Group from Moline parish back from El Salvador ‘immersion’
By: By Jennifer Willems
MOLINE — Walking down “memory lane” can bring great joy. It can also bring great sadness. Sister Charlotte Seubert, FSPA, pastoral associate at Christ the King Parish found both when she returned to El Salvador in August as part of a group from the Moline parish.
They traveled to El Salvador as part of an immersion program known as GATE (Global Awareness Through Experience), a sponsored ministry of her religious community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. GATE strives to give participants a sense of the cultural, political, economic and religious aspects of Salvadoran life.
“We went to the hospital chapel where Romero was killed, to the place where the Jesuits were killed,” she told The Catholic Post after taking a deep breath. “I had been there through the whole thing. It was like I was reliving the whole thing.”
The “whole thing” was the bloody civil war in El Salvador that saw the murders of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador on March 26, 1980, and four American churchwomen on Dec. 2, 1980. The Salvadoran church would be rocked again in November 1989 when six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter were shot to death at the University of Central America in San Salvador.
Missioned to the country in 1962 (“the prime of my life!”), Sister Charlotte was brought home by her community in 1981, when it became clear that the campaign of intimidation and violence against priests and women religious would continue.
“Another point that touched me during the trip was when we visited the place where the four churchwomen died. I had helped to bury them, but I had not been to the place where they were killed,” she said.
Since it is the custom of the Maryknoll community to bury their missioners in the country in which they are serving, Sister Maura Clarke and Sister Ita Ford were laid to rest in El Salvador, while the bodies of Sister Dorothy Kazel, OSU, and lay missioner Jean Donovan were returned to the United States.
The road to the field where they were killed is barely wide enough for a bus, Sister Charlotte said. “Can you imagine how your heart would have been pounding?”
But she lived through happier times, too.
“A positive point was the school, Escuela Santa Ana de la Parroquia Madre del Salvador. They have been going for 46 years,” Sister Charlotte said. “We left after about 10 years. Now it is semi-public because the government pays for several of the teachers to be there.”
Started with seven classes, there are now 13. The faculty has grown from three to 30, while a student body of 80 now numbers 800.
“The teachers were just wonderful,” said Sharon Dodd, director of religious education at Christ the King and a member of the Moline group. “We’re hoping to generate some money to send to the school for the students who cannot meet the fees — about $120 per child.”
Dodd made the trip for two reasons.
“My personal reason for going was to see the country that Sister Charlotte truly loved through her eyes,” she told The Post. “El Salvador is very special to Sister. When you’re there and you see the work she did and the people she interacted with, you see why.”
The second reason Dodd went was to meet the little girl her religious education students sponsor through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. The 9-year-old lives in an orphanage in Santa Ana and Dodd said she was pleased to be able to meet “my little one.”
The GATE program also gave the group an opportunity to meet with the Comadres or Mothers of the Disappeared, whose children were killed outright or went missing during the war and never returned. Dodd said she was amazed by their enduring spirit, which the Moline group fed “in some small way” through donations of medicine, clothes, and other supplies.
Other life-changing experiences included visiting a bakery started by six women with one oven that now has two ovens, a commercial-sized mixer and a kneading machine; a cooperative effort to bring clean drinking water to one village; seeing the memory wall that lists 22,000 names of those killed by year; and Mass in the crypt where Archbishop Romero is buried.
“What you learn is there’s more to life than Peoria, Ill., and Moline, Ill.,” Dodd said. “It enlarges your understanding of the world. We do have brothers and sisters in many different places.”
In addition to Sister Charlotte and Dodd, the group included Father Donald Levitt, pastor; Patricia DeClerk; Judy Crompton; Bonnie Johnson; Cheryl Heaton; Patricia Seubert, Sister Charlotte’s sister; Sister Patricia Shepler, FSPA, a member of Sister Charlotte’s community; and Margie Bleuer, an associate of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.