The trip began in Tegucigalpa and ended in Guatemala, but the convocation that gave the initial impulse was in El Salvador, from August 30 to September 2, in the Congress of Amerindia to celebrate the 50 years of the Conference of Medellín.
Honduras was a good start for those two and a half weeks and to fulfill the first objective: to visit Monsignor François Lapierre, former world advisor to the IMCS, bishop emeritus of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, has been living and working for several months in a formation and spirituality centre run by the Catholic University of Honduras. This centre is called Tabor, 17 kms from Tegucigalpa, at a good height; there François has found a beautiful space to continue being a missionary, available for those who ask him for any service, listening to and accompanying many and varied stories of life and faith.
Then came Elisabeth Muller – Guigui -, Latin American coordinator of the ICMICA. We spent three days in meetings with former IMCS members, university students in the 1980s. We enjoyed the company and lucid vision on Honduras of Bishop Raúl Corriveau, Bishop Emeritus of Choluteca. The social and political reality of the country is very complicated with few short-term alternatives. The 2009 coup d’état marked a before and an after; it also opened a great gap in the country between those who supported it and those who opposed it. This confrontation continues and touches all areas of the country, including the Church. The democratic and social deterioration has deepened over the years.
For Guigui and for me the meetings, the dialogues with some 12 people that we had not seen in years, were hard because of the harshness of the country (violence, corruption, poverty, insecurity…). But they were also stimulating to see that each one of them has made a professional and family journey… and they all continue to look for spaces where they can make room for solidarity, for justice, for truth, faithful to the Gospel of Jesus and within this Church which, at times, has treated them well… and, at times, badly. We believe that they will re-launch a space for meeting and analysis of their country in order to continue acting wherever possible, to say a word in the social spheres where they move and to be a lay voice in ecclesial spheres. All in tune and linked to ICMICA. We are grateful for the hospitality and closeness of all our friends in Honduras. The person who served as liaison with ICMICA and the former members of the ICMICA is Melvin Adalid Raudales.
El Salvador. At the UCA, in the auditorium “Ignacio Ellacuría”, the Amerindia congress (Network of theologians and pastoral agents of Latin America) took place. The theme: “The cries of the poor and of the Earth challenge us”. In 1968, a Conference of Latin American Bishops was held in Medellín, Colombia, in which theologians, experts, lay people and observers from other Christian churches participated very actively. The great objective was to promote the orientations of the Second Vatican Council in the reality of Latin America. The documents that came out of it were a very important fruit, but the “Spirit of Medellín” went further and has become over the years a major reference point for the adulthood of a Church that looked with new eyes at the reality of a marvelous, rich, varied continent…, then mostly Catholic, and marked by inequality and poverty. The Congress of San Salvador wanted to keep in mind the documents and the Spirit of Medellín, to be faithful to the origins, to look well at the road travelled… and to animate the future. There were four intense days: presentations, testimonies, prayers, music, theatre. We were more than six hundred people registered, quality speakers and a good team of organizers, Latin American and local.
In these lines we cannot summarize all the interventions, but I would like to emphasize the breadth of topics and the range of people responsible for the conferences and workshops (theologians, lay and religious voices, mostly Latin American, first-hand witnesses in Medellín and young people). Also, openness to new challenges, fidelity to Vatican II and Medellín, and to the great steps of theology in Latin America. Gustavo Gutiérrez, so many times quoted during the meeting, addressed a message from Lima at the closing ceremony. Cecilio de Lora, Jon Sobrino, Leonardo Boff, Pedro Trigo, Pablo Bonavía, María Clara Bingemer, María Pilar Aquino, Carlos Schickendantz were there. Also, the Italian theologians Serena Noceti and Silvia Scatena who offered a passionate reading of “Medellín from within” in the liturgy, in the coexistence, in the homilies, in the sense of responsibility before Vatican II and before the reality of Latin America.
We spent a morning on pilgrimage in the footsteps of Bishop Romero. We first visited the chapel where he was murdered, prayed and were moved by silence, songs and testimonies. From there, to the cathedral to descend to the crypt where the remains of Monsignor rest. Groups of poor pilgrims praying, moved and firm, together with silent observers, mobiles and photos, tears and a certain atmosphere of hope for those who followed him and supported him in life. Because the memory of Monsignor Romero is still alive and growing. At the end of our pilgrimage, Jon Sobrino moved us with his magnificent lecture on Monsignor Romero: the Monsignor’s personal journey in Salvadoran church and society, the Jesuits and Monsignor Romero, and the mysterious and fruitful relationship between Monsignor Romero’s faith and Ellacuría’s faith.
The contact person in El Salvador was Walter Raudales, he is currently director of the digital newspaper “El Independiente”, he was a close collaborator of Ellacuría in the UCA… until his assassination. Walter has a personal trajectory that would serve as a script for a political and ecclesial history of El Salvador, from the 1980s until now. And the same, in different contexts, we can say of many of the lives of those we have met again in the three countries, in some cases with much, much pain. We are still in contact.
Guatemala was the final stage. Hosted in the parish of Las Victorias. The parish priest, Jesus, a Leonese priest of origin and Guatemalan for years and life there, treated us marvelously and helped us understand the difficult situation of the country in a few days in which a coup d’état was floating in the air. The president of the republic decided to prevent the United Nations envoy, Iván Velázquez, president of the Commission against impunity, from entering the country. Good meetings with Jesus and Cirilo Santamaría, a Carmelite from Orduña, with whom we had already greeted each other at the congress in San Salvador a few days before. With Marco Tulio, Inci and Eddy, some previous meetings and, already in the last night, a tasty and long dinner in which Guatemala, Latin America and the world were mixed with memories, current experiences and concerns about the future. Also, in his case and in the case of people around him, we were surprised by the perseverance not to give up, to try to create social and political alternatives. And it is admirable their effort to survive, literally, and to seek a certain professional, family… and ecclesial life.
After a few weeks, I write these lines when the exodus of a Honduran crowd leaves, flees, from their land and walks towards another country where the future is better. He has to travel many kilometers, cross borders, receive many blows and, fortunately, a lot of solidarity. The end is uncertain. In Guatemala we meet a priest from Cordoba who has spent many years in that country and wants to be buried there. He works in the Petén region, one of the places of passage to Mexico. His great pastoral work consists of animating the parish and, especially, maintaining a shelter for the people who come from the south. They stay for two days, eat, rest, heal wounds and set out to cross the border into Mexico and continue north.
There are great testimonies of recent years, and present, within the Catholic Church in all three countries. Speaking only of bishops, let us think of the figure of Monsignor Romero. In Monsignor Gerardi, assassinated in Guatemala, who for several years raised his voice in the Human Rights Commission in Geneva through the representation of Pax Romana. In Cardinal Gregorio Rosas Chávez, always faithful to Monsignor Romero; he presided at the final Eucharist of the Amerindian Congress in the Chapel of the Martyrs of the UCA. Corriveau and his long pastoral career in Honduras.
We spoke of the ecclesial situation at various moments, at each stage of our journey, but we did not make an exhaustive and detailed analysis. However, we still have the impression that in the churches of the three countries there are spaces through which Vatican II and Medellín have not passed or, if they have passed, the footprints have been erased or they have been marginalized. Nor did we dwell especially on the phenomenon of evangelical churches in the region. But we did observe, both in the workshops and dialogues during the Amerindian Congress and in the three countries, that there are sectors of religious life and the lay world that feel little support, little recognition in their respective local churches, parishes and pastoral instances. We heard positive information about some social pastorals, about new attempts to recover a certain prophetic capacity. The reality of the seminaries, in some cases with serious scandals, and that of many of the younger priests, present many questions. We insist, it is not a laboratory diagnosis of each of the dioceses or pastoral sectors, but we do want to collect a certain concern. Everyday life is already difficult in these lands. Ecclesial life could make the lines that Francis insistently offers closer and more visible.
We wanted to go through Nicaragua, but the insecurity of the moment made us give up. In any case, the visit to these three countries has been worthwhile. Only the fact of making contact again with people who have been close to us, who had opened their houses to us years ago, who have suffered so much for their own history that they have had to live, who have tried to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus, who have risen again and again with indelible wounds and scars, only the fact of feeling the joy of seeing us again, of recognizing ourselves united in life and in faith, of not giving for inevitable the injustice so ruthlessly imposed, only for that reason the trip was worth the effort. Since we also had the joy of celebrating the canonization of Bishop Romero in advance, let us thank God and the friends we met during those days.