Beatification is only part of long waited justice.
The people of El Salvador have long waited for the beatification of their martyr as vindication to the thousands of oppressed, tortured, displaced and killed during the country’s civil war. The beatification will take place this May 23 bringing some sort of closure and perhaps a sense of reconciliation to the people that have been divided by the political unrest of the small nation. Canonization of Romero will follow soon after
For years, the Vatican banned the beatification of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez for his alleged involvement in politics. The right wing on the other hand, also opposed to such canonization and the declaration of Romero as a martyr for it would mean that they (the right wing) assassinated a man with the character of a saint. For the peasants and left wing, the move to declare Romero a martyr and to beatify him, vindicates the martyrdom of the thousands of civilians killed in the civil war by the paramilitary death squads. The government of El Salvador received military and financial aid from the U.S. during the Reagan administration.
Romero was a humble man who identified with the campesinos (peasants) and was followed and surrounded by such, a man of peace who spoke on of social justice on behalf of the farmers who worked under precarious conditions and didn’t have access to an education, fair wages or health care; most of whom couldn’t read or write or barely did both, a man that would travel amid dangers and turmoil to visit the people in the villages, eat with them, mingle with them and witness their pain, dangers and needs and record the human rights abuses that they were subjected to.
The Monsignor of the people was not the only priest killed during the Salvadoran conflict, but his death accelerated and brought the unset of the Salvadoran political unrest and civil war. The right wing had hoped to silence his call for social justice and the respect of human rights; his blood caused the seed of justice to spring up, a seed that had been planted by the sweat of the peasant. The political movement was mirrored in many ways after the civil right movement in the U.S. in the 60’s. Young activists took to the streets, the government quenching the movement with violence and human rights violations. Torture and disappearances were perpetrated by the National Guard and a prominent religious leader was murdered. One leader was the recipient of the Nobel prize, the other was a Nobel prize nominee, both of them preachers who spoke with boldness about the rights of the oppressed, both of them knowing what their fate will be and both of them willing to pay the ultimate price; the two of them of humble means but of an intellect that cannot be obtain with money. Two men with spirits that cannot be subdued, both of them changed history with a dream.
The Salvadoran people remain polarized by the experiences that they went through during 12 years of conflict. The war has long been over but its wounds are reopened either by the recent presidential elections or the beatification of Romero. To the right wing, the beatification of Romero is a rebuke and to the left wing is a vindication. The polarized country is still in great need of reconciliation.
Romero was assassinated in 1980 by a sniper as he officiated mass; the mastermind of the assassination was ex army major Roberto D’Abuisson who was apprehended and later released without ever being charged with the crime. During Romero’s funeral; thousands of campesinos both men and women with their children along with young activists showed up to protest Romero’s killing in San Salvador. Government forces opened fired on the people attending the funeral killing dozens and injuring many.
D’abuisson later founded the ARENA right wing party, he never became president; his party however, passed an amnesty law where war criminals can not be persecuted.
Many Salvadorans opt to not talk about the wounds of the war and of Romero for that matter, but to forget the cruel history is to condone it, to be silent is to somehow be a participant of the injustices. To bring healing, these things need to be talked about and even taught in text books both in El Salvador and in the U.S. as part of history.
One does not need to be of the faith to welcome the beatification; one needs to be aware of the violent history of the tiny country to which the U.S. foreign policy contributed to unleashing a wave of immigrants in the 80’s and 90’s to the United States. Ironically, we are still asking what happened to immigration reform.
When President Obama visited El Salvador, he visited the tomb where Romero rests. I still wait for the day when the United States will apologize to the people of El Salvador for allowing and financing such human rights abuses. In the mean time, it is my hope that people in my native country can be reconciled.
Nota: tengo fotos de la estatua de Monsenor Romero en Los Angeles con familias salvadorenas caminando cerca.