Social Justice Ministry:  The Pro-Búsqueda Program - El Salvador 

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In 2005, Msgr. Bigelow began assisting the Pro-Búsqueda program in El Salvador as a volunteer investigator. Pro-Bosqueda is an organization that reunites Salvadoran children and families who were separated during El Salvador's decades of civil war.  The organization was founded by Jesuit priest Father Jon de Cortina, S.J. and led by him until he went to our Lord in 2005.   

During the twelve year civil war in El Salvador, children were forcibly and illegally removed from their families in an attempt by the government to remove people from land desired by wealthy land owners. Sometimes the parents were executed or arrested and never seen again. The children were subsequently adopted by other families in the country and even around the world.  They have grown into adults without knowing anything of their origins or original families. 

For years no one knew what happened to the children. Then, a few showed up unexpectedly at Salvadoran orphanages asking questions.  Investigations began privately. It was determined that about seven hundred plus children had been kidnapped. For painful years, relatives had wondered about these missing family members.

The program Pro-Búsqueda was set up to gather information on the missing children; identifying living family members and the circumstances surrounding the taking of the child. Advances in DNA research have allowed Pro-Búsqueda to set up a DNA bank to assist in positively identifying children as missing family members. 

The object of the program is not to force legal action against adopting families. Adopting families had trusted that the authorities and the process were legitimate when they adopted their child. Rather, the object of Pro-Búsqueda is to determine whether or not missing children are alive, where they are, what their current situation is, and whether or not they desire to have any contact with their birth family. The object is to leave decisions in the hands of the adopted children, who are now adults. Four hundred such missing children have been identified and located. Many desire to know about their birth family, some do not want any contact but want information, and some desire no contact whatsoever.

Pro-Búsqueda will assist missing children who desire contact with their family in El Salvador. The first step would be a DNA analysis. On confirmation and approval by the adoptee, they can come to El Salvador and meet their birth family. Pro-Búsqueda encourages the adoptive family to come with the child. Interpreters and counseling are provided throughout the process to soften the impact of this life-altering experience. Those who have chosen to come to El Salvador have experienced great joy and a deep appreciation of their personal history. 

Reuniting families can fill gaps missing in an adopted person's life. Sometimes that missing piece of history answers questions no one has asked before. Are there other siblings? Are there grandparents and cousins? How was I taken? What were my birth parents like? What was life like when I was taken? Is one of my parents alive now? If not, where are they buried? 

Monsignor Bigelow's mother, Betty (now deceased), was an adopted child, a Native American. She was adopted out of an orphanage in Minnesota as an infant. She had no knowledge of her birth family nor did she want any knowledge or contact until after the death of her adoptive parents. She didn't want to disrespect the only parents she knew. She had grown up an only child and devoted daughter. Because of medical circumstances in one of her own children, contact was necessary. It was Monsignor's duty to locate and, if possible, determine any family medical history. He was successful in locating three living sisters, all in different parts of the U.S., and gained valuable medical information. Eventually, Monsignor reunited his mother with two of her three sisters after sixty-three years of separation.

Pro-Búsqueda hopes to enrich the lives of those missing and their respective missing families. In the case of Monsignor's mother, the oldest sister had said to him that her last wish was to know if her baby sister was alive, ok, and with a nice family. Her wish came true.  Pro-Búsqueda helps bring that same peace and resolution to El Salvador's missing children and their families.


Parts of this article were taken from In The Eye of the Beholder: Five True Stories With a Wink, a Nod, and a Tear, by T. D. Knopf-Bigelow, North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., MN, 2004.


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Original text and certain graphics and photographs © 2006 Thomas D. Knopf-Bigelow.  All rights reserved. Certain graphics © 2003 Riverdeep Interactive Learning Limited, and its licensors. All rights reserved. Certain graphics © 2003 Hemera Technologies, and its licensors. All rights reserved. Maps © 2006 Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.  Website designed and created by Will Beauchemin, Minneapolis, Minnesota.