El Salvador Day 06 – The Grave of Father Grande and the Emotional Arena

So much to write, yet I have to be kind to myself and actually get some sleep. An unfortunate side effect of electing to be the trip blogger is that my nights are often early. I hope you’ll afford me this gift and perhaps upon our return, my traveling companions can fill in more details in the comments section, something which they’ll hopefully do throughout the blog in the days after our trip.

Also, if you haven’t seen the contest I’m running, look for the post called “Contest: Globalization at What Price?” for more information on how you can win a free book just by leaving us a comment.

And with that, on to today…

Traveler’s Truth II

Oh, I feel better. Now hear this, students considering coming on one of these trips: bring Cipro. When TDI strikes, it’s the best remedy, aside from eating a ton of bread and bananas. And if you’re not stricken with TDI, well as the French say, “C’est la vie.” Or as the El Salvadorians say, “Something in Spanish.”

On the Road (From La Palma)

Sorry, dear reader, but as much as I said I hoped I’d be awake and able to tell you all about the beautiful scenery, I indeed slept for much of the way. What time wasn’t spent sleeping was speaking with Professor Chris on the bus. She and I had a wonderful dialog about my future plans, the Church, camping ministry, and choosing kindness over cynicism. Close friends know what likely spurred that part of the conversation and perhaps I’ll have time this week to expound on it. It’s not a secret, I’m just too tired and it’s a tale that I feel is worth spending time crafting. I’ll just say that, for the past two months, I’ve spent a lot of time observing when I’m being cynical and attempting to make the active choice to be kind.

A Priest, an Old Man, and a Boy

…were murdered on March12, 1977. Father Rutilio Grande, a good friend of Romero’s, was driving his constant companion Manuel Solorzano, and a young boy named Nelson Rutilio Lemus to town when they were gunned down in cold blood. We stopped at a memorial erected on the site where they were murdered and then drove into the town to step inside the chapel where they are buried in the floor.

Most every place we’ve been to, we’ve received either a guided tour or listened to a guest speaker. We received tons of context from knowledgeable people who know the situations we’re stepping into and it’s been highly insightful. This was the first place we visited in which we had no guide, only the context we’d learned previously like at the Jesuit museum or in our pre-trip reading. It was, in it’s own way, a powerful statement. I mean, they were slaughtered – what can one say? Their graves are marked by being built right into the tile at the front of the chancel. Paintings depicting Christ’s suffering and resurrection are scattered all over the walls. At the front of the church is a mural depicting a sort of “Last Supper” with Romero and Grande at the center with Jesus. Again the implications of an expansion of resurrection theology is at play here.

I got fairly emotional in the church, simply taking the time to reflect on my life and my ministry in the near silence of the chapel. I contemplated the imagery in that mural a long time and walked away having said a prayer of sorrow for not knowing what happened to these people before studying for this trip and resolving to find tangible ways to help back home.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

We returned to a filling lunch and clean laundry. Our hostess, Betty, offered to wash any clothes we had and I think those who took advantage of the service were thrilled. We’re all pretty stinky, very sweaty, and I couldn’t resist the urge to know I’d have clean pants and shirts for the rest of the trip. Betty charged $1.50 per pound for washing and it was the best $7 I’ve spent on the entire trip (and that includes Pop’s Ice Cream).

Enter the Arena

After lunch we had one of our most difficult emotional challenges but in a new way. We joined up with the St. Thomas group and went to the Arena headquarters, the party who were in power for twenty years, who lead the army against the FMLN-sponsored guerillas in the civil war, the party who is tied to the assassination of Romero through several pieces of evidence and emerging testimony. We went there to here a speaker named Mario V. – a Deputy in the National Assembly (like a Congressman/woman) – give us his insights on Romero and today’s Salvadorian politics.

In terms of Arena politics, Mario explained he doesn’t feel Romero is a saint and was frustrated with him because to him, he was only one-sided in the 1970s. He said those who left Arena to start the aforementioned GANA party were traitors. He implied single mothers were a cause of many of El Salvador’s problems because that family structure causes more stress on the government. He felt the most positive thing the Arena did before their power came to an end with the election of Funes was bringing the American dollar as the official currency.

A lot of this simply doesn’t jive with what we’ve heard so far, to be honest. In many ways, we simply weren’t prepared. We went into this room ready to not enjoy everything this man had to say. And yet much of what he said was so counter to what we had been hearing on our trip so far, and I heard him dismiss many people and ideas. This led to a profound reflection after worship on our emotions after the presentation. Many people in the group were outraged and used our time on the bus as an opportunity to express that anger and frustration and offense. Others had to shut down for a while to process everything internally. Still others didn’t know what to think. We shared these feelings in the evening and I believe the consensus was that, although we agree it’s important to hear the opposing viewpoints, we could have better prepared ourselves, we could have gifted ourselves more ways to process our emotions, and as one person said to me, it was simply difficult to listen to the opposing viewpoint after seeing Father Grande’s tomb.

As for my opinion, while I did not agree with much of what he said, I think it’s important not to dismiss him out of hand. The emotion we felt today is important and finding an appropriate outlet for that is a must, so long we don’t leave it at that. In my opinion, if I was to dismiss anyone’s point of view on this trip I am doing a disservice to the oppressed, to the dismissed. I’ve been dismissed and ignored, for the way I look, act, think, speak, and so on. And I understand that if I do not listen to why this man thinks the way he thinks, I’m not entering a dialogue and positive changes for the future won’t happen.


Our final destination for the day was a trip to the Ministry of Foreign Relations to hear Carlos Castaneda speak. He told us of the work Funes is trying to do with Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton in the US and how he hopes Obama will extend TPS deadlines for emergency temporary work visas for Salvadorians. Reason being, with such a high unemployment rate in El Salvador, a mass deportation of more people without jobs would only make things absolutely worse.

He gave us insight into a Department of Human Rights that sponsored a talk Funes gave about asking for forgiveness on behalf of the government for war atrocities and raised the question of how is one compensated for what they lost? How does the government compensate the families of over 8,000 disappeared?

The Ministry was very kind to us, having a nice spread of hot appetizers, cold drinks, and air conditioning. They were also the first place we’ve gone where officials took photos and video of us and asked us to have a group photo with them. An interesting reversal.

Final Notes and Highlights

Highlights from today include: Christina realizing she left her phone in a coffee shop in La Palma thankfully only about five minutes after leaving town (remember – it’s a two hour drive!), and learning Carlos Casteneda is no bureaucrat and has actually picked up deported Salvadorians at the airport personally, listening to Joe, a leader of the St. Thomas group, listen to Carlos for at least two minutes and then finally translated really well, and making a late-night run to Wendy’s with some members of the group.

Tomorrow is March 24, 2010, the thirtieth anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero. We will march in solidarity with the people

Your comments are so meaningful, thank you all. When we return, we hope to return the favor by having group members add to the conversation by writing in the comments, too, to offer additional insights. Check out the post labeled “Globalization Contest” for your chance to win a free book and comment away.

I’m having difficulty getting photos uploaded tonight so please check back and I will do my best, I’ve got a lot of great ones today and I hope to have them to you soon. Update: I’ve added photos, so enjoy!


2 thoughts on “El Salvador Day 06 – The Grave of Father Grande and the Emotional Arena”

  1. Nate,
    Thanks again for your insightful writing. It is almost like we can put ourselves in the group with you. With March 24th falling on a Wednesday we will have the confirmation group light candles in solidarity with you tonight.

  2. Nate, the journal of your journey is such a gift. I must admit that I had never heard of Romero until this time, but I was moved when his was the voice in today’s Sojourner’s offering. How amazing that you would be there for the 30th anniversary.

    Thought I would share these with you, since they struck me as so in tune with what you are experiencing. God is certainly with you on your journey. Revel in the blessings.


    Verse of the Day – Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
    – Philippians 2:4-5

    Voice of the Day – Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down.
    – Archbishop Oscar Romero, an advocate for the poor and marginalized, was assassinated thirty years ago today while giving Mass in El Salvador.

    Prayer of the Day -God of reconciliation, we pray for people around the world who face conflict and violence on a daily basis. In the midst of instability, insecurity, and the perpetual risk of injury and death, we ask that you would strengthen them. Bring peace to their regions and bring reconciliation between enemies. With you all things are possible, and in this truth we hope for shalom. Let it be, Lord.


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