No. I, September 2018
In the tradition of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, and all those who have contributed to the eighty five year history of the Catholic Worker movement, we give thanks to Jesus Christ to be able to open the doors of a house of hospitality in San Salvador, located at #208 Pasaje 2, Colonia Santa Eugenia, Barrio San Miguelito.
We have named it La Carpa, the tent, as a reminder of our impermanence on Earth, and our longing for an eternal dwelling place. As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians, if our earthly tent is destroyed, we already have a house not built by human hands. We are constantly reminded of this in the lifestyle of those who we are trying to reach: always wandering, hungry, looking for food and a safe place to sleep. In this way, we search for the sustenance that only God can provide.
The house is situated close to the city center. Although in an area of great need, this location also presents unique challenges. The criminal gangs are extremely territorial, and entering an unfamiliar neighborhood is a grave risk. Security concerns require us to balance our desire to show hospitality to everyone with the safety of workers and guests.
We lay the groundwork for daily life in the house as well as for our dreams for the future, and are happy to have two full time residents and a growing network in the immediate area.
More than just a soup kitchen or a dormitory, La Carpa aims to be an intentional community where not just physical needs are met, but also the need for friendship. In the words of Mother Theresa, “The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” When we leave the house early in the morning on our twice weekly bread and coffee route, we encounter many drug addicts and alcoholics sleeping on bare pavement. “Thank you for remembering us,” said Jonatán, a thirty year old addict, “no one else does.”
It is for the least of these that Christians worldwide are called on to serve. By establishing a house equipped to serve them, we follow the dream of Peter Maurin in making “a world in which it is easy to be good.”
A Carmelite brother in sixteenth century France. Brother Lawrence, as he was known, was a humble servant who spent most of his life in the priory kitchen. Yet such was his contentedness in his work that many came to him to listen to him speak about experiencing God in daily life. It is to him that our kitchen is dedicated, as a reminder that our call to Christian service is most often simply cooking and washing dishes.
No. II, October – November 2018
In the early hours of October 14th, Oscar Romero was canonized. Our community, along with companions from Maryknoll and many other friends, took part in the lively and colorful march, Mass, and vigil outside the Metropolitan Cathedral. It was a great joy to see the humble hero of this tiny, downtrodden nation sainted by the Church and honored by the United Nations, who declared the day of his assassination in 1980 an international day of remembrance for all those who have died in the defense of human rights.
Though the canonization took place in Rome, accompanied by a gilded Latin choir and celestial army of white robed clergy, it seemed that they should have been watching a live feed of our Mass instead of the other way around. There was nowhere better to be that night than with the people Romero died for, singing the songs they wrote about him. In Rome, little mention was made of Romero’s work or the true reasons for his assassination, but Father Tojeira did not leave us waiting: “He reminded the rich that the idolatry of wealth was the basis of Salvadoran injustice. He reproached the powerful for using death as an instrument of power. And he reminded the popular organizations that they could not put the organization above the rights of the people.”
The stark difference between the two Masses was an apt illustration of the tension Romero revealed within the Church. We cannot forget that his bitterest detractors were his own bishops, who constantly undermined him at home and in Rome even after his death, painting him as a communist subversive who fanned the flames of war because of his public denouncement of the government’s violent regime. We cannot forget that while the Church uses one hand to lift up the powerless, the other hand still stubbornly clings to worldly power.
Pope Francis sent an important message to that divided Church with this canonization. Yet the danger of sainthood, as Dorothy Day recognized, is dismissal as nothing more than another exemplar of piety. This has already begun in many parishes in El Salvador, where the same people who utter “Saint Romero, pray for us,” might be scandalized by quotations from his homilies that demand radical change in the political and economic system. For people who knew Romero personally, like Maria Isabel, who organized his mail at the archdiocese office—and sorted through the daily death threats sent to him—it has renewed the very idea of what a saint is. “When I walk into the church where he grew up and see a statue of him, it is very strange. I’m used to seeing the old saints,” she folds her hands together and tilts her head in the familiar pose of detached holiness, “but I saw him get mad, tell jokes, and laugh…he broke the model of sainthood we are used to.”
“When we say “for the poor,” we do not take sides with one social class. What we do is invite all social classes, rich and poor without distinction, to take seriously the cause of the poor as though it were their own. The cause of the poor is the cause of Jesus Christ.” -Homily, September 9th, 1979
Part of the current community, from left to right: Oscar, Maria, Tim, Erica, Nelly, and Antonio. Not pictured is Christian, who came to us at the end of November, and Isela, a young woman who sometimes stays with us when she feels unsafe on the street. We have two more open beds in the men’s room, and we will eventually buy a bunkbed for the women’s room. We are also considering installing simple accommodations in the garage for those who come to us for shelter but are too intoxicated to be allowed into the house. We ask our readers to pray for those who struggle with addictions or are in recovery.
Every Friday and Saturday morning, Maria, Oscar, and Tim get up early in the morning to prepare bread filled with beans and rice or eggs, along with coffee and water, to bring to all those who sleep in the street from Comunidad Tutunichapa to San Miguelito.