Category Archives: El Salvador

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Sr. Melinda Roper: From Death Squads to the Web of Life

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Global Sisters Report

In February 2017, while researching the impact of hydroelectric dams on the rivers and rural communities of Panama, I happened across Melinda Roper, a Catholic sister who had played a part in history as the leader of the Maryknolls at the time the four American churchwomen were killed by US-sponsored Salvadoran death squads. Roper became an outspoken critic of US policy in Central America, helping turn the tide in that bloody war. I found Melinda three decades later in a Panamanian jungle, organizing an ecospiritual retreat and working to raise consciousness with an ecological community of women religious. Here’s her story.

From her mission deep in Panama’s rainforest, Sr. Melinda Roper embraces a human rights focus much broader than the one that thrust her into the international spotlight nearly four decades ago.

Roper was at the helm of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic on Dec. 2, 1980, when four U.S. churchwomen — two of them Maryknoll sisters — were murdered in El Salvador. She was just 40 when elected two years earlier to lead the congregation, which had missions in Asia, Africa and the Americas and traced its history to 1912.

Under her leadership, the Maryknoll sisters fought for justice, for the churchwomen and for those they represented. At a time when Americans were mostly unaware of the U.S. role in training and financing right-wing death squads terrorizing much of Central America, the Maryknolls awakened the faith community in particular and the country in general.

The churchwomen became a symbol for a system that was repressing and killing tens of thousands of innocents, many simply for the profession of their faith. Their deaths helped inspire Central American solidarity groups throughout the U.S. and a sanctuary movement that gave shelter to refugees fleeing the violence.

Global Sisters Report sought out Roper in Panama, where she has spent the past 32 years building a pastoral community in the remote tropical wilderness of Darién province. Her human rights focus and spiritual growth have expanded to encompass the connection between environment and spirituality.

“I encourage all of us to try to understand more of what science is telling us today. … Science and spirituality are not contradictory but complementary; they’re the principles on which the universe functions,” she told GSR. “In all of nature and all of the universe, everything tends toward interconnecting and interrelating. Another word would be to be ‘in communion’ with everything.”

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Giving Thanks, Making Peace

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MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Thanksgiving day – I awoke this morning far from home and family but filled with a profound sense of gratitude.

Grateful for the sun that was just beginning to brighten the sky outside my window; grateful for the dear friends who have given me a home in this city of cities. Grateful for the health and the support of my family, who continue to love me faithfully despite my wandering ways.

Most of all on this day, I’m grateful for the path I’ve been given this year, a path that has led me from inspiration to inspiration as I traveled from Mexico to Argentina, seeking to learn from those who are each changing our world in their own way.
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Juan Rojas: Recovering indigenous memory in El Salvador

Tracy L. Barnett

LA FLORIDA, El Salvador – “That’s one of the purposes of the Salvadoran state, to make us forget,” Juan Rojas explains to me as we bump down the rugged dirt road that leads to his homestead, just six kilometers from San Salvador, but a world apart.

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El Salvador proves fertile ground for permaculturists

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By Tracy L. Barnett

SUCHITOTO, El Salvador – A gentle breeze ruffles the thatched roof of the hilltop shelter here at the Permaculture Institute. An electric-blue morpho butterfly flits past, a sharp accent against the muted blue of Volcano Guazapa in the background. An incongruously peaceful backdrop for the violence, massacres, scorched earth and forced evacuation that razed this region less than two decades ago.

That mountain, the hideout for guerilla forces for miles around, was bombed daily and burned repeatedly; the town of Suchitoto itself became a battlefield. Hundred of tons of artillery, white phosphorus and napalm rained down on the once lush jungles of these lands, drying up even the springs where people once retrieved their water.

But the Earth has a way of healing herself, and her inhabitants, and this land and the people who work it are living proof of that reality. Continue reading

Impressions from my first week in San Salvador

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SAN SALVADOR – I have great hopes for this little country on the Pacific Coast, this country of volcanic landscapes and volatile history – a country whose name means The Savior. I am curious to learn what the crucible of revolution may have wrought on the human spirit here. Much has been written of the Maras, the gangs with roots in the paramilitary death squads and in the barrios of Los Angeles and Houston and New York, and their ruthless exploits throughout the country – for the record, I haven’t seen any yet.

Far less has been written of the revolutionaries who turned their passion for justice into grassroots movements for change.
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Santa Ana, El Salvador: Volcanos at sunset and a bittersweet sorbet

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COATEPEQUE LAKE, El Salvador – The palms are swaying restlessly in the electric darkness, waiting for the storm to arrive. Lightning flashes over Santa Ana Volcano on the far side of the lake; just a few minutes ago I was walking along the shore with Elmer, catching the last bits of sunset over the lake.

He sensed the storm coming before I did. “Ya viene el agua,” he said. Literally, “Now the water is coming.” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect; rainy season notwithstanding, El Salvador gifted me with a blue sky my first full day in the country, perfect for visiting the pyramids of Tazumal and Casa Blanca, then catching a bus to this sparkling expanse of blue amid the volcanoes.
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Salvadoran environmental activists put their lives on the line

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Story and photos by Tracy L. Barnett

SAN ISIDRO, Cabañas, El Salvador – We arrived in this tiny mountain community to find Father Neftali Ruíz at the head of a march for justice, with Father Luis Quintanilla and Bishop Gabriel Orellana not far behind. They were wearing white robes with brightly woven vestments draped around their necks, an influence from El Salvador’s indigenous past, much like the vestments worn by Archbishop Oscar Romero and the Jesuit priests who were assassinated during the civil war for their defense of human rights. I thought of those priests’ garments, some of them bullet-ridden and stained with blood, on display at the Oscar Romero Center in San Salvador. But these fathers showed the truth in the Romero quote on banners and T-shirts all over the country: “If I die, I will be reborn among my people.” Continue reading