The sound of fireworks echoes through the cool night air.  It is late.  For some reason the stink of sewer gases is strong tonight.  We closed the windows but can still hear the pops and booms and barking dogs.

Several hours ago, we walked to the UCA (Central American University) to see the colorful carpets and walk in the annual pilgrimage in honor of the Jesuit martyrs.  Flocks of small green parrots accompanied us on the walk, migrating from their daytime roosts near where we live and their nests in the trees on campus.  Their calls were loud enough to compete with the noise of the city traffic.

We arrived on campus just in time to view the colorful sand and salt carpets before the sun set.  The themes are consistent from year to year, calling for peace, justice and love for one another and all of creation.  Following his recent canonization, Saint Oscar Romero was featured prominently this year, not only in the carpets, but throughout the reflections which were broadcast before and during the pilgrimage.

Oscar Romero, Saint of the Americas

The UCA has hosted many advocacy events in support of protecting
people's right to clean drinking water and the passage of a holistic
water protection law by the Salvadoran legislature.

The UCA radio station - worth listening to!

Oscar Romero and Rutilio Grande

As darkness enveloped the campus, we walked down the hill toward the university's soccer field.  We were given farolitos (small taper candles with cardboard lanterns).  The light was passed from pilgrim to pilgrim, despite the strong breeze.  As soon as a candle blew out, someone with a burning farolito came to the rescue to relight the flame.  

Tall palm branches decorated with bright tissue paper flowers led the procession.  Images of the faces of the martyrs were held high.

29th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Jesuits at the UCA
November 16, 1989

Pilgrims march with farolitos and images - in the center of this photo is an image of
Father Dean Brackley, a beloved teacher and friend, who came to the UCA
to replace the teachers who were slain in 1989.  Father Dean died a few years ago of cancer.

We walked until our candles burned themselves out, pausing for reflective times to sing and pray.  Footstep by footstep, the carpets became blurry.  A few families carried plastic bags with them, and children scooped a bit of the colored sand from each carpet into the bags, perhaps for home altars or to create little carpets of their own.

At the third station for reflection, this little girl entertained
herself and her dad by sliding down the hill.

As the pilgrimage ended, we decided to walk home with the idea of grabbing dinner along the way.  We walked all the way back up the hill, only to find that the upper entrance to the university was locked.  We wound our way through the center of campus, down to the lower gates and made a quick decision to go to Pizza Hut.

The only time we eat at Pizza Hut is when we are in a pinch or with a delegation of teenagers.  We walked speedily with sewer smells wafting up around us.  

We had to wait for a table.  This Pizza Hut has easily tripled in size since the last time we ate there.  A huge Christmas tree decorated with shiny red balls and 6-inch-wide red sequined ribbon stood behind the hostess stand.  Birthday songs, loud laughter, children crying and Christmas muzak added to the chaos of waiters pushing through the people waiting and making their way to the restrooms.  As we were guided to our table, we just looked at each other with mouths agape...who knew that Pizza Hut was such a popular place for family celebrations with 4 and 5 generations.  (What are all these little kids and really old people doing out so late?  I was really quite amazed.)

Take note:  the piña colada frozen (no alcohol) and chipotle bomb pizza were delicious.

The plan for getting home from Pizza Hut was to call an Uber.  We watched the fireworks over Salvador del Mundo while we waited for our ride.  It cost us $1.96 to get home.  Best. Deal. Ever.

Each year, it seems, that the number of pilgrims with farolitos at the UCA decreases.  Perhaps the oldest generation of those who remember is passing.  Perhaps it is difficult for communities to travel home from the UCA at night.  There were notably few international participants this year.  The students, however, continue to learn the history, create the carpets, and share the stories.  Student guides now provide tours of the rose garden and the Romero Center, where they tell, in detail, the history of what happened in this place.  

Loud music penetrates our concrete walls.  It's late.  

San Salvador has been alive tonight.  The Christmas tree was illuminated in the plaza of Salvador del Mundo, while pilgrims walked at the UCA, and families gathered in celebration for birthdays and graduations and just because it's Saturday.  Fireworks are popping, dogs are barking, sewers are wafting, reggaeton is bumping, birthday flames are blown out with applause, and farolitos fade into the night with a prayer.

Good night, San Salvador.


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