“What COFOA is doing is unique and gaining traction within the Catholic Church and also the Episcopal (Anglican) church. This is happening at a time when, because of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church is opening up to social ministry and more political action. The water crisis also creates added opportunity for COFOA to make a significant difference for the families of El Salvador,” according to Faith in Action Deputy Director Gordon Whitman.
Gordon along with Fr. John Baumann, Ron Snyder, Patty Lawless and Julia Lerma just returned from a visit to El Salvador. They spent most of their time with Alberto Velasquez, who moved to El Salvador in 2008 to start a PICO organization there. COFOA has four staff. Their work is focused locally, primarily in one diocese outside the capital with about 10 congregation and community-based teams working on local issues (improving roads, winning title to land and reducing violence). Many are in rural areas. The work is solid and they are securing local victories and growing.
The visiting team met with Catholic and Episcopal bishops and faculty from the Jesuit University (UCA), participated in a meeting of 14 Catholic pastors, visited many of the local organizing committees, attended an organization-wide leadership meeting and did planning with COFOA staff.
The team helped staff, clergy and COFOA leadership to craft a campaign to demand that all families have access to clean water every day. This is part of a larger effort against the privatization of water in the country. As part of this planning, leaders and staff set measurable goals for their work over the next year.
Basically, the water table of El Salvador (which gets a lot of rain) is being drained and polluted by large multinationals to the point where many poor people only have access to water every other day or once a week. This would be COFOA’s first national campaign. Because the Archbishop of San Salvador is leading the fight against water privatization, their campaign would give them a big window of opportunity to grow the organization.
There were some very moving conversations with leaders about the connections between the US and El Salvador and the very negative role that the US has played in the past and today (including U.S. immigration policy). The poverty there is deep and the political situation very difficult in terms of right-wing control over local governments and the national assembly.
It was inspiring to see how COFOA’s work is seen as carrying forth Archbishop Romero’s legacy. This coincides with an opening being created by his beatification as a saint this October 14. We met with Fr. Octavio Cruz who led social ministry during the years that Romero was Archbishop. He lost his job when the Vatican brought in a right-wing Bishop after Romero was killed in 1980. In 2014 was re-hired as a result of support from Pope Francis. Fr. Cruz believes that COFOA does what is needed to form a new generation of clergy who understand social ministry.
The visiting team returned home with a renewed appreciation for COFOA’s work in Central America and intend to integrate COFOA’s work more closely into the Faith in Action network.