Pedro Casaldáliga’s Open Letter to Brother Romero

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Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga

In March 2005, I attended the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Jesuit Central American University [UCA] in San Salvador. Brazilian poet and bishop Pedro Casaldáliga was scheduled to attend, but was delayed due to illness. In his stead, he sent an “Open Letter to Brother Romero” to the gathering for the Week of Theological Reflection. It was read there by the famous little bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, Don Samuel Ruiz. Afterwards, I was invited to be on a small team that translated Casaldáliga “open letter” into English. They wanted a poet to help with Casaldáliga’s precise, rich poetic allusions. Below is his letter, with notes following:

OPEN LETTER TO BROTHER ROMERO FROM PEDRO CASADALIGA, IN BRAZIL:

I should be there with you… and I am: with my whole heart. You are very present in the thoughts of all of us in this small church of São Félix de Araguaia, my brother. I can see you in my own room, in the chapel of the patio, in our cathedral, in many communities, in the Sanctuary of the Mártires de la Caminada Latinoamericana. You are even present when a mango falls on my roof and I remember how your heart would lurch when the mangos fell on the tin roof of your little refuge at the Hospitalito.*

In the month of March in 1983, I wrote in my diary: I either can´t understand it at all, or I understand it all too well: the photograph of the martyred Monseñor Romero with Pope John Paul II, on some huge posters for the Pope’s visit was banned by the joint church-government commission in El Salvador. * The image of the martyr was painful. Naturally, it would bother a Government that was persecutor and assassin. It is also natural that it would be painful to a certain sector of the church. Sadly natural.

Well, anyway, once again this month of March, all of us here in this little corner of Mato Grosso, and throughout the Americas as well as around the world, many Christian men and women and also non Christians celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Romero, the good shepherd of Latin America. Your image comforts us; it commits us and unites us, like a deeply felt version of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Continue reading “Pedro Casaldáliga’s Open Letter to Brother Romero”

Rose Marie Berger: Easter’s Peculiar Hope

Berta Caceres (1971-2016)
Berta Caceres (1971-2016)

The news this month about the assassinations of Bertha Caceres and Nelson Garcia in Honduras and Vincent Machozi in the Democratic Republic of Congo last week are painful reminders of what may be required of us in following Jesus. At least we know we’ll be in the very best of company! I add these names to the church’s litany of saints.

Below is an Easter reflection I wrote several years ago and thought it appropriate now:

Vincent Machozi, DRC (1965-2016)
Vincent Machozi, DRC (1965-2016)

In 2005, on a spring trip to El Salvador, I wasn’t expecting to find Easter. It’s definitely a “Good Friday” kind of country, one that has carried the cross for a long time. However, on Easter morning I found myself heading up a gravel road into the mountains of Morazán near the Honduran border, to the site of the El Mozote massacre.

In December 1981, soldiers of the Salvadoran army’s elite, School of the Americas-trained Atlacatl Battalion surrounded the village of El Mozote and murdered more than 900 men, women, and children. “As far as is known,” wrote Alma Guillermoprieto, who broke the El Mozote story in The Washington Post, “this was the single largest massacre to take place in this hemisphere in modern times.”

rufina amaya
Rufina Amaya (1943-2007)

As we drove past the Rio Sapo and into the village, a few children approached the car. They were eager to show us the memorials and take us to the pits where the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Unit had unearthed bodies and bone fragments with strips of cloth still attached. Especially they wanted to show us the plaque placed over the mass grave of 140 children and take us through the rose garden planted in their memory. There is also a rough curved stone wall, not too far from the church, on which the names of the dead are written. It’s watched over by the iron silhouette of a family. Continue reading “Rose Marie Berger: Easter’s Peculiar Hope”

First Tuesday in Advent – El Salvador

dorothy3“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of Abba in heaven.”—Matthew 7:21

On December 2, 1980, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan—Catholic missionaries from the United States—were murdered by National Guardsmen in El Salvador. Dorothy and Jean were driving to the airport outside San Salvador to pick up Maura and Ita.

On the way back from the airport, they were pulled over at a roadblock by National Guardsmen. The four women were taken to an isolated location, raped, tortured, and shot. Then they were buried in a shallow grave beside the road. The National Guardsmen were also “good Catholics.”

These four women died in the same manner as many of the poor Salvadoran people they served. They are martyrs because they laid down their lives in love for the poor—just as Jesus calls all Christians to be prepared to do. The witness of these four women teaches us about listening to the call of Christ, taking up the cross and following Jesus, and being born again.

A stone cross and small plaque mark the country road where the four women were buried. It reads: “Receive them Lord into your Kingdom.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad … vent.

Pontifex Tosses Halo Toward Salvador’s Romero

Photo by Rose Marie Berger
Photo by Rose Marie Berger

Paul Vallely, director of UK’s The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly, wrote a great piece (A Church for the Poor, New York Times, 9/4/14) about Pope Francis bringing Liberation Theology back from its Cold War exile. Here’s an excerpt:

“Pope Francis grabbed headlines recently when he announced that Rome had lifted the block on sainthood for Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, who was shot dead while saying Mass in 1980. But much less attention was given to another of the pope’s actions, one that underscores a significant shift inside the Vatican under the first Latin American pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Archbishop Romero was assassinated after speaking out in favor of the poor during an era when right-wing death squads stalked El Salvador under an American-backed, military-led government in the 1970s and ’80s. For three decades Rome blocked his path to sainthood for fear that it would give succor to the proponents of liberation theology, the revolutionary movement that insists that the Catholic Church should work to bring economic and social — as well as spiritual — liberation to the poor.

Under Pope Francis that obstacle has been removed. The pope now says it is important that Archbishop Romero’s beatification — the precursor to becoming a saint — “be done quickly.”

Read Paul Vallely’s whole piece.

Learn more about Archbishop Romero’s Christian courage and martyrdom here.

First Thursday in Advent

Near San Salvador, 2011.

“Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock. He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.”–Isaiah 26:1-6

“Our baptismal vocation to holiness is intensified by God’s creative life hidden within us this Advent, while at the same time more and more things are demanding our time and energy. More shopping. More travel. More planning. Pressure builds, and it is increasingly difficult to find quiet time for our Advent-life. As we brush elbows with more and more people who are more and more anxious for the season, we hear again our call to simplicity. The great mystery of this Advent is that our personal holiness touches the lives of all those with whom we come into contact. When we are made holy as individuals, it is the whole world the reaps the reward. Being faithful to our baptismal vocation is an honest gift of self that we can share with our family and friends this Advent. Be faithful to God who has called you by name. Other blessings will follow.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

December 2, 1980: Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean

“When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defense. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child’s frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish and, some day, to bring forth life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in the heart. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the wellspring of Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of Abba in heaven.”Matthew 7:21

On December 2, 1980, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan—Catholic missionaries from the United States—were murdered by National Guardsmen in El Salvador. Dorothy and Jean were driving to the airport outside San Salvador to pick up Maura and Ita.

On the way back from the airport, they were pulled over at a roadblock by National Guardsmen. The four women were taken to an isolated location, raped, tortured, and shot. Then they were buried in a shallow grave beside the road. The National Guardsmen were also “good Catholics.”

These four women died in the same manner as many of the poor Salvadoran people they served. They are martyrs because they laid down their lives in love for the poor—just as Jesus calls all Christians to be prepared to do. The witness of these four women teaches us about listening to the call of Christ, taking up the cross and following Jesus, and being born again.

A stone cross and small plaque mark the country road where the four women were buried. It reads: “Receive them Lord into your Kingdom.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Mujeres de la Guerra: Women’s Voices from El Salvador

These are what true women warriors look like. Mujeres de la Guerra, Historias de El Salvador (documentary, book, photography) highlights 28 women leaders in El Salvador telling their stories of participating in the Salvadoran civil war and their continued work for justice and peace today.

Thanks to Bethany Loberg for sending this to me (who continues her work accompanying the justice movement in El Salvador). And to Lyn McCracken and Theodora Simon who are working on this beautiful project holding up women’s stories.

Quotes from some of the women’s interviews:

“My message for all women is that we always have a positive attitude. That we as women, when we want something, we achieve it. And we have to continue fighting, not stay where we are, but figure out how to achieve what we, as women, want. In the world, in our country.” – Reina

“These are real things, these aren’t things from a movie, but things that we have lived. And things that haven’t been easy. Our struggle has been of a lot of sacrifice, of blood, of so many martyrs that have given their lives in this history. We will construct our future together. The problems that we face in our country aren’t just here; the crisis is on the global level. And everywhere, even in the United States, there are people that are organized and fighting against injustice.” – Yolanda

Jesuit Dean Brackley on Obama in El Salvador

President Barack Obama lights a candle at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador, March 2011.

Below are Dean Brackley’s reflections in the National Catholic Reporter on President Obama’s recent trip to El Salvador and his visit to Archbishop Romero’s grave in the crypt of the Cathedral.

I met Dean, a Jesuit priest, at “the UCA” (University of Central America) in San Salvador in 2005. I was in El Salvador to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination. Brackley has been at the UCA since 1990, when he volunteered with others to step in when 6 Jesuit members of the faculty were murdered by the U.S.-funded Salvadoran military in 1989.

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — President Obama and his family spent a packed overnight March 22-23 here and took the place by storm. Reactions in this polarized society couldn’t help but be mixed, but many were positive. Obama surprised and pleased most people by his historic visit to the tomb of Archbishop Romero, the 31st anniversary of whose martyrdom we celebrate today.

Obama arrived under two clouds. His administration had been decisively instrumental in allowing an illegal coup to stand in Honduras a year-and-a-half ago and for the elections organized by the coup-masters to go unchallenged. And, of course, he arrived as U.S. cruise missiles were raining down on one more Arab country. While Salvadorans know tyranny of the Gaddafi stripe, they are also very sensitive to war.

Many probably sensed that Obama, like Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, has mounted a horse he cannot fully control. He said as much when asked about helping “legalize” undocumented Salvadoran immigrants in the United States: The U.S. Congress is tying his hands. (Few drew attention to the 50-odd immigrants that the U.S. has been deporting by air to El Salvador each day for the last three years.)

The most dramatic moment of Obama’s stay was his visit to Romero’s tomb in the cathedal crypt. He listened to the current archbishop, José Luis Escobar, in silence, then closed his eyes, ostensibly in prayer. Before leaving the cathedral, the protestant president lit a candle at the rack near Romero’s tomb. The press, dominated by the right, spilled barrels of ink about Romero, about his life and ministry. (The main media had air-brushed Romero from Salvadoran history until 1999 when the Anglican Church mounted his statue, along with seven other martyrs, on the façade of Westminster Abbey.) Continue reading “Jesuit Dean Brackley on Obama in El Salvador”

BBC’s Two Part Show on Archbishop Oscar Romero

DSCN0012The BBC’s Heart and Soul ran an incredible 2-part radio show on Oscar Romero this week on the 30th anniversary of Romero’s assassination. Join Julian Miglierini as he speaks to those who remember Romero, and travels to a village in El Salvador’s poor north, where he is revered as a saint.

“Thirty years ago, El Salvador’s Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot dead while celebrating mass. He knew he was in danger – not long before his death, he said that if he was killed – he would rise again in his people. Today, his face is everywhere in the country – on murals, T-shirts and key rings. Many compare him to Martin Luther King, Gandhi or even Che Guevara.

But how was it that this man of the church became such an outspoken advocate of the poor and oppressed? And why did he become such a threat to the rich oligarchy that someone wanted him dead?Listen to BBC’s Julian Miglierini as he speaks to those who remember Romero, and travels to a village in El Salvador’s poor north, where he is revered as a saint.”

BBC’s Heart and Soul Part I (28 minutes).

Every year on 24th March, the people of El Salvador remember the death of the man who throughout Latin America became known as the voice of the voiceless poor: Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was shot dead at the altar on 24th March 1980. But is the Catholic church he loved in terminal decline, in a country where more than one-third of the population now attend evangelical Protestant churches?

BBC’s Julian Miglierini goes to a Baptist megachurch in San Salvador where close to 80,000 people worship every week, and asks why its message should have such enormous appeal in a traditionally Catholic country. But while the Catholic church may be losing members, Oscar Romero himself seems to have lost little of his appeal. El Salvador’s new left-wing President, Mauricio Funes, calls him his inspiration. And this bookish Archbishop in his 60s has also become an unlikely icon of youth culture. Hear why the Hip Hop band, Pescozada, have just released a track in homage to him.

BBC’s Heart and Soul Part II (28 minutes).

Video: Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Last Sunday Sermon (The Appeal to Soldier to Lay Down Their Guns)

Here’s a very moving 3-minute video of images (some graphic) from El Salvador’s war and the voice over of Archbishop Romero’s last Sunday sermon on March 23, 1980,  in which he appeals to the members of the Army to put down their weapons. Romero was shot and killed while celebrating Mass the following day.

The 30th anniversary of Romero’s assassination will be in March 24, 2010. I’ll be interviewed on NPR’s Latino USA by Maria Hinojosa with Salvadoran theologian Ernesto Valiente who teaches at Boston College. The English translation of an excerpt of Romero’s sermon is below the video.

Archbishop Romero:
“We want to greet the entities of YSAX, which for so long have awaited this moment which, thanks to God, has arrived. We know the risk that is run by our poor station for being the instrument and vehicle of truth and justice, but we recognize that the risk has to be taken, for behind that risk is an entire people that upholds this word of truth and justice….

We give thanks to God that a message that doesn’t mean to be more than a modest reflection of the spoken Word finds marvelous channels of outreach and tells many people that, in the context of Lent, all of this is preparation for our Easter, and Easter is a shout of victory. No one can extinguish that life which Christ revived. Not even death and hatred against him and against his Church will be able to overcome it. He is the victor!

As he will flourish in an Easter of unending resurrection, it is necessary to also accompany him in Lent, in a Holy Week that is cross, sacrifice, martyrdom; as he would say, “Happy are those who do not become offended by their cross!” Lent is then a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult complex of cross and victory. Our people are very qualified, all their surroundings preach to us of cross; but all who have Christian faith and hope know that behind this Calvary of El Salvador is our Easter, our resurrection, and that is the hope of the Christian people….

Today, as diverse historical projects emerge for our people, we can be sure that victory will be had by the one that best reflects the plan of God. And this is the mission of the Church. That is why, in the light of the divine Word that reveals the designs of God for the happiness of the peoples, we have the duty, dear brothers and sisters, to also point out the facts, to see how the plan of God is being reflected or disdained in our midst. Let no one take badly the fact that we illuminate the social, political, and economic truths by the light of the divine words that are read at our Mass, because not to do so would, for us, be un-Christian….

Continue reading “Video: Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Last Sunday Sermon (The Appeal to Soldier to Lay Down Their Guns)”