Dylan Breen '24 reflecting in El Ocotillo. (Photos courtesy of BC Campus Ministry)

One of Boston College’s hallmark service-immersion programs has resumed for the first time since January 2020, affirming  for a new cohort of Boston College students the deep ties of the Jesuits to El Salvador.

Through Arrupe International Immersion, two groups composed of about a dozen BC undergraduates, two adult mentors, and a community partner visited the Central American country from May 25 through June 2. For the students, the trip was the culmination of a yearlong commitment to the Arrupe program that included weekly community building and education, and ongoing faith formation.

“Our initial plans didn't take us to El Salvador, but COVID spikes forced us to pivot,” said Campus Ministry Associate Director Ryan Heffernan. “Given how closely connected El Salvador is to some of the themes of our immersion program, it was an ideal place for us to resume post-confinement,” and provided a meaningful experience for both students and in-country partner organizations, he added.

Through the immersions, themed "Faith and the Struggle for Justice," students learned how faith communities in San Salvador and Morazan advocate for human rights, from the civil war years (1972-1992) to the present day, according to Campus Minister Emily Egan, who runs the Arrupe program.

Partner organizations included CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador), an ecumenical faith-based organization dedicated to building solidarity between the Church of the poor and marginalized communities in El Salvador and communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries; and the Center for Global Education and Experience, whose regional study centers in Central America, Mexico, and Southern Africa offer programming which emphasizes social justice and community engagement.

“Arrupe participants learn about the complex realities of the countries we visit by hearing the stories of our hosts in their own words, in their own spaces. Those moments of encounter and accompaniment allow us to foster a spirit of mutuality,” according to Heffernan. “Our hope is that, by taking part in the yearlong program and visiting with our partner communities, students are prepared to put what they have learned into action—embracing [the late Superior General of the Society of Jesus] Pedro Arrupe's call to be a person for and with others.”

Among the groups’ robust roster of activities was a visit to the Jesuit University of Central America to pay homage to the six Jesuits and two lay women martyred there in 1989 during the Salvadoran civil war. The BC contingents also met with UCA students for discussions. 

Victoria Newell '22 in front of the Jesuit Martyrs grave at the University of Central America.

Victoria Newell '22 in front of the Jesuit Martyrs grave at the University of Central America.

 “The legacy of the martyrs continues to influence the work we do at Jesuit institutions around the world, so introducing current Boston College students to that is deeply important,” Heffernan explained.

Participants also met with members of the Committee of Family Members of Migrants who have died or disappeared, to hear from those who have lost loved ones trying to migrate to the U.S. They visited the gravesite and home of Saint Oscar Romero, attended Mass, and had a homestay in the rural community of El Ocotillo, with which BC has had a relationship for more than two decades.

A significant aspect of their faith formation experience was evening prayer and reflection—which is grounded in Ignatian spirituality and invites students to pay attention to the way God is calling them on the immersion and beyond. The aim, according to organizers, is that students translate their learning into action.  

That goal is affirmed by the experience of Victoria Newell ’22, a student leader of the CRISPAZ group.

BC students on a hike

BC students on a hike hosted by Arrupe Immersion community partners in El Ocotillo.

“I was incredibly moved by the generosity and hospitality of the Salvadoran people who invited us into their lives and homes. The stories they shared opened my eyes to new ways of seeing, and I anticipate them continuing to shape me well beyond the completion of the trip. That’s what Arrupe is all about: being transformed by the stories of the people we accompany and letting them fuel the part we can play in the fight for justice.

“I think that for all of us, perhaps especially the seniors, it was a perfect way to end the academic year as it reminded us that our duty to be men and women for others extends well beyond the confines of the school year and the Heights,” she added.

Of the resumption of the international trips after the pandemic forced its temporary suspension, Heffernan said:

“Pope Francis has written and talked about a Church that isn’t ‘confined’ but goes ‘out into the streets.’ COVID has confined each of us in different ways and it made travel for Campus Ministry's immersion programs impossible. While that offered an invitation to reimagine our work and create some local and virtual programming, it has been great to say ‘yes’ this year to the invitation from our partner organizations to return to their communities and families.”

An Arrupe trip to El Salvador also took place during Holy Week. For more information about Arrupe International Immersion, visit the Campus Ministry website.


Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications | June 2022