In March of this year, I went with seven seminarians from the Josephinum and several undergraduates from Ohio Dominican University to the Republic of El Salvador in Central America. We spent nine days in this beautiful, impoverished country, and I was profoundly affected by my experience.
El Salvador is a life-changing experience not only because of the poverty that the people there experience, but also because of the important role that the Catholic Church has played in that country, particularly in its recent history. As a Catholic seminarian, I could not help but feel a connection to this proud and faithful people.
Part of our experience in El Salvador was working with the Maryknoll Lay Missioners (a group of lay missionaries affiliated with the Catholic religious order, Maryknoll) and a local diocesan parish to build a house for a woman named Paola.
Visit our travel blog, team written by trip participants while we were in-country
, to get a sense of our day-by-day experiences.
One of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Nancy, coordinated our work on Paola's new house. She has written an article that will be featured in a Maryknoll publication later this year, telling Paola's story and our role in helping to build her new house:
Meet Paola Martinez Beuda de Rosales. She was born in Izalco, El Salvador in 1915. When she was 27 years old, she met Marcelino Rosales, a day laborer who worked the fields, planting and harvesting crops wherever he could find work. They married in 1945 and moved to San Salvador where they lived together until his death 15 years ago. They lived a simple life, raised one son and were very active in the Church.
The adobe house (constructed of bamboo and mud) that Marcelino had built for them collapsed in the 2001 earthquake that rocked the tiny nation, leaving the 82-year old widow homeless. Next to where her house was situated was a small adobe structure, weathered and damaged, that she formerly used for storage. She was forced to live in that 10-ft square room until relief efforts could eventually assist her.
When aid from the mayor’s office finally reached Paola, resources were in short supply due to the extreme national poverty and catastrophic damage all around the country. They did the best they could by fashioning for her a house made from logs, split bamboo and scraps of “lamina” (corrugated and flat aluminum sheets). And that’s where and how she’s been living ever since, as the house slowly decays around her, overrun with insects, mice and pigeons.
Victor, her only son, is in his late 60’s, has diabetes and various other health problems so is unable to work or provide her any assistance. Since her husband was an “unofficial worker”, she receives no pension, retirement or “social security”. She chronically suffers from respiratory ailments due her constant exposure to the dust, air pollution and mold and because of her limited mobility, transportation challenges and the distance to the national public hospital, she doesn’t go for treatment. So she’s been growing weaker and frailer.
But there are modern day miracles and they are sometimes performed by school children! Namely, the students and faculty of St. James the Less Catholic School in Columbus, Ohio. Each year, they organize a service learning project that includes awareness and fund-raising activities to help change the lives of needy individuals or organizations around the world. This year their theme was “Under Construction –God At Work,” and they collaborated with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in El Salvador to contribute to the Vivienda Project, a home-building ministry of the youth at the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de Lourdes where Maryknoll lay missioner Nan Tyrolt works as the “asesora” (advisor) to the youth.
Organized by Colleen Gomez, the Lead Service Learning Coordinator at St. James, nearly $3,000 was raised for the Vivienda Project -- enough to build three semi-permanent homes for the extremely poor, homeless or displaced in Calle Real, the colonia in which Nuestra Señora de Lourdes parish is located. When Ohio Dominican University sent its annual Service Immersion Delegation to El Salvador, this year joined by seminarians from the Pontifical College Josephinum, Nan was able to use those funds and coordinate the construction of a new home for Paola, complete with cement floor, screened window openings and cheery paint. An individual donor even gifted a “Duckie” floor mat, robe and towels to Paola, to honor the memory of her mother.
Rainy season is just beginning in El Salvador. So far, there have been 3 or 4 heavy rainfalls. And for the first time since she can remember, Paola feels warm, dry and safe.
Nan says she still has about 100 names on the list for a home. So with prayer, the continued generous out-pouring of love and support and some Divine Intervention, she is hopeful that there will be more stories with happy endings for the people of Calle Real, El Salvador -- like Paola’s.
Top—the Ohio Dominican University & the Pontifical College Josephinum delegations in front of Señora Paola's new home; bottom—Señora Paola in her new home.