Friday, February 20, 2009

Unimaginable Pain and Exquisite Beauty

The following post is a testimony by Lisa Dennison, a parishioner at St. Patrick's Church in Seattle, WA, of her trip to El Salvador last summer through SHARE.

Unimaginable Pain and Exquisite Beauty

"Sin abounds, but grace abounds even more." These words from Dean Brackley, SJ, of the UCA (University of Central America) perfectly describe my experience in El Salvador with our delegation this past June. It was a place of unimaginable pain and exquisite beauty.

I had been praying for an opportunity to leave my comfort zone - and our God answered my prayer abundantly. Intense heat, intense stories, and intense faith were things I experienced, and like all pilgrims, I could not remain unchanged by the reality that was set before me.

I will always remember the searing image of a tiny girl in a tattered dress standing blank faced and barefoot in a garbage dump while her parents foraged for something of value. I will recall with delight the lovely songs and prayerful reflections that were lovingly shared with us at the small but lovely church in Nueva Trinidad. I recall with deep sadness the tree in the center of the village which looked so beautiful, but held the history of unspeakable horrors that were committed in its branches. And my heart was filled with joy at seeing my daughters Sarah and Theresa find their place in the community of Nueva Trinidad, making it seem effortless to build relationship with smiles and a few spoken words.

Mostly I prayed for the grace to hold the difficult truths of this journey - the fact that over 70,000 civilians died in a civil war that our government was immediately involved with. The fact that while I saw Archbishop Romero's visage and words on murals in every small town we went through, and in every home that we visited, there was not one single picture or reference to him in the cathedral in San Salvador. The fact that the one water test we did in a nearby town concluded that bacteria was present, and a likely culprit of the many illnesses affecting local residents. The fact that urban parishes still lose parishioners frequently to violence as they try to minister to the youth who are attracted to gangs.

Yet the generosity of all those we met, their eagerness to share their stories, songs, and jokes with us seemed like shining stars in the black night of poverty and violence. Everyone I spoke to expressed deep gratitude for our visit - like we had given them something precious. Yet, as is so often true, I felt the richer for living with our sisters and brothers in Nueva Trinidad, and receiving the gift of their presence and the gift of their steadfast faith in a gospel that calls for freedom from oppressors.

I once read a quote from an aboriginal woman, "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." This amazing trip to El Salvador has reminded me of my own need for liberation, by being in a relationship with those who suffer and struggle for freedom in so many ways. I pray for the strength and courage to remain a faithful companion to our community in Nueva Trinidad - and ask that our parish of St. Patrick's continue this sistering relationship. I also am so grateful to have had the opportunity to represent our parish to those in Nueva Trinidad.

- Lisa Dennison

Posted by Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

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