Spokane-El Salvador connection

by Rita Amberg Waldref, PA

Photo gallery

rita and george waldref

Rita and George embraced by beauty near Shrimp Cooperative.

The sister relationship between St. Aloysius Parish in Spokane, Washington, and the Christian Base Communities in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador has been Providence-inspired from its inception.

I minister at St. Aloysius Parish and was co-facilitating a 30-week JustFaith group in 2002-03. When the program concluded in the spring, our group was discussing, “What next?” Several members suggested a sister relationship with a faith community in a poor country. I was thrilled by the idea. Group member Brenda Velasco (at that time a Providence novice and now a Providence Associate), planned to travel to El Salvador that summer to visit members of her religious community who were living there. She volunteered to check out the possibility of a twinning relationship. She brought back positive feedback from Sister Fran Stacey, who was engaged in ministry with the Christian Base Communities.

A year and a half later, my husband George, a nurse at Holy Family Hospital, was invited to join a 2005 Providence-sponsored delegation under the direction of Mark Koenig, Providence International Missions (PIM) director. I begged to tag along.

“Fell in love” with the country and its people

With the encouragement of Sister Fran, whom I had known when she ministered in the Spokane Diocese, I was able to participate in the delegation and explore building a sister relationship with the Christian Base Communities and St. Aloysius Parish.

george and rita with friends

George and Rita with friends.

On that trip, I fell in love with El Salvador and its people, and made a personal commitment to share the nation’s story of suffering, faith and hope. Now, El Salvador is my second “home.”

In January 2018, the twelfth delegation from St. Aloysius visited our sister community, which is located in and around Tierra Blanca, Usulutan. Our itinerary was reminiscent of those planned by Sister Fran: conversations and prayer with members of the Christian Base Communities, visits to homes and farm cooperatives (corn, cattle, shrimp), time with scholarship students, and a challenging truck ride to La Quesera, the site of a 1982 massacre of between 400 and 600 campesinos.

An invitation accepted

Years ago, while returning from one of these visits, Sister Fran invited George and me to become Providence Associates. She was rather relentless in her invitations, so George and I explored the possibility and realized the Providence charism matched our own desire to grow as Christians. Thank you, Sr. Fran!

During the past several years, the Providence Scholarship (Beca) Program for Salvadoran students has become a focus for the Providence sisters — and it has become an important part of the St. Aloysius delegation experience. Sisters Marcia Gatica and Marita Capili have the awesome ministry of working with the Beca students.

In January, the delegation spent time with the students as they displayed and shared their projects, essential components of the scholarship program. It was a festive occasion, followed by Mass with the bishop and the students and their families.

George and I believe these young men and women have a future because they have been gifted with an education. We are committed to monthly giving and have included the Beca Program in our will.

In January 2019, I will, once again, have the privilege to take another delegation to El Salvador. Blessing upon blessing. Providence of God, I thank you for all!