I missed the evening lecture and was over-stretched when we came home for some more crowd-stirring stuff from a Baptist pastor from Cuba and a priest from Venezuela - after that I left
Sitting outside the evening session I had a great conversation with Joe a builder from North Carolina, Alex, the Salvadoran driver for Joe's group
- a carpenter now living in Nicaragua (his family escaped the war by driving to
California and becoming illegal immigrants), and Loretta a bright-eyed South Australian, a volunteer
who works in a far off district in Salvador with the women there.
Again the day has been rich - the morning lectures were intense but revealed more of the face of the church here which is struggling to hang on to the energy and power of liberation.
The presence of so many wonderful young people here, like the group of young Spanish girls, working as
volunteers in Nicaragua, and young Julie from Belgium, volunteer in Guatemala,
and the local young people who are evidently involved in the events of this week - liberation is here to stay regardless of the right-wing hierarchy.
There are still enough bishops like my energetic
old mate Herbert,
to keep the gospel option firmly on the church's table.
Hilton Deakin was with our group all day and was great company.
Australian Church politics
occasionally made it into the conversation!
There is no symphony in the dorm yet tonight so it's a good time to try and sleep.
There is much to reflect on in the story of Jesuit martyrs.
Interesting too how we each respond to the stories and events differently.
Linda and I did some musing along these lines as the day closed.
After the war, a Law of Amnesty was passed. One result of this is that many of the atrocities of the war have gone un-punished and indeed, un-named. Those who now work for the healing process, for reconciliation, have to confront a certain denial, particularly on the part of the former military and their allies. The struggle to heal continues.
Time to sleep after yet another delicious cold shower.
THURSDAY MARCH 23
SICSAL B REFLECTIONS FROM AROUND CENTRAL AMERICAY.
This morning we heard from speakers from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Chiapas, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Ecuador
In each case we hear stories of oppression, unjust imprisonment, violence between the peoples of the nation, and always in each case, American involvement, US manipulation and
occupation - all justified in the international arena nowadays as the US fight against drugs.
Ideology comes before people, and freedom, justice, reconciliation, dignity, the value of life all take second place to the need the
US has to control everyone's agenda.
The suffering of the people of Colombia is profound, their murder rate 75/100,000.
The people have no real voice.
In many of these countries the church seems to collude in the situation to maintain whatever power base it has established - only the lonely prophets, and those few who speak or act and dare to risk imprisonment seem to be offering alternatives to the status quo.
"Colombia has been kidnapped
" cries the speaker from there- Awhen can our people again be free to enjoy the fruits of the earth as is their right?"
When you hear these speakers one after the other speaking ever so briefly about the ever-so-huge and overwhelming suffering of their peoples that continues to this day, the in-house squabbles in the church, and the way we struggle in Australia to do a bit of justice, our efforts hardly look impressive.
The problems here
are vast and deep - and it is a humbling experience to be in solidarity at this time with the people who struggle each day of their lives for the basic dignity and freedoms of their people.
The bishops who are here at the conference are a great encouragement to everyone and are much loved.
They line up for morning tea and lunch with the rest of us and are simply here as shepherd and leaven in the group.
The man from Haiti is a striking tall elegant black man with a presence not unlike Nelson Mandela.
Also expressed was the falling energy of solidarity movements through unions, students action and so on - to continue forward we need to reflect and decide.
The defeat of the Sandanista party in recent Nicaraguan elections has increased the feeling of frustration in Nicaragua and elsewhere the weight of US intervention seems immovable.
A delegate from the US spoke from the heart and asked for our prayers as the people of the US become more conscious of the implications of their policies.
Hilton gave greetings from Australia this morning and spoke well of our struggle to achieve justice for our aboriginal people and of
the slow response we gave to Timor, and the questions we are seeking to resolve at this time.
One key element coming through all the input and conversation is the readiness to
deal with reality and to have both the practical and theological response come from the reality rather than being an ideology that is imposed on reality.
So much of the Latin American church like our own is preoccupied with fitting the world into an ideology.
So much of the rupture in the church comes from this approach.
THE STORY OF THE PEACE ACCORDS..
Hilton hadn't seen the Cathedral so we took him there and after seeing some more dramatic acting out of the Romero story in the crypt, we stood on the platform at the front of the cathedral, (specially built for this week'
s celebrations) and Sean told us the story of the coming of the Peace in 1991-2.
Xavier Perez de-Cueiller, as his last act as UN Secretary-General, brokered the peace in Mexico between the FMLN guerrillas and the army and government. A provisional document was signed since there were still some matters to be resolved. New Year's Day, the next day, there was a celebration in the square in front of the cathedral and tentatively the people revealed their red banners and T-shirts - showing them before this day would have meant gunfire and possible death. Around the Cathedral facade there were some political FMLN posters and banners. A few days later as the negotiations became more confident, another rally, more political banners and more bold showings of the red banners and clothing.
Down the block at the next plaza, Arena, the old Army and government party, celebrate with their own banners, clothing and music.
January 15 - and the peace accords are signed and there is yet another demonstration in the square in front of the Cathedral. Everyone from both sides are there this time.
Replacing the multitude of political banners and posters from the previous demonstrations, is one banner only. It is giant and hangs from the top of the Cathedral to the ground. On it is a portrait of Oscar Romero and the caption: "Monsenor, you have truly risen in your people."
Nothing remains to be said here.
A social afternoon follows, shopping at the artisan's market, a couple of beers, more stories from Hilton and then the evening session at the Archdiocesan offices where there was an official reception held by the Archbishop. A degree more formal than the sessions at the university - the archbishop himself spoke formally, Mgr Urioste spoke warmly and certificates were handed out to bishops and other distinguished guests - Sean received one and was overwhelmed - this led to a wonderful late-evening trip to a restaurant for some beers and Mexican food and more toasts and stories.
Before we left the Archdiocesan offices I managed to speak with Mgr Urioste and thanked him for his speech and complimented him on the evident love the people have for him. I thanked him for the gift he has obviously been to the church here through the nation's most violent years. He smiled, thanked me and said - "Keep praying for me" - and I promised that and asked the favour be returned. This hero of the war and the peace is humble, powerful and a great icon for the church here.
At the restaurant, Conrad, a priest from Panama who had spoken this morning came with us and we shared some more about the situation in Panama and the US's failure to clean up its mess after they left the canal. Also with us came Eva - from Spain, with a laugh like a machine gun and a wild sense of humour - We were all tired and all in great form.
To bed for tomorrow is the early morning Mass and the big march to the Cathedral - it will be a long, hot, memorable day.