On July 19, at 2:00 a.m., 12 bleary-eyed parishioners boarded an airport van in the St. Ambrose parking lot for the first leg of the trip to our sister parish in San Agustin, El Salvador. The trip seemed to take forever, because of a lengthy holdover in Atlanta, but at the San Salvador airport, we were met like dignitaries by a large delegation, including Padre Vicente and the mayor of San Agustin. Those who had made this trip before were greeted with abrazos and kisses, while the rest of us got firm handshakes and smiles. Shortly after leaving the airport, our convoy stopped at a small roadside restaurant for pupusas, of which we would consume many during our stay. We were a little apprehensive about the omnipresent armed guards, but this anxiety vanished once we left the main highway and were on the largely unpaved road leading to the town of San Agustin, which is a bucolic, tranquil place, well off the beaten track. There are nearly as many oxcarts as cars in the town, and at certain hours, cattle outnumber residents on Main Street. One of our first activities in San Agustin was to help lay the foundation of the new church, which will eventually replace the one destroyed by an earthquake. This construction work was presented to us as a “symbolic act”’ but turned out to be quite challenging physically, and gave us great admiration for those who do this every day, without benefit of the machinery we take for granted. Working shoulder to shoulder with the volunteers from San Agustin, we mixed concrete manually, then transported it by wheelbarrow and poured it into the 8 foot deep foundation, which had also been dug by hand. At Sunday mass in the church hall – which is being used until the new church is built - Padre Vicente introduced us to his congregation, and afterwards, we split into 3 groups to accompany Sisters Theresa, Rosa, and Iris as they took communion to parishioners who were unable to attend mass.. These three “hermanas” are remarkable. In addition to being catechists and working with the youth of the parish, they often walk long distances - sometimes from sunrise to sunset - to visit the sick and the elderly. Many of the people we visited with the sisters – especially those outside of town – live in extreme poverty, but everyone received us warmly and invited us into their modest homes. One house had an earthen floor and no running water, but it sat on a ridge overlooking a lush valley, with a large volcano visible on the far side. Such a contrast – extreme poverty in the midst of great natural beauty. Other activities we engaged in included working with handicapped children (the “angelitos), giving English lessons, and touching base with some of the young adults who had received educational loans financed through the St. Ambrose children’s collections. We also delivered computer equipment to the parish cybercafé that had been established several years earlier through the generosity of St. Ambrose parishioners. Through the kindness of Padre Vicente, we were able to make several excursions. We visited the cathedral in San Salvador, where Archbishop Oscar Romero is buried. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, and violence, and was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating mass. The people of El Salvador consider him their unofficial patron saint. On July 25, the feast of Saint James, we attended mass in the picturesque mountain town of Santiago de Maria. The mass was concelebrated by the papal nuncio, and the front row was reserved for the local beauty queens. It started only two hours late! We also spent some time at the beach, climbed the long and steep steps that lead to the summit overlooking the Puerta del Diablo (Devil’s Gate), and visited towns with names like Zacatecoluca. Departure day - July 28 – arrived much too soon. A large contingent again accompanied us to the airport. Tears were shed, and as bona fide members of the San Agustin family, we all got warm abrazos. It was a most rewarding experience, and is highly recommended, especially for the young adults of our parish.