On the second Sunday in Lent, the Anglican Church of El Salvador, in conjunction with Fundación Cristosal, unveiled a 15-foot high obelisk capped with a celtic cross and dedicated to the thousands of volunteers who have labored through the years in solidarity with the people of El Salvador and with its Anglican church.
The event took place in the context of the Holy Eucharist at El Maisal, the last of the Anglican villages to be completed in a decade-long Episcopal Relief & Development project following the devastating 2001 earthquake suffered by this smallest of Central American countries.
Occupied by the military during El Salvador's long civil war, El Maisal is now inhabited by more than 50 families living in tidy homes sponsored by Episcopal Relief & Development, and served by sustainable agricultural projects, a women's sewing cooperative, a new micro-loan bakery, a community center, school and the parish church of the Divine Providence.
Hope reigns, and celebration was much in evidence among the residents and dozens of visiting North Americans who have served through Cristosal to accompany the work of change unfolding in this and other vulnerable communities. "Today we honor the witness of people who have come to serve without expecting anything in return," said El Salvador Bishop Martín Barahona in his dedication address.
The event at El Maisal was the capstone to a week of events surrounding the 10th Anniversary of Fundación Cristosal and the retirement of its founder, the Very Rev. Richard Bower, former dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, Syracuse, in the Diocese of Central New York.
"Padre Bower" -- as he is affectionately known in Central and North America alike -- has been a passionate advocate for social justice in Latin America, first meeting Barahona when they served together as priests in Panama during the 1980s. Their deep friendship through the decades led, in 2000, to the establishment of the Vermont incorporated foundation dedicated to support and accompany the Anglican Church of El Salvador in all aspects of its mission and ministry.
Cristosal has been key to the establishment of the Human Rights Office of the Salvadoran Church, the expansion of the Church's ministry into rural and Eastern provinces of the country, theological education for Salvadoran clergy and laity, educational scholarships for young people, the development of the communications office, and transformational journeys, work projects and exchange visits for North Americans wishing to serve in El Salvador.
The new director of Fundación Cristosal, Noah Francis Bullock, has lived in El Salvador since 2005 while engaged in community and parish development, sustainable agriculture projects, human rights advocacy and health programs with the Episcopal Church. He developed El Centro Pastoral de Jiquilisco in Usulutan Province living and working in rural communities comprised of relocated ex-combatants and displaced persons from El Salvador's civil war.
In May 2009, Bullock finished a course in local development from the University of Central America, San Salvador, and is presently working with photographer Jeff Hammond to create a video documentary and written book project on poverty, gang violence and development in El Salvador. The project, "That a More Humane World Might Be," may be viewed online at: http://www.projectsalvador.org/.
"It is poignant that the 10th anniversary celebrations of Fundación Cristosal occur in the same month as the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a courageous advocate against structural poverty, violence and exploitation," said Bullock. "Our foundation continues to strive in the spirit of Romero."
The Episcopal Church added Oscar Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador to Lesser Feasts and Fasts at General Convention 2009, with observations falling on March 24, the day of Romero's 1980 assassination.
Fundación Cristosal membership spans the United States and Canada, often grouping in local "base communities" for prayer, study, reflection and organization in support of the work of the Anglican Church of El Salvador, its office of human rights and related projects, and often working in cooperation with Episcopal Relief & Development, diocesan world mission committees, and existing companion parish and diocesan relationships.
To learn more about the work of Fundación Cristosal or to participate in transformational journeys or work projects in El Salvador, visit the foundation website at http://http://http://cristosal.org/.