Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rest in peace, Esteban.

Tonight, the feast of St. Michael,  I learned that Esteban Clavel died earlier this year, resulting from chagas.

Esteban in the San Miguel Chapel in Haciendita II

Esteban Clavel, his wife Rosa Elbia, and his children welcomed me into their house in Hacienda II when I served in the parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador, in 1992.

They had  taken abandoned cattle stalls and created a simple house.Esteban was ingenious and saw the possibilities to create a simple home for his family.

I brought a hammock to sleep in; otherwise several of the children would have given up their bed for me.

The meals were simple, mostly bean and tortillas and occasional cheese – usually with too much salt!

When the rainy season came, the rain came in under the door and ran under my hammock. I joked about the Rio Clavel, the Clavel River.

Many a night, in the darkness, I sat around with Esteban or his kids. At times the kid tried to have me solve word games – in Spanish, of course. But occasionally Esteban would take about his life.

He had been a pastoral worker in his village in Chalatenango in the 1970s. Once about 1980 he had been picked up by a death squad but escaped. He then settled and lived in Honduras for ten years, living under an assumed identity as a Honduran. This was not too difficult for him since his wife’s relatives are Honduran and their home in El Salvador was only a few kilometers from Honduras.

But instead of going into a refugee camp he and his family lived as Hondurans in the department of Santa Bárbara. It was a little easier for him since his wife was Honduran and her family came from that department.

He tried to help for a time with the pastoral work of the local parish, but he was suspicious of  the priest. The family moved and then he worked in pastoral work in another parish.

He also made a trip back to El Salvador once. He told me how the people were fleeing from the Salvadoran military, lest they be massacred. I don’t remember the details but his account was chilling.

The family returned to El Salvador in 1990, first to Chalatenango, but joined the community of Haciendita Dos in the municipality of Suchitoto, in late 1991.

Esteban was a small, simple man. He could be a little rigid at times but he was a man of deep faith.

Esteban and Rosa Elbia, December 2010
Esteban and Rosa Elbia were a special couple, full of love for each other and for their eleven children. More than once they took in a child who needed care for a while. Living in poverty, there was always room to feed more. They hardly raised their voices with their children, even when correcting them.

Esteban was sensitive, hoping for unity in the community.

In May, 1992, when I lived there, the pastoral team of the Haciendita II visited almost all the houses, including those of two evangelical (conservative Protestant) families in the community. In those homes, instead of praying the Rosary, they substituted a Bible reading and a group reflection on one of the mysteries of the Rosary. As Esteban explained, this was important to preserve the unity of the community. This is a  very interesting and probably rare example of ecumenism at the base, especially important here where some conservative Protestant sects are bitterly anti-Catholic and are sometimes manipulated by right-wing groups.

Because of his commitment to justice he could at times be a thorn in the side of people in the community. But he sought always to find a way to promote reconciliation. But it wasn’t easy and there were many conflicts, which troubled him.

He was a hard worker, in his milpa (corn field) and sugar cane fields, with his pastoral work, and around the house.

I will miss him. I am glad that I got a chance to see him last December. He was weak but still as welcome as ever.

He is for me one of the unrecognized witnesses of the resurrection, who suffered persecution, exile, poverty and more, but retained a deep faith in the God of Life.

It is many months since he died and passed on to the Lord. My prayer is the antiphon "In paradisum" for the incensing of the body at the end of the Requiem Mass:

In paradisum deducant angeli,
in tuo adventu suscipiant martires,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.

Chorus angelorum suscipiat
et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.

May the angels receive you into paradise.
May the martyrs receive you as you come
and lead you into the holy city Jerusalem.

May the choir of angels receive you
and with Lazarus, who once was poor,
may you have eternal rest.

 God bless you, Esteban. Thank you for a life of love, a sign of God. You welcomed me, a stranger into your poor home. I am confident that God has welcomed you into Paradise. Pray for us.

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