Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Archbishop Oscar Romero, Official Church Martyr, Presente!

          By Monica Siemer, Mayo Clinic Gift of Life Transplant House, Rochester, MN
         In the spirit of Archbishop Oscar Romero, especially in light of Pope Francis' recent declaration of his actual martyrdom and the status of an official Church martyr,  I reprint a section of the LCW newsletter covering our family experience, of mostly my father, peace activist Tom Siemer, and myself at the Center for Peace Studies at Georgetown University (with Rev. Richard McSorley, S.J.) of either Romero or El Salvador in an era of grave genocide against the Salvadorean people.  This is our testimony.  New information and pictures are added.  Gracias Pope Francis!

          My father actually had a conversation with Archbishop Oscar Romero less than a year before he was assassinated. We were at a synod, Celam III, of all latin American bishops and cardinals of the world in Pueblo, Mexico, outside of Mexico City. I believe it was January, 1979, when I was 16 yrs old (and I was there but standing away from him). We were appealing to Pope John Paul II and the hierarchy of the Church for Catholics to be told to have no part in weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapons and their making, handling, potential use, etc), purposely designed to solely be used against entire populations of innocent civilians, or entire cities.  Archbishop Romero thought my father was from the press (with his "Press" badge) and begged and begged him to go back and tell the president (Carter at the time, who gave $5 million per year in "military aid") to stop funding the government with military money, which was being used against the people. 
       He explained that the money went into armaments and training of the soldiers in the military and in the juntas of the oligarchy who were terrorizing the campesinos, killing and mutilating many of them. 
        My father called over both Roy Larson, of the Chicago Sun and Ken Briggs of the New York Times to talk with Archbishop Romero.  Ken told my father later that Romero would not live long by talking like that, and my father replied, "They would never kill an archbishop!"  Our government not only did not listen, but when President Ronald Reagan became president, shortly after, he quintupled the military funding to El Salvador, giving a huge green light to those committing atrocities.  Archbishop Oscar Romero was martyred within a year. The U.N. reports that over 75,000 people, many poor women and children, were killed over the course of the next decade or so in El Salvador.   
In front of the Celam III Synod, Pueblo, Mexico, 
outside Mexico City, 1979, with a group of 
protesting mothers of the "Disappeared" in El 
Salvador.  I am at the right and my mother, 
Dorothy Siemer, at the far right in red pants.
Salvadorean mothers of the "disappeared," those
whose bodies were never found.  I am on far
right, with literature for the Pope, cardinals,
 bishops, and press against weapons of mass
 destruction (nuclear)
Mothers of the "disappeared" (sons, husbands, 
brothers, etc) desperate for help from the Church
My father, Tom Siemer, and I in Mexico City 
outside Pueblo, Mexico, 1979
         A year or so later, I worked at the Center for Peace Studies at Georgetown University with Fr. Richard McSorley, S.J.  At that time another Georgetown professor, Dr. Jean Kirkepatrick, who was a campaign advisor to President Reagan then cabinet member, blamed the murders (Dec. 2, 1980) of the three religious sisters and an American lay worker on themselves for even being there with the poor: Jean Donovan, Sr. Maura Clarke, Sr. Ita Ford, and Sr. Dorothy Kazel.  Kirkpatrick believed that, according to Noam Chomsky, "traditional authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary autocracies," and so her views were put into use "most clearly in Central America, by supporting the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and the military juntas in Guatemala and El Salvador, all of which perpetrated massive human rights violations while countering a perceived communist threat." (Chomsky, Turning the Tide, 1985).  She was not too thrilled when the United Nations Security Council came down on the United States and she talked of withdrawing much of the monetary support to the U.N., as well as for the United States to withdraw completely. This would have been quite an example of genuine virtue, Christian values, and peace to the world.
Sr. Dorothy Kazel, Presente!

Sr. Maura Clark, Presente!

Sr. Ita Ford, Presente!

Lay Worker Jean Donovan, Presente!

       I witnessed firsthand large graphic close-up glossy photos being sent to the Center for Peace Studies at Georgetown University (that I helped Fr. Richard McSorley, S.J. run in the 80's) from El Salvador.  Neutral brave witnesses and groups were trying hard to provide evidence of  the atrocities and sent these pictures to several places as documentation, including to ours.  Prior to the Reagan Administration, the bodies of the dead at the hands of the military and juntas had one form of killing done to them (besides the women always having been raped).  As Fr. McSorley always said, "When you choose the lesser of two evils, you soon forget you chose evil in the first place."  There is always a third choice.
       When Ronald Reagan became president, and particularly after the stepped-up "anti-communist counterinsurgency training," or terrorist/guerilla warfare training ("terrorist" in the true sense of the word) at Ft. Benning, Georgia of "Latin American personnel" from El Salvador at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (formerly called, the SOA), now called Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), things drastically changed.  To describe,  murdered victims appeared with three or four types of torture performed, acid in the eyes being one of the favorites. This spilled over to Honduras. Guatemala, and Nicaragua as well, sadly. 
        Many Americans turned a blind eye to all of this because of the fear whipped up by those who would even sell their soul to the devil against the "Communist scare."  One cannot say that President Reagan and others did not know because we at the Center for Peace Studies and the St. Francis Catholic Worker protested numerous times at the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon, which made it in the Wasthington Post. My favorite sign I made and carried at the time of the martyrdom of the sisters read, "U.S. Guns Kill U.S. Nuns." It fell on deaf ears for nearly a decade though, even with the hierarchy of the Church, sadly.  Many brave priests, sisters, and religious stepped up for peace though, in the spirit of Dorothy Day, Archbishop Oscar Romero, St. Francis of Assisi, and of Christ, the Prince of Peace.  Thankfully Pope Francis is balancing the scales of God's justice in deeming a martyr, Archbishop Oscar Romero, living out the call of a martyr in a very dark era in El Salvador's history and in that of the United States.  Gracias Pope Francis!
       Most of the refugees at our Catholic Worker in D.C. witnessed much of this firsthand, and yes, it was the country's military doing much of it. Huge Carlos witnessed a savage group murder from a corn field, and when he tried to run, they caught a visual of him and hunted him down.  He and his wife Maria (pregnant) got their six other children to another part of the country and ran to the U.S. where they were the first Salvadoreans to be granted political asylum.  Their baby Leonardo was baptized with my first son, Shamus, at our Catholic Worker, St. Francis Catholic Worker, in Washington, D.C. (now the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker), in a Catholic worker soup pot.  It had been the former mother house of the Trinitarian order, and they had a fully functioning chapel in the basement.

The Six Jesuit Professor Martyrs of 1989, University of El Salvador, Their Housekeeper and her Daughter,  Presente! :

     Fr. Richard McSorley, S.J. said that over 200 Jesuits in the highest of Ivy League-type schools put in their resumes to take the place of these martyred university professors in El Salvador. 

My father, Tom Siemer, and Dom Helder Camara
         Pope Francis has preached so passionately about not being part of two great evils in the world today:  "the culture of indifference and the culture of distraction."  May we set aside our computers and cell phones for much more time spent in prayer and meditation.  They say, "Satan doesn't make you bad, he makes you busy." May all of us intervene on behalf of  wartorn areas and peoples of the world, in our prayers and in moral responses, pleasing to the Lord.   
       A final note is from the bulletin here at St. John the Evangelist Church across the street from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota where I am currently.  I am still here trying to recuperate from the live liver surgery (I gave 59% of my liver to my nephew, Nick Evans in end stages liver disease) and emergency second one 4 days later for a ruptured cecum (leads into the colon) and weeks of infections.  I am at the Mayo's Gift of Life Transplant House.  Please see the Lamb Catholic Worker article, "Purify the Catholic Worker, Jesus, to be the Diamond of It's Founders," to see the main reason why I did this transplant besides trying to help save Nick.  The day before surgery Abby Evans and I went to a daily mass at St. John's and the following was written by their pastor, Fr. Jerry Mahon, about Archbishop Oscar Romero (in their June 7, bulletin we had found):
      "The recent Beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero is a call for me to live with courage and speak the truth as I discover the presence of Christ. This martyr was speaking the truth and confronting the violence of the government towards the poor, but not with a sword, but a heart of conviction with the One he loved and proclaimed Jesus Christ. The certainty of his walk, path was founded in a profound belief that Christ was present in the reality of the poor and even though he had been warned to stop speaking, he lived as so many Christians do today, with a clear desire to be faithful, and was assassinated while celebrating the Eucharist. As we have heard over the centuries, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of faith for the world and this witness of his life is a sign of being alive with certainty in Christ. There was no room for being a cynic even though there was good reason, but a fullness of life in the Spirit is full of freedom for Another."
       If you wish to follow Nick and I's progress you can go to caringbridge.org under the "search site," "monica siemer."  We try to update it from time to time.  Here is a gift to all of you who have been praying so hard for Nick and I.  Please keep the prayers coming as we are still dealing with challenges and surprises.  Here is a long praise and worship song to edify your soul:      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcnfT4arZtI
      If the link does not work, please go to YouTube and put in "I Surrender by Hillsong 2012 concert version" that is about 10 minutes long, with 43 million hits.  It has saved me here through the worst of this ordeal, as we listened and prayed it almost daily while in the hospital.  Enjoy!
      Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us and for people of all kinds!  Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, and Archbishop Oscar Romero, please pray for us!