The Pope in El Salvador
The death of Pope John Paul II and the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, provide reason to remember the two visits of John Paul to El Salvador during his papacy.
In 1983, during the height of the civil war, the Pope risked personal safety to preach peace in the war torn country. As this article from St. Anthony Messenger points out, John Paul spoke in the same voice as Romero:
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 than dialogue.
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.
The Pope returned to El Salvador in 1996, again visiting the tomb of Oscar Romero. The Associated Press reported on his visit:
Coming to El Salvador for the first time since civil war ended four years ago, the pope said the end of the superpower rivalry has given the poor Central American nation a golden opportunity for peace.
"It is as if God has given you the roads to choose for the future of your country. The road of death or the road of life," the pontiff told an open-air Mass on a dusty field in the capital, San Salvador.
The pontiff appealed to this nation, still bitterly divided between left and right, to forgive the atrocities of war and seek reconciliation.
"Never again, war!" the pope declared.