The Holy Innocents

Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,

 Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2:13-18

 

The largest massacre of the conflict in El Salvador happened in El Mozote on December 11, 1981. Reports vary, but anywhere from 750-1000 civilians were killed by the Salvadoran army that day.

IMG_2676El Mozote is a small town near the border with Honduras. There are a few homes around a square, a small store, a big tree with the open-air market, and a church on a small rise at the base of one of the surrounding hills. The church is simple – whitewashed with blue trim. There is no steeple or tower, just two small crosses on the outside corners. Whether or not the church looked like this 35 years ago, I do not know. But there has always been a church.

The church is surrounded by a concrete retaining wall and a short iron fence. While the gate is closed today, I can see another gate, made of iron in the shape and colour of a sun with rays and rainbow, leading into the garden beside the church. Over this image is the words, “Jardin de reflexion los inocentes” – The Garden of Reflection of the Innocents.

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Immediately what springs to mind is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which we are commemorating today in the chapel at Huron. This is the feast where we remember those children massacred by King Herod when he was hoping to kill the child Jesus. But that isn’t entirely what this garden is commemorating, though it may be a reference. This garden is commemorating the massacre in El Mozote.

No one outside of the immediate department in El Salvador really believed that there had been a massacre of civilians of this scope in El Mozote. The army took great pains to hide it from everyone. Yet years later when they finally began to excavate the site, they found the bones of approximately 150 children buried in this space beside the church. One hundred and fifty innocent children massacred in one place.

IMG_2686With tears in his eyes, the brother of the lone survivor, Tomas, told us of how his sister Rufina was carrying her eight-month old baby and had her other children by her side that morning when the army rounded everyone into the square. First the men were brought into the church, interrogated, and killed. Then the young girls were taken into the hills, raped, and buried. Rufina’s baby was knocked from her hands by the soldiers who then picked it up, tossed it into the air, and “caught” it on the end of their bayonets.

Slaughter of the innocents.

Entire families were wiped out in this massacre. Lives changed – and taken – in an instant. Soldiers set fire to all of the buildings in the village, with the bodies piled inside, hoping to remove all evidence of what they had done.

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I asked if justice had ever been served. They said no: those who ordered the massacres are still serving in the Legislative Assembly and until they are no longer around to block the process, they cannot seek justice.

[For an extensive report of El Mozote: here.]

It is hard to have hope, witnessing something like that. These massacres seem to have been going on for far too long. Who knows what will someday be uncovered about our history? Perhaps the only hope we can offer is that in the second reading for today:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4

God is here and is making all things new. We are participating in that renewal of the earth. Awful things are still going to happen, unfortunately, until the new heaven and new earth becomes reality. Until then, we continue to hope and pray and work to make it our reality.

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