Their war-torn country bears the name of the Savior, El Salvador. For the more than 700,000 Salvadorans in Southern California, the sacred image of Jesus Christ, Divine Savior of the World, standing with outstretched arms, has served as a patron saint for their country.
It was he, the immigrants say, who helped them escape the bloodshed of civil war and settle in the United States.
The landmark statue resides in the Catholic cathedral of San Salvador and serves as a source of nationalism and religious devotion for Salvadorans.
Hoping to pass its members' heritage and religious traditions on to their children, the Salvadoran American National Assn.--along with some Los Angeles churches--commissioned a replica of the Christ statue for the Salvadoran community in Los Angeles. After a 10-day journey from El Salvador, the statue is expected to arrive today at Dolores Mission Roman Catholic Church in Boyle Heights. "In El Salvador, this is one of our most important traditions," said Mario Fuentes Rivas, organizational director of the Salvadoran American National Assn., known as SANA.
"What we're talking about is heritage. Where do we come from? What does it mean when parents name their son Salvador? I want my kids to know these things and have that sense of identity.
"We were children of war and now we're adults," said Rivas, who left El Salvador when fighting erupted in 1980. "We've been through hell, and we need to give future generations a sense of where we've been as a country."
The statue's arrival begins a series of events in the coming week celebrating the Salvadoran community's heritage. Southern California is home to the largest population of Salvadorans outside El Salvador.
The festivities will culminate with a celebration at Precious Blood Catholic Church on Aug. 6 to mark the feast of the transfiguration of Jesus and the day El Salvador was founded as a nation.
Earlier this month, Salvador Gomez Gochez, general director of SANA, traveled to El Salvador and participated in the blessing of a replica of the statue by Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle. On July 19, the figure left El Salvador on a pilgrimage through Guatemala and Mexico, taking a path to the United States similar to the one taken by many Salvadoran immigrants.
Similar to the Virgin of Guadalupe for Mexicans, the Divine Savior of the World is a figure that inspires deep devotion among Salvadorans. Thus, Salvadorans of various denominations joined together to bring the replica to Los Angeles. Among the other churches involved are Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Trinity Episcopal Church and First United Methodist Church.
"The clear agenda for the Salvadoran community was finding a way of communicating to their children something that is absolutely central to their culture," said Donald E. Miller, professor of religion at USC.