Friday, November 06, 2015

Voices crying in the wilderness

I have written several times on this blog about IPAZ, the pastoral initiative for life and peace, a group of protestant churches in El Salvador which advocates for dialogue in Salvadoran society, including dialogue with the gangs, as a path towards reducing violence in the society.

On October 27, the churches organized a march in San Salvador which included family members of gang members.   The marches ended at Plaza Salvador del Mundo where the church leaders called out for a cessation of violence in the country.   In particular, the IPAZ churches called for the gangs to:
a)  cease all violent actions against the lives of Salvadorans
b)  cease recruiting members, especially boys and girls
c)  cease all types of threats which force families to leave their homes or neighborhoods
d)  permit the free transit of people throughout all El Salvador
In an interview given to the online periodical RevistaFactum after the march, Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez was asked why he thought the gangs might even consider responding to these requests.   Gomez responded: 
La única oportunidad que tenemos es que las pandillas todavía respetan a las iglesias y a los pastores, porque esos pandilleros, cuando fueron niños, llegaron a nuestras iglesias.
The only opportunity we have is that the gangs still respect the churches and the pastors, because these gang members, when they were boys, came to our churches.
Today the churches held a press conference announcing that they had received letters from the three major gang groups. Saying that they were responding to the call of the churches, the gangs purported to commit themselves to fulfill the requests of IPAZ laid out at the October 27 march.

IPAZ then issued this press release:
The Salvadoran churches which form part of IPAZ, with profound thanks to God, respond to the responses received from the gangs. 
We say to them, many thanks for having respect for the churches and keeping in the love and fear of God.   We accept and take you at your word.  We hope that all Salvadorans will see the concrete gestures that you indicate you are going to do.   Please, make it be widely known in all the country, the changes from violence to peace. 
We make a call to the government and to all the authorities of the country, to all the sectors of the Salvadoran people, to the international communities, to join yourselves in this route for the construction of peace in our country, that together we could build a process of well-being in order to dedicate it to our God this coming Christmas, full of happiness and a new year 2016 without bloodshed, grief and pain. 
This video shows scenes from the October 27 march, with the four petitions, followed by an interview with supposed spokesmen for the two  18 gang factions accepting the call of IPAZ:

Leaders of IPAZ churches at press conference.

In taking these steps, the IPAZ churches are certainly voices crying out in the wilderness.    Public opinion is strongly against anything that sounds like a truce, or negotiation, or dialogue.   Comments on a news story on the LaPagina website were vitriolic in their rejection of this proposal.   Government policy focuses on a repressive policy using heavily armed police and military raids (although it has recently proposed a law for the reinsertion of youth associated with gangs who have not committed serious crimes).  Elements of the Catholic church which were formerly involved in IPAZ have withdrawn from the group.

Yet don't expect the IPAZ churches to back away from this position.   Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez, who is the only Salvadoran other than Oscar Romero to have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, is committed to this path and has the courage of his convictions.   For these churches, they cannot walk away from being pastors for all members of Salvadoran society, including those gang members who arrived at the churches as boys and girls.

Will this process lead to a reduction in El Salvador's bloody wave of gang-related violence?  There are good reasons to doubt it.   But IPAZ will keep being a lone voice urging dialogue among all parties as a necessary building block to a peaceful society.

Disclaimer -- as the URL of this blog   "" would suggest, I have close ties to the Lutheran church in El Salvador and great personal admiration for Bishop Gomez.


Tom said...

I continue to pray.

Greg said...

Sadly, too much money...too many machetes and guns...too much power / control to be gained or lost.

And the gangs are international - those outside the borders will do all possible to keep those inside the borders affiliated, active, and enjoying the "fruit of the poisoned tree".

Edmundo Santiago said...

Hopefully the Catholic organization's withdrawal won't cause division among those who believe in peace over violence.

Looking broadly and generally at history's narrative, one could see that government has been mostly comprised of those who have some type of force, leverage or 'power' over others. De facto governance this is usually termed. Aren't there certain elements in the current political circles of El Salvador who were prior rebels, or gangsters of another caliber? A gangster isn't only one who has tattoos and walks the streets; some of the most notorious gangsters of history wore purple, and today, wear fine suits...

This article is a positive and faith-building one nonetheless... peace is a process and is built upon relationships, not rules and force... how else did the Gospel message permeate the Roman empire? By force, or by one soul at a time?

Amy Thornton Balin said...

I pray they can all find some peace together
its a positive move forward
good luck...I mean that from the bottom of my heart!!!