Thursday, December 08, 2011


«Woe to him who buildeth cities with blood, and foundeth castles with injustice,» cries the prophet (Habakkuk 2:12). A condemnation “against genocide,” preached Archbishop Romero: “The prophet’s words seem to be written for our time.” (October 2, 1977 Sermon.)

It is estimated that 30,000 were killed in El Salvador between 1979 and 1981 (TimelinesDB chronology): “At the peak of the violence in late 1980, the monthly toll of politically motivated murders ran between 700 and 800.” (USLC Country Studies, El Salvador.) Therefore, approximately half of the death toll of the entire 12-year Salvadoran Civil War occurred during those dark years that saw such infamous crimes as the assassination of Monsignor Romero himself in March 1980; the Rio Sumpul massacre of some 300 civilians in May of that year; the rape and murder of the U.S. churchwomen that December; and several other massacres culminating in the El Mozote massacre, of some one thousand peasants from several adjoining hamlets, in December 1981. (SEE TIM’S EL SALVADOR BLOG for an excellent multi-part series on El Mozote.)

Archbishop Romero’s immolation is intimately bound with these massacres in three important respects: (1) Romero sought to be “incarnated” in the suffering of his people; (2) all these deaths have been brushed aside by a corrupt system that would deprive the dignity of their lives by denying them justice; and (3) Romero lives in the historic memory alongside the El Mozote victims, whose memorial reads: “They have not died; they are with us, with you, and with all of humanity.”

Archbishop Romero lived in the era of the massacre. A significant number of the thousands of deaths that occurred during the period were deaths resulting from mass slaughters, including of civilians. A Salvadoran newspaper has estimated that some 6,765 perished in documented massacres—like El Mozote—occurring between 1980 and 1983. Forty four people died at Romero’s funeral after soldiers reportedly fired at the crowd and at the casket. Archbishop Romero put himself in the killers’ sights when he advocated for the victims, publishing results of atrocities compiled by his own Legal Aid Office, staffed by young lawyers and law students. “It would be sad,” he said, “if in a country where murder is being committed so horribly, we were not to find priests among the victims.” (June 30, 1979 Sermon.) Then he added, “They are the testimony of a Church incarnated in the problems of her people.”

Of course, Archbishop Romero faced the same destiny as the victims of El Mozote when he, too, was subjected to an extrajudicial killing intended to silence and subjugate the Salvadoran people. He also shared in the victims’ fate when his murder was shelved by a judicial system determined not to seek the truth or, much less, punishment or redress for the crime. El Salvador passed an Amnesty Law, which “was a clear attempt to keep anyone involved in the murder of Archbishop Romero, the El Mozote Massacre, the murder of the Jesuits, and other crimes against humanity from facing investigations, charges or further publicity.” (Bethany Loberg, El Mozote: Seeking Justice in Spite of the Amnesty Law.)

But, official indifference was overcome by the popular clamor that has raised Archbishop Romero to an international human rights hero. “People around the world draw inspiration from Archbishop Romero,” stated President Barack Obama in a handwritten note in the registry book at Romero’s grave when he visited in 2011. “May we all follow his example in championing social justice and human rights.” In a recent commemoration of the anniversary of the UCA Massacre celebrated at Romero’s grave, the Jesuit provincial called Romero’s crypt the “Sanctuary of the Salvadoran Martyrs,” and the Dean of the Central American University said that it resounds with “the cries of children in El Mozote and the pain of all the massacres, rape, torture and impunity” so that “memory becomes hopeful, transformative identity and ethical potential for building a better society.” (Tojeira, National Sanctuary.)

See also:

March 24 Day of Dignity of Victims/Right to Truth

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