El Salvador: The Fratricidal War Continues
(by Paul D. Newpower, M.M.)
When the pope arrived in El Salvador on March 6, he insisted on
visiting Archbishop Oscar Romero's tomb in spite of opposition.
At the open-air Mass which followed, when the pope explained that
he had just been to the cathedral, the crowd of 750,000 burst into
applause. The pontiff went on to proclaim Archbishop Romero as "a
zealous and venerated pastor who tried to stop violence. I ask that
his memory be always respected, and let no ideological interest
try to distort his sacrifice as a pastor given over to his flock."
The right-wing groups did not want to hear that. They portray Romero
as one who stirred the poor to violence.
The other papal gesture that drew diverse reactions in El Salvador
and rankled the Reagan administration was the pope's use of the
word dialogue in talking about steps toward ending the civil
war. A month before John Paul II journeyed to Central America, U.S.
government representatives visited the Vatican and El Salvador to
persuade Church officials to have the pope mention elections rather
During his Mass in El Salvador, the pope directly addressed the
question of a solution to the Salvadoran conflict by repeating five
times the word dialogue. He also condemned any ideology "which
opposes the dignity of the human person, ...sees in the use of force
the source of rights, and sees the classification of enemies as
the ABC's of politics." He concluded that "no one should
be excluded from efforts for peace."
The night of March 6, Pope John Paul warmly encouraged the priests,
brothers and sisters in El Salvador to continue to accompany the
people in their sufferingseven at the cost of their livesas
others had so valiantly done before in the country of "Our
Savior." He cautioned them not to be motivated by political
ideologies but by faith. And he affirmed Church workers, including
catechists and laity, in their courageous defense of the dignity
of every person.
Guatemala: Fighting Subversion With ‘Bullets and Beans’
(by Paul D. Newpower, M.M.)
If Archbishop Romero and dialogue constituted the focus of the pope's
visit in El Salvador, his visit in Guatemala centered around the
government's execution of six "subversives" four days
prior to the pope's arrival, and the plight of the indigenous peoples.
President Rios Montt extended the pope a cool reception at the Guatemala
City Airport. He asked John Paul, while in Guatemala, to tell his
religious to give a good example to the people and avoid partisan
politics. The pontiff, in reply, reminded everyone that Guatemala,
even recently, has been the scene of death and destruction.
Over a million Guatemalans cheered as the popemobile entered Guatemala
City's Campo Marte for the principal Mass, driving over the final
five miles of colored sawdust carpet. The overwhelming outburst
of enthusiasm reflected a reaction to the suffocating fear of repression
most of the common people live with.
The pope began his homily on "Faith and Social Promotion"
with a theological explanation. But then, from the high altar constructed
by the military, John Paul II raised his voice in protest against
"the tortures, kidnappings and flagrant injustices." He
insisted that the Church "has raised and will continue to raise
its voice to condemn injustices and denounce attacks, especially
against those who are most humble and poornot in the name
of any ideology, but in the name of Jesus Christ and his message
of love, peace, justice, truth and liberty."
In Quetzaltenango, the second major city of Guatemala and a predominantly
Indian area, Pope John Paul II, who arrived at the simple thatched-roof
altar on the back of an open cargo truck, continued an impassioned
plea for respect toward indigenous peoples. To the crowd of 750,000,
many of whom had walked for days from as far away as Mexico, he
said: "I ask your government for legislation that will effectively
protect you from abuses. God prohibits killing. Let the sacred character
of your lives be safeguarded." The pope ended his speech by
encouraging the people to be the primary agents of their own promotion.
He suggested they organize associations for the defense of their
rights and the realization of their concerns, an action sure to
be considered subversive by the government.
Nicaragua: Catholics Caught in the Middle of a Power Struggle
(by Stephen T. DeMott, M.M.)
The pope's visit to Central America will no doubt be remembered
more for what happened in Nicaragua than for anything else. It was
the first and only time that the Holy Father and crowds have engaged
in an unfriendly shouting match.
At six o'clock on the evening of March 4, just as the heat of the
tropical sun was beginning to wane, the white-robed pope stood on
a high platform before 700,000 people in Managua's vast July 19
Plaza, and read in strong, measured tones from a prepared text about
Church unity. But less than halfway into his homily, shouts began
to drown out polite, approving applause and finally the pope himself.
The slogans quickly went from the ecclesiastical to the political:
"We want a Church that stands with the poor!" "We
want peace!" "Between Christianity and the revolution
there is no contradiction!" And finally: "Power to the
people!" An angry John Paul II three times yelled: "Silencio!"
The long-range implications of this unceremonious interchange are
many. The strident voices heard during the papal Mass were mostly
expressing disappointment and anger, but they were also a clear
sign of the divisions in the Nicaraguan Catholic Church. As a result
of the pope's visit, the tensions between Church and state are higher
and the divisions between Catholics for and against the revolution
are deeper than ever before.
Since the pope's visit, the Nicaraguan hierarchy has had less tolerance
for the government and for Catholics who support the revolution.
At a clergy meeting in Managua a week after John Paul II's 12-hour
stay in the country, Father Uriel Molina [one of Nicaraguas
leading progressive priests] told me that the auxiliary bishop,
Bosco Vivas, presented him and other pro-revolution priests with
the ultimatum: "Either you are with me, the archbishop and
the pope, or you can find yourselves another diocese." The
Nicaraguan hierarchy's hardened attitude is also directed toward
the four priests who presently hold government posts.
Honduras: ‘The Patience of the People Has Its Limits’
(by Stephen T. DeMott, M.M.)
High in the pine-studded hills on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa,
Honduras, crowds of eager Hondurans, some starting before dawn,
made the trek up the long road to the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa
to catch a glimpse of Pope John Paul II.
The pope's homily at the basilica on the morning of March 8 was
a fervent reflection on the role of the Virgin Mary, honored under
various titles in Central America. John Paul II proclaimed her as
"Mother" and "model" for all the faithful. Calling
for a rejection of all that is contrary to the Gospel, "hate,
violence, injustice, unemployment and the imposition of ideologies,"
the pope invited the people to work for "the promotion of the
poorest," especially the most needy and marginated. "You
cannot invoke the Virgin as Mother," he said, while "despising
or mistreating her children."
The pope's most hard-hitting words in Honduras were never spoken.
In San Pedro Sula, John Paul II left with representatives of Honduran
labor unions a written message addressed to the workers of Central
America. The statement reiterated some of the central themes in
the papal encyclical on work (Laborem Exercens), emphasizing
the "primacy of work over capital" and recognizing the
injustice of many economic structures. In his document for Central
American workers, the pope drew special attention to the problems
of illiteracy and unemployment. He called unemployment "the
scourge of the world," and noted that, in addition to its social
and economic ramifications, it was also "a personal, psychological
and human" problem affecting the worker's entire family.