By Sisters of Providence in El Salvador
“The people are teaching me.” – Sister Marita Capili
“We feel community with the people.” – Sister Marcia Gatica
“Greetings from my beautiful country… feeling God next to me.” – Sister Vilma Franco
In 1995, five Sisters of Providence took up residence in a house built for them on land owned by a rural cooperative in the small village of La Papalota, in the Department of Usulután in El Salvador.
The sisters immediately began to minister with the pastoral team that was working with many rural communities in the Bajo Lempa region in Usulután. Twenty-three years later, much has changed in the country of El Salvador and in the local Church. What has not changed is the presence of Sisters of Providence in the midst of Salvadoran communities, where their daily lives are impacted by the faith and courage of the Salvadoran people.
The sisters today
Sister Vilma Franco is based in the town of Arcatao in the department of Chalatenango, a four-hour drive from La Papalota, Sister Vilma is a pastoral minister and catechist in Saint Bartolome Apostle Parish, which includes many communities spread out over the mountainous terrain.
Arcatao is the site of the murders of many Salvadoran martyrs — catechists and pastoral workers – victims of El Salvador’s bitter civil war in the 1970s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. Sister Vilma, who is from Arcatao, counts her father, brothers and other family members among these martyrs. Her return to her home in 2016 to minister among the people of Arcatao as a Sister of Providence is especially significant for her and for the families in these communities.
Sister Vilma continues to belong to the Sophia Local Community in Seattle. She meets regularly with the sisters of her community via Skype, and communicates with them via telephone and e-mail. She experiences their love and support for her in her life and her ministry among the people of Arcatao.
Sister Vilma’s ministry is in collaboration with the local Church’s mission of evangelization, outreach and service. To the children and families of this large parish community, she is the presence of a compassionate and loving Provident God.
Sister Marita Capili lives and works out of the Providence House in La Papalota and is responsible for the operation and maintenance of Providence House. She is also the administrator of the Providence Scholarship (Beca) Program, which provides financial and formative support to 58 young adults from 20 rural communities. Her frequent visits to the families and communities of these young Salvadorans put her in touch with the needs and the challenges they face each day, as well as the hopes and dreams they share with their families and their communities. Sister Marita knows each of the Beca participants well and is an important source of support, assistance and encouragement for them. As an example of compassion and commitment herself, Sister Marita facilitates these values in her interactions with the youth and their families, and encourages collaboration between and among them, their families and their communities.
Sister Marcia Gatica lives in an apartment in San Salvador and in Providence House in La Papalota. She presently is concluding her studies at José Simeón Cañas Jesuit University of Central America. She will graduate this summer with a licenciatura in psychology. Having completed her classes in 2017, she is now engaged in clinical work at the university’s psychology department where she meets weekly with clients/patients.
Sister Marcia is also in the process of writing her thesis. Because the university requires its upper-division students to work in teams, she is collaborating in the research and writing with two other graduate students, Abner Balmore Angel Murcia and Luis Eduardo Umaña Lovo.
“Together, we make a very interesting work team,” Sister Marcia said. “Our research interest arises from the need to understand the factors that result in the undocumented migration of young persons from their country. We understand that poverty, violence and family reunification are powerful reasons for migration. However, we also believe that the lack of ‘an engagement in life planning’ (proyecto de vida) that is supported by the internal and external networks of the community where the young person lives is also a powerful, if less obvious, reason for migration.
“Our research is focused on young people (16-24) from the Canton of Tierra Blanca, Jiquilisco, Usulután. We have chosen this location not only because of ease of access and conversation with this population, but also because this area has a significant history in the civil-military conflict in El Salvador. Tierra Blanca also represents an important population ‘in movement, with relatives in the United States and a significant influx of remittances (money sent to families from relatives in the United States) which do not have a positive impact on the Canton of Tierra Blanca.
“We are researching and writing on the psychological sense of community based on three units of analysis: a) a sense of belonging or membership; (b) reciprocal influence and (c) a shared emotional connection. This analysis will be linked to the concept of ‘engagement in life planning’ (Maslow) and to the internal and external factors that influence the decision to migrate without documents or not to migrate.
“We will present the results of our research in late July and early August of this year. With this research, we hope to demonstrate the importance of conscious and responsible communities that empower and support young persons to engage in positive life planning. We deeply believe that migration is the right of everyone and is a personal decision. We also believe that what underlies the decision to migrate must include and be influenced by the internal and external networks of the person’s community.”
Torogoz Local Community
Sisters Marita and Marcia are members of the Torogoz Local Community located at Providence House in La Papalota. Sister Marita travels weekly to San Salvador, where Sister Marcia has been located for her studies, and Sister Marcia spends significant time in La Papalota. When they are not together for morning prayer, the two sisters pray together via Skype. By staying in communication and being together frequently, they experience the blessings and the challenges of diversity in community life. Sister Kathryn (Kitsy) Rutan is affiliated with the Torogoz Community and stays in communication with Sisters Marcia and Marita via What’sApp and e-mail.
Living in rural El Salvador among the people means that Sister Marita and Sister Marcia, when she is in La Papalota, are available to the people. Knocks at their door are frequent and can mean someone needs to be taken to the hospital immediately. Another person comes with an invitation to the vigil in the home of someone who just died. Two or three children stop by selling the quesadillas made by their mother that morning. There is a call at the door and it is a young man coming to tell the sisters about a family trapped in a burning house down the road. A mother arrives to say there is no food in her home for her family. She visits with the sisters for a while and then leaves with bags of beans and rice, a bottle of cooking oil and some treats for her children.
When Sister Marita is taking someone to the hospital, she brings with her a couple of rolls of toilet paper, a bar of soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste and a large bottle of water; all of these will be needed if the person is admitted to the hospital. Often families request the collaboration of the sisters in meeting the costs of medical checkups.
On Saturday afternoons, the large Romero Room attached to the La Papalota house welcomes a group of young and not-so-young musicians and singers, members of the newly formed Coro Providencia (Providence Choir) to practice with Sister Marcia for the Sunday liturgy in the San Marcos Church. The Salvadoran songs are lively and are sung with joy and enthusiasm. One Saturday afternoon, one of the young musicians told Sister Marcia that he thought the Providence Song was kind of boring and suggested that they put this song to a faster rhythm. Now, in La Papalota and in San Marcos Lempa Church, “Providence of God” is sung in the traditional way and also is sung enthusiastically to the Latin cumbia rhythm.
The Torogoz community’s closest neighbor is an elderly man, Don Arcadio, who lives alone in a small, one-room building next to Providence House.Though Don Arcadio is still active and independent, he counts on Sister Marita for his frequent trips to the hospital and/or the doctor. She gives him a monthly supply of rice, beans, oil and powdered milk, and she often brings him a plate of whatever meal she has just prepared.
Sister Vilma visits the Torogoz community in La Papalota and has a bedroom in Providence House. On occasion, Sisters Marcia and Marita drive to Arcatao to be with Sister Vilma and to share in her life and ministry.
For the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of Providence, the three sisters planned to have an opening Eucharistic liturgy in Saint Bartolome Church in Arcatao, followed by a pilgrimage to the San Marcos Church in San Marcos Lempa for a special Eucharistic celebration. On June 10, the Beca program meeting celebrated the “Table of the King” (Mesa del Rey) at the Missionary Sisters of Charity in Usulutan, which serves 45 elderly men and woman. The students participated in the Mass and with programs to animate them like dancing, singing and serving meals to 125 attendees. Other ideas and plans are being explored as the Sisters of Providence in El Salvador continue to celebrate the 175th anniversary.
The Association Congregation of the Sisters of Providence
As the legal and civil entity of the Sisters of Providence in El Salvador, the association maintains its office at Providence House in La Papalota and is governed by a board of directors composed of the following Sisters of Providence: Sister Marcia Gatica, president; Sister Vilma Franco, secretary; Sister Marita Capili, treasurer; and two members-at-large, Sister Marilyn Charette, a former missionary in El Salvador, and Sister Judith Desmarais, provincial superior. Sister Kathryn “Kitsy” is a consultant for the association.
In 2017, after intense work and a three-year process, the Government of El Salvador accepted the revised Articles of Incorporation of the Association Congregation of the Sisters of Providence in El Salvador and recognized the association as a not-for-profit organization. The Articles of the Association describe its mission as follows:
With the motto, “The Charity of Christ urges us,” and searching for the best way to incarnate the “The Providence of God,” the Association aims to carry out the following works:
a) To contribute financially to the educational formation of youth with limited economic resources who live in the jurisdiction of the city of Jiquilisco by offering scholarships at the high school, university and technical school levels without respect to gender, capacity, or religion, while contributing to their spiritual formation.
b) To exercise a ministry of charity, providing mutual support in the implementation of the common mission.
The Sisters of Providence of Mother Joseph Province carry out the mission of the association through the Providence Scholarship (Beca) Program and the many charitable activities of the Sisters of Providence in El Salvador.
The Providence Scholarship (Beca) Program
The reach of the Providence Beca Program is wide and deep, serving 58 students and engaging them, their families and the 20 communities they represent in education and formation for life. For most of the Salvadoran families in this region of El Salvador, it is a sacrifice and a difficult challenge to support, financially and emotionally, the formation and education of a child beyond elementary school.
Sister Marita, administrator, Sister Marcia, facilitator of the scholarship recipients’ Community Service (Amor Solidario) projects, and Cristian Amaya, technical administrator, form the Beca Council of Administration (CAB) which plans and carries out the financial and formation aspects of the program. This council meets every month to review the situations of the students, the Amor Solidario projects, the monthly formation programs, the program statistics, and to plan for future programs and events.
The Providence Beca Program began in a small way in La Papalota in 1996, and has grown and developed over the years, with participants attending high schools, technical schools and universities. Providence Beca students have earned high school diplomas and university degrees in nursing, education, law, social work, medicine, business administration, accounting, agricultural economy, and computer technology.Many of these graduates have found employment in rural El Salvador, as well as in the towns and cities.
With the overall goal of personal growth and development, community awareness and service, the Beca meetings include specific themes and content developed in collaboration with the students. In 2018, the actual and anticipated topics include: the Constitution of El Salvador; sexual education; self-awareness and self-esteem; political, social and economic reality in El Salvador; family rights and responsibilities; new work opportunities; preparation for job interviews; and English language.
Guest professors from the Jesuit University of Central America and other universities give presentations and provide learning activities on these topics.
At the request of a number of students, a new collaborative initiative began in April with classes in English language provided by English-speaking students from the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (Center for Exchange and Solidarity [CIS]) in San Salvador. Sisters Marcia and Marita hope to collaborate with CIS on other projects, as well.
A key component of the Providence Beca Program is the Amor Solidario (community service) projects. Sister Marcia facilitates this part of the program, working closely with the students as they identify and describe their project and then carry it out over 10 or 11 months. The projects require the students to be aware of the needs in their communities, to organize collaborative efforts to meet these needs, to have concrete and measurable goals and to evaluate what is happening along the way.
The students are asked to describe how their project has brought about personal transformation in the recipients and actors in the project, as well as inner self-transformation of the students involved. The students use Facebook and WhatsApp to communicate and to post photos of their projects. These internet programs facilitate the sharing of project information and ideas, and using them is a mutually motivating experience for the students.
Sister Marita reflected: “After the last three years, we can see great progress in the student participants in the Providence Beca Program. They are motivated and participative; they look forward to reflection, are growing in self-awareness and self-confidence and in being mutually collaborative and open. Speakers who join us for the formation days tell us that these young persons are signs of hope for the future for El Salvador.”
El Salvador in 2018
While there is deep poverty and continuing violence in El Salvador, its people give witness to their deep faith in God, to their love of community and the Church, and to their hope for peace and prosperity for their families, their communities and their beloved country. Sisters Vilma, Marita and Marcia consider themselves blest to live and minister among these brave and holy people.
The people of El Salvador are rejoicing as they anticipate the canonization of Oscar Arnulfo Romero, their beloved archbishop and martyr. The Sisters of Providence join them in thanking God for the life of this holy Salvadoran pastor.
View more images in our Flickr photo gallery.