Dec 4, 2010

Remembering the Martyrs, Mourning Our Loss

A very moving, poignant lament by William Lindsey at On Bilgrimage prompted me to make the following reflections. William was commenting on the 30th anniversary of the  deaths of the Maryknoll women in El Salvador, and comparing his reactions then and now. It came as a real shock to me to be reminded by Bill's posting of this terrible event of 30 years ago. A different time and a very different climate in the Church in those days. Even though the institutional clerical structure refused to pay appropriate homage to the extraordinary witness of Ita, Maura, Jean and Dorothy, as well as  the assassination of Archbishop Romero, there was still a sense within the Catholic community that the Spirit that inspired such martyrdom was in some way reflected within and supported by the institutional structure of Catholicism. Alas, that sense is no more. It really does seem as if the clerical structure has so strangled the very life of the Spirit within the Church that, simply to breathe, some of us must go 'elsewhere' in order to survive.

It does feel as if the Church that once inspired Maura, Dorothy, Ita, and Jean is now no more. Something very precious has been taken away from us, and the sense of loss and grief are very real. I do think we need to trust in the Spirit and ask, "What is 'God' asking of us through this trial and where is S/He leading the People of god." Into the Wilderness, it seems, into the diaspora, where we must form pockets of hope and light in the dark. Without wishing to trivialize the suffering of the Jewish people, it reminds me of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 ce. This precious religious icon/artifact/symbol that lay at the heart of Jewish religious and cultural identity and seemed to form its core was forcibly taken away from the Jewish community in one brutal act of destruction, and the shock was overwhelming. The Jewish community was then scattered worldwide and had to rediscover the "Shekinah," or 'Presence of the Lord," in the study of Torah rather than through worship in the Temple. Though we can't compare our suffering of the present to this overwhelming cultural tragedy in the past, something similar is being played out here in the Catholic community. We are being ripped from the womb of Holy Mother Church, at least its formal institutional structure, which is now held in a stranglehold by the clerical cast. We are being forced outwards into the Diaspora through the creative actions of the Spirit. Another comparison would be the expulsion of the Tibetan Buddhist community from Lhasa and Tibet, forcing them to let go of the sacred symbols of their religion (Potala Palace being pre-eminent), but thereby rediscovering a new vocation outside the previous institutional structure. "Blessed be the name of the Lord," we must say on our journey into the wilderness, trusting in the Pillar of Fire by night and the Pillar of Cloud by day.

Nehemiah 9:19. "Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. 

The following is the Maryknoll press release celebrating the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of these heroic women of faith. 
The night of December 2, 1980, two Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford arrived at the airport in San Salvador from a Maryknoll community meeting in Nicaragua. There to take them home were two women from the Cleveland Mission team working in La Libertad, Ursaline Sr. Dorothy Kazel and Lay Missioner Jean Donovan. Their van was stopped at a road block by National Guardsmen. The women were taken to a remote area, abused and murdered. Their bodies were buried in a common grave by a  farmer compelled by the Guardsmen.

This year on Sunday, November 28th the memory of these women and the thousands of Salvadorans who also lost their lives will be commemorated at the Maryknoll Sisters Center in Ossining, New York. Included in this remembrance will be Sr. Carol (Carla)  Piette, another Maryknoll Sister who worked with Ita Ford in Chile and preceded her to El Salvador arriving the day Archbishop Romero was assassinated. Sisters Carla and Ita were together in a jeep caught by a flash flood while crossing a river bed August 23, 1980. Carla pushed Ita to safety but was herself drowned. The two Sisters had been working with refugees and displaced people in the region of Chalatenango in NE rural El Salvador during the undeclared civil war. The people of the Barrio where Carla’s body was found refer to her as a “Martyr of Charity” and honor her on the anniversary of her death each year. After Carla’s death, Sr. Maura Clark came from Nicaragua to take her place working with Ita.

On March 24 of 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero y Damas was gunned down while celebrating Mass in the Hospital of Divine Providence chapel. The day before in his Sunday homily he had appealed to the National Guard and the police not to kill their fellow brothers and sisters. “No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God,” he said. “No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time… to obey your consciences rather than the order of sin.”   The Maryknoll Sisters as well as the Cleveland Mission Team had come to El Salvador in response to the Archbishop’s call to Sisters for help in a situation of extreme oppression and violence experienced by the Church and by the suffering people. After the deaths of Romero and the Church Women, the brutal repression continued. Nine years later in 1989, six Jesuit priests teaching at University of Central America (UCA) together with their housekeeper and her daughter were dragged out of their residence and slain in their garden.


JD said...

The sheer extent of the power that the hierarchy has over the Church is terrifying. The comparison to Tibetan Buddhist communities is apt, I think, as well as the Temple.

Many people, myself included, are haunted by the spectral reminder of the institutional church's former days.

Though for me, I tend to reflect on this more so with my eyes to those who so deeply loved the traditional Catholic ways. The destruction of the old rite and the collapse of our devotional life was in many ways mandated by a narrative of progress and "updating", kicking reverence to the ways of our ancestors to the curb and leaving many people disoriented, even those who never lived through those exciting up- heavels.

The odd thing is that most of the small "t" traditions were never invented by the hierarchy or thought out by theologians (though they all came later to approve them) , but grew out of the piety of many generations of "simpletons". The hierarchy's role was to preserve and cultivate what was growing out of the Church's heart, instead, it took an attitude of ownership as evident in the Counter Reformation as it was in the wake of Vatican II.

The gutting of the old sanctuaries is exemplary, and was more than overzealousness, but was quite symbolic of the extent priests felt they owned the spiritual practice of the Catholic people.
Today, the only traditions left to affirm are those capital "T" Traditions that more often than not relate to intellectual assent or ecclesial authority. No surprise there, that the remnant Church is baring its authority fetish- its the only deeply seated tradition left to unite Catholics globally.

The Church, in reacting to this self induced crisis, is prepared to shut its doors and, as I see it, abandon its own catholicity (which I still believe it has, at least in my worship experiences).

Jayden Cameron said...

Well, JD, you should come over to Prague where we haven't 'gutted' the sanctuaries. Many beautiful old Churches filled with the accouterments of the old pieties, including a corpse or two and a few severed arms (the stunning church of St Thomas in Mala Strana, ravishingly beautiful - corpses or no).

We also have a few in the new simpler style, which strikes me as - not better - just simpler spiritually and less cluttered - with a cleaner focus on the central mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

There should be a place for both, of course, and yes, there were excesses in the drive for 'modernization,' but these excesses would have balanced themselves out, had the Vatican not imposed an aggressive policy of restoration, or such is my view.

When I was studying theology (in the '80's) at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (considered a bastion of radical thinking) there were quite a few professors highly critical of autocratic pastors who were arbitrarily stripping down their churches with little concern for the sensitivities of their parishioners.

So yes, there was an excess of reforming zeal, but I wouldn't want to make too much of this (having lived through it), so that it overshadows the very great spiritual good that came out of the Second Vatican Council.

Having grown up in the 'old church,' I can testify to the stultifying, humanly crippling nature of much of its spirituality and psychology. the old pieties not withstanding. But yes, I was concerned that certain practices and reverences were being thrown out - the baby with the bathwater. But nothing is more damaging to the spirit than the restoration of imperial power and autocratic control.

p.s. couldn't help but think of you when I read this interview with gay theologian, David Berger - though it's only an indirect connection.,1518,730520-2,00.html
December 9, 2010 3:05 AM

December 9, 2010 4:28 AM