Disappearance: Torture without end

Sunset over San Salvador, capital of El Salvador
Sunset over San Salvador, capital of El Salvador

On International Day of the Disappeared, CAFOD’s Clare Dixon shares the story of people who worked at the height of the conflict in El Salvador to make sure people killed by death squads did not just disappear without a trace. Sadly, some of the details of this story are distressing.

The first time I visited El Salvador in 1981 the country was plunged in a brutal civil war. Thousands of ordinary men and women were being targeted by the army and death squads, just for demanding their basic human rights, a decent wage, and freedom of speech. Nobody ventured out after dark for fear of being arrested or just snatched off the streets and I felt an overwhelming sense of fear and dread.

Archbishop Romero, the “voice of the voiceless” who had espoused and defended the cause of the poor and oppressed, had been shot dead as he said Mass in 1980. A year later I was visiting El Salvador to meet with members of his Archdiocese who, with the support of CAFOD, had set up a human rights office. Its task was to provide legal aid to help and comfort the countless victims of violence who had nowhere else to turn when their loved ones had “disappeared” after being captured by the death squads.

Please pray for those struggling in El Salvador

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Meeting Edelmira ahead of Harvest Fast Day 2017

Tania works as Communications Officer in our Latin America Team.  Her role involves lots of opportunities to meet inspiring people like Edelmira, whose story of flourishing and achievement we are celebrating this Harvest Fast Day.

Donate to our Harvest Fast Day appeal

My first impressions of Edelmira when I met her in 2016, were of a friendly, welcoming woman, constantly busy. She was a little nervous of meeting me, a visitor from far away.  I was also nervous about visiting Edelmira.  CAFOD had sent me to interview her for our Connect2 El Salvador parish programme, and I was feeling the weight of responsibility!

Find out how your parish can join Connect2

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Blessed Oscar Romero’s influence continues today

To commemorate 100 years since the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero, CAFOD PR manager Kemi Bamgbose spoke to several people who continue to be inspired by Romero’s  powerful legacy today.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador who was brutally assassinated in 1980.

Archbishop Romero was beatified in 2015 and today he is recognised across the world for his commitment to social justice – practically demonstrating the love of God by defending the rights of the poorest and most marginalised communities in El Salvador.

His life and legacy continues to inspire many people to be a voice for the voiceless. Meet those lives have been transformed by his work.

Rebecca Haile, Bangladesh Programme Officer, CAFOD

I first came across ‘A step along the way’ prayer when I was at school and then several years later when my Mum gave me a printed copy when I first considered moving into International Development after finishing University.

I even referenced this Romero-inspired prayer in my first CAFOD interview several years ago! The prayer really resonates with me and constantly reminds me why CAFOD’s work is so important and much needed.

As the poem sums up, we may not be able to solve every problem we face but there’s value in our contribution, no matter how small. And we might not see the fruits of our work in our lifetime but we’re building the necessary foundations for the future. This is a really humbling and beautiful sentiment.

Juan Garcia, Farmer, El Salvador

“Monseñor Romero spoke a lot for the poor. We went to his funeral in 1980. Some people came to tell our cooperative that the funeral would happen and took us there for free. I was there when the army started to fire on us. Monseñor Romero died for speaking the truth in favour of the poor. You felt he was a person who helped the poor. Everything he did was good. The president was doing a lot of bad things to us in the cooperatives, but Oscar Romero did things in favour of us. And for this, we love him.”

Find out more about the life of Blessed Oscar Romero

Bernadette Goddard, Seville, Spain

“I first came across Blessed Oscar Romero when I started volunteering with CAFOD almost 10 years ago. As part of my year with CAFOD step into the Gap I had the privilege of travelling to Nicaragua. There, I met the sisters, who were giving a voice to children, young people and women in poor and rural areas. Seeing this work in action reminded me of Romero’s compassion for the poor and his desire to be a voice for the voiceless.

After returning from Nicaragua a friend shared a profound Romero phrase which I now hold in my heart: “Each one of you has to be God’s microphone.” I have met many people in my life who have a voice which is not heard for whatever reason. As each of us are made in the image and likeness of God we have a responsibility to be a microphone of justice and peace for each other – just as Romero said.”

 Anthony, pupil

“I learnt about Archbishop Romero at schools and the values he lived by which inspired him to give his life to help the poor.  He was courageous because he needed to be brave to help other people. He also had hope because he had faith God even in a situation like the one he was in. Oscar Romero also had love because he loved the poor people enough to give his life for them.”

Take a look at our education resources on the life of Blessed Oscar Romero

Susy Brouard, Theology Programme Advisor, CAFOD

“I have seen the Romero film three times – the first being in my early 20s. The film had a profound impact on me. Romero is an inspiration for anyone and everyone. He was a traditional bookworm – the last person you would expect to get involved with challenging the government and the army. But following the murder of his good friend, Rutilio Grande and the increasing injustices he witnessed, he couldn’t help but act. Only God could have inspired him to put his life on the line in this way.

There are many things I admire about Romero but one of them was Romero regularly included the names of those who had been tortured and murdered in his homilies – such was his dedication. Romero was the voice of the oppressed. He inspired me to not only work for social justice but to work for CAFOD and to challenge the structures which oppress people and prevent human flourishing.”

Find out more about our Romero-inspired retreats happening this Autumn

Defending rights in Brazil: supporting our brothers and sisters living in favelas

Tony Sheen is CAFOD’s Community Participation Coordinator for Westminster Diocese. Here he looks back on a memorable visit to São Paulo’s favelas in Brazil. He explains how seeing the Church ‘in action’ defending the human rights of those in need continues to inspire him.

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to visit São Paulo and meet some of the people supported by CAFOD’s partners. Early one morning I travelled with Heluiza and Osmar from our partner APOIO, to visit a shanty town to the east of the city called Electropaulo Favela, where over 1200 families live in abject poverty.

5 human rights violations CAFOD partners are working on

 

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“I wanted to be more dead than alive.” Meet one woman building peace in Colombia

For more than fifty years Colombia has been ravaged by an armed conflict that has impacted the lives of millions of people. Despite a peace deal with the FARC guerrillas, there has been an alarming increase in attacks against human rights defenders.  CAFOD’s Laura Ouseley meets Liney Contreras, one the women who is speaking out.

“When I was younger I wanted to be a teacher” says Liney. “But that all changed. After the attack I wanted to be more dead than alive. My dreams went out the window.”

Liney Contreras, from Colombia, is telling me about the moment her life changed forever when she was just 16 years old. She was in Medellin to register for university, walking with two friends when a car bomb went off. “I lost my right arm and broke my leg in the explosion. I spent 6 months in hospital.”

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The long road to peace in Guatemala

At the beginning of a new year, Laura Ouseley in our communications team has been looking into the situation in Guatemala and hoping for a brighter and more peaceful future for Guatemala’s indigenous peoples.

Indigenous women from Alta Verapaz supported by CAFOD’s local Church partner Pastoral Social - Caritas Verapaz
Indigenous women from Alta Verapaz supported by CAFOD’s local Church partner Pastoral Social – Caritas Verapaz

Twenty years have passed since Guatemala’s decades-long internal armed conflict was ended with Peace Accords signed in 1996. An estimated 200,000 civilians were killed or disappeared during the conflict, most at the hands of the military, police and intelligence services.

The 1996 Peace Accords aimed not just to put an end to the conflict, but to address its underlying causes, and to guarantee the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparation and no-repetition.

Find out more about CAFOD’s work in Guatemala

But despite being ‘at peace’ for twenty years, the country remains one of the most dangerous places in the world, and those who suffered most in the conflict – indigenous peoples – continue to face discrimination and poverty. So, what has been achieved over the last 20 years, and have indigenous peoples and women been able to access the justice they were promised?

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Bishop John Arnold visits our friends in Puentecitos.

In November 2016, the Chair of CAFOD, Bishop John Arnold, visited El Salvador and Nicaragua. The last stop of his 10-day programme was to visit our friends in Puentecitos. These are some of his reflections.

Chair of CAFOD, Bishop John Arnold visits Connect2 El Salvador
Closing ceremony of the women’s workshop

We set off for a day in the rural area of Guaymango in the Department of Ahuachapan. It was about a two-hour journey to the West, almost to Guatemala. The good roads lasted until just a few miles from Guaymango and the last couple of miles were really nothing more than a single track of unmade road.

The scenery, however, was magnificent with mountains and volcanoes dominating the plain which stretched across to the ocean, which was clearly visible. Everything here is green and manages to remain so for most of the year. Agriculture is the basis of all livelihoods here though factories and assembly plants are increasingly present, together with small hotels which are hoping to see an increase in the tourist trade, particularly for what is apparently excellent surfing. This part of El Salvador was not so much directly affected by the war (1980-92) but many young men here were “pressed” into the army. The area has suffered in recent years by the increasing control of gangs.

Find out more about Connect2 El Salvador.

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Harvest 2016: Battles in the garden in Bolivia and back home in the UK

Conditions on the Bolivian Altiplano are tough
Conditions on the Bolivian Altiplano are tough. Even when the harvest is good, Vladimir and Maria’s diet is mainly potatoes and beans

Laura Ouseley works in CAFOD’s Media team. This Harvest, inspired by the efforts of our partners in Bolivia, Laura tells us about her own struggles for vegetable garden bliss.

I’ve only had my allotment a couple of years, but have already learnt so much. My friends and family have also learnt – the hard way – that it is now my favourite (and they would argue, only) topic of conversation!

Join us in helping Bolivian families enjoy bountiful harvests

Whilst I’ve discovered so much about the different varieties of fruit and vegetables that can be grown, I’ve learnt far more about the challenges faced by the grower: from fighting back pests, preventing the spread of disease, removing stubborn weeds and preparing soil, to trying to deal with the impacts of unpredictable weather and climate.

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Spotlight on Brazil: the power of sport

Victoria Ahmed works in CAFOD’s Education Team.  She reflects on the transformative power of sport.

It has been a pretty amazing summer of sport so far. From cheering on the Wales football team to the semi-final match of the Euros, to celebrating Andy Murray’s Wimbledon championship win, I’ve been swept up in a summer of sport. So now I’m really looking forward to the biggest sporting event of the summer: the Olympics in Rio.

Find out more about our work in Brazil

As August rolls around I find myself recovering from an injury. With each warmer day I feel a little bit stronger, and I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve drawn inspiration and strength from athletes. Though not particularly sporty myself, I recognise the power of sport to transform – the drive, commitment and teamwork on display this summer has definitely helped me on the road to recovery.

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Spotlight on Brazil: Passing on the Olympic torch

John McBride carrying the Olympic flame trough Barnard Castle
John McBride carrying the Olympic flame through Barnard Castle

John McBride is CAFOD’s Learning and Development Coordinator. Here he shares his fond memories of carrying the Olympic flame for CAFOD, and about meeting some of the partners who have inspired him to continue speaking out to protect our common home.

We are shining a light on Brazil this Olympic Games

2012 was a big year in Britain, Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, Andy Murray won at Wimbledon and Rory McIlroy won the US PGA. We also hosted the Olympic Games that proved to be a triumph. We showed the rest of the world that we were good at sports. In a small County Durham town, I made my contribution to the summer of sport by carrying the Olympic flame, representing CAFOD supporters and partners through the market town of Barnard Castle.

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