Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Young martyrs of Suchitoto, El Salvador, 1980

On July 25, 1980, the Salvadoran seminarian, José Othmaro Cáceres was killed in the caserio of Los Leones, in the canton of Platanares, in the municipality of Suchitoto, El Salvador.

Photo of Othmaro

He had recently returned from seminary studies in Mexico and was visiting his home before he would be ordained in the diocese of San Vicente.

He was meeting with twelve other young men in the chapel they were constructing in the village. The chapel is still unfinished. Some report that they were planning for Othmaro’s first Mass in the village a few weeks later.

The unfinished chapel where Othmaro and the other young men were martyred

About 11:00 am,  troops from the Salvadoran National Guard and members of a death squad/civil defense force organized by the local landowner Fabián Ventura barged in on the young men.

The young people were taking a break in their meeting and were in the church, sharing candy. Othmaro was outside.
He had just left the group in the chapel when Fabian Ventura’s troops arrived, coming from two sides – the road and the fields. He heard shots and hid in the grass. When he thought the troops were gone, he entered a house nearby. But they had not yet gone and they caught him there.

“You’re the one we’re looking for,” they said and accused him of being a guerrilla leader.

He asked them to wait a bit, and went down on his knees. He asked God for forgiveness and was then shot. They then attacked his body with machetes. He died of several shots in the chest; afterwards his head was destroyed by blows of a machete.

Othmaro Cáceres

Some have thought that Othmaro was killed only because he was a seminarian. But Higinio Alas, who had been a priest in the Suchitoto parish, told me that he had been involved in the missions in the parish, missions with a decidedly liberation theology twist. He also helped in the parish when he came home for vacations and spent time discussing pastoral work with Higinio.

From reports in the Catholic pres and from a discussion with a younger brother, Othmaro comes across as a delightful young man, a good soccer player. When he came home from the seminary on vacation he would get up early and milk the cows and then go out and help in the fields with a cuma [machete] in his hands.

He had been warned not to go visit his family in Platanares but went anyway.

His death and the death of the twelve others are just a few of the deaths by the military and death squads in El Salvador who had a deep hatred of the church leaders who had taken the side of the poor.

Procession for a July 15, 2001 Mass in the unfinished chapel

Theirs is a legacy that should be remembered even as parts of the Catholic Church in Latin America have turned to a more conservative theological practice, more tied to the powerful and rich. 

1 comment:

Charles said...

The Christian martyrs of the early church were martyred by pagans. What a reminder that there are modern martyrs, martyred by people who probably call themselves Christians.

An amazing story of faith.