Christmas in El Salvador, 1981

An American priest visited a displaced persons’ refuge in El Salvador in 1981 and wrote the following reflection. It could just as easily apply today to a migrant camp in Lebanon or a bomb shelter in Ukraine. 

This year I celebrated Christmas mass with more than two hundred displaced people living in the basement of a church in San Salvador. 

These people cannot leave the church. Many have been here for a year and a half. During this time they have not seen the sunlight or taken a breath of fresh air. They have organized themselves into groups to cook, clean, take care of the children, and stand watch. Nine children have been born here and the community is now expecting four more. 

The Nativity by Jon McNaughton

Over the table that served us as our altar the people hung a large newspaper photograph of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Even in death Romero continues to be present to the people. “Monsignor visited our village,” they told me. “He was one of us. His memory is our most treasured possession.” 

Next to the photograph of Archbishop Romero was a faded image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Both images served as silent acolytes during our Eucharistic celebration. People offered petitions and thanks and prayed for their dead. They prayed for their children and relatives, and for the nuns who share their lives with them. They also thanked God for many things, especially for life. 

It was evident from their prayers that they find encouragement and hope in their belief that Jesus loves them. They believe in Jesus the liberator and savior. 

As I shared the Christmas celebration with these displaced people, it was easy to imagine Jesus being born in a church basement like this one, amidst the smell of tamales and the strumming of two old guitars. Here, Jesus would have been at home. 

~from the book El Salvador: A Spring whose Waters Never Run Dry, ed. Scott Wright, et al. 

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