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Summer Program

About Silvia Arriola

The program is named after Silvia Maribel Arriola who was born to privileged Salvadorans in 1951. As a child, Silvia was sent to an exclusive Catholic girls school in San Salvador. Upon graduation, she joined a religious order and was trained as a nurse. Dismantling her identity as a middle-class professional, Sister Silvia took to the base communities of poor people throughout the region. Vowing to work fully and completely to this life, Sister Silvia lived in the slums with four other sisters. She ministered to the health and spiritual needs of homeless refugees during the day, and attended community meetings at night.

Sister Silvia served as Archbishop Romero’s person secretary from 1977 until his assassination in 1980, but continued to work at the community level. The rise of popular militant organizations in response to government repression caused tension in the church, and Sister Silvia began to spend more time working with young people in her community. She had a gift for identifying with young people, and was much beloved by them as a friend and companion.

As repression expanded, Sister Silvia was sent to El Amate for a year. A death threat from a paramilitary group forced her to move from village to village out of fear for the families with whom she stayed. In early January 1981, she was in Santa Ana when it was taken over by government solders. Bombs were dropped and tanks stormed the clinic. Tracked and pursued through the countryside by helicopters, Silvia and 91 other people ran for three days. On 17 January, they were surrounded by troops and killed. Their bodies were thrown into an open grave and burned.

Today Silvia is much revered by the Salvadoran people as a martyr and visionary. In a song written to commemorate her life and death, Silvia's spirit speaks to the people:

Don't seek me in my tomb, I am among the people. I go opening pathways of a new history.