Notes from El Salvador V

Posted: October 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

Today we visited sacred sites, the places inhabited by memory and hope.

Of course, that means we visited the cathedral in San Salvador, the one in which Archbishop Romero presided. It was here that he preached for peace, for justice for the poor, for conversion of all to a way of life that befits Christians. In the dome over the altar there is painted a heavenly scene in which the host of heaven hovers over, to the left, the poor seated on the steps of a pueblo, and to the right, the peaceable kingdom, with all manner of elephants and lions and children. The symbolism is stunning; God is over all, including the most disenfranchised, and there is a peaceable kingdom on the way. This is pure Christian hope.

In the crypt of the church is the tomb of Romero, and the plain covering appears to be earthen, with four posts that resemble campasinos, the peasant people, and the single red bullet that is lodged in the place where his heart would be has broken the surface, creating cracks going in four directions, creating the shape of a cross – the bullet being at the center of the cross. The bishop’s crook lies unused, by his side.

We left the cathedral and went directly to the chapel of the hospital of divine providence, the place where Romero, in 1980, he was celebrating communion at the altar when a gunman fired one shot from outside the chapel through the open doors and struck Romero in the heart. We were silent in the presence of what the world does to prophets.

When Romero’s funeral took place at the Cathedral, the military fired upon the funeral procession, slaughtering scores of priests and people.

At the Catholic University we visited the location where, in 1989, the military laid siege to the residence of the Jesuits and killed six of them, including their housekeeper and her child. Their artifacts – clothing and possessions – were on display as sacred articles of remembrance. The motto that was appearing as graffiti in the streets – “Be a patriot, kill a priest” – had taken on its own macabre life.

It is estimated that over 9,000 peasants were slaughtered during the height of the civil war, over 120,000 people in total. Faithful Christians stood with the voiceless to give them a voice … and paid the price.

War is not new to the world stage. Nor is oppression and tyranny. Prophets have always been persecuted and killed for telling the truth, and still are. And each one of us is forced to answer the one, haunting question that cannot be avoided: “What would I die for? And would I have the courage to do so?”

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