Memorials like this bring me up short. Memorials of martyrs who
gave their lives in service of the poor and oppressed make me wonder
about how easy I have it.
Frs. Roch Gonzalez, John del Castillo, and Alphonsus Rodriguez were
martyred in Paraguay in 1628. They had been serving the indigenous
peoples of Paraguay for over 12 years. This time it was a witch
doctor, jealous about their success, who did them in. Pope John
Paul II canonized them all in 1988, remembering them for their zeal
and fortitude in defending native peoples against repression. That
was then, this is now.
It wasn’t but a year later that the following story ran in
the Washington Post on the first anniversary of the canonization
of Roch, John, and Alphonsus:
SAN SALVADOR, NOV. 16 -- SAN SALVADOR, NOV. 16 -- Six prominent
Jesuit priests, including the rector and vice rector of El Salvador's
most prestigious university, were killed early today along with
two other persons [their housekeeper and her daughter] at the house
where they slept in the capital. The priests were the most prominent
victims of Salvadoran violence since 1980, when eight leftist politicians
were gunned down by the military, three American nuns and a lay
worker were shot dead and archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated
as he said Mass.
Each of these people died a martyr’s death. There are different
types of martyrs. There are those who got eaten alive by lions in
the amphitheaters in Rome and North Africa. There are those who
were tortured for their faith, like in the first reading today.
But, there are other martyrs who died because others were dying.
Their beloved people were dying and these were willing to stand
up to cultures of death and speak words of freedom.
This is a different kind of martyr, it seems to me. It’s a
sort of martyrdom that is mostly about love for the poor and the
outcast in the face of insurmountable cruelty. It seems to be a
kind of love that faces such cruelty with a further Word of truth
and freedom meant to free and liberate the oppressors themselves.
This is the sort of martyr I find unnerving. It’s the love
of the poor that lives itself out in a daily stance of truth-saying
against “powers and dominations” that calls into question
my safe life. These are the kinds of martyrs that I find unsettling
today. May God call us all to a new level of freedom, love, and
truth in our age!