First of all, happy Saint Patrick's day!
Second, I continue to be moved by the pope's words on Sunday to the people of Iraq. They remind me of some other words in a country that was suffering similarly a few years ago. The day before he was shot down by a paramilitary, Archbishop Romero delivered some of the most stirring words ever pronounced:
Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasant . . . No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God . . . In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression!
The next day, March 24, 1980, he was shot dead.
Three years before, March 12, 1977, one of his own priests, the Jesuit Rutilio Grande had also been killed by machine gun fire while driving down a country road away from his parish. He too had preached some famous and stirring last words:
I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border. All that will reach us will be the covers, since all the pages are subversive—against sin, it is said. So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter. They would accuse him, the man-God ... of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and i.e., against the minorities. Ideas against God, because this is a clan of Cain’s. Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again. And they have said so.
These were strong words from a man who entered the Jesuits fearful and timid. I quote some words from his diary a few years earlier, while he was in the novitiate, words that eventually changed his life when God finally healed him of his constant second-guessing and timidity. They have proved for me beautiful and powerful words of witness to the healing power of God:
When God, for one reason or other, brings it about that one lives a hidden life, and one fails humanly - even if he fails entirely! - it is not necessarily a failure for the glory of God. Always - but especially in these times of the unknown future - confidence in God my Father who directs everything for my good! It is an attitude which, even humanly, carries one forth to that which is - without foolish fears. How much I need to forget about myself! I promise not to be a perfectionist again. I will learn to swim by swimming! I put all my trust in Jesus; he is the only thing that remains.
And so Grande was given the grace to offer his life for the people of El Salvador.
And now Benedict has offered these stirring words so reminiscent of those stirring words of Romero, begging for the repression to end. What moved Romero to cry out was in part caused by the heroic yet tragic death of his priests. And so Benedict cries out moved by the death of his beloved priest in Iraq:
His beautiful witness of fidelity to Christ, to the Church and his people, whom he did not want to abandon despite numerous threats, moves me to cry out forcefully and with distress: Enough with the bloodshed, enough with the violence, enough with the hatred in Iraq!
Stop the repression!