Sampul River Massacre, 40th Anniversary: What does It Have to do with us?

Sampul River Massacre, 40th Anniversary: What does It Have to do with us? May 14, 2020

St Oscar Romero. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Sampul River Massacre in El Salvador.

The Sampul River Massacre was a mass murder of innocent people by right-wing Salvadoran troops. Six hundred children, housewives, little old ladies and ordinary working men trying to support their families were slaughtered. This occurred about the same time that St Oscar Romero, a Catholic bishop, was shot down by government assassins while he was saying mass.

St Oscar Romero was murdered for the same reasons that the right wing attacks Pope Francis today. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice and torture. His crime was the same as that of the people who were murdered at Sampul River. He and they wanted a decent life for ordinary people.

Some of the people who were murdered at Sampul died because they were members of labor unions, which the right wing government had labeled “subversive.” As usual, the right wing government had labeled anyone who stood for the rights of working people as “socialists” or “communists.” Then they carried this a step further and used that label as a judgement that these people could be “disappeared,” tortured, or, as at Sampul River, slaughtered en masse.

Actual communists do the same thing. They label anyone who bothers them as “counter-revolutionaries” or “fascists” and use that label to deny these people the basic right to be alive. They then proceed to imprison, torture and murder them.

Extreme right and left wingers are two sides of the same coin. They are people who ignore the commands of the living God to worship their political ideology. They always, if they are not stopped, end up at murder.

Propaganda that leads to labeling other people in ways that allow them to be hated, vilified and lied about is a huge step down the path toward the destruction of civil society and the death of innocents. It is a deeply sinful practice that leads directly to the destruction of just and stable government.

This practice of public hating puts any group of people who practice it on the road to become the stuff of nightmares. If it is not challenged and stopped, it always ends in the destruction of the civil rights of whole groups of people. Its inevitable end is a shift from the moral and psychological violence of mass hazing to justifying and then doing murder.

A lot of Americans are engaging in the first steps down this ladder to destruction right now. The vicious name-calling, labeling and willing participation in character destruction of people they disagree with politically is rife all across the internet. We see its fruits in the increasing civil unrest and refusal to accept or believe basic scientific facts that have been established since the time of Louis Pasteur.

The scandal of this hour is that religious leaders remain silent about the wanton and open hatred that is being bandied about by their followers. Not only do they not speak out against it, many of the leaders in this disgraceful and deeply sinful behavior are religious leaders themselves.

The petty spite-fests that some cardinals engage in at the Vatican are mirrored by a small number of internet priests who go on Facebook and slander and attack people over politics. These men are not behaving as if they stand in the line of succession of the Apostles. They are not preaching Christ. They are giving us examples of how fallen Christians who are salt without savor behave in the public sphere.

St Oscar Romero was murdered in cold blood because he refused to abandon the call of his vocation to speak for the least of these. At the same time, there were other religious leaders who toadied to the political powers of that day.

It is always that way. Jesus told us that the wheat and the tares would grow together in the fields until the Lord of the Harvest came and separated them.

Do not be misled by these fallen religious leaders and do not follow them.

Follow Christ. Obey the 10 Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Follow the 2,000 year consistent teaching of the Catholic Church. When you fail, pray to God for forgiveness, go to confession and try to do better.

You can read the Gospels all the way through and you will never find one single time where Jesus says that we should hate our enemies and lie about them.

There is nothing in His teaching calling us to be the instruments of God’s punishment on those we deem sinners. Jesus never said that gossip, defamation, cruel memes, and public shunning are the way we will bring the Kingdom of God.

He did not exhort us to be the instruments of God’s wrath and forego mercy, love and kindness. There is no parable leading us to revile mercilessly, lie constantly to defend demagogues, and breathe out hatred with every breath.

These things are not signs of faithful Christian discipleship. They are of the devil.

From Catholic News Service:

CHALATENANGO, El Salvador (CNS) — If you look closely at the hand-stitched embroidery that hangs on the walls of the Museum of the Image and the Word in San Salvador, you can make out a stretched hand reaching out from under the water. Another smaller figure, presumably the figure of a child, is stitched with arms outstretched, floating in a river, as helicopters fly over them and over a group of peasants on the run.

Though there’s not much said about the person who crafted it, it was made by a Salvadoran refugee in a camp in Honduras in the 1980s, where many residents from the region of Chalatenango, a department in northern El Salvador, were sent seeking refuge from the war. It depicts descriptions of accounts told by survivors of what has become known as the May 14, 1980, Sumpul River massacre.

In a remote area called Las Aradas, where the river straddles Honduras and El Salvador, more than 600 people were killed over a 12-hour period that day, after government forces from both countries and a paramilitary group on the Salvadoran side opened fire on an unarmed group they had surrounded.

Because some of them were active in workers’ unions, unlawful at the time, they were believed to be subversives. However, many children like Julio Rivera, 8 years old at the time of the massacre, were just looking to survive.


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