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”