Pilgrimage to El Salvador

March 1991By John Dear

John Dear is a Jesuit scholastic studying Scripture and theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. He is the author of Oscar Romero and the Nonvio­lent Struggle for Justice and Our God is Nonvio­lent.

In the midst of the ongoing civil war in El Salvador, thousands of Salvadoran campesinos, plus church people from around the world, gathered recently at the Jesuit universi­ty in San Salvador to commemorate the first anniversary of the murder of Celina and Elba Ramos and the six Jesuits. The campesinos had walked for days to attend the outdoor Masses, songfests, and celebrations marking the anniversary.

During the main Eucharistic celebration, the Jesuit provincial, Chema Tojera, urged church people from around the world to deepen their solidarity with the suffering peo­ple of El Salvador. After Communion, the families of the martyrs were presented with glass bowls containing the blood-soaked soil from the scene of the massacre. The Jesuits al­so presented a book, The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann, which had been soaked through with the blood of one of the Jesuit martyrs. On the night of the killings (Nov. 16, 1989), when Juan Ramon Moreno’s body was dragged back inside the empty house, it bumped a bookcase, knocking The Crucified God onto Moreno. The book was held up as a symbol of the continuing crucifixion of Christ in the Salvadoran people and in all who suffer for justice and peace.

As I walked through the community house where the Jesuits lived, occasional bombings could be heard in the distance, and I recalled meeting the martyrs years before and listening to their hopes for peace and their requests that I work for an end to all U.S. military aid to El Salvador. As I walked I asked myself, what is the significance of this place? This is holy ground, a modern-day Calvary, I concluded, a place for pilgrims to offer prayer. Christians make pilgrimages to the Holy Land; they also pilgrimage to El Salvador to pray at the sites where martyrs are made: the roadside cross where four U.S. churchwomen were raped and killed in 1980; the altar where Archbishop Romero was assas­sinated; the churches, villages, and country­side where 70,000 Salvadoran poor have been killed; the Jesuit community house of that terrible day, November 16, 1989.

The solidarity marking the anniversary was put into practice on November 18, when 40 North Americans, including six U.S. Jesuits and one Lutheran bishop, joined 75 Salva­doran campesinos in a caravan into the countryside of San Vicente as the Salvadorans at­tempted to repopulate a village they had fled seven years earlier when U.S. bombers had destroyed farms and homes in “scorched-earth, low-intensity conflict.”

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