Wednesday, March 24, 2010

30 Years Ago, in San Salvador

San Salvador, El Salvador, Monday the 24th of March, 1980. Just after 18:00, local time.

The Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, is offering Mass at the "La Divina Providencia" hospital chapel, in the suburb of Miramonte, in San Salvador. The occasion: the first anniversary of the death of Mrs Sara Meardi de Pinto, the mother of Jorge Pinto Jr, the owner of an independent Salvadoran newspaper that advocated for social justice. In spite of such occasion, the chapel is nearly empty - barely fifty people, among friends and family of Mrs Pinto, are present in the small building. Archbishop Romero continues with his sermon, standing behind the altar, remembering the life and works of Mrs Pinto:

"... I believe that tonight, brothers, we should not only pray for the eternal rest of our beloved sister, but above all, gather this message, a message that every Christian should live out intensely..."

San Salvador is amidst a political and social chaos. The 70's ended with a coup d'etat, followed by a provisional Government that fails to provide the answers to the many questions. Both the Left-Wing guerrillas and Right-Wing death squads are gaining strength, causing the spiral of violence to increase by the minute. The Army tries to halt the violence by increasing the oppression on the insurgents and those who cry for reform: the poor. The Government, hopeless, is unable to control the situation. Archbishop Romero, then, became one of the leading voices that call for reconciliation and the cease of violence. He becomes concerned for those who are poor, the oppressed and the needy who are being crushed by a Government that will not respond adequately.

Just the day before, on Sunday the 23rd of March, he concluded his Sunday sermon with the following:

"...I would like to make a special appeal to those in the Army, and specifically to the National Guard and the Police... Brothers, you belong to our same nation, and yet you kill your peasant brothers. Above the command from your superiors to kill, the Law of God should prevail, that Law that says: You shall not murder... No soldier is in the obligation to carry out an order against the Law of God. An immoral command nobody is in the obligation to follow... The Church, defender of the rights given by God, of the dignity of Humanity, cannot remain silent about these atrocities and abominations... In the name of God and in the name of those who suffer, whose cries rise up frantically to heaven, I supplicate you, I appeal to you, I command you in the name of God: Stop the repression!.."

But today, Archbishop Romero continues with his sermon on this early Monday evening, encouraging the audience to fight the fight that Mrs Pinto herself fought: the fight of justice, of peace, of love, the fight of one who used her own newspaper to denounce the social injustice in El Salvador. He is about to finish his sermon now, which will be followed by Holy Communion. For that reason, he starts to raise the chalice as he utters the last words:

"...Let this crushed body and this sacrificed blood, the body and blood of Christ, be also the encouragement to give our own body and blood to suffering and pain, and just like Christ, not for himself, but to show the concepts of justice and peace to our people. Let us be intimately united, then, in faith and hope, as we pray for Mrs Sarita and for us..."

The cup is now fully above his head.

Suddenly, a powerful sound is heard. A sound originated from the outside, maybe from the person that is now running away from the main entrance of the chapel. A sound so overwhelming that sounds almost like a bomb, like some dreadful explosion. And within fractions of a second, the bullet hits Archbishop Romero, who stands behind the altar, his hands holding the cup above his head. He stumbles backwards, losing the grip of the cup, spilling wine all over the altar, exactly where Romero's blood had also spilled a few seconds ago.

"...If I am killed, I shall rise in the Salvadoran people..."

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