Thirty years ago, on April 24, 1985, a Salvadoran catechist gave up her space in a bomb shelter and was killed while running to escape the guns of the Salvadoran government troops, near Valle Verde, in the municipality of Suchitoto.
Laura López was the pseudonym of Felipa Duran. She was active as a catechist in the rural region of Suchitoto, a region devastated by the Salvadoran civil war. The Salvadoran guerrillas operated fairly freely in the region since they had the support of many rural communities which had been evangelized in the style of liberating theology by a series of priests and lay leaders.
Thus the Salvadoran government military often invaded the zone – both with troops and with major bombings. There were a series of major massacres in the area.
Laura came into this area, allied to a number of priests and religious leaders who supported the cause of the guerrillas, though not always their tactics. Though she was not from the area, she came in solidarity.
She led Celebrations of the Word. I heard several people say how she always seemed to come in the most difficult times and offered a word of consolation.
She also passed on the testimony of the crimes of the Salvadoran government troops to the church’s legal aid office.
But she was not uncritical of the guerrillas. Her denunciations of promiscuity among the guerrilla troops almost had her expelled from the region, but the communities resisted such a move.
Her stance was based in her faith and so her opinions were not as ideological as some supporters of the guerrillas. As reported in the Memorial Martirial, “she used to say that the members of both the guerrillas and of the armed forces were not as much to blame for what they did as were those who led them.”
On the fateful day when she was shot, she was fleeing with her daughter. She told her daughter to hide, lest she be killed. Handing over her knapsack she told her, “Adelante. Go forward.”
She had gone forward, giving up a place of safety – not only in the shelter but also by entering and serving in a war zone. But she did it out of love, with a vision of a civilization of love. As she once said:
“We have gotten used to hating, to being afraid. We have to put an end to that. We have to confront ourselves, to kill the false pride within our soul, so that a new person may arise, so that a new civilization may come into being — one composed of love.”
Laura was but one of thousands of pastoral workers in El Salvador who were killed. In a month, on May 23, Monseñor Oscar Romero will be beatified. He is but one of those who were martyred for their commitment to a God who hears the cry of the poor.
A more detailed description of the witness of Laura López can be found in this extract from a book I’m writign on the witness of the church in the parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador: Laura Lopez extract.