Dear Sisters and Brothers -
I write as I return from five days in El Salvador, where seven fellow parishioners and I received the generous hospitality of our sister parish, San Antonio, in Soyapango.
As last year, the experience was somewhat like drinking from a fire hose - our days were long and full with learning about San Antonio and its many lay-led ministries, about El Salvador regarding its history and current circumstances, and about the people who so graciously shared their stories and their resources with us. It will take some time for all of us to appropriate our experience. You will hear from various ones of us in the coming weeks and months as we try to share how our hearts were touched.
I find being surrounded by poverty and its consequences extremely difficult. My first four years of priesthood at Dolores Mission Parish in East Los Angeles were very rich, but very difficult. Though I learned much, especially about being a priest, my spiritual gifts lie elsewhere, (I will admit to a bit of envy of my Jesuit brothers who come alive in such ministry.) However, while in El Salvador, I was reminded of something I readily appreciate: it is easy to keep focused on the important stuff.
I have spent much time fretting over world and national events in recent months. To be clear, there is much worth being concerned about, but many of those things are a few steps beyond my influence. However, in El Salvador, the need is immediate and often I can do something about it in ways that are meaningful.
For example, we met and spent time with the women and men in the three workshops our parish supports at San Antonio: crafts-making, clothing design and sewing, and baking; skills that are the sole income for some graduates of these programs. We were introduced to some 15 recipients of the $360/year scholarships we send, which keep or have kept those teenagers in schools where gangs are not a threat so they can stay focused on their education. Young adults of the parish pitched their business plan for a graphic design studio and the possibility of a new workshop that could give their parishioners an income-generating skill as a result, as well as their need for eight Mac computers in order to make that happen. The needs here are clear and easy to address in a meaningful way.
The point I'm trying to make is that, while there are very real national and international issues - and we must do what we can to address the structures that give rise to any injustice - there are smaller, accessible things that we can do, such as supporting the good work of our sister parish, (as we have done for more than 15 years through Las Vecinas de El Salvador), as well as our many programs to aid the homeless here in San Francisco. These and other outreach ministries that you do are meaningful and critical. They are ways in which you live out the Gospel of Jesus.
Finally, I will also say that it was remarkable to spend those days in El Salvador with parishioners Izzy and Eddy Gutierrez, Mario and John Hemann, Harry Hutzle, and Mark and Andy Kearney. Their openness, faith, humor, kindness, and compassion put a good face on St. Ignatius Parish (and the United States) for our sisters and brothers to the south. Thank you seven for the time you took from work and out of your summer vacations.
Let us pray for Parroquia San Antonio, our sisters and brothers in need everywhere, and for St. Ignatius Parish. And, as always,
Oremus pro invicem.