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This is what Easter joy looks like in a war zone

BLESSED ARCHBISHOP ROMERO
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No one can extinguish that life that Christ resurrected ... He is the victor!

The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them
in the breaking of bread.

While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.

—Luke 24:35-40

In October 1979, the Central American nation of El Salvador entered into a civil war that not only allowed the rise of oppressive military dictators but also led to the systematic murder and oppression of tens of thousands of Salvadorans, particularly poor farmers.

Among those who lost their lives defending the rights of the poor and the Church were the archbishop of San Salvador, Blessed Oscar Romero (d. March 24, 1980), and four American missionaries: Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan (d. December 2, 1980). On November 16, 1989, a group of six Jesuits, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, were shot to death in their shared home because of their support of the poor. The total number of those murdered, raped, and tortured is known only to God.

In the year after the death of Archbishop Romero, the Jesuits of El Salvador began a bi-weekly publication known as Letter to the Churches. The newsletter re-told the stories of those who suffered from violence and terror at the hands of the military junta and its guerrilla soldiers.

In one issue, Letter to the Churches shared the testimony of Ismael, a lay catechist, who shared some of his experiences of living with the poor in a war zone, accompanying the people as they fled into the mountains to try to find safety. There, hiding beneath the branches of trees, with stars providing their only light (because the people were afraid to light candles), the people would retell and reflect on the stories of the Gospel. Recalling those terrifying days, Ismael wrote:

We suffer a great deal here. Our bodies are wasting away, and we have many worries. The old people and the children we have to carry concern all of us. We have no money, no clothing, no shoes. But God will look after us. We are going to suffer in this life. These are only the birth pangs, but joy will come. The consoling words of Christ will wipe away every tear. No more will there be crying, pain, worry, or death—everything will pass away. Our hope is to know God. (Quoted in Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings)

Ismael’s ability to find comfort and even hope in Christ is a powerful witness to us in these Easter days, particularly on this Third Sunday of Easter as we hear the this Sunday’s Gospel, which is the conclusion to the beloved story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus.

In that story, St. Luke presented Cleopas and his companion fleeing Jerusalem after the death and burial of Jesus and, although they had heard the testimony of the women that Jesus had been raised from the dead, their disappointment and grief would not allow them believe such an amazing story. Their despair is captured in one simple but profound statement: “We had hoped …”

In this Sunday’s passage, Jesus stands before his disciples, offering them the gift of his peace and assuring them of his presence with them. At the same time, as he breaks open the traditions and teachings of Hebrew Scriptures he commissions them to be witnesses—to offer testimony—of all that they have seen, heard, and understand. Jesus helps them recognize how God had been—and continued to be—at work in the violence of Good Friday and the silence of Holy Saturday. The hope and promise of the Resurrection on that Easter Day was able to dispel the darkness of grief and despair of the disciples in the days after the crucifixion, just as it did for Ismael and his companions as they hid in the forest in those terrible days in El Salvador.

This is what we celebrate as we continue to celebrate in this Easter Season: The Resurrection shows us that there is always hope and that Christ remains with us: “Easter is a shout of victory! No one can extinguish that life that Christ resurrected. Not even death and hatred against him and against his church will be able to overcome it. He is the victor!” (Blessed Oscar Romero).

When have grief, doubt, disappointment, or pain clouded your vision, making God seem far away?

How is the Good News of Easter inviting you to a new hope?

What does it mean to be a witness of the Resurrection in our world today? Who has been a witness for you?

Words of Wisdom: “Having recognized the risen Lord, we, like the disciples portrayed in the Gospel, must preach the good news of God’s forgiveness to all nations. Easter faith assures us that all of this is possible.”—Diane Bergant, CSA in Preaching the New Lectionary: Year B

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