Friday, September 24, 2010

Spotlighting Sisters: Cretin-Derham Hall, Teaching and Living for Justice

Thank you to SHARE promoter, Phelia Lorenzen, for writing this Spotlighting Sister article for us. Thanks to the teachers and students at CDH for their support in writing it! 

Affirmation of an old adage: How one step towards a quest leads to a lifelong journey.

CDH kids at the river in San Vicente
A few years ago, a few students from Cretin-Derham Hall (CDH hereafter), a Catholic high school in St. Paul, Minnesota, were invited to attend a delegation to El Salvador with Brother Dennis Beach of St. John’s Abbey. CDH is committed to the Catholic social teaching of justice, and students were curious about Brother Dennis' passion for this tiny Latin American country. One step. Today, CDH is committed to accompanying the people of El Salvador. Each summer, one or two delegations of students travel to the department of San Vicente. Through SHARE and CRIPDES San Vicente, they stay in the community, play with the kids, share stories with young people, visit historic sites, stand in the chapel where Archbishop Romero was murdered, walk the blood-soaked grounds of El Mozote, and learn about advocacy actions they can take at home. The journey begins. These young adults are transformed and will take social justice to the highest level wherever their lives take them. A lifelong journey.

CDH takes social justice seriously. The students take theology classes on social teaching; a popular elective is a class titled “Seeking Justice”; service projects abound throughout the year; a week of school each year is devoted to “Justice Week” with speakers and workshops; and delegations travel to many parts of the United States and the world. The history of the civil war in El Salvador, the sacrifices of priests and laypersons alike to bring the good news to the marginalized, the horrific murders of many faithful; the assassination of Archbishop Romero, and the depth of Liberation Theology practiced in El Salvador bring out the hearts and minds of the students to want to walk the path of the people and to support not only justice, but also the wellbeing and progress of the those still in poverty and left behind. The long-term relationship of mutual accompaniment between CDH, CRIPDES San Vicente and SHARE deepens with each delegation.

In July and August this past summer, two delegations each spent ten days in El Salvador. While in San Vicente, students stayed with families in the rural communities of 19 de Junio and Santa Cruz II. The host families welcomed their guests with loving, open arms. Laughter and tears filled the time of the shared experiences. Following are comments from the delegates about their home stay: “humbling”; “became my extended family”; “best experience of my life”; “life-changing”; and, language is no issue and differences are no issue because “love and fun overcomes” all.
Delegate from CDH August Delegation

In addition to the community visit and home stay, the delegates participated in many experiences provided by SHARE counterparts. However—of all the historic sites, the many meetings with Salvadoran organizations, and the growing understanding of the need for ongoing advocacy—students reflected that the most overwhelming sadness and depth of fully understanding the “big picture” of the civil war and U.S. involvement was their time at El Mozote, where over 800 men, women, and children were brutally massacred with the cooperation of U.S. support.

Students were confronted with great contrasts in El Mozote. The memorial mural, the children’s garden, hearing the story of that ghastly day, and walking on the very grounds of the dead brought great sadness and deep feelings as to how they would react should such a tragedy hit them. On the other hand, the village is alive and well. Kids play soccer on the bloody grounds, enterprise prevails, families grow up. Life goes on, and HOPE is steady.

The lifelong journey. In his own words, one delegate continues to sort out his “jumbled emotions” of experiencing horror and sadness alongside happiness and hope in one corner of land so far away.

With experiences like this year after year; with memories to recall far into adulthood; with awareness of foreign policy and its effects on other countries; with living and walking with the Salvadorans through home stays, playing together, meeting former combatants, seeing with their own eyes the memorials to so many victims of a costly, costly war—these young people are transformed. CDH has lifted the hearts and minds of not only its own students, but also those living in those villages who welcomed them into their homes and hearts. This journey is one of faith, one of hope, and one of love.

A final thought from one of the delegates, Andrew Nyberg, offers a lesson to all of us involved with the SHARE Foundation, who provides these experiences:

“One of the hardest things about the whole trip for me was coming back to the US. We just spent 10 days learning about all of the injustices in the country and forming relationships with people that we probably will never see again and we were fired up about the issues that we saw. And then we went home to our air conditioned houses with flushing toilets and electricity and clean drinking water and privacy for christ's sake. And we were faced with the question, What now? how do we live with ourselves after experiencing what we just experienced? how do we honor our new found friends and families in our every day lives? I'm still trying to figure that out and I probably always will be.”

There is no going back; it is a joy to raise a blessing to the leaders of Cretin-Derham Hall and its students—SALUD!

Many thanks to the following who contributed to this highlight: Ellen Roscher, faculty member and these Summer, 2010 delegates—Mark Kennedy, Frances Scott, Andrew Nyberg, Cassie Haselman, and Kallison Funk. To all of you, ¡muchas gracias!

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