Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!
Hope your Tuesday is starting off terrific. If not, then I hope it gets better! May this time find you anticipating spending time with friends and family. May this time also help us to reflect on the ways we can be in close connection with the poor and the powerless---Thanksgiving time is a time to give thanks and to understand that because we have the ability to give thanks puts a responsibility on us to spread joy to all of our sisters and brothers.
This weekend, I had an opportunity to go to Columbus, Georgia with a group of fellow Loyola students to protest the School of the Americas and to remember victims of military crimes and government oppression in Latin America. Gathered together in union with 20,000 people, many students from other Jesuit Universities and colleges from around this nation, still others from various parts of the world, all with different backgrounds, stories, perspectives, reasons for feeling called to participate in the event. However, the goal was a universal one among the thousands gathered: to non-violently protest an institution in the U.S. that has trained soldiers who have returned to their home countries and used tactics learned in the School of the Americas (SOA) to kill their own people. The deaths are in the millions in some countries–––it is believed that the SOA has trained soldiers that in one way or another have contributed to the death of some 2 million Columbians since the 1970s.
What brought me back to the SOA was my experience in El Salvador this past summer. The group I went with had an opportunity to visit El Mozote, a village in northern Morazon, a region in El Salvador where soldiers trained in the SOA killed some 800 innocent villagers in what can only be considered a massacre. Many of the victims included children---some under one year old, some just born. Other victims were women and men from the village, people who had a relatively moderate stance on the Civil War taking place in that country. This event didn't receive a ton of media coverage really until years after the fact. Miraculously, someone who escaped the mass murders and hid in a tree, hid for days, was able to relate some of what she saw, the atrocities, the slaying she witnessed with her own eyes.
At the SOA vigil this weekend, held at the gates of Ft. Benning, the military facility that houses the School of the Americas, there was an artistic representation of the El Mozote massacre. Clothes lay sprawled out on the ground, names and ages of victims of the massacre pinned to the clothes. When I passed several victims age 20, I froze and couldn't do anything but take a picture. It was the only way I could pray at the time...to try and remember the martyr through a picture of a representation. A distant, distant way to remember something I have no first account knowledge of---but nevertheless, my way to make a small contribution to the idea and hope that we are all connected---that these deaths help us to live and to work for a better world both near and far from our own communities.
I froze by the clothes and name of a 56 year old man. I thought about my own father---how good he has been to me and how much I have to be grateful for. I took a picture, in a way I prayed.
I froze at the name of a two year old child. This one stirred my heart, brought the tragedy to home in a different way. I thought about my beautiful two year old nephew, A.J., who I will see this weekend. I also reflected on what it would be like to have someone so young, so close to you be taken from you in one moment. The tragedy of such an event seems unimaginable. I took a picture, a prayer to remember the innocent toddler, a victim of a mass murder, a martyr that keeps us all alive and working to end terrible injustices.
A famous Liberation Theologian named John Sobrino, a Jesuit priest from El Salvador, came to the SOA vigil/protest and spoke to us. It was an honor for many of us to here from this very holy person, very real liver of the gospel. Sobrino was fortunate to escape death in El Salvador. Six of his colleagues were not so fortunate, and were part of a 1989 killing at the University of Central America in El Salvador. The Jesuits killed, along with their house keeper and her teenage daughter, became martyrs of a civil war---killed in innocence, killed as non-violent faith filled people. They became Jesus of Nazareth in the moment their lives were taken from them---taken in an incredibly violent manner.
When I was in El Salvador, our group took a tour of the University of Central America. We saw pictures of just what happened to those martyrs. To think that a human being is capable of ending a life over and over again with a gun, to walk away from blood, death, brains on a floor is unfathomable. Those pictures stay in my memory. On the surface, I am so incredibly unattached to those killings---but by visiting the site, by seeing the pictures, by struggling to cope with what my eyes saw in a photo, made me think about just how absolutely devastating it must have been for the people who saw those bodies firsthand---for people like Fr. Sobrino who were among the best of friends with these people.
And Sobrino is able to continue the memory of these people. When he talks about the University martyrs in El Salvador, he is able to bring about a message of hope. It's amazing how a person can bring hope out of so much suffering. Sobrino seems to know the gospel so well, the Passion of Christ, because he experienced a modern day realization of absolute martyrdom. Sobrino said of the martyrs, "from their love, from their justice, from their kindness, we live." We live from the martyrs because they stir our hearts to want to bring about a kingdom of Love and Peace.
May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Realize that in all the struggles of the world---in those personal struggles that make some of our days so very difficult---in those societal struggles that split our heart, tug at our flesh, at our being, may we come to some sort of message of hope. Without a bit of hope, all will seem lost. But, with even a tiny spark of faith, we can move mountains.
peace and with love,
your friend bob.