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Greetings from El Salvador, to our beloved FUNDAHMER family and friends. We hope this new year finds you all well, with hope and energy for 2013.
As we begin this new year, we continue to always carry with us the spirit of the God of Life, the Christian base communities, and the many women and men who have given their lives for justice and peace throughout the history of El Salvador, which is really the history of all of us. In a special way, this weekend we celebrate the life and remember the martyrdom of Padre Octavio Ortiz, who was assasinated along with four young men, Ángel Morales, Jorge Gómez, Roberto Orellana and David Alberto Caballero, in the early morning of January 20, 1979, during a youth retreat in the parish center of San Antonio Abad.
The following day, a Sunday, Monseñor Romero denounced the murder of Octavio during his homily in the Cathedral of San Salvador. He relayed eyewitness accounts of the assasination that had taken place a day before, spoke about Octavio’s formation and pastoral work, and called the rest of the Church to follow Octavio’s example of conversion to the true God of accompaniment. Below are segments from Monseñor Romero’s homily on January 21, 1979, and we invite you share this story with your community as we remember with great affection the work and love of our brother Octavio.
“I share with you the first testimony that we have received. … today, at 6:00am, when I was sleeping … Sleeping, keep in mind all these details. This was a gathering of young men who had come together for Christian formation. These were not men who were armed to defend themselves, they were sleeping. … I was sleeping in the place where the retreat house is located, a center called El Despertar by the Christian community … I invite those who are unfamiliar with this house to go there so that you can see that this is not some kind of barracks or a place that intends to train guerrilleros , but rather for many years this center has been dedicated to the formation of Christian groups and instilling in these groups Christian values and naturally, these values are dangerous at this time in our history. …a center called El Despertar by the Christian community that is the property of the Archbishop of San Salvador and located in San Antonio Abad in this Department.
“The eye witness continues to speak: … in a violent way many uniformed members of the National Guard and the National Police entered the building and fired their weapons. At the same time, a large green vehicle, one of those vehicles that is called a military tank as well as a military jeep violently entered the Christian retreat center and parked on the central patio.
“The eye witness states: … in this Center, I, together with Father Octavio Ortiz Luna, a Catholic priest, and ten other young men were leading a meeting of Christian Initiation for twenty-eight young men whose ages ranged between thirteen and twenty-one. This place is dedicated exclusively to Christian formation. No other types of meetings have occurred here — no meeting of persons who conspire against the State, no meetings that teach anarchist doctrine to be used against the public order.
“During this cursillo that is called Christian Initiation for Young People, a meeting that began on Friday, January 19th at 7:00pm, hymnals and musical instruments, such as guitars, were used. None of the participants in said Christian meeting possessed any weapons. Before being arrested by uniformed members of the National Police I was able to see on the floor and in front of the offices the body of the priest, Octavio Ortiz, who was lying in a pool of blood, bleeding from his head.
“The police transported me and another leader of the Christian formation team in a radio patrol vehicle to the central headquarters of the National Guard where we were interrogated and where I said all the things that I have stated in this document.
“During the interrogation I was asked about the Archbishop and if it was true that he came to sow subversion in the Center.
“…Father Ortiz! A young priest who was born on March 23, 1944 in the village of Cacaopera in the Department of Morazán. He preserved his campesino simplicity and understood that the greatness of a human person has nothing to do with appearances but has everything to do with the search for the truth. His parents, Alejandro Ortiz and Exaltación Luna, proud of their campesino style of life, are with us today. To them and to the parents of the other four young men, I once again extend my condolences. Fr. Ortiz came to study in El Seminario San José de la Montaña and I had the pleasure of being the bishop who ordained him — this was the beginning of my Episcopal ministry. Father Ortiz ministered in the community of Zacimil, a community that he always loved. At the time of his assassination he was fully involved in ministry.
“If someone were to ask me how he spent his last day, I could describe it perfectly. In the morning he was working with those who had organized the week of reflection on the theme of priestly identity and was writing a synthesis of the rich message that had been produced during the week. In the afternoon he was in a meeting of the pro-seminario which I presided over. Octavio coordinated this meeting and he had a special gift of being able to lead these meetings in such a way that they were always productive. From there he went to San Antonio Abad where he celebrated Mass and then in the evening he began to share his reflections with a group of young men. Mother Chepita followed up his reflections by giving the group two questions to ponder before they woke up in El Despertar. What a horrible and tragic awakening — the awakening to death that today gives us this powerful message.
“…How beautiful it is to be able to present oneself as a poor priest, one who has renounced everything with the simplicity of a campesino in which one glories. How beautiful to have made accessible all that can be found in the gospel concerning the poor and needy — the great message that God communicates in order to save the world: the use of the goods of this earth. This is what it means to repent and this is what Saint Paul has taught us in today’s reading.
“The reason for this conversion is that no one is able to serve two masters. There is only one God and that God will either be the true God who asks us to give things up when they become sinful or it will be the god of money who makes us turn our backs on Christianity’s God. There are many people who prefer the god who turns their backs rather than the true God and therefore they criticize the Church and kill Octavio and try to destroy every movement that tries to overthrow the false gods and attempts to present the true God.
“For this reason, my sisters and brothers, Jesus says: This kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). The gospel then recounts the calling of the first four ecclesiastical members of the hierarchy: Peter and his brother Andrew, James and his brother, John. These men left everything when the Lord invited them to enter into this state of conversion. They did not simply put aside sin but also fulfilled the will of God.
I want to tell you, my dear brother priests, (and thank you also for being attentive to my words), that the hundred of you who are here, vested with stoles and gathered around the altar, you are the successors of Peter and Andrew and James and John. God asks the same thing of us as he did of those first apostles and that he asked of Octavio, for indeed Octavio has given all of us an example with his bloodied stole and his chasuble of pain and his disfigured face.”