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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oscar, Condring, Herlindo and Walter

Oscar, Condring, Herlindo and Walter
30 years ago

On 24 March 1980, in a hospital chapel in El Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero was felled by a single bullet, that of an assassin, while ending his homily on John 12.23-26: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit…”

On the 1st day of May of the same year, Condring de la Cruz, a Filipino missionary to Guatemala, and Herlindo Cifuentes, a young lay leader, were kidnapped by paramilitary forces after witnessing the Labor Day parade in Guatemala City. It is presumed that they were tortured and killed. Their remains were never found.

On the twelfth day of the same month, Walter Voorderckers, a Flemish missionary and parish priest of Sta.
Lucia Cotzumalguapa in the southern coast of Guatemala, was brutally gunned down in front of the parish residence. He was accused of being a communist because of his homilies denouncing the brutality of the military.

The closest I ever got to Archbishop Romero was through a conversation I had with one of his acolytes who
took refuge in the Jesuit Novitiate in Panama City where I also stayed while following a course in preparation for an appointment as Novice Director. Among the things he told me was how, after mass, the late archbishop would join them for a snack at a nearby pupuseria (the Salvadoran equivalent of a turo-turo). That he was such a simple man, kind and fatherly.

Walter Voordeckers, a classmate of Luk Mees, I got to know rather well – impulsive, not very diplomatic, too frank and generous to a fault. Shortly before his death he went to Belgium for a break. Things were getting too tense and he was getting nervous. In fact, he thought of staying on and no more to return to Guatemala. Weeks before his assassination he shared with close friends that what moved him to return was
the thought of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem.

The biblical image kept crossing his mind. It was not possible for Walter to turn his back on the Guatemalan people. Barely back on Guatemalan soil a burst of bullets draped a sash of blood across his chest. Sealing his compact with the people for eternity.

Herlindo Cifuentes I never met.
Just like the thousands of Guatemalan desaparecidos
still buried unknown in unmarked mass graves.

But Condring, he was a friend of my heart. We became religious together, took our first vows the same day in Maryhurst. I taught him how to drink, but with little success. All his life he was sober, he was kind. The sweetest man I’ve ever met. The loving son of very loving and sweet parents from Honeymoon Road, Baguio City.

They grieved for their son till their last breath. They could not accept how their son’s kindness was met with so much cruelty. Neither could I. How do you forgive cruel men you’ve never seen? Cruelty you can only imagine, unfettered, unbounded by the limits of reality? I grieved with them but the tears did not come. Only cries from deep within, soundless, bitter. Yes, the tears came later when I knew in my heart that Condring was truly dead, never to be seen again. Perhaps in Kingdom Come, if I get there.

Oscar, Walter, Herlindo, Conrado.
Names. For most, mostly memories. For many, that yes, but hardly.
But we need them. And I don’t want to forget.

We need heroes, prophets. Those who meant well and who meant business. There’s no mistaking there. We need them and we need to remember them lest we forget and drown in the things that make us forget. The nothing things that keep us busy with ourselves and nothing and forget the others. We need them to tell us what life is all about. To tell us what truly matters. To tell us what would really count at the end of all our days.

Days that today seem longer and nowhere. We need them to remind us of life’s priorities. We need them if we are to retell the story of the grain. “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit…”

- Freddie

Wilfredo T. Dulay, mj
Antipolo City

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