Friday, January 25, 2013

Salvador, Where Martyrs Walk Still

Reflection by President Michael Cooper-White
from El Salvador Travel Seminar

On anyone's short list of theological giants of the past 50 years will appear the name of Jon Sobrino.  For an hour this afternoon, our group sat around a table with Sobrino at the Jesuit University of Central America here in El Salvador's capital city.  Upon arrival, the tranquil site on a lush gentle hillside gives no evidence of the horrific night in 1989 when Salvadoran soldiers brutally murdered six priests, their household cook and her young daughter.   But the museum to the martyrs, whose murders caused worldwide sorrow and outrage, is unrelenting in its truth-telling and call to renew one's commitment to work for peace and greater justice.  Therein reside some of the priest's personal effects, and display cases with blood-stained grass and stones from where they fell.  The same site exhibits similar artifacts preserved from the death-place of four U.S. nuns who had been raped and murdered years earlier by one of the infamous Salvadoran death squads.

In response to my question about how he felt upon hearing that his colleagues and friends had been gunned down in the bloody raid whose shots drew shouts of anguish around the globe, Sobrino spoke softly of his initial lack of surprise.  By the late 1980's, so many others who spoke for and worked on behalf of Salvador's poor and oppressed masses had been threatened, apprehended, tortured or murdered that no one was surprised when eight more were added to the growing list of those killed for simply living out their Christian convictions and vocations.  Fr. Sobrino went on to describe his anger, especially at the assassinations of the beloved Salvadoran women who worked and served alongside the Jesuit fathers.  In Thailand at the time as a visiting professor, Sobrino was asked by his students there how he was reacting.  After describing his sadness and sense of loss of those who constituted his primary "family," he went on to say, "but the good news is that I was privileged for a time to live with such good people."

One needs only a short time in his presence to recognize that beyond being a first rate theologian, Fr. Jon Sobrino is "good people" too.  He was eager to have each one of us offer more than a perfunctory self-introduction.  He carefully jotted down our questions and made sure to address each one (and all this by the native Spaniard in flawless English).  His affection for Bishop Medardo Gomez and Pastor Vilma Rodriguez was apparent.  His attitude toward the Vatican and current pope, who has tried to silence Sobrino's prophetic voice off and on for three decades, offers frank critique without a hint of arrogance or bitterness.  He was enthusiastically intrigued as I described our Seminary's efforts in creating an interpretive center that may become another "museum of conscience" wherein pilgrims will encounter the same call to peace and reconciliation as is offered at the UCA.

Now well into the stage of life where most workers are relieved to retire, Sobrino continues to teach, write and make himself available to groups like ours who simply want to glean some of his insights and inspiration.  In the course of our wide-ranging discussions about liberation theology, the role of the United States in the ongoing Latin American struggles, and other topics, Sobrino casually described his encounters and friendships with Archbishop Oscar Romero, UCA president Ignacio Ellacuria, Fr. Rutilio Grande and others.  Then, in a surprising shift from events past to his vision for the future, Sobrino concluded our time together this way:  "My goal now is to walk in history feeling that Romero, Rutilio, Ellacuria and the others are still around.  In my older years I am finding it more difficult to walk, but I can't stop walking.  And that, my Lutheran friends, that's grace!"

1 comment:

Kristin Johnston Largen said...

Jurgen Moltmann reports that a copy of his "The Crucified God," stained with blood, is displayed there--did you see it? That is such a powerful theology text--I have always thought it was a strong witness to the Christian faith in a God who "suffers-with," taking up and transforming human suffering in God's own being.