An update from Lael C Melville, PsyD, a 2016 M.Div. candidate and president of the Perkins Black Seminarians Association, who also is blogging at “Following the Passion of the Cross to El Salvador”:

I did not share with you a remarkable gift I received on Sunday (March 9, 2014) during the morning church service. Every visitor received a handmade necklace. The necklaces were given to us by the children and youth of the church. Many of the crosses were replicas of the Subversive Cross. This cross is a symbol of both carnage and hope for some parishioners during the civil war and for Salvadorian women who currently struggle to find a safe place.

“Subversive” was the name given to a group of resisters. These Salvadorians fought against what was wrong in their country. Unable to verbally discuss social injustices, the parishioners wrote their concerns – literally – on the cross. They wrote on the cross because they would be killed if they spoke out loud about their concerns. The cross, approximately 10 feet tall, now bore the pain of the people through their writings.

During a destructive raid on the church, the cross was taken and placed in prison. This act of aggression demonstrated that the war was not only physically brutal, it was also psychologically violating. Some time later, the cross was returned to the church.

Today, the women of El Salvador face a similar plight. After the peace accord of the Salvadorian civil war was ratified in the 1990s, women who fought as guerrillas became leaders in a new war. The war these women are now fighting is against abuse. This abuse includes physical beatings, psychological torture and certainly femicide (the murder of women at the hands of their spouse or partners, with no recourse).

El Salvador has the third highest rate of femicide in the world (lecture at Las Dignas, El Salvador, March 10, 2014). Salvadorian women are dying at the rate of 20 women a day as a result of acts of aggression (ibid.). The Salvadorian organization known as Las Dignas has become a current subversive group. This organization seeks freedom for women from domestic violence.

Las Dignas attempts to change the culture of violence through research, legislation (for the sake of the comparison, creating legislation may be viewed as writing on the cross), and information. Utilizing creative strategies, these courageous women work to create impact in a male-centered and -dominated culture.

Las Dignas also responds to daily acts of violence toward women. The organization’s response addresses physical, psychological and informational needs. While these women do not have a literal Subversive Cross, their pain and brokenness may be comparable to the parishioners who created the Subversive Cross. In both instances, the cross becomes a symbol of brokenness and hope. That hope is possible through the pursuit of justice. The brokenness acknowledges the quest for peace.

The gift of the Subversive Cross from the children and youth has created an opportunity to consider parallels between the Salvadorian parishioners during the civil war and the plight of abused Salvadorian women post-civil war. In an effort to defy the controlling factions, congregants and women of Las Dignas wrote literally and figuratively on the cross.

The hope for all is to achieve both justice and peace. (Oscar Romero)