Oscar Romero was not the only one with a death sentence against him. Lists were published. One of those on a list was Medardo Gomez. Why would a Lutheran Bishop be a threat to the government? Reading my last two posts will help make more sense of this post. The photos here are of the Subversive Cross (explained below), Bishop Medardo Gomez at his desk, robing up, and Peggy and Vonda with a girl in Medardo’s office.
The assassination of Oscar Romero made news in the U.S. of course, but the situation in El Salvador became constant news in the U.S. when death squads raped and murdered four American nuns and a laywoman in December of 1980. Under the new Reagan administration, the military government of El Salvador was supported financially. The administration did ask the Salvadoran government to cut back on the death squads, and even threatened discontinuing the $100 million of aid to E.S. Sadly, death squad killings increased, as did the courage of those speaking out against corruption and violence.
In 1982 1,000 peasants were massacred by U.S. trained Salvadoran troops at El Mozote. The U.S. denied the embarrassing reports. Later that year the Lutheran Church in Salvador opened Fe y Esperanza (Faith and Hope) Refugee Camp.
In 1983 Lutheran Pastor Medardo Gomez was detained and tortured for speaking out. He became the first Lutheran bishop of El Salvador in 1986.
In November of 1989, a death squad executed six Jesuit priests and their housekeepers. Bishop Gomez was forced into exile. He stayed with friends in Milwaukee. He returned two months later, with a human shield of friends and supporters from around the world.He was received by the U.S. Ambassador.
In 1992 the Peace Accord was signed and the Salvadoran Civil War came to an end. That same year, a young youth worker named Peggy Contos travelled to El Salvador for a life-changing experience. Theology in action is an amazing thing. The pen is mightier than the sword. So are our voices, when we cry “justice!” and decry injustice. Shedding light on the darkness is risky business.
One of the fascinating stories of Resurrection Lutheran Church in San Salvador is the story of the Subversive Cross. In November of 1989 some soldiers came to the church looking for Bishop Gomez. But they could not find him. He was in Wisconsin. They cursed, and told those present that they had come to assassinate him. The soldiers arrested 3 Salvadorans and 12 foreigners. They also took a cross with them. They considered the cross a subversive symbol of resistance, just as Roman authorities did many years ago.
This was a unique cross. At a worship service one day, members of the congregation wrote on this cross the sins that had been committed against the people. Look at the cross closely. Zoom in the right arm of the cross. It says things like persecution of the church, discrimination against women, hunger. Sins from lying to murder are written on this cross. When the cross was finished, the people committed to work for forgiveness and for liberation. They would forgive, but they would speak out all the more.
The cross was imprisoned. A simple, passive symbol seemed to have power. Bishop Gomez asked the U.S. Ambassador to help free the cross. The Ambassador appealed to the President of Salvador. The cross made a journey from the prison to the Presidential House. The soldiers had unwittingly carried this symbol, pointing out the sins of the government, from military prison right into the President’s House. In time the Subersive Cross was returned to Resurrection Lutheran Church where it now resides. I took the photo in this post this morning.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me
For he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to announce liberty to the captives
And give sight to the blind
To free the oppressed
And announce the acceptable year of the Lord.