Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seeing with other eyes

Interior of the El Rosario church, San Salvador, El Salvador

I've been here in Santa Rosa for a little over two years and seven months. It's largely been a ministry of accompaniment
  • in Caritas since last January as volunteer associate director, writing grants, doing some monitoring of projects, accompanying the workers out to their projects on occasion, looking for ways to increase the outreach of Caritas in the diocese, and this year a diocesan project of training lay leaders in Catholic Social Teaching and preparing a manual on that teaching for use in the 5000 plus base ecclesial communities in the diocese.
  • in the parish of Dulce Nombre de Maria in Dulce Nombre de Copán, helping in the formation of catechists and other lay pastoral leaders as well as accompanying some of the social projects they have.
  • with the comedor de ninos, a lunch program for poor kids in Santa Rosa, which has been in the obispado (the building where the bishop lives and works) but which we will be moving to the grounds of Caritas this weekend.
  • some accompaniment of the pastoral work in the local campus of the Catholic University.
Another major part of my ministry is a pastoral of hospitality. I've hosted visitors, mostly from St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Ames, Iowa (which is supporting my ministry here). There have been several groups and individuals. This not only helps people see and experience the people, the reality of Honduras and a diocese committed to the poor, it also is helping establish a relation between the parishes of St. Thomas and Dulce Nombre.

At times these visits help me see the reality with new eyes, at times full of surprises.

This happened, very literally, when I met my current visitor, Cody LeClaire, in San Salvador and showed him around there for a day before bringing him back to Santa Rosa with me.

Cody is a student of landscape architecture. A brief remark after visiting the cathedral in downtown San Salvador reminded me that he might find the nearby church of El Rosario interesting.

The church, ministered to by the Dominicans, is a concrete and glass building that some might find boring, but it fascinated Cody.

When we entered with the sun coming through the windows from the west the space was alive with color. Such a simple, almost boring, architecture had allowed the space to be transformed - as Christ transforms the daily grit and grime of our lives with his presence.

The church also has one of the most fascinating Stations of the Cross I've ever seen - it's all concrete and rebar. The Risen Christ at the end is all rebar - and, when viewed with the western wall behind, is striking.

But this time I saw something I hadn't noticed before. In the Blessed Sacrament alcove there is a tabernacle with a glass door through which you can see the ciborium with the consecrated hosts. But the glass is broken - looking as if a bullet had pierced it or if it had been hot with a baseball bat. (I think that it was designed that way since a booklet on the church architecture from the 1970s showed the broken glass.)

For me this spoke very deeply on the deep relation between the suffering Christ and the suffering peoples of the world - Christ, pierced for our healing, shares the wounds of the oppressed.

That solidarity with the victims is also clear in El Rosario. Near the entrance a plaque in the floor notes that 21 persons were buried there in 1979 after they were killed in a demonstration and people sought refuge in the church.

We stayed for Mass at 5:30. Before Mass, Father Gerardo, a German Dominican who has been in El Salvador many years, showed us a bullet hole in the center of the presider's chair beside the altar. In the late 1970s, a bullet from government forces shooting in(to) the church reached the other side of the church and a bullet penetrated the chair, about where the heart of a priest would be if he were sitting there.

Earlier that day we had stopped at the Carmelite sisters' cancer hospital where Archbishop Romero was killed on March 24, 1980. He was shot in the chest and the single bullet penetrated the artery by his heart.

We also visited the little house where he lived on the hospital grounds. The sister showing us around mentioned that his heart was preserved in the grotto of our Lady next to the house.

As we looked at his possessions in the house I noticed a reliquary. The document in Latin next to it affirmed that they were relics of two of the Ugandan martyrs who died in the 19th century. A martyr had relics of martyrs - witnesses strengthening another witness.


A set of photos from El Rosario church can be found on my Flickr site.

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