pass underneath them. 

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Bottle rocket action. 

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Idalia watches bottle rockets being launched with trepidation.

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The patron saint festival is also an excuse to party–there have been dances, fireworks, carnival rides, and candy (and jewelry, and clothing!) sellers in Berlín for the past two weeks as a result of the holiday.

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Our palms. 

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We hold up our palms so that Father Santos can bless them.

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Singing and processing.

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Arriving at the parish church.

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Your Weekend Reading #6

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Berta Caceres in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras where she, COPINH (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project, that poses grave threats to local environment, river and indigenous Lenca people from the region. She gathered with members of COPINH and Rio Blanco during a meeting remembering community members killed during the two year struggle. Retrieved from Jacobinmag.com, 3/18/16

As we once again approach the days of Holy Week with repentance, faith, and awe, I think it’s important to reflect on how the climate of fear, distrust, and animosity that has thrown both the U.S. political system and the U.S. election cycle into bitterness and chaos affects our relationship with El Salvador in particular and the rest of the world in general. All the Latin Americans that I know are quite disturbed by what some candidates have said regarding Latinos/as (and particularly people from Mexico) and fear for the lives and the well-being of their family members who live in the United States.

We teach our children to tell those that bully them “sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me.” This is a lie, and we all know it. Modern psychology teaches us that emotional and social pain hurt more than physical pain, and history teaches us that violent words too often yield to violent rhetoric. You’re smart, readers: I don’t think I need to provide examples.

As a theological response to this rhetorically dangerous climate, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church wrote this beautiful letter. I am posting it below in its entirety.

A Word to the Church

Holy Week 2016

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

You can find the original post here.

I posted two weeks ago about the murder of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental and indigenous rights activist. I found a beautiful interview with her, “They Want to Prohibit Us From Dreaming,” from a few years ago. I encourage you all to read it because she writes to beautifully about why she fought for what she fought for.

Look, here in this country, they have prohibited us from dreaming. They want to prohibit us from dreaming.

We, as COPINH, put forward an effort with communities in which we had to collectively reflect on what Honduras we dream for. It was really interesting. Here’s what I take from the sentiment of the communities: first, we dream of a Honduras in which we have the right to be happy. It’s the most insurrectionary, most subversive, they could say the most “terrorist” right there could be. The right to be happy.

 

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Lisa’s Salvadoran Fruit Review

Hello, everyone!

I didn’t blog at all last week, but I had a good reason: my best friend Lisa came to visit me here in El Salvador! She had a wonderful time exploring the country and learning more about what Our Sister Parish does. She’s such a good sport that she even agreed to deliver fertilizer with us one day!

What Lisa was most excited about (other than visiting the beach and seeing me, of course) was trying a plethora of tropical fruit that isn’t available in the USA. The results of her reviews were hilarious (I even had her rate each fruit on a scale of 1-10), and I am sharing them with her permission.

Fruit #1: Níspero

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“It tastes like candy, but not good candy…it mostly tastes like sugar, like molasses sugar. Like sugar that hasn’t dissolved completely.”

Rating: 3/10

Fruit #2: Green Mango (with traditional condiments)

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“Woody like broccoli stalk with aftertaste like green apple with almost bitter sour while chewing.”

“Adding salt made it more sour.”

“Adding Worcestershire sauce makes it less sour and more savory on the first bite then it gets sour like an unripe strawberry.”

“With squash seeds it’s gross.”

Rating: 5/10

Fruit #3: Leechas (rambutans)

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“Texture of a peeled grape, but slimy.”

“Tastes like a honeydew melon.”

Rating: 6.5/10

Fruit #4: Granadilla

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“Nice squish/crunch seed pod burst. :-)”

“Tastes like a pear/apricot sour taste.”

“Sweet, but chewing seeds gets a little sour.”

Rating: 7/10

Fruit #5: Guayaba (unripe)

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Lisa: “It doesn’t taste like anything!”

Me: “I’m writing that down.”

Lisa: “It doesn’t!”

“Unripe pear texture.”

“It kinda tastes like a dried-out apple with no flavor. Like a red delicious apple.”

“With salt it makes it sweet. Worcestershire sauce makes it meh.”

Ranking: 5-6/10

 

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Your Weekend Reading #5

First, a chilling reminder that organizing for environmental or human rights is still extremely dangerous. Berta Cáceres, an award-winning indigenous and environmental activist was killed in her hometown in Honduras. The NYTimes reports:

Over the past month, the threats against Ms. Cáceres and her organization had mounted after security forces detained more than 100 people during a peaceful protest on Feb. 20.

Since a 2009 coup in Honduras, journalists, judges, labor leaders, human rights defenders and environmental activists have been the subject of targeted killings, with their murders often going unsolved. Twelve environmental defenders were killed in Honduras in 2014, according to research by Global Witness, which makes it the most dangerous country in the world, relative to its size, for activists protecting forests and rivers.

Most important for us, it’s important to remember that the U.S. Government is currently supporting the Honduran Military and that the U.S.A. backed that 2009 coup in Honduras. Who led that coup? A general trained by the School of the Americas, the same military center responsible for training the Atlacatl Battalion and other special forces of the Salvadoran military who were responsible for the worst war crimes during the Civil Conflict here.

To those of you who have asked me, “How is it possible that my government funded such terrible atrocities to happen in El Salvador, and I had no idea? What’s going on now that I don’t know about?”

This. The answer is this.

~

But hey, there’s always some good news if you look for it. As it turns out, the Salvadoran economy grew 2.5% in 2015, which is the strongest growth rate in 7 years. Check out Tim’s El Salvador Blog for more commentary on this point.

~

Finally, take a moment to read, “At the Devil’s Door: The Unsolved Murder of Tania Vásquez,” and educate yourself about the kind of violence that openly LGBT Salvadorans face every day–more so, if they dare to speak up about that violence:

Tania and 20-odd others gathered, denouncing the daily discrimination they face: denied jobs, ostracized from families and schools, targeted for violent attacks by cops, gangs and civilians. They painted over the graffiti. When the sun set, they lit candles and observed a minute of silence in honor of their murdered peers. Nearly 500 LGBT people — including many transgender women — have been killed in El Salvador since 1995, El Faro reported last month, and activists say that none of the murders has been solved.

Three months later, on May 4, 2013, Tania became the next victim. Her roommates said she went out that afternoon to meet up with friends. Her body, with its single gunshot wound, surfaced two days later, wrapped in black plastic near downtown San Salvador, Diana said.

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