Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls

Posted: October 8, 2011 in Uncategorized
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So it seems that El Salvador’s Supreme Court has refused to order the detention of the military officers indicted for the 1989 slayings of the six Jesuit priests in San Salvador (AP Oct 7 2011). It is the latest indignity. On the night of November 18, 1989, an elite force of the Salvadoran military laid siege to the residence of the University of Central America. When they were done six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her young daughter were dead.

At the time of the slaying we in the United States were well on the way to becoming aware of the long history of atrocity generated by the civil war, a product of the cold war. El Salvador and its population were pawns in the geopolitical game. And the Salvadoran military and its paramilitaries – rampaging and slaughtering thousands – were equipped and trained by the United States. The School of the Americas was conspicuous in this regard. Romero, the Jesuits, the American sisters – all slaughtered. Thousands of peasants, slaughtered. There was no more covering it up; we were complicit in the atrocity. Pandora was out of her box. The military was eliminating all resistance – not only revolutionaries standing against their oppression – but the religious who stood beside the violated. The oligarchy, the powerful ruling families of El Salvador, those who had taken all the land from the peasants to establish their coffee plantations, were protected by military forces who eliminated any threat to their accustomed way of life.

A year after the slaughter of the Jesuits, a minister in the United Church of Canada, Robert Smith, traveled to El Salvador for a special commemoration of the slaughter of the Jesuits. I remember Smith telling his story in a clergy gathering just after his return:

A year later I was part of the ecumenical group who gathered in the Romero chapel to remember the death of the martyrs. The evening was long, the air close, and those of us who had traveled long miles to be present were beginning to flag when Jon Sobrino, the seventh Jesuit who, but for the fact he was out of the country that fateful night, would have also been assassinated, came to the microphone. He held in his hands a tray on which rested eight clay flower pots filled with earth. His hands shook as he solemnly planted a single frijole, the bean which is the staple food of the Salvadoran peasant, in each of the pots. He placed the tray before the tomb of the martyrs and turned and said softly the only words he could have said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

  1. Jane says:

    Powerful..I was in college and remember the horrors written about from El Salvador.

  2. More of the story…from last May:

    By Alex Renderos and Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

    May 4, 2011
    Reporting from San Salvador and Mexico City — Rene Emilio Ponce, the once-powerful army general blamed for one of the most egregious atrocities in El Salvador’s civil war, the killing of six Roman Catholic priests, has died. He was 64.

    Ponce died Monday at the Military Hospital in San Salvador, the capital, after being admitted last week in critical condition with heart trouble, El Salvador’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

    Ponce served as defense minister and army chief of staff in the last half of the Cold War-era conflict that ended in 1992, becoming one of the U.S.-backed government’s most important military strategists.

    A United Nations truth commission after the war determined that Ponce had ordered the assassination of the country’s leading Jesuit priest, Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of the Jesuit-run University of Central America.

    Ellacuria, suspected by the army of supporting leftist guerrillas, was slain on Nov. 16, 1989, along with five other priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter because the orders instructed that no witnesses be left behind, the commission said.

    Though promoted to general a year after the massacre, Ponce was forced to step down as defense minister in 1993, when the commission’s report was released.

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