by EILEEN DALUSONG
I flew to El Salvador last May to take a peacebuilding course mainly because I wanted a much-needed vacation. Little did I expect how much this would change the way I look at life, as if through new spiritual lenses.
Our group of 13 students and two teachers from Emmanuel College of the University of Toronto arrived in El Salvador and were met by Chencho Alas, founder of the Mesomerica Foundation. We were there for Chencho Alas’s “Spirituality and Peacebuilding” course, held in La Libertad from May 15 to 22.
The previous year, in autumn 2011, Chencho Alas had visited the University of Toronto for a religious peacebuilding course; many students became very interested in his Mesoamerica Peace Movement and its peacebuilding initiatives. Chencho then invited Emmanuel College to bring a class to El Salvador to study liberation theology, and to see and experience the country under his tutelage. El Salvador—the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America—endured a 12-year civil war that ended in 1992; by then, 75,000 lives had been lost.
With Chencho, our class discussed Latin America liberation theology, poverty, theology of peace, Mayan spirituality, environmental theology, the appreciative inquiry method and violence against women.
We also met Salvadorans in their own milieu, and we had an opportunity for self-reflection, contextual analysis and a deeper introspection on the meaning of spirituality. We were able to explore and discover ways—new ways—of peacebuilding to help sustain programs, initially begun by Chencho in El Salvador, which have now expanded across Latin America.
At the end of the trip, we each prepared research papers on various topics related to peacebuilding in El Salvador. Some reports were of strong relevance to Salvadorans, such as liberation theology and violence, colonialism and post-colonialism in Latin America, mining, land use in El Salvador, ecclesial perspective of church and partnerships, indigenous people’s resistance to church rule, foreign aid to El Salvador and violence against Salvadoran women. A few wrote blogs for Chencho’s Mesoamerica Foundation website to help increase the program’s visibility in the online community.
Upon reflection, I am thankful for the chance for us to all come together in El Salvador. It is my fervent hope that, through our prayer and praxis, the wonderful man Chencho Alas and his far-reaching initiatives will continue to help many in need throughout Central America.
I have heard my classmates tell of experiencing significant, life-altering consciousness as a result of our short trip to El Salvador. As for myself, I am only now beginning to process the breadth of thoughts and shared experiences we had the great opportunity to be part of. The effects will live on, I feel, as we add our efforts to the peace building work begun by others before us.
Come to think of it, when those who have suffered the most, who have lost so much, still have hope, as Salvadorans do, how can we not have faith and see how God works in mysterious ways, possibly through us, who are God’s “hands and feet” in the world?
Through a nation named after the Saviour, this encounter with El Salvador and the Spirit of the Divine found in the warm-hearted women and men who sustain hope and the will to live justly and righteously before the Creator and all of creation, we come to believe even more that God’s Spirit lives in us, and sustains us here and now, on a Mother Earth filled with hope.