By José Manuel Santos Alvarado
The great adventure and religious experience started on Saturday, March 24th when we began walking to the road— my brothers at Centro Xiberta, Esteban, Junior, and me. We boarded a minibus to reach our first destination that was a roundabout of the town of Apopa, Chalatenango. We then grabbed another minibus into the town of Apopa where we waited for Bus 125 which would take us to the capital of the Department of Chalatenango.
When we reached Chalatenando, the parish priest, whose name is Jesús, was waiting for us. They had prepared a lunch for us.
After the meal, the coordinators of the different communities were waiting for us to arrive at that various locations. To our surprise, Junior and I were to be in the same community. Esteban would be alone in another community. We started our way up the hill with Sister Linda. Her brother-in-law came from the western part of the country with a minibus. He too was visiting the community where we were to be ministering. His minibus, however, could not make it up the hill so we had to wait for another. When that one arrived, we found that Esteban was traveling in it!
We finally arrived at the Aradas community. From there we were going to a place far from the town. The community we would be serving in is at the foot of the Eramón Hill. This location was used as a camp for the guerrillas at the time of the Civil War in El Salvador.
We were welcomed into the very humble home of Doña Elene and Don José, two very religious people. This would be our base during out entire stay.
On Saturday afternooon and Sunday we had our first celebrations of the Word in a house that also functions as the church because they have nowhere else to meet. The church house is very small for the number of people who meet there.
On Monday we visited the homes of the people of the community. It moved me a great deal to experience the poverty in which these people live. And yet, despite their poverty, they share what little they have, much like the Early Church we read about the Acts of the Apostles.
Seeing the naked children eating while playing on the ground greatly impacted me. I could identify with them because I come from a very similar reality as these children.
This lady, whose name is Elvira, was very happy because we came to visit her. She received communion from us. It was a great experience for me as well. She reminded me of my grandmother who passed away.
We also bonded with the children. We handed over the little money that we had in order to buy candy and cookies to give them. The money did not matter to us. We were paid back tenfold with the smiles and happiness of the children.
We not only connected with the younger children, but also with the young people of the area. They are very active in the community. They are young people with a great faith and dedication to God. They surpassed our expectations.
However, we were seen as somewhat apart from the community. So we joined in the different activities that any community needs to do. My favorite was to help a child and his horse carry water.
But the experience which most marked me was to be a part of building the community’s new church building. So far the building is only about 35% completed and this has been through the shear hard work of doing whatever is necessary to obtain the materials. But they still lack a great deal of materials. You can see that everyone in the community enjoys working out of their own love to have a fitting temple. The builders do not receive a salary but do everything out of their love for the community.
These people dream that someone can give them the financial help to finish their church building. Then they will have a decent place for praising God. So far, to raise the money necessary for the materials, they have sold pupusas and raffled a cow that was donated by a brother of the community. Thanks to the cow the managed to raise $700.00, all of which was used for the purchase of building materials. They need additional funding to finish their church.
The beauty of this experience is that you forget the amenities that we have in the formation house, Centro Xiberta. Here on mission, you take your turn washing your clothes in the same place everyone else in the community washes theirs. The good thing about these experiences is that you realize the reality of life for many people. This encourages you to be more aware and caring about the things that we have back home.
We had to bathe in the only source of water for the community, the place everyone has to bathe. We would get up early. Usually people would start coming to bathe afterwards. But there were times we shared the bathing water with others. This reminded me of my childhood when we would go to bathe in the river.
On Holy Saturday, we had the whole ceremony on Eramón Hill where many people, young and old had gathered. Some of the people had prepared a delicious chicken soup that was enough for all of us. We also shared with other people who had arrived from another community. From Eramón you can see the most important river in the country of El Salvador, the Lempa river. You can also see the mountain range which borders the Republic of Honduras.
That was the last day of our sharing with the people of the community. We returned to Centro Xiberta, the Carmelite formation house on Easter morning. The experience of the Aradas community was great. The people were very welcoming. We all enjoyed the time spent in Aradas, sharing our faith but also playing games, talking, eating, and just sharing.
The last celebration we were present at with the community was the Vigil. That ceremony took place outside of the house church. The number of people attending prohibited everyone from getting into the small house. But it was also a sign of the hope that people have for the completion of their new worship space.