Romero Commemoration Concert
St. Andrew’s United Church
March 25, 2012
Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated while saying mass on March 24, 1980. HHHe was killed because of his outspoken advocacy for the rights of the poor people of El Salvador and his demand that members of the military stop oppressing their own people.
Romero is a symbolic example of thousands of men and women around the world who have put their lives on the line for freedom and justice and have paid for it with their lives. Tonight we will be remembering with word and song not only Oscar Romero but also a small number of these brave persons. We will also thing of others who are still engaged in the struggle in spite of the risks involved. As we remember their lives, we are conscious that we are also called to work and struggle for justice in our own situation.
Remi De Roo, Bishop Emeritus of the R.C. diocese of Victoria, who knew Oscar Romero and who had visited El Salvador, spoke of some of his experiences and connections to the Church in El Salvador. Bishop De Roo has been the key note speaker at all Romero Commemoration events in Nanaimo, and is highly regarded as a strong voice and advocate of ecumenism among the Christian churches.
Sr. Ita Ford, MM. (1940 – 1980)
By Raymond D. Aumnack
Thirty years ago, on December 2, 1980, four women, two Maryknoll nuns, an Ursuline nun, and a lay volunteer were stopped by the military in El Salvador as they travelled from the airport. In a lonely cow pasture, they were tortured, raped, and murdered by soldiers of the military junta, with the encouragement of their commanders.
Ita Ford was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 23, 1940. She joined the Maryknoll Sisters in 1961, immediately after completing college at Marymount but left the order because of health problems. but was again accepted to Maryknoll in 1971.
After language school at Cochabamba, Bolivia, she was assigned to a Maryknoll Mission in Chile. While in Chile, she watched the chaos that occurred after a US-backed military coup overthrew President Salvador Allende. While she was still working in Chile, Archbishop Oscar Romero put out a request for more assistance from Maryknoll to minister to the poor in El Salvador. Ita responded to Romero’s call for help, but did not arrive in El Salvador until a few weeks after his violent assassination while he was celebrating Mass.
Ita began working in Chalatenango with the Emergency Refugee Committee to help the homeless and the poor in their struggle to survive against the military dictatorship. Returning from a Maryknoll meeting in Nicaragua, Ita and Maura flew back to El Salvador where they were met at the airport by Sr. Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, coworkers from the Cleveland Mission Team. Along the way
they met the destiny that each knew was realistic, but feared nonetheless. The outcome was always a real risk, one which they accepted. In a letter back to Maryknoll headquarters written just a few days before her death, Ita warned about the violence in El Salvador and insisted that volunteers be made aware that ministry there could be life-threatening.
From the letter of Ita Ford to her niece and godchild, Jennifer Ford, August 18, 1980
Yesterday I stood looking down at a 16‐year‐old who had been killed a few hours earlier. I now a lot of kids even younger who are dead. This is a terrible time in El Salvador for youth. A lot of idealism and commitment is getting snuffed out here now. The reasons why so many people are being killed are quite complicated, yet there are some clear, simple strands. One is that many people have found a meaning to life, to sacrifice, to struggle, and even to death. And whether their life span is 16 years, 60 or 90, for them, their life has had a purpose. In many ways, they are fortunate people.
Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is, and at whatever age. What I’m saying is, I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you…something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for…something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be ‐‐ that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search.
Maybe this sounds weird and off‐the‐wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I’m seeing and living things that others around you aren’t… I want to say to you: don’t waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy…
Ivan Betancur (1940 – 1975) and Melo Moreno
I have chosen to highlight two priests from Honduras – the original “banana republic”, the poorest country of Central America. I met Ivan Betancur in 1974 at the Univ. Ste Paul in Ottawa. Finishing our programs I returned to Peru and Ivan went back to the province of Olancho in Honduras. There was a rising clamour from the peasant farmers for land reform and Ivan openly supported land reform. On June 25 Ivan was taking two visitors from his native Colombia to the capital city when he was stopped at a military roadblock and taken to the hacienda of Mel Zelaya, the father of the future President of Honduras Mel Zelaya Jr. Along with another Franciscan priest, Jerome Cypher, and 6 campesino leaders, Ivan was brutally tortured and finally executed because he was deemed to be a threat to the traditional social order.
Fr. Melo Moreno is a Jesuit from Honduras working in the city of El Progreso. He was a law student when his father, a union leader was murdered. He joined the Jesuits and has worked in different assignments in Central America, mostly in his native Honduras. He is currently the director of a Jesuit run radio station Radio El Progreso, which promotes education and social development. It has been attacked frequently by the military, particularly during and after the military coup which ousted the President Mel Zelaya. Melo continues his work, in defense of human rights, despite regular death threats.
Steve Biko 1946 – 1977 South Africa
Steve Biko was one of South Africa’s most significant political activists and a leading founder of South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement. His death in police detention in 1977 led to his being hailed as a martyr of the anti-Apartheid struggle.
From an early age Steve Biko showed an interest in anti-Apartheid politics. After being expelled from his first school, Lovedale, in the Eastern Cape for ‘anti-establishment’ behavior, he was transferred to a Roman Catholic boarding school in Natal. From there he enrolled as a student at the University of Natal Medical School (in the university’s Black Section). Whilst at medical school Biko became involved with the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). But the union was dominated by white liberals and failed to represent the needs of black students, so Biko resigned in 1969 and founded the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO). SASO was involved in providing legal aid and medical clinics, as well as helping to develop cottage industries for disadvantaged black communities.
In 1972 Biko was one of the founders of the Black Peoples Convention (BPC) and was elected as the first president of the BPC and was promptly expelled from medical school. He started working full time for the Black Community Programme (BCP) in Durban which he also helped found. In 1973 Steve Biko was ‘banned‘ by the Apartheid government. Under the ‘ban’ Biko was restricted to his home town of Kings William’s Town. Biko was detained and interrogated four times between August 1975 and September 1977 under Apartheid era anti-terrorism legislation. On 21 August 1977 Biko was detained by the Eastern Cape security police and held in Port Elizabeth. From the Walmer police cells he was taken for interrogation at the security police headquarters. On 7 September “Biko sustained a head injury during interrogation. On 12 September, alone and still naked, lying on the floor of a cell in the Pretoria Central Prison, Biko died from brain damage. The brutal circumstances of Biko’s death caused a worldwide outcry and he became a martyr and symbol of black resistance to the oppressive Apartheid regime.
(biographical information from http://africanhistory.about.com/od/stevebiko/a/bio-Biko.htm)
Rachel Corrie (1979 – 2003)
On March 16, 2003 a young idealist from the town of Olympia, Washington was crushed to death by a Caterpillar bulldozer provided by the US government to the Israeli military and used to destroy Palestinian homes in the occupied territories and the Gaza strip.
Rachel Corrie was not quite 25 years old and in her final year of college. She designed an independent study program for which she left her average American reality to join the International Solidarity Movement which was engaged in direct action in solidarity with Palestinians. Rachel arrived in Israel on January 22, 2003 and participated in training with the ISM which included putting themselves between Israeli troops and Palestinian villagers.
Rachel won the trust of many Palestinians including Dr. Samir Nasrallah, a pharmacist. Rachel had stayed at his home with his wife and three children in the town of Rafah, near the Eqyptian border. Many homes and businesses had already been demolished by the Israeli military. Early in the afternoon on March 16 Rachel received a call that the Israeli military appeared headed to destroy the home of Dr. Nasrallah. The ISM activists had already acted as human shields to prevent Israeli tanks and bulldozers from destroying Palestinian homes. Rachel stood wearing her bright orange florescent jacket so that her presence could not be missed. The Israeli military person however headed straight for her and she was not able to escape to safety. Being identified as a white, foreign, solidarity worker did not save her on that day.
One month after arriving in Israel and only a few weeks before she was killed, Rachel sent a note to her mother by email. She said:
I “just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. … Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it. … When I come back from Palestine, I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I’ve ever done. So when I sound crazy, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.”
Kaj Munk 1898 – 1944
Danish playwright and priest, whose outspoken, passionately patriotic sermons during World War II led to his being killed by the Nazis. Munk was educated at the Nykøping Cathedral School and at the University of Copenhagen, where he took a degree in theology in 1924. In the same year he was ordained as a minister and became a pastor of the parish Vedersø in western Jutland, a post he held until the end of his life. Although Munk showed little sympathy for democratic political patterns, he became one of the most prominent opponents of Nazis after German occupied Denmark in 1940. On January 4, 1944, Munk was taken from his home by the Gestapo and shot on the road to Silkeborg. His Bible was found some twenty meters from his body, as if it had been taken away before he was killed.
His killers honored Munk’s outspoken resistance to the Nazi occupation by their ruthless but futile determination to silence him. For Munk had never ceased to summon his people to act from their faith whether in support of the Norwegian church, the beleaguered Scandinavian Jews, or for their own freedom. The people heard his message. Despite the danger from the Nazis who had killed Munk, four thousand Danes came to his funeral. They commemorated him with a lively courage and faith like his own, both then and throughout the war.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945)
Bonhoeffer was born in 1906, son of a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Berlin. He was an outstanding student, and at the age of 25 became a lecturer in systematic theology at the same University. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer became a leading spokesman for the Confessing Church, the center of Protestant resistance to the Nazis. He organized and for a time led the underground seminary of the Confessing Church. His book Life Together describes the life of the Christian community in that seminary, and his book The Cost of Discipleship attacks what he calls “cheap grace,” meaning grace used as an excuse for moral laxity. Bonhoeffer had been taught not to “resist the powers that be,” but he came to believe that to do so was sometimes the right choice. In 1939 his brother-in-law introduced him to a group planning the overthrow of Hitler, and he made significant contributions to their work. (He was at this time an employee of the Military Intelligence Department.) He was arrested in April 1943 and imprisoned in Berlin. After the failure of the attempt on Hitler’s life in April 1944, he was sent first to Buchenwald and then to Schoenberg Prison. His life was spared, because he had a relative who stood high in the government; but then this relative was himself implicated in anti-Nazi plots. On Sunday 8 April 1945, he had just finished conducting a service of worship at Schoenberg, when two soldiers came in, saying, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, make ready and come with us,” the standard summons to a condemned prisoner. As he left, he said to another prisoner, “This is the end — but for me, the beginning — of life.” He was hanged the next day, less than a week before the Allies reached the camp.
Bonhoeffer had written The Cost of Discipleship (1937), a call to more faithful and radical obedience to Christ and a severe rebuke of comfortable Christianity: “Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
In another passage, he said, “To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man—not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.”