Murder of Salvadoran priest unresolved
One week ago, on Holy Thursday during El Salvador's observance of Holy Week, Roman Catholic priest Father Walter Osmir Vásquez Jiménez was murdered by unknown assailants in the municipality of Lolotique in the department of San Miguel. It is a murder which has shocked the country and still remains unsolved.
The crime occurred in the afternoon around 3:00. As the 36 year old priest was being driven towards a community where he would celebrate mass, his car was stopped by armed assailants. Father Walter and the three other persons in the car were ordered out of the car. The priest was separated from the rest and murdered in cold blood.
Father Walter grew up in Lolotique, the community where he was serving as a priest. He is remembered as a progressive priest, a follower of Oscar Romero, who identified with the poverty and problems of his people.
Given the prevalence of gang violence in the country, gangs are suspected of this killing. Both MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs operate in the zone where the murder occurred. Sources close to the investigation have also suggested that Father Walter was lured into an ambush, after he received a phone call asking him to come and celebrate Holy Thursday mass in another community. He was killed on the way to answer that request.
Father Walter's funeral took place on Easter.
Catholic News Service reported on the reaction of the Catholic hierarchy of El Salvador present at the funeral:
Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez asked those gathered at the priest's funeral to think about the killing. "What is it trying to say to us as a country?" he asked.
"In this country, life means nothing," he said tersely. "Let's respect life ... let's defeat our fears."
He asked the crowd to work to "protect youth so they're not in the clutches of the vice of violence."
San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas marched near the slain priest's coffin, decorated on the top with a bouquet of purple flowers, as it was carried up to the church, while bands played and the crowd sang hymns and popular songs.
In 2016, the archbishop penned a terse pastoral letter about the country's escalating violence. The church, through its programs, has tried to engage the country's youth, particularly boys who could become victims or inducted into gangs, to seek a path of peace.
Church officials such as Father Turcios and Archbishop Escobar blame a history of economic injustice in the country for its latest episode of large-scale violence manifested by gangs, a period that began shortly after the country's 12-year civil war ended in 1992.The killing of a priest on the way to say mass reminded many of the killing of Father Rutilio Grande in 1977, the first priest killed in the country's internal conflict leading to its bloody civil war. Today, the country experiences violence no less bloody in a different kind of war, and the killing of a good priest is a symbol of all the innocent victims who continue to die in El Salvador.
El Salvador's first cardinal, Gregorio Rosa Chavez summed the situation up:
During Mass, Cardinal Rosa Chavez said it did not matter who killed Father Vasquez or why, but the violence had to stop.
"We can't continue like this," he said. "The world is watching us ... We defeated the war. Why can't we defeat this other type of war?"