By Barb Arkwright
The original Black Christ Catholic Church in Berlin, Usulutan, El Salvador was built in the 1970’s and has a rich history. In addition to functioning as a parish it also served as a shelter in times of severe weather and as a safe haven during their civil war. People from surrounding areas and the mountains would come to the church for shelter and protection. Years later when members of the parish were advanced in age and very poor they could no longer support the church and it was closed for about 15 years.
In 1990-1991 people in the area asked permission to re-open the church for parish functions and to again use as shelter in times of peril such as floods.
Eventually due to lack of funds and extreme disrepair the church was torn down. On the grounds where the church had stood, a woman whose first name was Milagro and whose last name I do not know, donated money and started a mission to promote the rebuilding of the church. She had trees planted and for a number of years, Mass was held under the trees. The people, though poverty ridden, made a sacrifice to begin a mission project. They bought pillars one at a time for a cost of $7 each and bit by bit the construction took place.
The trees hold significant purpose for the parish. St. Boniface parishioners who traveled to El Salvador on previous delegations have seen and several have hiked to a large cross on a mountain top near Berlin. The story goes that the largest tree was cut down and the cross hewn from it. When completed, the priest organized a procession and asked the people to bring rocks which would form a foundation for the cross. The people carried the massive cross to the mountain top where it was erected for all to see.
Many of the other trees were utilized to make benches for use in the new church. Some of those benches are still in the church and maintained from those 40 years past.
In order to build the church many types of fundraising were done and people from several communities came to donate funds for lamina, cement, and other materials. They also donated time to the actual construction. A group of women headed by a Franciscan Priest, Fr. Pasqualli, continued to hold activities to raise money for the parish.
Today the church has a very active group of about 40 young adults who serve as missionaries. They travel to other communities to spread the “Good News” and raise funds. They have a team headed by a Spiritual Director. They hold retreats for spiritual and social interests and concerns. They have an active children’s choir.
Inside of the church a massive Black Christ Crucifix is affixed behind the altar. There are no pews. The story of the “Black Christ” originated in Guatemala. The color stems from the type of wood used in carving the figure of Christ. Many miracles have been attributed to those praying at the crucifix. The Crucifix was brought to Berlin, Usulutan as a gift. A large procession went through the streets of Berlin to the church where it was presented in the “Temple”.
For many years the Feast of the Black Christ has been celebrated on January 14th. People from many surrounding areas come for the celebration and to pray for miracles.