Thursday, March 18, 2010
Last leg of pilgrimage: What are we looking for?
On Friday, March 19th, we leave for the final leg of our pilgrimage grant: El Salvador. We visit Santa Clara University's semester-long immersion program at the Casa de la Solidaridad located at the Jesuit-run University of Central America. Students in the program have been studying, living, and working in the community since January, and we arrive just after a visit from their parents.
"What are you looking for?" asked one of our hosts.
I'd just given a retreat that considered that question. It's the way we meet Jesus in John's gospel, literally the first words out of his mouth. It's a rather extraordinary introduction.
Disciples of John the Baptist have been tailgating him, and Jesus suddenly wheels around and confronts them: "What are you looking for?" As is so often the case in John's gospel, that question only prompts another. In response, the disciples ask: "Where are you staying?"
Crowded into a single verse (1:38), both questions prompt responses that range from the superficial to the profound. Jesus could have given them directions to his current digs -- or a map like the one above. The disciples are looking for the Messiah, an identity their master, John the Baptizer, has steadfastly refused to claim. So they have a very specific and overt agenda.
But the questions also expose their own deepest longings, complex and unstated in this text --or any text. What are they really looking for? Safety? Comfort? Meaning? An end to Roman occupation of the promised land?
The response to the second question is simple, evocative: "Come and see." As as is always the case in John's gospel -- and possibly in life as well, the action unfolds from questions left hanging in the air. Perhaps action is the best response.
So what are we looking for? Like the disciples, our responses have a broad range.
On the surface, we seek conversation with students and directors of this program: what have they been looking for and what have they found? How have they structured the program to meet these goals?
Further down, we're looking for how immersion compares to pilgrimage, its similarities and differences. We've got some ideas, and we want to see how close they are to the reality on the ground.
Finally, though, I suspect we seek something that pushes every pilgrim out of her familiar surroundings. Walter Burghardt SJ calls it "a long, loving look at what is real." What does that look like in this setting?
Like Mexico El Salvador's economy is deeply impacted by the United States', more so because they use US dollars, having abandoned the colon as their common currency. We'll see effects of globalization and trade agreements that favor our own country and dis-favor our host's. We'll survey the impact of a civil war in which the United States sided against the majority will, lending arms and training to the opposition. We'll see more "collateral damage" from a military trained at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia. All of this we will see.
There will be lots to look at: here's hoping we keep focused.
"A long loving look at what is real" demands a steady gaze -- and an open heart.
We're also hoping for announcement of the beatification process for Archbishop Oscar Romero, rumored to be announced by Rome on the thirtieth anniversary marking his assassination, March 24, 2010.
He took "a long, loving look at what is real" -- and sided with his people.