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Thursday, March 24, 2011


31 years.

31 years ago American-trained El Salvadoran rebels killed Archbishop Oscar Romero in the sanctuary of his church.

Why? For opposing the American backed fascist dictatorship at war with El Salvadoran rebels whom we lumped together with "the worst people in the world," Soviet-style communists. It was complicated. But not really that complicated.

We were on the wrong side. Our objectives were not in the least bit noble. We trained the El Salvadoran fascist army at the School of the Americas near Atlanta. We trained them to kill their own people for reasons that were ours, not theirs.

Perhaps you remember, it is such a long time ago, the four Roman Catholic nuns who were slaughtered too. For caring for the poor. Sounds sentimental in our day. But true.

Susan Brooks -- where are you? -- was a member of the congregation I served as pastor in the (downtown) Loop of Chicago. We had a reputation for doing things like this but Susan's decision was, to me, a supreme commitment and literally laid her life on the line.

After Romero was assassinated, the Lutheran Bishop, Medardo Gomez, was increasingly in danger. The Lutheran church devised a plan to help to keep him safe.

Accompaniment. The ministry of accompaniment. Being there. Walking along with. Susan went to El Salvador after a very moving service of commissioning at our congregation. Susan, you understand, was a beautiful inside and out, humble, quiet, lovely young woman from South Dakota. And she chose to move for a time to El Salvador and basically shadow Bishop Gomez. The premise was that the soldiers were not likely to risk killing an American civilian, so if Gomez was with Susan, he was safer. The ministry of accompaniment.

I think of it often. I have over the years. The work of walking alongside another who needs not to be alone, or vulnerable, or exposed. What a gift! I thought about that during my work with victims of clergy sexual abuse in the 1990's: if someone would walk with them. It was certainly a part of the civil rights movement in this country. It was important in the fight for equal rights for gay and lesbians, in claiming the rightful dignity for those with HIV/AIDS.

I think of Ann Hafften and her accompaniment of Palestinians on the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. I think of friends with cancer, depression, no jobs. We can accompany them. And now I am thinking of my old (well, from eons ago) friend, Andy or Andrew Larson, whom you can find here on facebook if you haven't already. He is engaged in a very important ministry of accompaniment. Andy walks along with Muslims. He is learning and then teaching about Islam. He is helping me, and others, to understand, respect, safeguard and love Muslims and their faith. He is building bridges, as we say, but as I read his blog and other reports, most of all I see him in the ministry of accompaniment.

It is no small thing. It is no small thing at all.

Susan on the dusty roads of El Salvador in the 1980's, bouncing, jostled, certainly uncomfortable, sometimes scared. But I remember she said afterward, "I received so much more than I gave." Which prompts me to wonder then, who is accompanying who?


Let's shut down the School of the Americas so Jean Martensen doesn't have to chain herself to the fence on Thanksgiving weekend and get arrested for the umpteenth time, to protest. There's a petition posted to my (open) facebook page you can sign. Write a letter to the President. Contact - SOAW Media Updates SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement that works through creative protest and resistance, legislative and media work to stand in solidarity with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, to close the SOA/WHINSEC and to change oppressive U.S. foreign policy that institutions like the SOA And pray for the Susan's and the Bishop's still out there, being hunted, risking it all, to try and stop the violence. Accompany them with your spirit, as they accompany the vulnerable, exposed, and generous people in creation. Peace.

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