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Global solidarity invites pilgrims to discern their vocations

Spokane’s ties to El Salvador are part of what Father Dean Brackley, SJ, considers the global solidarity movement that counters th edark side of economic, political and social globalization.

 Those ties include Gonzaga students going to Georgia to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (School of the Americas) that trains Latin American military and police, and St. Aloysius Catholic Parish having a sister church in El Salvador, he said when he spoke recently at Gonzaga University for the last of the Catholicism and the New Millennium lectures. 

Dean Brackley sj
Father Dean Brackley, SJ

The solidarity that emerges invites questions about vocation—not just about jobs, professions or earning money to shop and have fun, but about spending one’s life in love and service.

In 1980, Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford, who was later raped and murdered, wrote her 16-year-old niece, saying she hoped she would find something worth living for—maybe even worth dying for:  ‘Life is short.  We could sleep through it, if we are not careful.’”

Father Dean said U.S. society is “designed for dozing.”

“To find oneself by losing oneself is Christ’s call,” he said.

Father Dean responded after graduates of the School of the Americas killed six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989 at the University of Central America.  He stepped into the martyrs’ shoes.

“We commemorate the 20th anniversary of their martyrdom in November 2009.  The 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero will be in March 2010,” he said.

He said Salvadoran life is a mix of economic, political, generational, moral and religious “crosses” and “resurrections.”

Only 20 percent of Salvadorans have decent jobs.  Few have $7,000 for safe passage through Mexico to the United States. The richest 20 percent receive almost 60 percent of the income.  About 40 percent live on less than $2 a day.

He described conditions:
• The percent of undernourished children has declined in Latin America as a whole, but has risen 27 percent in El Salvador. 
• The average medium or large business makes more than 50 percent profit and evades taxes.
• The average Salvadoran has only six years of school, because “an unequal, unfair society is not possible if people are educated.”

Father Dean lived in the Bronx in the 1980s, “a time of crumbling communities, crumbling families and crumbling individuals that led to anti-social behavior, gangs, insecurity, delinquency and organized crime.” The violence in El Salvador today reminds him of that, sometimes surpassing the violence during its civil war in the 1980s.

He said that the U.S. support of past Central American governments maintained a feudal economic system.  Because inequities are entrenched, people “head North in droves, with migration serving as a safety valve for historic social pressures,” he said.

The younger, urban generation the first to grow up in front of TV, even though they may not have food, he said.  Not feeling fated to follow their parents, they have migrated from rural areas to universities or to the United States.

Father Dean sees moral polarization as people close or open up their hearts in face of cruelty and negligence.  While many are kind and grace filled, El Salvador is a place where in the past there were both death squads and martyrs.

“Grace abounds more than sin,” Father Dean said.  “I have seen those who suffer express profound gratitude and resist inhumanity.  Solidarity among the poor is contagious.”

While about 54 percent of the people are Catholic, Protestants—mostly Pentecostal Christians—now number about 29 percent. They made gains during the 1970s and 1980s, times of political crisis as urban society and as mass media grew.

“Many Pentecostals were at first silent in the face of the atrocities,” he said.  “Now, some Pentecostal leaders s are adopting a more critical social posture.”

The Catholic Church’s view that God stands with the poor is not the view of the majority, who believe the church’s role is salvation of souls, not challenging governmental or institutional injustices, Father Dean said, noting that other Christians and he University of Central America teach that “if we do not walk with the poor, we do not walk with Christ.”

The martyrs, he said, make the faith credible for young people as “a legacy of credible love.”
As pilgrims from abroad come in solidarity, these visitors are at first apprehensive about how their visit will affect their lifestyles and values.  He said their worries dissipate into wondering why people smile and readily share the little they have.

They soon realize their visit says the people they meet matter.  Pilgrims listen tovillagers' stories of their lives and massacres they have experienced.  Pilgrims return “renewed in hope and ruined for life,” Father Dean said.  

In El Salvador, U.S. young people—who are exposed to the Gospel of Matthew along with “MTV, the sweet life, Wall Street and Walmart”—rub elbows in El Salvador with people who have suffered. They learn that life is not a spectator sport. For the poor, what is important is to stay alive and experience love and community. 

“Pilgrims return asking what they will do with their lives, a question of vocation,” he said. "There's no place in the lexicon of consumer society for the word, 'vocation.'

 “Engaging poor communities evokes pilgrim's deepest calling as they find the world is more cruel than they supposed, but, also in the midst of cruelty and crosses, they see a revolution in love and kindness. 

“It’s easy to want to limit ourselves to loving those in our family and forget about torture, war and hunger,” he said.  “God’s wants us to overcome bad with good.  A sign of that overcoming is the international solidarity movement’s growth in 30 years, despite media silence.”

International solidarity now seeks to end use of cluster bombs. Some years ago, the Jubilee 2000 movement achieved debt relief for many poor nations, in part because of internet, email and cheap air fare—tools that were not widely available even 20 years ago, he said.

“Warts and all, the church, which has people working among the poor, resisting violence and protecting the environment, is a majorinstrument for globalizing solidarity,” Father Dean said.  “To spread solidarity, we need people to know about international trade, finances and law.  To be free to love, people need to be freed of idols and fears that hold them back —temptations of wealth, prestige and pride.”

He said solidarity with the poor leads to “strategic downward mobility,” attending to victims of injustice, “but to do what must be done, we need to draw on the wisdom of the faith community to offer support and challenge.

"Life is not a spectator sport," he said. "We need to participate and learn.

For information, email

His written talk is available now at