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Monday, March 29, 2010

Journalist By Trade-vi


Priestly involvement in national politics is nothing new in our country.
Matter of fact, one of the country’s Founding Fathers is none other than José Matías Delgado, a Roman Catholic priest who’s credited with locally spearheading back in the early 1800s the drive for El Salvador to become an independent nation. One of the most important decorations granted by El Salvador, if not the most important, is named after him.
Nowadays, religious involvement is not limited to the local curia and politicians fight openly for the blessing of some of the most renowned Evangelical Christian leaders.
It doesn’t really matter what one believes in terms of direct religious involvement in politics. A protestant pastor, it is well known, was one of the most important guerrilla commanders at the time the so-called civil war broke open. And whether you choose to believe that some of the Roman Catholic priests killed by government forces or murdered by rightist death squads were actively aiding the guerrillas or just ministering to their flock, seditious participation in armed confrontation is hardly what monsignor Romero ever did.
Events in El Salvador in 1980 coincided with the turmoil in Iran after the ascent to power in Tehran by the ayatollahs. Spurned by that similarity in him also being a religious leader involved in politics, wags in El Salvador had nicknamed monsignor, “el ayatola Romero.”
It was a correspondent for an American newswire service, I believe, who asked him at one of the mini-press conferences after the Sunday mass what he thought of the nickname.
Sheepishly, and I would say rather offended by the comparison, monsignor replied [and I am paraphrasing here, as my notes for that specific event have long been destroyed]: “I can hardly say that’s fair to me. I would never approve of anybody holding innocent people hostage,” alluding to the Islamic leader's sponsorship of the takeover of the U. S. Embassy in Tehran and the prolonged captivity of dozens of American Foreign Service officers.
There is however no question at all that he had actively become a participant in politics.
At the time of my last interview with him weeks before his death, I paraphrased my question about what had prompted him to become so involved.
I did so by recalling that back at the time we had first met in San Miguel he was known to be ultraconservative. You were, monsignor, I said, a somehow ill-tempered priest who would chastise a mother if she couldn’t quiet the wails of an infant as mass was being said.
Isn’t that, I added, something quite openly in contrast with the populist and at times raucous character of your Sunday sermons, punctuated by loud and frequent bursts of applause?
His reply, given also to many others on separate and different occasions, is already well known.
As it happens with many other things in life, violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum. For anybody who may believe otherwise, explaining violence, understanding why and how originates, doesn’t necessarily mean accepting it or worse yet, condoning or approving of it.
There is also the risk of oversimplifying it. Of just going after an immediate cause-and-effect sequence in order to assign blame.
As I said before in one of the previous posts for this series, it would be the equivalent of believing that Romero’s murder was just a spur of the moment decision prompted by his dramatic call to the military some 24 hours before his killing. Somebody may have organized it and somebody may have approved of the plans and somebody of course may have pulled the trigger to fire the shot that ended his life.
And there, we are all now guilt-free!
For me, is much more complex. It is, in a way, more of a collective, shared responsibility.
It is possible that you choose to blame the shameless and corrupt politicians who, months after his murder and in the years afterward, claimed to have fought courageously for a full and detailed inquiry, when in fact stood silently and did nothing of the sort.
Your chosen villain could be perhaps a local reporter or a foreign correspondent, the military or the guerrillas. And for that matter, even Pope John Paul II, whose more or less overt rejection of Romero's militancy may have been seen as a wink by the plotters.
Anybody, as long as blood doesn’t spatter you.
But as violence of another type gains ground in El Salvador and most everybody feels now unsafe at any hour and in any place, it stands to reason to ask what lessons are being learned about monsignor Romero’s immolation and whether his death meant anything at all to the ones that are still embracing the violence he fought so much against.
Monsignor Romero’s militancy is still very much alive, even if the reason behind the violence being waged nowadays is just common crime and not political motive.
But it is somehow ironic that the date chosen to honor Romero’s legacy has been that of his murder, March 24th. As if his anti-violent message had also died with him. Were it left to me, I’d choose another date to remember him, the date he was born: August 15th. Now that is a date I will never forget. Because it is a date of birth: of promise and beginning. Not an end.

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