News, Off Campus, Top Story

Arrupe El Salvador Trip Cancelled

The Arrupe El Salvador trip, one of the many trips that Campus Ministry’s Arrupe Immersion Program leads, was cancelled due to escalating violence in the country, the directors of the trip said.

Margaret Nuzzolese, campus minister and program director for Arrupe, hopes groups will be able to return to El Salvador next year. Catherine Larrabee, MCAS ’16, and Christopher Colgan, CSOM ’16, were the student leaders for the Arrupe El Salvador trip.

The decision was made following a meeting to discuss the safety of the trips between Rev. Jack Butler, S.J., the vice president of Mission and Ministry; Rev. Tony Penna, the director of Campus Ministry; Nuzzolese; and the Office of International Programs. Arrupe has monitored El Salvador closely for over a year and decided that these conditions were too dangerous to send an educational immersion trip.

The remaining trips to Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, Mexico, and the U.S./Mexico border have been approved to go, Colgan said.

Boston College students have been traveling to El Salvador for nearly 20 years. Inspired by Oscar Romero, a former Archbishop of El Salvador who was assassinated while celebrating mass in 1980, and the UCA martyrs, students visit the country to build relationships with the communities there. Nuzzolese said Arrupe participants will continue to stand with the people of El Salvador in solidarity.

Colgan said that while the news was difficult for students to hear, Arrupe wishes to engage the campus in a project for advocacy and awareness. He said the Arrupe program plans on learning more about the realities of violence within El Salvador, especially with those in El Ocotillo, the community that the Arrupe program has visited in El Salvador.

“El Salvador is now considered the most dangerous peacetime country in the world, meaning it is the country with the highest homicide rate that is not currently at war.”

“The potential risks of going outweigh the potential benefits and the goal of the visit,” Larrabee said. “Instead, the Arrupe program will try to arrange another location where our participants can have an educational immersion trip.”

Most of the violence can be attributed to gang-related activities. Mexico and El Salvador have had travel warnings for several years, but the number of homicides in El Salvador increased significantly this past summer. In 2012, the government and the Catholic Church brokered a truce between two major gangs in El Salvador, MS-13 and Barrio 18. In 2014, however, the truce dissolved and violence has increased.

“El Salvador is now considered the most dangerous peacetime country in the world, meaning it is the country with the highest homicide rate that is not currently at war,” Larrabee said.

While fulfilling and important, immersion experiences are often associated with risks, as all types of travel are. During the beginning stages of the Arrupe Program, students are encouraged to read and understand all relevant U.S. State Department Travel information and Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. It is especially important that students do so when they are traveling to locations where there are travel warnings, Nuzzolese said. This August, El Salvador witnessed the highest number of homicides since the end of its 12-year civil war in 1992.

Currently, Arrupe is planning an alternative location for the students who had planned on traveling to El Salvador. The students had already raised funds for their plane tickets, though they had not yet bought them. The Jesuit Ministries of the Antillas Province has invited the Arrupe Program to attend a new immersion program in the Dominican Republic. This new program would also provide a similar, faith-based and relationships-based encounter for students and communities alike.
While the Arrupe Program will not visit El Salvador this year, Arrupe students stress that they will not forget about the country or the people they know and love there. They wish to maintain their relationship with El Ocotillo and FUNDAHMER, the Arrupe Program’s partner organization.

The cancellation of this trip highlights the stark reality for the millions of Central Americans that are forced to flee their homes and migrate North in search of safety and survival, Larrabee said.

“This story isn’t ultimately about BC or the Arrupe Program. It’s about the violence and poverty that mark the lives of so many people in Central America, and our responsibility as neighbors to reflect on how we are complicit in this crisis and how we are obligated to respond,” Larrabee said. “Though we as BC students can make the decision not to go to El Salvador, millions of people whose lives are endangered every day by inescapable violence and poverty cannot.”

Cancelling the El Salvador trip was difficult for the Arrupe Program, but Nuzzolese explained that the students’ faith and educational experiences were the highest priority. She said the Arrupe Program would not hesitate to adjust any trips should the safety of students and staff be in jeopardy.

“From the BC community, we request your continued prayers and support for these Arrupe students, and in particular the people of El Salvador whose lives are a constant reminder of how to live with faith, hope, courage, and love,” Nuzzolese said.

Correction: Nov. 6, 2015
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Oscar Romero as a Jesuit. This post has been updated to reflect the fact he was not.

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November 5, 2015