Easter an opportunity to fight despair amid bloodshed

Like Oscar Romero, until we stand to work for justice we cannot truly claim to deserve the glory of the Resurrection
Easter an opportunity to fight despair amid bloodshed

Performers dramatize the long wait for justice for victims of killings and human rights abuses in the Philippines during a Holy Thursday protest in Manila. (Photo by Vincent Go)

In the Philippines, which prides itself as the seat of Catholicism in Southeast Asia, the ardent hope for the Resurrection should inspire us to overcome the darkness of our hopelessness, to combat the despair brought about by extra-judicial killings and bloodshed in our midst, and to overcome the stumbling blocks of rising up again.

In distant El Salvador in Central America, a boy was born to a humble family. Little did the world know that this little boy, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, would become one of the most inspiring martyrs and saints in contemporary history.

Against the backdrop of a civil war that killed thousands of people and disappeared many others — including children — tortured civilians, and persecuted church people, this boy grew to later become a saint.

He entered the priesthood and emerged as a leader whose ability to listen to the cries of the wretched of the earth facilitated his metamorphosis from a conservative member of the clergy into the most courageous leader of San Salvador.

By dint of his capacity to listen to the lamentations of his suffering people, Oscar Romero of the Americas was called a "Servant of the People," "Voice of the Voiceless," and "Martyr for Justice."

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A book written by Jesuit priest Ignacio Ellacura titled Con Msgr. Romero, Dios Paso' por El Salvador (With Monsignor Romero God passed through El Salvador) illustrates how the Latin American bishop shook the powers-that-be during that most turbulent period in his country's history.

Romero questioned the status quo and urged soldiers "to regain your conscience."

"In the name of God and in the name of the suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven, each day more tumultuous, I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression," said the bishop.

On March 24, 1980, in the middle of a Mass, a sniper's bullet pierced his heart.

The brutal assassination of a guiding pastor, courageous leader, and loving father left the poor of El Salvador orphaned. With his death people's outrage ensued. Intensifying repression consequently resulted in heightening resistance.

Romero's martyrdom eventually merited beatification and sainthood. No less than the United Nations declared March 24 as the "International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims" in recognition of Romero's work.

El Salvador and the Philippines have several things in common. Amidst the plenty in both these predominantly Catholic countries is the poverty of people haunted by past and present human rights violations.

The vicious cycle of violations, exacerbated by glaring impunity, does not guarantee non-repetition. The Philippines has seen persecution against men-of-the-cloth and other church people who opt for Christ's little ones. And in both countries, the olive branch of genuine and lasting peace remains elusive as ever.

Until we stand to work for peace and justice we cannot truly claim to deserve the glory of the Resurrection. The exemplary life of Romero and the other martyrs of the faith must animate us to conquer the evil of death.

Mary Aileen Bacalso is secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of the disappeared, the government of Argentina awarded her the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013.

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