Today is Columbus Day ... in El Salvador.
Bishop Gomez concluded today's weekly devotion, and he said this: "Gracias a Dios por este dia - el 12 de octubre, el dia de Cristobal Colon."
Thanks be to God for Columbus Day. This statement was a little bit unexpected. Back in the United States, Christopher Columbus has fallen out of fashion, or at least slipped off of the pedestal on which he stood back when I was a kid learning history.
"On this day," the Bishop continued, "the destiny of our country was changed...forever. People ask, 'Why is our country so violent?' Some say that the Indians were violent. Some say that the Spaniards were violent. The reality is that some people are violent. It is an illness. Something is wrong in the minds of people who commit terrible acts of violence. To kill, one must be ill, and to chop up a body and dishonor another human by scattering the parts after killing - that act can only be carried out by someone who is horribly ill."
Bishop Gomez, fellow bishops and leaders of several Christian denominations in El Salvador are working together to call for dialog with the gangs. "No to violence, yes to life!" will be the chant at a risky and historic march later this month. Bishop Gomez - with the planning for a peace march with gang members on his mind, with the details of a grisly murder causing his heart to ache, with his own indigenous heritage filling his soul and with Columbus Day written on his calendar - pulled all of his thoughts together in a unique reflection: Columbus Day - the day on which "the destiny of our country, our destiny was changed forever."
The Bishop pondered a moment and smiled. He asked if people had friends or knew people who were called "China." Kids used to call him that. He said one time someone saw his photo and saw his name, Medardo Gomez Soto and thought he was from Japan, and the person was convinced that "Soto" was misspelled and should have been "Sato." Everyone laughed. It's true, we all know Salvadorans who have the nickname "China" because of their Asian features.
"Thanks be to God," the Bishop continued, "for the ancestors who crossed the bridge to this continent and mixed with the indigenous groups who were already here. Thanks be to God that we still have some connections with our indigenous peoples. Dark skin, white skin, we are all mixed. The Spirit of love is in us all, producing miracles." The point: we would not be who we are if we were not all mixed together. We would not experience the love we have if we were not all mixed together. God is in the mixing.
"We give thanks for October 12th, and we also feel the pain of those who were killed because they did not speak Spanish and of those who were killed because they would not convert to Christianity." We should also be mindful of the massacres of indigenous people which were carried out in the 20th century as oppressive governments sought to eliminate cultures and beliefs which they did not understand or were simply labeled as "different."
Bishop Gomez pointed out that many churches do not recognize or lift up the ancient religions of the indigenous peoples of El Salvador, but that in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, these ancient beliefs and traditions are honored and enhance spiritual growth and the connection people have with the Creator and creation.
May God bless the mix. May peace win over violence. May we all be enriched with the wisdom of the ancestors as we seek to live in love and harmony in God's creation.