Tuesday, November 17, 2009

UCA martyrs

This post finds me in San Salvador, where, 20 years ago yesterday 6 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter were dragged out of their beds and shot to death. The Jesuits' "crime" was speaking out on behalf of the poor against the government. The women were their companeras just by being there, killed for being unwise enough to hang around with people with such a dangerous insurrectionist (resurrectionist?) message. A few days before we went to the place where Oscar Romero lived for a time, where his little Toyota still sits. Inside you see quotidian stuff--a robe, a razor, dental floss, books both scholarly (including, how "scandalous"--Hans Kung!)and popular.
This is a pilgrimage of sorts--the students leading our delegation are speaking of it as such, while, as Marty mentioned, I'm no longer certain what the word means. Our student leaders worked here as part of the Casa de Solidaridad, a study-abroad program that combines academics with service. This is a reunion for them, a time of poignancy as they see old friends, but also see that not much has chaged or seems likely to change. Our second day here we went to an area devastated by Hurricane Ida, and spoke with folks still digging out from the wreckage. Many lost everything, and if everything wasn't much to start with, does that make it better or worse to lose it all? The folks stood in line to get clean water, and whatever other aid would arrive that day. Yet they smiled and took the time to speak with strangers from abroad. And they try to clean, though how do you get ahead of the mud when the water available to clean is too polluted to be of much help? The line to which the water rose in shacks built by a river were over my head, now receded but leaving behind a record of mud and debris stuck to the walls.
We mustn’t miss the point.
Today at UCA groups of students are making lovely alfombras in the road (colored road salt is carefully piled in pictures, in the way of a mandala.) There are salt images of the Jesuits and the women, and also of the 4 American women slaughtered here earlier, three Maryknoll sisters and a lay woman, Jean Donovan. Romero is everywhere. In a room at UCA there are photo albums of the Jesuits’ quarters before and after the raid that destroyed them. There are graphic photos of their destroyed bodies. Carefully preserved are their bloodstained clothes, a bible stained with blood, grass from the rose garden where they were dumped, labeled with the names of each of the Jesuits. At the Romero site also were graphic photos of the bloody corpse, carried out to a pick-up truck to be rushed pointlessly to the hospital.
We mustn’t miss the point.
Their bloody deaths separate them from us, in the way that the dead are always separated, for a time at least, from the living. The temptation is to see the extraordinary only, the love that gets dragged out of bed and killed, kidnapped, raped, shot, on the road and dumped as the women were, joining the hundreds of ordinary Salvadorans who had no choice but to be caught in the savage vortex of power and oppression that ruled their world. The UCA martyrs, the churchwomen, Romero, are separated from the ordinary Salvadoran martyrs because they had a choice. Each of them was here, in one way or another, voluntarily.
But the point we must not miss, I think, is that neither the death nor the voluntariness is the core of what made them memorable, but the simple daily work they were involved in. The quotidian hassles of being university professors, of being workers on behalf of the poor, of organizing and speaking, trying to make sure the talk they’re to give sounds good, trying to stay ahead of the laundry, trying to make sure the car has gas, dealing with difficult colleagues in the church, the community, the school. Working when you’re tired, trying to be pleasant when you want to snap at someone who deserves it, trying to see the value in the mountain of quotidiana.
Sanctity isn’t in death. It’s in life. Solidarity isn’t in mere physical presence but more in taking on concerns as one’s own, in the midst of, along with, the wheat and chaff of our lives. To be a pilgrim isn’t in the arriving, it’s in the walking, the step by step by step. That’s what we share with them. That’s what we owe them.
We mustn’t miss the point.

No comments:

Post a Comment