A prior post reviewed some of the ways in which El Universidad de Centro America (the University of Central America or UCA) is commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the brutal murders of six of their Jesuit brothers and professors on November 16, 1989. Here are some of the other ways.
On November 16th a memorial Mass was celebrated for the martyrs at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in the Crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador.
Monsignor José Gregorio Rosa Chávez, the Auxiliary Archbishop of San Salvador, delivered the homily. He quoted the words of one of the martyrs, Ignacio Ellacuría: “With Archbishop Romero, God passed by El Salvador.” Chavez then said that God also passed through the country with the martyrs. They along with Archbishop Romero and Fr. Rutilio Grande “devoted their lives for the defense of the poor and the needy during a brutal armed conflict.”
All of the current Jesuits of El Salvador and others in attendance joined in songs and prayers to celebrate the work of the martyrs and to condemn the injustice of the perpetrators of this horrible crime not having been tried and convicted.
Comments by Fr. Jon Sobrino, S.J.
Separately Fr. Jon Sobrino, S.J., who escaped murder 25 years ago because he was in Asia giving lectures, remembered these words of Ellacuría: “It’s up to the university awakening more and more hope.” In other words, said Sobrino, “Hope is not optimism and, therefore, the crucial question is how hope is generated. Not every university exists in a time for hope, but it does so exist when, humbly and honestly, it works for the poor of this world, learns from them and is willing to give everything it has for them.”
“That’s exactly what our martyrs did at UCA,” continued Sobrino. “And they still generate hope. As Ellacuría wrote, ‘Let new men and women always continue to announce firmly a greater future, because El Salvador envisions God, the God of liberation.’”
Comments by Fr. Rodolfo Cardenal, S.J.
Rodolfo Cardenal, UCA’s Vice Rector for Academics and Social Projection, also separately recalled the university’s six years of “institutional depression” after the murders of the Jesuits. “This was overcome thanks to the work of the surviving Jesuits and others who came from abroad, and the active collaboration of a group of lay people who were very capable and committed to UCA’s vocation. In the end, they overcame the depression with the obstinacy of reason, truth and justice.”
In this effort they were aided by the martyrs who “were present with great clarity” in “the communion of saints. Their presence encouraged us to follow, despite uncertainty and fear during the remainder of the civil war and with the postwar academic, organizational and administrative challenges that seemed insurmountable. Among those challenges were dignifying the victims of state terrorism, demanding justice for the perpetrators of human rights, containing social violence and combating new forms of poverty and exclusion.”
The UCA website contains statements by today’s students on why we should remember the martyrs and the following words describing the legacy of the martyrs, each of which is linked to a statement about the word’s importance:
Memory is important in all aspects of human life, especially when we consider religious and moral leaders and exemplars. Oscar Romero was such a man, and as we have seen, Oscar Romero is remembered in music, film, art and books.
Perhaps the most important way he is remembered and honored, however, is the series of annual commemorations of his life on March 24th, the day he was assassinated in 1980. They happen in many places around the world.
In San Salvador, the commemorations are especially poignant. The central event is a gathering of people from all over the world at the chapel where he was killed and where a special memorial service is held. Then the people march through the city, passing a traffic circle appropriately called “El Salvador de Mundo” (the Savior of the World), before going on to the Cathedral where Romero is buried. There a worship service with music is held in the plaza in front of the Cathedral.
I went to the 20th anniversary commemoration in 2000 with a group from Minneapolis’ Center for Global Education (CGE) of Augsburg College. In 2010 for the 30th anniversary I went with a group organized by a Salvadoran NGO, Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS).
Both institutions participated in the previously mentioned central event. They also visited the chapel where Romero was murdered, his apartment across the street and the Cathedral where he is buried. On both occasions we went to Universidad de Centro America (UCA) to see the Romero Chapel and the Monsenor Romero Pastoral Center with its museum of the civil war.
They both also organize other activities, including meetings with local economists and political scientists to learn about the history and current conditions of El Salvador. Other common activities are concerts and trips outside the capitol to learn more about the country.
In 2000 we met with UCA’s Rector, Dean Brakeley, a U.S. citizen who came to El Salvador in January 1990 to take over the leadership of UCA two months after the murders of the previous Rector, Ignacio Ellacuria, and his five brother Jesuits. Brackley’s “deepening analysis of the plight of the poor would connect the dots between Medellin and the complex inequities built into trade agreements, global capitalism, immigration policy and the war on terror.” All of this analysis always was within the theological understanding that “God is with the poor, making them ambassadors to the rest of us, evangelists who invite us to save ourselves by responding to their plight.” Brackley taught theology at UCA, but he identified a special role for himself in educating U.S. and European visitors to El Salvador about the realities of poverty and oppression in that part of the world and the roles played by the U.S. in helping to maintain that situation. Brackley died of pancreatic cancer in El Salvador on October 16, 2011.
In the 2000 trip we learned about the work of Equipo Maiz, the Salvadoran NGO. We saw a special art exhibit about Romero in Parque Cuscatlan.
Our 20th anniversary group traveled to Oscar Romero’s home town of Ciudad Barrios in the northeastern part of the country. There we saw the house where he was born, the town’s church and the Radio Romero studio. We even had one day of relaxation on a beach on the Pacific Ocean.
In 2010 we again visited the chapel where Romero was murdered, his apartment across the street and the Cathedral where he is buried. We went to the Presidential Theater to see a new documentary film, “Romero by Romero.” I was touched to see the portion of the film showing Romero walking around a poor area and warmly greeting and touching the people he met without a lot of ceremony.
We met in 2010 with the UCA Rector, Father Jose Maria Tojeira, S.J. He was an amazingly light-hearted man. He told us he was new to UCA in November 1989 and lived nearby, but not on the campus. During the night of November 18th he heard gunfire and thought there must have been a skirmish between the Salvadoran security forces and the guerrillas. The next morning he went to the campus, and was one of the first people to see the dead bodies of his six fellow Jesuits and their cook and her daughter. He nonchalantly said, “That morning I thought I was the next one to be killed.” Later that day he went to his office and found faxed messages of support and solidarity from people all over the world. Then in the same nonchalant manner, he said he thought, “Well, maybe I am not the next to be killed.”
In 2010 we visited towns (San Isidro and Victoria) in the Department of Cabanas, where we learned about current controversies over gold mining and murders and death threats of people opposed to the mining. Another village (Cinquera) in the Department of Chalatenango on our itinerary was heavily damaged in the civil war, and a damaged helicopter sits on a pedestal in the town square.
We were fortunate in 2010 to have in our group Dr. Marian Mollin, An Associate Professor of History at Virginia Tech University. She is working on a historical biography of Sister Ita Ford, who was one of the four American church women murdered in El Salvador in December 1980. Professor Mollin shared her insights into Sister Ford and the other sisters on our visits to where the women were murdered and where they are buried; I will discuss these visits in a future post about the four church women.
We also had a meeting 2010 at the new and very large U.S. Embassy with U.S. officials. There we learned the current U.S. perspective on El Salvador. We asked them tough questions on the U.S. position about gold mining in the country and the current violence directed at anti-mining activists.
My 2000 trip with CGE was my second trip with them. I went to El Salvador for the first time in 1989 with CGE. My 2010 trip with CIS was also my second trip with them. My other trip was in 2003 to be an election observer.
I was not aware of Oscar Romero during his life. I give thanks to God for helping me to discover him starting in 1989. He was and is a truly inspiring, brave, wonderful human being, servant of God and Christian.
 Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Music (Oct.14, 2011); Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Film (Oct. 15, 2011); Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Art (Oct. 16, 2001); Post, Remembering Oscar Romero in Books (Oct. 17, 2011).
 Center for Global Education, http://www.augsburg.edu/global. CGE also usually organizes November trips for the commemoration of the six Jesuits and December trips for honoring the four American church women.
 Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad, http://www.cis-elsalvador.org. CIS also usually organizes November trips for the commemoration of the six Jesuits and December trips for honoring the four American church women. In addition, CIS has regular election observation missions, Spanish and English language courses and grassroots organizing activities.
 There is a new documentary film about the war in Cinquera that I have not yet seen. (Echeverria, A beautiful documentary about the war in El Salvador surprises in Biarritz [France], http://www.diariocolatino.com (Sept. 30, 2011)(Google English translation).)
Oscar Romero is remembered in music and film. We also have seen some of the art about Romero. Now let us look at some of the other art.
There are murals of Romero on the exteriors of churches throughout the country. Many of them are painted by artists employed by a Salvadoran NGO, Equipo Maiz, one of whose missions is to keep Romero’s memory alive. In 2000 I observed one such mural being painted on a country church.
Equipo Maiz also produces posters and t-shirts with Romero’s image for the celebrations of his life on the anniversaries of his assassination.
One also sees busts of Romero at churches. One is outside the entrance to the Romero Chapel at the Universidad de Centro America, not too far from where his friends, the six Jesuit priests, were murdered in 1989.
For the 20th anniversary celebrations in 2000 there was a special art exhibit in the capitol city of paintings about Romero. Here is one of the paintings in that exhibit.
Graffiti also needs to be included in the art about Romero. Indeed, it is art of the people. I vividly recall riding in a van in 1989 on the way for my very first visit to the chapel where Romero was assassinated. Graffiti on the white walls sheltering the nearby homes proclaimed, “Romero vive!” (Romero lives!)
 Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Music (Oct. __, 2011); Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Film (Oct. __, 2011).
 Post: Oscar Romero’s Last Homily (Oct. 7, 2011)(Romero mural near his apartment); Post: Oscar Romero’s Tomb (Oct. 10, 2011)(Romero’s tombs); Post: Oscar Romero’s Assassination Case in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Oct. __, 2011)(Romero mural at San Salvador airport; 2010 Romero poster); Post: Remembering Oscar Romero in Music (Oct. __, 2011)(Romero assassination painting in church in Ciudad Barrios).
 Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).