When a local Ursuline Sister traveled to El Salvador in December, she was met with a sense of community that began more than four decades ago.
Four U.S. churchwomen, including an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, had been nurturing the community among impoverished Salvadorans when they were brutally slain Dec. 2, 1980.
Ursuline Sister of Louisville Carol Curtis encountered this community — that still honors the women’s memory — during an annual remembrance, called Roses in December, last month. It marked the 42nd anniversary of the killings.
Roses in December is hosted each year by the SHARE Foundation and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. It includes a commemorative Mass at the site of the murders in Santiago Nonualco, an International Forum on Human Rights and several days in Honduras focused on humanitarian aid projects.
Sister Curtis, who was a cloistered Carmelite nun before the Newburg Road monastery closed in 2015, said during a recent interview that her understanding of solidarity and justice deepened during her pilgrimage, particularly when she encountered the communities served by the martyrs.
Prior to the Mass, “We were met by the villagers and the people from the surrounding villages who come every year for that anniversary. And that was when it was starting to occur to me — where we think, ‘Oh they’re Cleveland Ursulines, they’re different,’ from (the villagers’) perspective, we’re next of kin. And all of a sudden, that was my first sense of what solidarity is. It’s not just something you create, it’s something that’s there. And it was created in this case by the presence of these women who worked among the people.”
The churchwomen — three women religious and a layperson — had been in El Salvador doing “the kind of work that our sisters do wherever they are,” Sister Curtis said, when violence and unrest overcame the country.
“It really became deadly and they chose to stay with the people because, how could they leave, you know?” she said.
In Honduras, which shares part of its western border with El Salvador, the delegation visited several villages to learn about humanitarian aid projects. Sister Curtis serves as the social concerns liaison for her congregation, so she was interested in the projects related to migration, water rights and land access.
Massive flooding swept parts of the country just before the delegation arrived, and Sister Curtis noted how similar the scenes and stories were in Eastern Kentucky after historic flooding in July 2022.
In the village of Buena Vista, people were still shoveling mud out of their homes. Walking through the village, the pilgrims’ shoes and feet became caked in mud, she said. Before boarding the bus, one of the villagers stepped forward with a jug of water.
“For each one of us, as we were stepping up there, she was washing our feet,” Sister Curtis said. “She was very insistent about it. I was kind of like, ‘You don’t have very much water,’ and was starting to pull away and she was like, ‘No, I’m not finished yet.’ ”
Sister Curtis said the “beauty of the people and the minimal kinds of things that they are asking for” struck her and reiterated the importance of helping those around us.
“We have to do what we can do,” she said. “It’s not like you can do everything for everybody, but you do something somewhere and it’s helping you to be aware of what people are facing and it’s helping you to be a little bit more compassionate.”
During her five days in El Salvador and six days in Honduras, Sister Curtis said she gained a new understanding of the how works of justice — land and water access, humanitarian aid and compassion at the border — are the work of the Gospel. And oftentimes, those works receive opposition, she said.
Sister Curtis said she was aware of a lot of the issues — from mining to migration, Indigenous rights to gang violence and corruption — before her pilgrimage.
“But when I got there, what I became aware of is the solidarity,” Sister Curtis said. “As the Gospel says, we are members, each one of the other. And that those boundaries are not essential — it’s really about our connection. The sense of community is more integral.”