In August of 1961, Pope John the 23rd called for the Catholic Church of North America to serve the people of Latin America. Bishop Hoban of Cleveland chose to connect Cleveland with the people of El Salvador since this highly Catholic country was suffering from a lack of priests to minister to the people. Six Cleveland priests were serving a population of more than 500,000 Salvadorans. CLAM members would spend their time serving upwards of 32 villages each week. The team was overwhelmed by the economic poverty that they encountered. Priests, nuns and lay volunteers would spend their days traveling up and down the volcanos and mountain ranges via jeeps, motorbikes and mules, trying to visit the people who were living in shacks and hovels across the countryside.
The priests of the Cleveland Team had the task of bringing the sacraments to the people – all of the sacraments. To accomplish this, they had to teach catechism. And, that often meant that they had to start with basic literacy – reading the Gospels. They had to maintain the main church but also tried to go out to the communities and hold mass among the people. They worked hard to educate the “whole person” and this became the main work for the women religious and lay volunteers. The women religious lived in true solidarity with the people – immersing themselves in the towns and villages – trying to get to know the women and families of El Salvador. The CLAM team served the people in every way that they could. It was a calling to serve and to be in solidarity with the people.
The CLAM team remained with the people during the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992). 70,000 Salvadorans died during the Civil War. Not only was Archbishop Romero murdered for bringing the Gospel to the people but two CLAM members were killed as well: Sister Dorothy Kazel, OSU, and lay worker Jean Donovan (Dec 2, 1980). It was a time of violence and fear but the CLAM team lived with the people and served Christ in spite of the threats and violence. COAR founder Father Ken Myers was a CLAM member serving in Zaragoza at the outbreak of the war. According to Jean Donovan’s journal, only four months before the murder of the four Churchwomen, Father Ken had begun to lay the foundation for what would later turn out to be the Children’s Village (COAR).
In 2014, Bishop Lennon of Cleveland visited El Salvador with a delegation to commemorate 50 years of service to the people of El Salvador. CLAM still serves the people of El Salvador. It is an unbroken line of love and solidarity, commitment and sacrifice that spans more than a half century – uniting two very different people, Cleveland and El Salvador, in the service of God through solidarity and missionary service to the people.
For more information, please visit the following site: http://www.dioceseofcleveland.org/missionoffice/
The current director of the Diocesan Mission office is Father Stephen Vellenga. The information above was taken from the 50th anniversary video that can be found on COAR’s website.