Immortalizing Americas' San Romero and countless martyrs
The International Day for the Right to the Truth marks the day Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated in El Salvador
Today, on March 24, the United Nations commemorates the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.
Little do many people know about this day, but for the Salvadorean people, it is the day they lost their dearly beloved Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, globally known as San Romero of the Americas.
Memories of the tiny country of El Salvador came back to my mind in kaleidoscopic vividness. The Carmelite Chapel in San Salvador was a witness to the brutal killing by a mercenary sniper that caused Msgr. Romero's instant death due to shock and loss of blood.
A day before that fateful day 41 years ago today, in a sermon, directly addressed to the security forces, Msgr. Romero's call reverberated in all nooks and crannies of his country:"I want to make a special appeal to soldiers, national guardsmen, and policemen: each of you is one of us. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God's words, 'thou shalt not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God I command you to stop the repression."It was a blessing for me to have also visited San Romero's tomb in San Salvador's Cathedral. Moreover, I had the opportunity to talk to some of the people in the once militarized barrio of Guarjilla.
Vivid in my memories were the families of the disappeared whose shanties I visited.So profound is their faith that they ardently believe that their long-awaited reunification with their disappeared children stolen by Salvadorean soldiers during the war was a form of answered prayers to their beloved Monsignor Romero.
They were among the little ones to whom, Msgr. Romero dedicated his life with Msgr. Romero was among them and the rest of the Salvadorean people as they witnessed repression and resistance.
Neris Gonzalez, a co-member of mine of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition and a torture survivor from El Salvador, reflects on this day:"For me, Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, inspires the Salvadoran people to continue the fight for the defense of human rights and justice. Monsignor Romero's memory inspires me to hope that one day, justice will be achieved in El Salvador for war criminals and criminals against humanity and that justice is done for those who murdered and disrespected San Romero."In the neighboring country of Guatemala, Marco Antonio Garavito Fernandez of the Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental shares his reflection on this day:"On the 24th of March, when Monsignor Romero was assassinated, the intention was not only to eliminate a defender of the Salvadorean people, but also to silence a church that was committed to human rights, justice and peace for all."This murder has gradually brought this commitment of the Catholic Church to the world's poorest of the poor, which then was relegated by a theology distant from the practices of Monsignor Romero."Today more than ever, the Church must review its commitment to the poor in an increasingly inhumane world. Only then can we ensure that Monsignor Romero did not die in vain."The Philippines has its share of persecution of the progressive segments of the Church. Today is likewise a reminder of a number of persecuted Church people in this predominantly Catholic country.
To mention a few among the many, I remember the late Bishop Antonio Fortich, a staunch critique of the Marcos regime.As a young church worker in the Visayas Secretariat of Social Action of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), I personally had memorable encounters with the late bishop who was among the most courageous Church officials during the Marcos regime and of the succeeding and Corazon Aquino administration.
Against the backdrop of a deteriorating armed conflict and the rising human rights violations in the Western Visayas, Bishop Fortich opted for the poor and the downtrodden, which earned for him the ire of the security forces including the right-wing citizens' vigilante group, El Tigre, whom the prelate blamed for the attempted grenade bombing of his bedroom on April 28, 1987.The day after the bombing, the "people's bishop" had the bird stuffed and made it a paperweight to remind him to the continuing struggle.
How can I ever forget the desaparecido, Father Rudy Romano who disappeared on July 11, 1985?A former high school retreat master, a colleague in the parliament of the streets during the darkest years of the Marcos regime and a friend, once told his father who was worried about his apostolate in Cebu:"You have already given me to God and I think there is no turning back. If I follow your advice, I will not be a worthy priest anymore, because I cannot bear to see these people, the poor of Cebu, especially the squatters, the poor laborers, who are crying to high heavens for help, but they have nowhere to go; the government could not help them."They go to the priest, they come to me. I am their voice. I am fighting in their behalf. Do not worry, Dad. If I die, I have no family, and you will know who has killed me."The Philippine Church is rich in martyrs who were killed in the course of defending the people. To mention some victims of the Duterte war on drugs, among the persecuted Church people include Father Marcelino Paez was shot and killed in Nueva Ecija while driving along a roadway in Nueva Ecija on December 4, 2017.
On April 29, 2018, Father Mark Anthony Yuaga Ventura, was shot to death while blessing children and talking to choir members after the Mass. On June 11 of the same year, Father Richmond Nilo who was killed while preparing to officiate a Sunday Mass inside his chapel.Despite the prophetic voice of the CBCP every time it denounced every killing, there is no let up to the persecution of the pastors of the people. A recent victim, environmentalist priest, Father Rene Regalado was tortured and shot near the Carmelite monastery on January 26, 2021.
As the international community commemorates this important day to pay homage to countless victims of human rights violations, we pay homage to San Romero of the Americas and countless other men and women-of-the-cloth who lived and died so that others may live.
Relevant to the Lenten Season, when the Christian world remembers the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, a moment of silence for the martyrs of faith is called for.
For the Church to respond to the cry of the poor, concretizing the prophetic words and imitating the courageous deeds of San Romero and many other martyrs will go a long way towards the attainment of genuine peace based on justice.
Peace, therefore, is the fruit of justice, which is the fruit of the people's struggle, watered by the blood of the martyrs. "Truly, truly, I say to you, that unless a grain of wheat falls and dies in the ground, it will be left alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." (John 12:23)Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is the president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED).