Reflection by Vandalyn Kennedy – Day 4
Every minute of every day has been amazing here in El Salvador, however today’s experience resonated with me in a POWERFUL way. If you are reading this blog you know that a group of 12 students and 3 Faculty members from Union have traveled here to study the Liberative Spirituality of Bishop Oscar Romero. One of our classmates, Blanca Rodriguez, made a statement this week that is symbolic of our time here. She said, ”We cannot solely be educated through books but must have experience.” This statement became truth to me today like no other. Before coming to El Salvador, we spent the semester in a Guided Reading group learning about the life of Romero, examining the context of the country both before and after his death, seeing films, reading books and analyzing the impact Romero had on this war torn country. However today, WE LIVED IT!
Today we visited the Divine Providence Hospitalito, the place Romero was killed. We filed into the Chapel and were met by a young religious woman (nun) Mercedes, who facilitated our session. Students from Dayton University also joined us as she took us through a moving account of events of the day of Romero’s death. She also gave us a clear history and timeline of events from his early priesthood to death – for me the clearest that I have heard so far. She described his conservative background but how he slowly converted to becoming the people’s pastor after seeing his people suffer unjustly at the hands of the oligarchy and military. She was very engaging and gave full account as to the physical place he was standing and exactly what he was doing at the time he died. She also pointed out that he had to have seen the shooter, as he was standing behind the altar in the center and the doors of the modest sized church were open. During his homily, a red car pulled in front of the church but instead of Romero running, screaming, or doing what most of us would do if someone was pointing a gun at us, he continued his homily. The reality was that Romero received many death threats and could have had bodyguards and taken all precautions to protect his life. However, that day, he told the altar boys and others who usually serve at the altar with him that he wanted to serve alone. In essence, he offered up his life, and in a homily given a few days earlier said, “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in my people.” Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he knew the imminent danger, however he chose to sacrifice his life for his people. If I had to put him in US context, Romero is definitely the Martin Luther King Jr. of El Salvador.
When Mercedes began the session she told us to choose a word that represented our thoughts about Romero. One by one we gave the word we felt embodied Romero, and at the end, she asked us to come to the altar, say our word one at a time, then take a place in a circle around the altar. That was simple enough – I chose the word COURAGE, and proudly announced it before taking my place in the circle. Then, as we stood in the exact spot Romero was killed, she challenged and charged us in an unexpected way telling us to think about our word and how it applies to our lives and the struggle against social injustice. She asked us to take the word home with us and make it our business to utilize that word in a way that will make the world better. My eyes, like many of my classmates’ were filled with tears. With all the talk about Romero, King and every other person who has helped to make the world better, we have to ask ourselves, “What about me?” Am I just learning about others or have I made a personal commitment to fight against political and social injustice? This is not just about Romero, but how to apply the principles of Romero’s life and use his example as a way to integrate faith with social justice issues. I may not have to physically die for a cause, however, I ask myself, as I ask you- what are our lives being used for?
After that experience, we went to Romero’s house, on the campus of the Hospitalito. Though he could have had a big house elsewhere he chose to live in a very modest home, furnished with only the necessities. The home has been converted into a small museum that houses his clergy attire, church papers, and other personal articles.
We then headed to the Monument to the Truth and Memory at the Cuscatlan Park, dedicated to the victims of the civil war. The site that has over 30,000 names of people disappeared and killed during the years of political unrest and is a result of the Peace Accords signed in 1992, in which the government agreed to give reparations and honor victims by at least acknowledging them in a public way. This is significant, as many families do not have graves to visit, as many bodies have never been recovered. On the National Day of Remembrance, many Salvadorans go to this monument to honor their loved ones. (This monument is missing over 45,000 names, as it is documented that over 75,000 people in total were killed or disappeared).
We then boarded the bus and headed to the beach where we spent the afternoon. After such an emotional day, it was the perfect place to reflect on our word given by Mercedes as well as everything we witnessed thus far in El Salvador. We ate dinner beachside and ended the evening with our nightly class reflection, again beachside as the sun set.
To say that my life will never be the same would be a gross understatement. I am so thankful and blessed to be here, learning and growing with this community of students and faculty-things I could have NEVER learned from a book. I am also thankful that Dr. Knitter and his wife Cathy Cornell chose to share their experience of solidarity and love for the El Salvadoran people, Romero and social justice. Unfortunately, I had never heard about Romero before this class but believe that EVERY seminary student should learn about this man who embodies Union ideology. He is a perfect example of faith in action. In learning about the strength and courage of a Priest, I also discovered the fortitude of the people this priest served. Romero has risen in his people, and they have taken his principles, organized, and now continue the fight for the poor and marginalized. I pray that the spirit of Romero will rise in me as I seek to do my part in fighting against injustice and helping to make the world a better place.