The real potency of All Saints and All Souls - which some of us marked earlier this month - came home to me powerfully when I spent a short time in Central America, specifically war-torn Nicaragua, in the mid-1980s. This was a time when small Christian communities found themselves caught up in a life-and-death struggle. In places like El Salvador, as squads of government sanctioned killers sought out priests and religious speaking for human rights , for example, Daniel’s strange apocalyptic vision of the powers of destruction and the Psalmist’s thirst for justice (“the Lord… crowns the lowly with victory”, 149.4) resonated in their search for dignity and freedom. The biblical texts were not distant at all, but worryingly close.
This was a time of struggle, of sainthood (in the true meaning of the term – lives of shining example, not props for institutional religion) and of surprise: the incalculable spark of life that bursts forth in the face of all that threatens to extinguish it. At rallies, at funerals and in church services people would hear a litany of those who had been killed and lost. Each was remembered by name, sometimes over a period of half an hour or more. It was enough, you would have thought, to have convinced anyone that those with the guns were invincible. “How long, O Lord?”
Yet the impact was exactly the opposite. After every name of someone who had been slaughtered there would be a single cry: “Presenté!” Present. With us. Still part of the unstoppable surge of life that is God’s presence. It was in moments like this that I understood what the Communion of Saints truly was. Not an odd doctrine, but a living sense that even death cannot divide us from those whose lives continue to herald a new world coming.
[Image: Oscar Romero, archbsihop, killed by the death squads in El Salvador, March 1980]