The Gift of a Life

The Gift of a Life December 11, 2008

amparoRecently we said goodbye to our friend and colleague, Amparo Palacios, who died November 14. Amparo was dear to many of us, who knew her as Pastor Edgar‘s wife . . . trusted friend . . . funniest person at the party . . . brave, courageous voice for justice. Today the Washington Post told the world what a gift her life was for more than just our faith community.

In this season when we gather around a star-lit manger to welcome a tiny baby, we should probably pause for a few minutes now more than ever to think about just how much the gift of one life can change the whole world.

Peace Activist Amparo Lopez Palacios; Fought U.S. Aid to Salvadoran Military

By Patricia Sullivan

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, December 11, 2008; Page B05

Amparo Lopez Palacios, 69, a Mexican-born peace activist who fled El Salvador in 1989 under armed guard and then lobbied Congress to stop U.S. aid to the Salvadoran military, died of lung cancer Nov. 14 at the Washington Home hospice.

Mrs. Palacios and her husband, the Rev. Edgar Palacios, had worked to stop the 1980-92 civil war in the Central American nation, actions that landed them on the military junta’s death-squad list.

It was a violent time — in March 1980, Archbishop Óscar Romero was shot during Mass, a month after publicly asking the U.S. government to stop military aid to the government. At his funeral, bombers and snipers massacred 42 mourners.

A National Guard death squad raped and murdered three American nuns and a laywoman in December 1980. The El Salvador government killed tens of thousands of civilians during that decade.

David R. Nagle, then a Democratic member of Congress from Iowa, was the couple’s guest during a fact-finding trip to El Salvador in the late 1980s. He recalled visiting a prison where thousands of people were crowded into cells meant for 400, and how activists would suddenly disappear after irritating the military.

“She and her husband were just fearless,” Nagle said. “It was intimidating enough to go there once, because bombs were frequently placed in buildings where opponents to the government were gathered. I remember going back to Washington, and it wasn’t like I’d been in a foreign land, but on a foreign planet.”

The couple ran the National Debate for Peace, which Nagle described as a “middle way” group between the opposing forces of government and rebel fighters. But after six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were killed in November 1989, the Palacios left El Salvador under the protection of United Nations troops.

Mrs. Palacios began working as executive director of the Washington office of the Debate for Peace in El Salvador. She also began walking the halls of congressional office buildings, urging an end to U.S. aid to the military in her country.

“Ultimately, she was successful,” Nagle said. “No one could have been as effective as she was, because she had been there.”

She and her husband sat in the front row at the United Nations General Assembly when the peace treaty was signed in 1992.

Mrs. Palacios was born in Guadalupe Victoria, in the north-central Mexican state of Durango. She graduated from the Hispano American Baptist Seminary in Los Angeles and married in 1969.

After coming to Washington, she joined Festival Church, a small, multicultural, ecumenical church in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, where she was ordained in 1993 and served as an outreach pastor. She also belonged to Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, where her husband is pastor of a Spanish-speaking congregation and the minister of education.

Since 1996, Mrs. Palacios had been a caseworker at the Family Place, a drop-in center serving pregnant women and young families. She taught prenatal and parenting classes, ran support groups for victims of domestic violence and accompanied people to court, hospital and school conferences. Her home in Washington became a refuge for destitute women and children over the years.

Besides her husband, survivors include three children, Edgar Palacios Lopez of Navojoa, in Mexico’s state of Sonora, Amparo Palacios Lopez of Washington and Ana Xochitl Palacios Lopez of San Salvador; three brothers; and six grandchildren.  

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