Two Lutheran churches and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, New Berlin, have grown in a sense of community and Christian discipleship after a combined trip in early November to El Salvador.
Two members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton traveled with a member of the Lutheran Synod in Milwaukee, a member of Cross of Life Lutheran Church, Brookfield, and a resident of Davis, a community in northern California, to Rutilio Grande, a rural village in El Salvador.
Since 1991, the Lutheran Synod of Milwaukee has worked with the SHARE Foundation, an organization founded by a Roman Catholic priest and Lutheran pastor from California to create a relationship between El Salvador and the United States.
Rutilio Grande, formally known as Comunidad Padre Rutilio Grande, a rural village near El Paisnal, El Salvador, was founded in 1991 after 80 families returned home following 10 years of living in exile in Nicaragua during the country’s civil war. It is named after Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, a close friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated in 1980, just before the start of the country’s civil war.
In 2005, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton joined with the Lutheran Synod in working with El Salvador, particularly the village of Rutilio Grande. In 2006, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Rutilio Grande became the sister parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Since its collaboration, parishioners from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton have been on six immersion trips to the village.
The five who made the November trip stayed with the residents of Rutilio Grande and witnessed the success of projects aided by the four communities in the United States.
“I came back just on fire,” said Jackie Konkol, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner. “I was so proud of them.”
Since 1991, the churches have led several projects in Rutilio Grande to create a sustainable living environment for the residents. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, with collaboration from the Lutheran community, helped build the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in 2005. The microcredit program, a system for residents to borrow increasing amounts of money for seeds and other supplies, has been successful in promoting sustainability in the Rutilio Grande community.
A scholarship program also provided Rutilio Grande children, regardless of their academic ability, with the chance to graduate junior high, high school and, in some cases, from a university. In return, scholarship students give back to the community by teaching youth programs. The latest project supported by the Milwaukee churches was the building of a computer lab, accessible to the whole community.
“It is about Christians walking with Christians in El Salvador,” Mary Campbell, a member of the Lutheran Synod said.
A powerful moment during the trip was the sudden death of a 14-year-old scholarship student. The four women on the trip were asked to pray with the grandmother of the deceased girl.
“They wanted the church ladies to come,” Konkol said. “You knew that we were part of that community. They wanted us there.”
For the women on that trip, the love and faith of the Rutilio Grande community inspired them.
“In El Salvador, people’s faith doesn’t stop,” said Laura Gilman, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Reflecting on her first trip to El Salvador in 2014, Gilman said, “I’m not afraid to talk about my faith or be proud that I am a Catholic or be proud that I am a Christian.”
“The people are very good examples of Christian living,” Campbell said.
Konkol called the Rutilio Grande residents “warm, loving people,” who invited the trip participants trip into their homes and gave them their beds.
During her first trip to El Salvador in 2012, Konkol saw her strong relationship with the Rutilio Grande people through faith and community.
“As a Catholic, I know that we are a global church,” she said. “A church isn’t the four walls. It is people.”
The four communities have plans for other projects.
“We are all grounded in the same purpose,” Gilman said.