On Thursday 30 January, Canon John Kelly and a group of his parishioners at St Helen’s in Caerphilly came together to hear about our work in El Salvador.
It was a first-hand update from Therese Warwick, CAFOD’s representative in Cardiff and Menevia, who had recently visited San Salvador.
The presentation included some further details and photos about the Divine Providence Hospital church, where Oscar Romero was assassinated, the adjacent cancer hospital and Saint Oscar Romero’s very simple home.
La Chacra is a very poor, slum area in the capital San Salvador.
Gang culture has flourished in El Salvador since the 12 year civil war ended in 1992.
Home life is chaotic. Alcohol, domestic violence and a lack of education, opportunity and hope in the future takes its inevitable toll. There are no jobs, but lots of guns. Identity was and is very important.
CAFOD is trying to help people get out of gangs, whose members are tattooed – even on their faces – so that they are easily identifiable as belonging to a particular gang.
Girls also ally themselves with certain gangs and often end up as sex slaves to protect themselves from rival gangs. La Chacra works a lot with girls who are trying to get out of this circle of violence.
Sr Mark Hollywood worked at Fey y Allegria school for over 10 years. Now the Poor Clare Sisters and our CAFOD partners at Fey y Allegria now run the school. Sr Mark is visibly proud of her staff, students and families and their achievements.
The whole school community was involved in presenting a joyful show of traditional folk-dancing.
The girls were wearing spectacular, colourful dresses with each costume representing the authentic identity of many of the indigenous peoples of El Salvador.
The young boys were balletic and graceful partners. There was fantastic singing and a wonderful marching band – who have won many accolades for their performances.
The sense of pride and hope in these students who come from some of the most violent and disadvantaged homes is clear to see.
Whilst the Catholic Church is not a minority Church in Latin America, you would be hard pressed to find a CAFOD project which does not work so closely with Catholic parishes where the most vulnerable and disinherited are the focus of their mission.
St Helen’s parish is taking part in Hands On – which is focusing on peace-building with young people in the Magdalea Medio region of Colombia.
If you would like to book a talk in your parish, please get in touch.