Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A stirring ode to the Salvadoran martyrs


The Presentation: March 14, 2017, El Paisnal, El Salvador.

#BlessedRomero #Beatification
By the side of the graves of Father Rutilio Grande and his “martyr” companions, Manuel Solorzano and Nelson Lemus, buried beneath the floor of the San Jose Church in El Paisnal, San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas presented a monumental new pastoral letter on the persecution of the Salvadoran Church and the martyrs it produced. [Spanish text.]
«Ustedes También Darán Testimonio, Porque Han Estado Conmigo Desde el Principio» (“You will also testify, because you have been with me since the beginning”—C.f., Jn. 15:27), Archbishop Escobar’s second pastoral letter, coincides with the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr. Rutilio Grande, a fact that does not go unnoticed in the archbishop’s text. The Catholic hierarch calls it “grave” that “forty years after the martyrdom of Fr. Rutilio Grande García S.J ., I wish to recognize—as I must out of justice, truth and charity—that we have crossed the threshold of the third millennium in the Salvadoran Archdiocese without having pronounced a word of recognition of all the men and women who were victims of persecution, torture, repression; and in their final consequences, martyrs deaths, following Christ and the incarnation of the Gospel in the country.” [«Ustedes También», 3.]
The prelate attributes this oversight to possible “attempts to return to a certain type of ecclesiology and spirituality contrary to the renewal of the Second Vatican Council” and offers his apology: “I regret that this act of justice and charity toward our martyrs had not been carried out years earlier.” [Ibid.] Later, Archbishop Escobar also apologizes for leaving out the laity in this letter dedicated to the martyrs who died having received some sacred order, including the priesthood and consecrated life. “I confess that we, the pastors of our ecclesiastical Province, have not inquired in depth about these types of martyrs,” writes Escobar. “I apologize for our inaction.” [Op. Cit., 147.] He also promises a future rectification. [Id.]
Specifically, the Letter, over 200 pgs. in length, contains testimonies for twenty-four particular martyrs of the Salvadoran Church, including 17 priests, 4 religious women, 2 bishops and one seminarian:
3. Fr. Alfonso Navarro, diocesan priest;
4. Fr. Rafael Ernesto Barrera Motto, diocesan priest;
5. Fr. Octavio Ortiz, diocesan priest;
6. Fr. Rafael Palacios, diocesan priest;
7. Fr. Alirio Napoleon Macias, diocesan priest;
8. Blessed Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez;
9. Fr. Cosme Spessotto, Franciscan Priest;
10. Jose Ohtmaro Cáceres, diocesan seminarian;
11. Fr. Manuel Antonio Reyes, oratorian priest;
12. Fr. Ernesto Abrego, oratorian priest;
13. Fr. Marcial Serrano, diocesan priest;
14. Sr. Dorothy Lu Kazel O.S.U;
15. Jean Donovan;
16. Sr. Ita Catherine Ford M.M .;
17. Sr. Maura Elizabeth Clarke M.M .;
18. Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria, Jesuit Priest;
19. Fr. Ignacio Martin Baro, Jesuit Priest;
20. Fr. Segundo Montes Mozo, Jesuit Priest;
21. Fr. Amando Lopez Quintana, Jesuit Priest;
22. Fr. Juan Ramon Moreno Pardo, Jesuit Priest;
23. Fr. Joaquín Lopez y Lopez, Jesuit Priest; and
24. Bishop Roberto Joaquin Ramos Umana.
For each of them, «Ustedes También» presents biographical data, a summary of the ecclesial mission of each individual, and the circumstances of their martyrdom. If this had been the only contribution of the letter, «Ustedes También» would already be of much value. Compared, for example, with an Americas Watch report that I have used as a reference for the Salvadoran martyrology, the archbishop’s letter contains all of the cases cataloged by Americas Watch, and others more. In addition to the Salvadoran martyrs, the Archbishop’s letter also pays homage to those of neighboring countries, including Bishop Gerardi and Stanley Rother in Guatemala. [«Ustedes También», 184-189.]
For all the martyrs as a group, Archbishop Escobar affirms once and for all that “they were martyrs, not because they adhered to an ideology, but because they tried to illuminate with faith a reality of pain, suffering, poverty, violence, Injustice, oppression, torture, marginalization and death.” [Ibid., 176.] In the second part of the letter, Archbishop Escobar weaves an entire theology of martyrdom, from the pages of the Old and New Testaments, as well as from the magisterium of the Church. Even more, Escobar also begins to gather an ecclesiology of martyrdom. In some of his most poetic passages, he cites the ancient Christian literature of the Shepherd of Hermas to describe the building of the Church as the construction of a tower with stones so perfectly carved (representing the martyrs) that “the tower appeared as a single block.” [Op. Cit., 11]
Finally, the Archbishop rails against the impunity that prevails in the country, demanding justice for his martyrs. [Id., 156-157.]
In the ninth year of his archbishopric, Archbishop Escobar has clearly found his voice, and it has a prophetic tenor. His first pastoral letter, last year, seemed “Romeroesque”  to us for its attention to urgent social issues from the point of view of the Gospel. In recent days, the archbishop has led a campaign against metal mining, collecting signatures, leading a march to the legislature, and even presenting legislation to abolish the practice. «Ustedes También» is perhaps his most radical move: in the true Romeroesque sense, Archbishop Escobar is radical from his orthodoxy.  He co-opts new developments in the life of the Church and appropriates them to the traditional and institutional fabric of its history.

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