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.
“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….
I know that there are many who are shocked by this word and who want to accuse it of having left the sermon of the gospel to insert itself in politics; but I don’t accept this accusation, for I am making an effort so that all that the Vatican Council II, the meetings of Medellin and Puebla have wanted to impel us to is not just held on the pages as we study it theoretically, but so that we live it and translate it into the conflictive reality of preaching the gospel as it should be for our people. That is why I ask the Lord during the whole week as I go gathering up the clamor of the people and the aches of so much crime, the ignominy of so much violence, that he give me the suitable word to console, to denounce, to call for repentance; and even though I may continue to be a voice crying in the desert, I know that the Church is making the effort to fulfill its mission….
The readings of Lent tell us how God applied his project in history in order to make the history of the peoples their history of salvation. And in the measure that those peoples reflect that project of God–to save us in Christ by conversion–in that measure the peoples are gaining salvation and are happy. For that reason, the history of Israel is in the first reading of all of Lent. A paradigm people, an example, exemplary even in their infidelities and sins, because in them we also learn how God punishes the infidelities, the sins; and also there is in them a model for bringing the promise of God’s salvation….
It is a history that each nation has to imitate; for every population may not be the same as Israel’s, but there is something that exists in all peoples: the group that follows Christ, the group of the people of God which is not the entire population, naturally, but which is a group of the faithful….
The figure of the adulteress before Christ: There we have the gospel. I find no more beautiful example of Jesus saving human dignity than this sinless Jesus face to face with an adulteress, humiliated because she has been caught, and facing being stoned. And Jesus, after casting to the earth without a word the sin of her very judges, asks the woman, “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Sir.” “Well, neither do I condemn you. But do not sin again.” Strength but tenderness. Human dignity before all else….
The witnesses, in looking at their own conscience, found that they were witnesses of their own sin….Personal sin is the root of the great social sin: This we must be very clear on, beloved brothers and sisters, because today it is very easy, as it was for the witnesses against the adulteress, to point out and beg justice for others; but how few cast a glance at their own conscience! How easy it is to denounce structural injustice, institutionalized violence, social sin! And it is true, this sin is everywhere, but where are the roots of this social sin? In the heart of every human being. Present-day society is a sort of anonymous world in which no one is willing to admit guilt and everyone is responsible. We are all sinners, and we have all contributed to this massive crime and violence in our country.
Because of this, salvation begins with the human person, with human dignity, with saving every person from sin. And in Lent this is God’s call: Be converted! Individually there are among us here no two sinners alike. Each one has committed his or her own shameful deeds, and yet we want to cast our guilt on the other and hide our own sin. I must take off my mask; I, too, am one of them, and I need to beg God’s pardon because I have offended God and society. This is the call of Christ: Before all else, the human person!
How beautiful the expression of that woman upon finding herself pardoned and understood: “No one, Sir. No one has condemned me.” Then neither do I, I who could give that truly condemning word, neither do I condemn; but be careful, do not sin again. Do not sin again! Let us be careful, brothers and sisters, since God has forgiven us so many times, let us take advantage of that friendship with the Lord which we have recovered and let us live it with gratitude.
How wonderful a chapter on the promotion of woman by Christianity would fit here! If woman has achieved heights similar to those of man, much of this is due to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the time of Christ, people were shocked that he should speak with a Samaritan woman, because woman was considered unworthy of speaking with man. And Jesus knows that we are all equal, that there is neither Jew nor Greek, man nor woman, but that all are God’s children….
Jesus’ attitude is what we must focus on in this gospel and what we must learn: A delicacy with reference to the person, however sinful that person may be, is what distinguishes him as the Son of God, image of the Lord. He does not condemn; rather he pardons. Nor does he tolerate sin. He is strong in rejecting the sin, but he knows how to condemn the sin and save the sinner. He does not subordinate the human person to the law. And this is very important in our own times. He has said: “The human person was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath made for humanity.”
Let us not try to call upon our country’s constitution to defend our own personal selfishness, trying to use it for our own interests when it has been trampled upon everywhere. The law is for the benefit of the human person, not the person for the law. And so Jesus is the source of peace when he has thus given human dignity its rightful place. We feel that we count on Jesus, that we do not count on sin, that we must repent and return to Jesus with sincerity. This is the deepest joy that a human being can have.
In today’s New Testament reading we have another example of a sinner who went about fooling himself for a long time, but who in coming to know Christ was saved by him and now places all his dreams, the aim of his whole life, in reaching Christ. “And everything else has become as nothing to me,” the epistle says to us today. When the things of earth are no longer idolatrized, but we have come to know the true God, the true Savior, all earthly ideologies, all worldly strategies, all the idols of power, of money, of things become as nothing to us. Saint Paul uses an even stronger word, they become “like garbage,” “like manure” to me, “as long as I can win Christ.”
So as not to hold you too long, I won’t read, brothers and sisters, the whole rich content of the Puebla document on one of its theological foundations….As bishops of the continent we signed a commitment there in Puebla when we spoke about the false earthly visions that people have had based on their own selfishness, above all those visions which make of the human person an instrument of exploitation, or those visions which make of the person in Marxist ideologies but a cog in the machinery, or those which make in national security a servant of the state, as if the state were lord and humanity the slave, when it is the reverse. It is not humanity for the state, but rather the state for humanity. The human person must be the summit of all human organization to promote humanity….
Our personal accounts with God, our individual relationship with him, set the stage for everything else. False liberators are those who hold their souls slaves to sin and because of this are many times so cruel because they do not know how either to love or respect the human person.
The second idea passes on from the individual to the communitarian. This is put beautifully in today’s readings, which show how God desires to save people as a people. It is the whole population that God wants to save.
The first reading today, the famous songs of Isaiah, present God speaking with a people. It is the dialogue of God with what the scriptures call a “collective personality,” as though he were speaking with one person. God speaks with a people and to that people. God makes them his people because he is going to entrust them with promises, revelations that soon will serve for all the rest of the peoples….
And when I, as pastor, address the people of God, I don’t pretend to be the master of all of El Salvador, if not the servant of a nucleus that is called the Church, those that want to serve Christ and who recognize the bishop as the teacher who speaks to them in the name of Christ. From them I expect respect, obedience. With them I feel so united that it doesn’t bother me that those who are not of the Church, although they may be within it, criticize me, murmur at me, pick me apart.
They are no longer of the people of God….Even though they may be baptized, even though they may come to hear the Mass, if they don’t join in solidarity with the exacting teachings of the gospel, the concrete applications of our pastoral thrust, then, brothers and sisters, we well know how to discern in order not to toy with that name so sacred: the people. We call to the people of God, to the nucleus of Salvadoreans that believe in Christ and that want to follow him faithfully, and who are nourished by his life, his sacraments, by means of his pastors.
This people of God exists throughout history. Did you notice what today’s reading has said so beautifully? “You glorify the first exodus when I took you out of Egypt, when you crossed the desert. What many wonders were made on that journey with Moses! But glory no longer in that past. That has already become history, I make things anew.” What a beautiful phrase from God! It is God who makes the new; it is God who goes with history.
Now the exodus will be from another direction, from Babylon, from exile. The desert through which they are going to pass will flower like a garden, the waters will gush forth symbolizing the passing of God’s pardon, the people reconciled with God on the way to Jerusalem…..
Today El Salvador is living its own exodus. Today we too are passing to our liberation through the desert, where cadavers, where anguished pain are devastating us, and where many suffer the temptation of those who were walking with Moses and who wanted to turn back….God desires to save the people making a new history….
What is not repeated in history are the circumstances, the opportunities to which we are witnesses in El Salvador. How dense is our history, how varied from one day to another! One leaves El Salvador and returns the following week, and it seems that history has changed so categorically. Let us not rest our stability on wanting to judge things as they were once judged. One thing, yes: May we have firmly anchored in the soul our faith in Jesus Christ, God of history. That does not change; but he has, as it were, the satisfaction of changing history, playing with history: “I make things new.”
The grace of the Christian, therefore, is to not be braced on traditions that can no longer sustain themselves, but to apply that eternal tradition of Christ to the present realities. Change in the Church, dear brothers and sisters, above all for those of us who have been formed at other times, in other systems, we have to have; and we have to ask God for that grace to adapt ourselves without betraying our faith….
History will not perish; God sustains it. That is why I say that in the measure that the historical projects attempt to reflect the eternal project that is God’s, in that measure they are reflecting the kingdom of God, and this is the work of the Church. Because of this, the Church, the people of God in history, is not installed in any one social system, in any political organization, in any party. The Church is not led on a hunt by any of these forces because she is the eternal pilgrim of history and is indicating at every historical moment what does reflect the kingdom of God and what does not reflect the kingdom of God. She is the servant of the kingdom of God.
The great task of the Christian has to be to absorb the kingdom of God, and with that soul filled with the kingdom of God to work on the projects of history. It’s fine to be organized in popular organizations; it’s all right to form political parties; it’s all right to take part in government; it’s fine as long as you are a Christian carrying the reflection of the kingdom of God and trying to establish it there where you are working, and not becoming a toy to the ambitions of the earth.
This is the great duty of the people of today. My dear Christians, I have always told you, and I will repeat, that from here, the Christian group, from the people of God have to come those who are going to be the true liberators of our people….
That is why you have to be grateful for the Church, dear political brothers and sisters, and not manipulate the Church to bring her to say what we want, but to say ourselves what the Church is teaching. The Church doesn’t have interests. I do not have a single ambition for power, and because of that, I tell power, with all liberty, what is good and what is bad, and I also tell any political group what is good and what is bad. It is my duty.
And from that freedom of the kingdom of God, the Church (which is not only the bishop and the priests, but all of you, the faithful, the religious, the nucleus of believers in Christ) should unify our criterion. We should not disunite ourselves, we should not appear dispersed. Many times it’s as though we are inhibited by the popular political organizations, and we want to please them more than the kingdom of God in its eternal designs. We don’t have to lie to anyone about anything because we have a lot to give to everyone. And this is not arrogance but the grateful humility of one who has received from God a revelation to communicate to the rest.
Finally, the third thought drawn from today’s readings: This project God has for liberating his people is transcendent. I think that I may even repeat too often this idea, but I’ll never tire of doing it because we run the risk often of wanting to get out of present situations with immediate resolutions, and we forget that haste makes waste, that quick answers are patches but not true solutions. The true solution has to fit into the definitive plan of God. Every solution we seek–a better land distribution, a better administration and distribution of wealth in El Salvador, a political organization structured around the common good of Salvadoreans–these must be sought always within the context of the definitive liberation.
Recently I was offered a very meaningful schema: that one who works in politics looks at temporal problems such as money, land, things, and can be content with but solving these problems; but the politician who has faith rises to God, and from God’s point of view looks at how this present message that political people of today are trying to decipher should be regarded from God’s perspective….
Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can do only as much as God makes us able to; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be. To place all these limitations in God’s hands, to recognize that without God we can do nothing, is to have a sense, my beloved brothers and sisters, that a transcendent meaning of this time in El Salvador means to pray much, to be very united with God….
We must continue to be mindful of how liberation must free us from sin. All evils have a common root, and it is sin. There are, in the human heart, egotisms, envies, idolatries, and it is from these that divisions and hoarding arise. As Christ said, “It is not what [goes into] a [person] that defiles him [or her], but rather what is in the human heart: evil thoughts.” We must purify, then, this source of all slaveries. Why does slavery exist? Why is there marginalization? Why is illiteracy rampant? Why are there diseases? Why do people mourn in pain? All of these things are pointing out that sin does exist….
That is why the transcendence of liberation lifts us from our sins, and the Church will always be preaching: Repent of your personal sins. And she will say as Christ did to the adulteress: I do not condemn you; you have repented, but do not sin again. How much I want to convince you, brothers and sisters, all those who see little importance in these intimate relations with God, that these things are important! It is not enough to say: I am an atheist, I don’t believe in God; I do not offend him. Because it’s not a question of what you believe, but objectively you have broken off relations with the source of all life. As long as you don’t discover this, and you don’t follow him, and you don’t love him, you are a dislocated part away from the whole; and because of this you carry within yourself disorder, disunity, ingratitude, lack of faith, of community spirit. Without God, there can be no true concept of liberation. Temporary liberations, yes; but definitive, solid liberations–only people of faith can reach them….
Paul says of Christ: “To know him and the strength of his resurrection and the communion with his sufferings, dying with his same death that I may arrive one day at the resurrection of the dead.” Do you see how life recovers all of its meaning? And suffering then becomes a communion with Christ, the Christ that suffers, and death is a communion with the death that redeemed the world? Who can feel worthless before this treasure that one finds in Christ, that gives meaning to sickness, to pain, to oppression, to torture, to marginalization? No one is conquered, no one; even though they put you under the boot of oppression and of repression, whoever believes in Christ knows that he is a victor and that the definitive victory will be that of truth and justice!
The first thing I announce to you today is that next Sunday we begin Holy Week and because of the present situation we will celebrate it here, in this basilica….I want to tell you ahead of time that we’d like to give our Good Friday Way of the Cross its full meaning of amendment, of denunciation, and of solidarity with which a Christian should meditate on the passion of Christ among a people who shoulder their own heavy cross….
In Aguilares we celebrated the third anniversary of Fr. Rutilio Grande’s assassination. It is obvious that the repression is having its effects–there were few people present; there is fear. It is an area martyred in the extreme. The message was that Christ’s messenger must always find what Fr. Grande found, if he would be faithful.
In Tejutla, in the village of Los Martinez, we celebrated the village feastday. And there they told me of a terrible violation of human rights: On March 7 about midnight a truck filled with military men in civilian dress and some in uniform opened doors, pulling people out in a violent way with kicks and blows from rifle butts; they raped four young women, beat up their parents savagely, and threatened them that if they said anything about it they would have to bear the consequences. We have learned the tragedy of these poor young girls.
…And a pleasant note from our diocesan life is that a composer and poet has made for us a pretty hymn to our divine savior. We will start to learn it soon: “The explosive songs of joy vibrate. I’m going to the cathedral to join my people. A thousand voices are united on this day. To sing in celebration of our feastday.” And so the stanzas go in whole heart with the people. The last one’s very pretty: “But the gods of power and of money oppose that there be transfiguration. That’s why you, Lord, are the first to raise the arm against oppression….”
The least that can be said is that the country is going through a pre-revolutionary and by no means transitional stage. The basic question is how to come out of this critical stage in the least violent way. And on this point the main responsibility is that of the civilian, and notably, the military rulers. Let us hope that they will not be blinded by what they are doing with land reform; it may be a ruse that will block their view of the problem in its entirety….
Beloved brothers and sisters, it would be interesting to analyze, but I don’t want to abuse your time, what significance there is in these months of a new government that precisely wanted to draw us out of these horrible situations. And if what it wants to do is leave headless the organization of the people and obstruct the process that the people want, no other process can thrive. Without its roots in the people, no government can be effective–much less so when it seeks to impose itself by the force of bloodshed and pain.
I would like to appeal in a special way to the men of the army, and in particular to the troops of the National Guard, the Police, and the garrisons. Brothers, you belong to our own people. You kill your own brother peasants; and in the face of an order to kill that is given by a man, the law of God should prevail that says: Do not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God. No one has to comply with an immoral law. It is time now that you recover your conscience and obey its dictates rather than the command of sin. The Church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of the dignity of the human person, cannot remain silent before so much abomination.
We want the government to seriously consider that reforms mean nothing when they come bathed in so much blood. Therefore, in the name of God, and in the name of this long-suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven every day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: Cease the repression!
The Church preaches your liberation just as we studied it today in the Holy Bible. A liberation that holds, above all, respect for human dignity, the salvation of the common good of the people, and the transcendence that looks above all else to God, and from God alone derives its hope and its strength.
Let us now proclaim our faith in this truth.