For many living in ultra-violent El Salvador, the only solution is to leave. Two hundred thousand Salvadorans now live in the New York City Metro area. Most reside on Long Island, but over 39,000 are in the five boroughs.
El Salvador’s people are imbued with the aspiration and hope that is their heritage. Their country is named “The Savior,” which indicates Salvadorans’ foundational belief in the resurrected Jesus Christ. However, El Salvador’s history has also been an extreme struggle of an underclass fighting to achieve a decent place in society against an overclass that distorted Christianity to serve their own selfish ends. Many Catholic leaders supported the social justice struggle. Threatened by peasant agitation for equality, some of the elites then conspired to murder the Catholic archbishop, priests and nuns.
More recently, the conflict has veered into a harrowing time of gangs terrorizing the civilian population. No place on earth has a higher murder rate. A majority of Salvadorians have sought shelter in charismatic Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches. Many have left the country.
For the next week we will be following the escape of Francisco Javi Reyes, who fled El Salvador in a desperate bid to avoid gang warfare and to rescue his mother and sister from economic disaster. At age 16, Reyes left his country to travel alone to New York where he hoped to get a good education, profitable work, and achieve a better future for himself, his mother, and his sister. The journey is a modern Pilgrim’s Progress with spiritual despondencies and triumphs along the way.
Though this is Reyes’ story, his journey represents the experience of many who have left their country to escape violence and poverty and have come to our city with high hopes for their futures.