Recently, my father came to visit me from the United States. We spent one morning in a Christian base
community called El Pueblo de Dios en Camino (The people of God on the way). I wrote a little poem
about the experience we had during a celebration of the word.
El Pueblo de Dios en Camino. Celebration of the word.
Stifling, hot, immovable air,
provided by the Holy Mystery. Dispersed through the homily
shared by all.
Incomprehensible to my father.
No holy sacrament, no body or blood of the Christ.
Crisis. Salvation at stake?! Wait,
back to translating.
So much beauty lost in the process.
Beauty, like language, cannot be caged.
Only know, father, that they ask
about your dying mother.
They welcome you. Open arms. Common theme.
Accompaniment enters my mind. Wait.
What does it look like now? How can we accompany these people?
Wrong question. What can we do
to open our hearts to be accompanied?
Two way street.
To love others, one must first love herself.
To accompany, one must be accompanied.
I came to accompany, but was accompanied;
my father the same, with his faith, his mother.
To fully live, you must give yourself away to others,
This past weekend Casa Bayanihan students and staff took a day trip to hike Taal Volcano, just an hour and a half drive outside of Manila. The day's adventures took us to the lake shore town of Talisay, where we took a relaxing boat ride out to Taal Volcano. We then began the 45 minute hike, enjoying the lush views of the surrounding ridges and the lake on the way. Upon reaching the peak, the view of the sulfuric lake, Crater Lake, inside the volcano was stunning. The beauty of nature in the Philippines was both serene and rejuvenating for all of us, and we left feeling inspired to keep seeking out all that the Philippines has to offer!
"I have no grammatically correct sentences that can adequately portray the feelings, experiences or insights I’ve brought back with me from Calatagan. All I have is awe. Awe for the fishermen who go out to sea early in the morning, awe for the women who go out to the market to sell, awe for the children who constantly carry with them the hospitality and love of their parents and awe for the entire province for their trust and loyalty with one another. "
-Amber Cavarlez, USF
"There was something very peculiar about the energy of Calatagan that reminded me of my father, so I wrote this poem the last day I was there. After having lost my father five years ago, it was refreshing to know that his presence still remained in what I encountered in this very special and sacred place."
I will remember the rain.
I will remember the ways in which it poured down, washing away my tears
and reminding me that my father is still here.
There is something sacred about this place.
My father's spirit dwells with me here.
In the dancing of the tree branches in the wind,
in the gentleness of the ocean waves in the shallow,
in the drops of rain that fall-sometimes light,
sometimes powerfully falling down, fleeting.
In the love that is shared, through the spirit that is Angel.
Last Sunday, the same weekend that I spent in Las Nubes, I hiked down the mountain with Elsa a little before 7:00 and I went straight to El Pueblo de Dios en Camino. This day was the day that the community was going to celebrate the life of Carlos Acevedo (the catechist that was martyred) as well as the lives lost in the Mudslide of Montebello. Since I arrived so early, I began my day by helping Anita with some last minute things that had to get done- setting up chairs, sweeping, getting supplies ready, etc. Around 8:30, we took some large photos of some martyrs, some crosses, and some signs to the Ermita. If you recall, this is where the discovered bodies were laid out during the mudslide for family members to come and claim. As people arrived, we distributed flowers and signs with scripture verses on them. All in all, there were well over 100 people that came to share in this special service! Around 9:30, we all began a procession through the streets of San Ramon. This was a super chivo experience for me. The young and old alike were walking through the streets of San Ramon singing songs of liberation together. A large wooden cross led the procession, followed by huge pictures of some martyrs that were particularly close to the community. I was asked to help to carry the picture of Silvia, one of the martys that Anita knew very well- I was definitely humbled. As we walked through the street singing together (well, I was listening) we also shouted out chants. So somebody would scream out “Viva _____ (martyrs, victims of the mudslide, Monsenor Romero, Christian Base Communities, etc)” And we would all respond “Que Viva!” Which means, in a sense, “Long Live the King!” Or in our case, the presence of those are still with us. This was just a really cool experience of solidarity with the Salvadorians.
Finally, we arrived at a large park. This park is made of the dirt mound leftover from the mudslide. So essentially, the earth that we were standing on was once part of the upper volcano and had caused many deaths. While nobody can confirm it, the park is also a sort of mass grave, since it was never formally overturned to ensure that no body parts were left. So we were really standing on holy ground, with a cross to commemorate the event. Here, we (over 100 of us) had a worship service. We sang songs, learned about Carlos Acevedo and the Mudslide of Montebello, and had communion together. Several youth from the community shared the sermon with us. At one point while we were singing a solemn song, the youth spread hundreds of rose petals all around us in the park. To me, these red petals among the dry, brown ground signified so many lives lost- a solemn occasion indeed. All is all, it was an incredible experience. But perhaps the most exciting part of it was that they used pan dulce for communion. Pan dulce is essentially any type of bread that is sweet- cookies, pastries, etc. I’m convinced that if churches in America gave out cookies instead of cardboard wafers for communion, all of our churches would be packed!
Returning to the Philippines to study this past spring, Teresa Cariño ’13 anticipated a kind of homecoming. The Philippines is her parents’ homeland, after all. She had visited many times. What she found were families crowded into shanties and children living on the streets—scenes she had previously only glimpsed from the security of her family’s car.
"It’s been intense. There is no other way to describe it,” Cariño, a theology and religious studies major at the University of San Francisco, wrote in an email from Manila. For Cariño, Casa Bayanihan has thrown back the curtain on a world of injustice that she knew little about from family vacations.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, six other USF students were with Cariño during the spring semester—all studying tuition-free and accompanying members of underprivileged communities as part of the Casa Bayanihan program.
The study abroad and immersion program—jointly administered by USF, Santa Clara University, and Ateneo de Manila University in Manila—just completed its second semester. Unlike other study abroad programs, Casa teaches by immersing students in marginalized communities and pairing those students with residents or nonprofits working for change. The pillars of the program are accompanying residents of marginalized communities; rigorous academic study; community living, including eating simple meals, washing clothes by hand, and taking cold showers; and spiritual formation.
Students study the Philippine economy, culture, and society; gender equality; Tagalog; and more. Two days a week, and occasionally on weekends, students take what they’ve learned in the classroom into the field at praxis sites, learning from locals about the realities on the ground. The richness of the program lies in the combination of what students learn in the community and in the classroom, and the dialogue that ensues.
Indeed, Casa isn’t about students “parachuting” in to aid needy Filipinos. Historically, that approach has damaged cultures. Students are taught to resist that impulse and reminded that, prior to using the benefits of privilege and power to help others, they must walk humbly with them, and be instructed by their daily reality, said Mark Ravizza, S.J., the Jesuit-in-residence at Casa Bayanihan.
“We aren’t here to help. We are here to learn,” said Cariño, recalling a quote that was recited during her Casa orientation: “‘If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.’” (Lilla Watson)
For Cariño, accompaniment meant building friendships with disabled Filipinos, who often face discrimination, and learning how they manage daily tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and traveling around town. Cariño also tutored special education students and packaged medications from a local pharmaceutical company. For other students, accompaniment meant improving the construction of shanty homes in squatter communities, helping nonprofits educate street children, or learning how micro-loans are administered to small business owners.
Class assignments, community-based research, films, and weekly discussion groups all relate to students’ experiences in local communities. The program’s integration of classroom, real-world, and spiritual lessons are key to students developing an awareness of and compassion for those who experience harsh realities, to advancing a deeper knowledge of themselves, and to living more justly with others, said Grace Carlson, Casa co-director.
Casa challenges students’ thinking about poverty and privilege, the role of faith, the factors that give rise to the suffering they see, and what it means to “help” people. Students stepping outside of their comfort zones is what Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., the 29th superior general of the Society of Jesus, had in mind in 2000 when he issued a new imperative for Jesuit higher education: “Students,” he said, “must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so that they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage it constructively.”
Colleen Curry ’13, who completed Casa in fall 2011, said the realities she encountered in the Philippines broke down barriers that let her close herself off from others’ problems. “It exposed me to a new way of living,” said Curry, an English major. “No longer do I just exist in my California bubble, but in the greater world reality.”
Filipina American Tara Peithman ’12, who also completed Casa in 2011, called the program the most valuable part of her USF experience. “It changed what I want to do after graduation,” said Peithman, who accompanied families living in a squatter community, helping to build homes, teaching art to children, and painting church pews.
Peithman plans to apply for work as an advocate for the Asian community. She’s also pursuing opportunities for development work in the Philippines. “Living in community with others in solidarity and developing a spiritual dimension has completely empowered me,” Peithman said.
By Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, associate director of Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. Fordham University
At the University of Central America (known affectionately as “The UCA,” pronounced oo-ka) in the heart of the city of San Salvador, grows a beautiful rose garden. The roses were planted and meticulously tended by a man named Obdulio Ramos. Obdulio once worked at the UCA as a handyman and landscaper, and his wife worked for the University, as well, keeping house for the Jesuits who served as leaders, scholars and teachers.
On the night of November 16th, 1989, Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina, who was staying overnight with her mother, were awakened, dragged from their beds, and savagely murdered, along with 6 Jesuit priests who were living in the house: Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Amando Lopez, Juan Ramon Moreno, and Joaquin Lopez y Lopez.
Father Ellacuria, the president of the UCA, had been an outspoken critic of the corrupt leadership of the Salvadoran government and the civil war being waged against its own people. The government sent soldiers to assassinate him and to brutalize his body, and were given instructions to leave no witnesses; hence, the “collateral damage” of the 5 unlucky priests, the blameless housekeeper, and her 16-year-old child. The bodies were discovered the next morning, most of them prostrate on the lawn—the very ground where Obdulio’s roses now grow.
These shots were heard around the world. Pictures of the slaughtered innocents were circulated widely, symbolic of the massacre of an entire people. International pressure forced the government to sign peace agreements and made way for more peaceable leadership to take root in El Salvador. The murders of these good people were terrible, and citizens around the world were moved to insure that their lives and deaths not be wasted. They are remembered to this day as martyrs whose sacrifice saved a nation and countless lives, and their collective symbol has since been the rose.
Human beings have long associated Roses with Remembrance. The rose is a perennial: she blooms, faithfully, each year, attesting to the pitiless passage of time and, simultaneously, renewing the promise of the eternal. She is the queen of flowers, the biggest of blooms, possessor of the odor and attar that soothes and enchants all who approach her.
It is no accident that the flower arrangement that best bespeaks our grief is the Bleeding Heart: white carnations arranged in the shape of a heart riven by a streak of blood-red roses. Red roses, in particular, are associated with human passion, with the heart, and with precious human blood—all words and things demonstrative of life. They insist, in the face of loss, that love endures.
Five years ago, on the 16th anniversary of these deaths, I visited the rose garden at the UCA. It was a warm November day in San Salvador, and the roses bloomed in shameless abundance. I was awe-struck by the peace of the place, a small corner that breathes beauty amid a troubled city, blighted by new violences and new injustice, kidnappings and gang killings and grinding poverty, the wars—ever ancient and ever new—waged against the human spirit. I also learned that Obdulio had since died and another gardener has taken over his task of keeping these roses blooming, a husband’s and father’s refusal to forget outliving his own mortal body.
The strangeness of being in that place—ground where precious lives were lost—and witnessing the testament of roses, made me feel the presence, in an other-worldly way, of the men and women who breathed their last breaths there. The roses were rife with remembrance of people I had never met, and somehow they were there among us, reminding us of how steep the cost of freedom, justice, and peace has ever been (and will ever be).
“A terrible beauty is born” (gracias, Senor Yeats), and that “Beauty will save the world” (gracias, Senor Dostoyevsky). I wrote the poem below in the days that followed, another attempt at remembrance—though no arrangement of words can offer the solace of a single rose.
Return of the Saints
November 19, 2007
The Rose Garden, University of Central America
Tonight the grass is bloodless,
and you’re surprised to find
beauty where your bodies once lay,
your new wounds blooming red as roses.
The man who planted them is gone.
For years he tended every stem,
hands sure as a father’s
soothing his dying child.
Only the murdered ones return,
a gift given in exchange
for the horror of death in the dark
roused from your lonely beds.
Your crimes (un)common as love:
aiming truth at the face of falsehood,
claiming justice for the disappeared,
shaming the proud and the fortunate few.
No one calls you saints, even now.
You loiter on the well-trimmed lawn,
toe stones along the brickwork paths,
search for your selves in empty rooms,
then retreat as you once refused
to retreat, before the coming sun,
your roses blooming red
at the heart of the martyrs’ garden.