I’ve recently returned from my travels again, this time I flew half way around the world to visit my brother in El Salvador, Central America.
It seemed a good idea at the time, it was only when we landed and he met us at the airport, did he explain how we were now in an earthquake zone, in a region supporting quite a few active volcanoes and only recently had it been declared the most violent country in the world.
With this in mind he said he hoped we would enjoy our week. (However, I made it back without being in plaster!)
Thankfully I wasn’t travelling on my own, I was accompanied by an uncle who is a part-time plumber, part-time frustrated Elvis impersonator, and my usual travelling companion who masquerades as a part time barman, referee and now a budding journalist.
Having to wear all these hats can be complicated so it was no surprise when he turned up in a taxi half an hour late, blaming his poor father for not washing and ironing his clothes and packing his suit cast in time.
Our journey from the airport took three hours as we drove up into the mountains in the North East region of El Salvador to the province of Morazan. Bordering Honduras, this is one of the most remote areas in the country and our hotel room was a log cabin situated 4,000 feet high overlooking the nearby tree covered hills.
The journey to our destination of Perquin had been eventful, let’s just say I will never complain about the roads in Donegal again. My brother’s driving is suspect enough on good roads - you can imagination what an inspiration to prayer his road handling skills were in the fading light, confronted with pot holes and the odd land slide. Yet we made it, if more by accident than design.
There had been the usual banter between myself and my travel companions as soon as we left Derry but it was tame compared to the exchanges with the three of us sharing the log cabin. On the first night, suffering from severe jet lag, I settled down to sleep only to be kept awake by my snoring companions. Thankfully my uncle the plumber is not an electrician, in the midst of a crisis one morning panic ensued because we thought there was no electricity. He couldn’t understand why the mains plug didn’t seem to be working whilst the battery powered electric toothbrush was working fine.
Over the next few days my brother, Dan, showed us around the villages where he worked, including Arambala where he lives. It was an incredible and humbling experience, opening my eyes to the many things I take for granted. Very little can go very far and make an amazing difference in the developing world.
In a country where the average wage is five dollars a day, £1,000 can a build a house enabling a family to move from a corrugated tin shack to a brick built home and £25 can help build a chimney to remove dangerous house fire smoke from homes.
As well as these projects the volunteers who work in this part the country are helping the local people to come to terms with the legacy of a civil war whoich claimed the lives of more than 75,000 people. One of the most horrific and harrowing stories concerns the local village of El Mozete. Thirty years ago next month, the army came in and massacred the villagers in the local area, the largest atrocity taking place in El Mozete. Over a period of three days the army brigade responsible, beginning at 7am each morning, murdered nearly one thousand men and women and more than four hundred children under the age of twelve. It was an attack on family life, an attack on the poor and the powerless. To this day no-one has been held responsible for the barbaric actions which attacked the most innocent and vulnerable.
However, over the next few months, a legal case, based on the testimony of the few survivors and witnesses, will be built and brought to court in an effort to pursue justice. An inscription on the monument to the victims reads, “They have not died. They are with us and with all of humanity.” This hopefully serves as a reminder to all of us how the plight of one people is the plight of us all. If we claim to declare one faith in God our Father, if we truly believe we are all brothers and sisters in Christ then the suffering of any nation’s people is the responsibility of us all.
As we begin to contemplate the end of the Church year and as the readings from scripture help us to reflect on the final things, we should take heed of the words of Christ, ‘as much as you did this to one of these least brothers and sisters of mine you did it to me’. We have been called to a common destiny, a hope of eternal life with all peoples in the company of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Can we truly share in this gift of everlasting life with the communion of saints if we have not responded to the common plight of our brothers and sisters in this life?