Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Providence Health System Board members moved by El Salvador visit

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the May 1, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

During a recent visit to El Salvador, members of the Providence Health System Board helped build a house. (IR photo from Barbara Savage)

Barbara Savage and Jorge Bombel, both of Spokane, traveled to El Salvador last November and came home with a mission. They promised the Salvadoran people they met that they would share the experiences of the trip when they returned home.

Bombel and Savage were part of a seven-member team of Providence Health System board members – the other five members were from Western Washington – who went to El Salvador. On this side of Washington, the board is called Providence System of Eastern Washington.

Purpose of the trip was to visit the Providence Sisters’ mission in El Salvador. The tiny country, about the size of Massachusetts, is tucked on the mountainous western coast of Central America. Guatemala is a neighbor on the north and Honduras is to the southeast. Six million people live in El Salvador; about 2 million of them live in the capital, San Salvador. Savage said the country is 85 percent rural.

Three Providence Sisters work in El Salvador. Savage and Bombel stayed with Providence Sister Fran Stacy. Sister Fran had lived and worked in Spokane for many years before moving to El Salvador. She now lives in Angelo Montano, southwest of the country’s capital. Sister Fran oversees about 20 Christian Base Communities in the area.

The Salvadorans the travelers met were “proud people,” even in their poverty. They may have been poor, but they “were immaculately clean,” said Savage. “Their children and their houses were spotless.” Another characteristic the couple noticed was the people’s deep desire for education. The Sisters’ ministry in El Salvador includes schools and religious instruction. The people “know it’s important for the children,” Savage said.

Housing is important, too. During their visit, Savage and Bombel helped with construction of a house for a couple in the community of Cruzadilla.

“The community chooses who will get a house,” Bombel explained. “This couple was so happy to be chosen.” The “house” measures 15x21 feet and has a dirt floor. The community builds the structure but the occupants must put on their own roof.

Bombel and Savage said they “immediately bonded” with the people they met. “All the stereotypes broke down,” Bombel said. One man who is head of one of the Christian base communities continues to call Bombel “about once a month,” buying a four-minute phone card to do so. Added Savage, “We experienced such solidarity.”

The Spokane travelers had a distinct advantage: Bombel was born in Mexico and Spanish is his native language.

The peace of El Salvador is fragile. The country suffered a bloody civil war that lasted 12 years, ending in 1992. While there is a peace agreement with certain requirements for reform, little has been done, Bombel said. The government does “absolutely nothing for the people.”

According to Savage, five families in El Salvador own most of the country’s wealth. “About 75 percent of the people live in abject poverty,” she said.

The late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against the war and the poverty of his people, continues to have a strong influence among the people, who greatly revere him. “They continue to rally around Romero,” Bombel said, “to speak out against injustice.”

In 2001 the country suffered a devastating earthquake, adding further to its woes. Yet in spite of their adversity, in war or natural disaster, the people continue to have great hope.

Savage and Bombel have been true to their mission and promise to share the story of El Salvador. They put together a Power Point presentation which they have given several times, most recently at St. Joseph Care Center in Spokane. They begin by telling why they went to El Salvador and giving a brief overview of the Sisters of Providence history and their mission work. They will make another presentation on Thursday, May 15, at St. Mary Hospital in Walla Walla, at noon.

What Bombel and Savage hope to accomplish with their presentation is to bring an awareness and appreciation of “how much (Americans) have” and that because of the “luck of our birth,” said Bombel, “we have a responsibility to share.”

Whether in El Salvador or Guatemala or anywhere, he said, “People need to seek a mission. We can make a difference and not only with our dollars. We can make a real connection.”

(To arrange a presentation, call Savage at (509) 482-2459. Contributions to support the Sisters’ work in El Salvador can be sent to: Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph Province, Office of Development, 9 E. 9th Ave., Spokane, WA 99202. Please designate if donations are specifically intended to support the Sisters’ work in El Salvador.)

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