Christ’s peace be with you! This month, I return to El Salvador for the first time in many years. I’m traveling with my friend Robert Ellsberg to attend the beatification mass, on May 23rd, of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated on March 24, 1980, while saying Mass.
I consider Romero the greatest bishop who ever lived and one of the greatest people in human history. He shows us what we could all be. He remains a sign of God calling us to renounce the culture of violence and war and welcome God’s kingdom of nonviolence and peace.
I remember the moment at Duke on March 24th 1980 when I heard he was killed. I recall countless rallies and prayer services where he was invoked to bless our efforts to end the evil U.S. wars in Central America. I remember meeting and befriending the parents of Jean Donovan, also killed in 1980, and how they urged me in 1983 to go to El Salvador. Eventually, I did in 1985. Under the tutelage of the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Jesuit leaders at the university in San Salvador, I worked in a refugee camp as the war waged around us. I went back over a dozen times over the years, and worked tirelessly for an end to the war after my Jesuit friends were assassinated. I’ve spoken about my experiences in El Salvador to perhaps a million people. I had brought with me a photo of Romero, and friends in the refugee camp asked me to bury it because they said the U.S.-backed death squads could arrest me and take me away—simply for having Romero’s picture!
Today the U.S. warmaking continues unabated. This time we killed children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Libya. Thirty five years ago, Romero was assassinated by U.S. backed death squads with the full support of the US military. Today, we have advanced in our techniques of killing. With our drones, we have a full national policy of extra-judicial assassination. Our warmaking president starts his Tuesday mornings, after sending his girls to school, by reviewing his “kill” list and deciding who to assassinate this week. Not much has changed.
But Romero’s witness lives on, and so does Romero! He promised to rise in his people, and he has. He calls all of us to work for an end to war and weapons, and to become people of Gospel nonviolence. I go to hear his message again, to meet him in the Salvadoran people, to be healed and renewed I hope, and to be strengthened to carry on my own Gospel witness of peace.
My new book, Thomas Merton Peacemaker, has just been published, and I hope everyone will buy a copy (see: www.amazon.com and www.orbisbooks.com). In early June, I will speak at the International Thomas Merton Society conference in Louisville (see: www.merton.org). Then I head to Germany on a national speaking tour.
My friends and I are working hard to prepare for our witness at Los Alamos to commemorate Hiroshima and to plan our Campaign Nonviolence national conference. Please join us! Please support our Campaign Nonviolence project, either by organizing an event in your community during the week of September 20th, inviting me to speak in your area, or by sending us a contribution to fund our work. See: www.campaignnonviolence.org.
Thank you for remembering the life and witness of Blessed Oscar Romero and for doing everything you can to work for peace and justice. Together, we make a difference, and serve the God of peace. God bless you all!
Blessings of peace, –Fr. John