Homily about Calavera trip

Father Tom’s Homily

Homily about Calavera trip

June 2004

Our delegation returned from nine days in El Salvador early last
Monday morning. It was an excellent delegation representing St. Mary, St.
Boniface and Provena Hospital to the people in the mountains of eastern
El Salvador.
Last year I asked each of the five settlements to give us a
blessing. So at the Mass in each of the settlements, someone from
that community
laid hands on my head to give me a blessing which I brought back to our
communities in the U.S. This year I asked for a more specific blessing
to bring back to the
U.S. I asked for the blessing of forgiveness to heal the great wound of
violence in our country. Let me explain the meaning of this special

First, let us look back to a practice in the early Church. It was
the use of a letter called a tessera.
In the early days of Christianity, there were some Church leaders
who believed they could not forgive certain sins.
These were, for example, the sins of extreme violence toward the
innocent and also the sin of rejecting the faith and collaborating with
the oppressors of Christianity. Some Church leaders were hesitant to
forgive such sins because they were bringing such great sufferings to
the Church.

Many Christians were being murdered for their faith. They were
called martyrs.
There were also those who were suffering for their faith, but
were not killed. These were called Confessors because they confessed
the faith in spite of great personal cost.

If one of these great sinners, for example, a murderer or a
collaborator with the oppressors, could get a letter from a confessor
recommending that his/her sin be forgiven, then the absolution would
be given. Remember, that these were sins for which the Church was
unwilling to give absolution.
The letter from the confessor was called a tessera. The sinner
would bring the tessera from the confessor and give it to the bishop.
The bishop would follow the recommendation of the confessor and give
Such was the understanding in the early Church. The victims of
persecution could forgive the persons who were sinning against them.

Now let us go to a street in El Salvador. Painted on a wall along
the street outside the Divine Providence Hospital in San Salvador is a
large mural. Monsenor Romero was assassinated in this hospital chapel
in 1980 while saying Mass.
In the mural, Monsenor Oscar Romero is surrounded by the crucified
people of El Salvador. They are all marked by Christ’s wounds of
crucifixion and Monsenor Romero’s bullet wound at his heart. I spoke
of this last year.
In this mural, Monsenor Romero teaches us an important lesson.
He is turned toward the oppressors and his wounded hand is lifted up in
a gesture of forgiveness for those who have crucified him and his people.

This is an illustration of that early Church practice of the
vicitms of persecution forgiving those who were sinning against them.
It is the difficult calling of the crucified ones to forgive
their oppressors. God calls us to forgive those who trespass against us.
For many years I have listened to the stories of the sufferings
of the Salvadoran people, especially the poor campesinos who resisted
injustice. Recall that during a 15-year period (1977-1992), over
75,000 were killed, the majority by the military forces that were used
against them. I recognize the crucified Salvadoran people as martyrs
and confessors.
There has been a great silence/denial about the U.S. complicity
in the crucifixion of these people. We can still see the huge craters
from the 500 lb bombs used against the people in the poor communities
that we visit each year. Each of these bombing runs by U.S. planes was
a 9/11 for the victims and their families.

One of the neighboring towns is El Mozote, where in 1981, a special
battalion trained at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia,
systematically murdered about a thousand campesinos, most of whom were
Many of our friends in the small communities of Calavera still
suffer trauma from the violence they experienced during that 15-year war.
They lost family members and their homes in the scorched earth policy
of the military sweeps through their mountain communities. The poor
people fled, some to live in the ravines of the mountains, others to
live in a refugee camp in Honduras.
If you look at this from their point of view you have to
acknowledge that the United States, has a great wound of sinfulness
because of its use of violence against the innocent.
The president during the 1980s justified our participation in that
vicious war with the claim that these people were somehow a threat against
the U.S. As I look into their faces when I give Communion to these very
devout people each year, I realize how outrageous this claim was.
They acknowledge their dead in that conflict as martyrs. Those who
have survived are truly confessors, many of whom still bear physical,
mental and spiritual scars from those years of terror.
At the celebrations of the Eucharist last week in each of the five
caserios of Calavera, I asked the people there to give me a blessing
of healing that I could bring back to the United States to heal the
violence in the hearts of our people. Violence in the heart is a great
spiritual illness.
And so they did. Two or three persons from each settlement, persons
who had suffered from that war, stepped forward at the Mass. I knelt on
the dirt floor as they laid hands on my head to give the gift of healing.

They did so in the spirit of the early Church where confessors
gave a letter of forgiveness (tessera) to forgive the sins of their
They did so in the spirit of that mural near Monsenor Romero’s
place of martyrdom where he turns in a gesture of reconciliation toward
his oppressors.
In their blessing of healing, I received their tessera – their
recommendation that the great sin of violence be healed for my country.

On this national holiday, July 4th, we celebrate our independence
from oppressive and unjust government. We understand the meaning of
the struggle of our friends in Calavera against oppressive and unjust
On this holiday we pray that our nation may humbly stand before
God absolved from its wounds of sin.
On this holiday we should accept the tessera of the victims of
Calavera as a most precious gift.