Tag Archives: José Othmaro Cáceres

Massacre in Platanares, Suchitoto, El Salvador, 1980

It was about 11 am on July 25, 1980. They were meeting in the unfinished church in Caserío Los Leones, Platanares, Suchitoto, El Salvador –  a seminarian, Othmaro Cáceres, and thirteen young men.

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The chapel in Los Leones, where Othmaro Cáceres and thirteen young men were killed.

Othmaro was to be ordained in a few months for the neighboring diocese of San Vicente.  He was from Platanares and often would return from his studies in Mexico. His brother noted how he would help with the labors, like any other campesino, milking cows and working with a cuma in the fields. The young people in the area looked up to him.

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Photo of Othmaro Cáceres inthe hands of a family member.

The young people had taken a break in their meeting and were in the church, sharing candy, but Othmaro was outside. They were talking about their lives as well as about the construction of the new church building. They may have also been talking about plans for Othmaro’s ordination.

Othmaro had just left the chapel when Ventura’s troops arrived, coming from two sides – the road and the fields. He heard shots and hid in the grass. When he thought the troops were gone, he entered a nearby house. But they had not yet gone and caught him there. “You’re the one we’re looking for,” they said and accused him of being a guerrilla leader. He asked them to wait a bit and went down on his knees. He asked God for forgiveness and was then shot. They then attacked his body with machetes. He died of several shots in the chest; afterwards his head was destroyed by blows of a machete.

The other young people were also killed.

This massacre is one of many that happened in El Salvador in the 1970s, 1980s, until the end of the civil war in 1992. Many like Othmaro Cáceres were people of faith, martyred for their commitment to God and the people. Others were like many of the youth killed with him. Some were very involved with the church. A few may have been allied with the opposition forces but most were probably sympathetic to the opposition. Some of them were probably active in their communities, perhaps building underground shelters for friends and family to provide some shelter when the government bombed the area or initiated military incursions into the region.

In the midst of this, they had come together with a friend in walls of a structure they were building to be a House of God in their community.

Victims of war and oppression by a government that had the backing of the US government. But their faith, their resilience can give us strength – as the forces of evil still roam this world.

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Procession to the site of the massacre for a memorial Mass,about 2001.

 

The martyred seminarian and companions

Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?
We are able.
Matthew 20: 23

When James and John – or their mother – ask for seats of power in the Reign of God, Jesus first asks them if they are able to share in the cup of His passion. They say yes. Even though they hesitated several times, most notably in the Garden of Gethsemane, they did suffer for their commitment to Jesus and His Reign.

The question is whether we are ready – at any moment – to give our lives for the Reign of God.

Othmaro Cáceres

Othmaro Cáceres

Thirty-five years ago today,July 25, 1980,  a young seminarian, José Othmaro Cáceres, was martyred.

Othmaro was studying for the priesthood in the diocese of San Vicente.  He had been involved in the evangelization of the parish with Padre Higinio Alas. Whenever he visited his family, he met with many of the young people in the area.

On July 25, he was meeting with young people within the walls of an unfinished church in Los Leones, Platanares, just outside Suchitoto, El Salvador.

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Los Leones unfinished church

He was going to be ordained shortly and so they were probably planning his first Mass in the chapel near his family’s home with some young people who followed him around when he visited home while studying in a seminary in Mexico.

While they were there, a joint operation of the Salvadoran Guardia Nacional and a death squad came upon them.

Othmaro and thirteen others were killed. Several young women escaped. According to one report, Othmaro had left the meeting for a short time and the young people were sharing candy. He hid in the brush and when he thought all was clear he was walking to another place when one of the invading forces saw him and said, “Here’s the one we’re looking for.” He fell on his knees, asked God for forgiveness, and was killed.

2001 procession

2001 procession

In 2001 I took part in a Mass in the walls of that church which is still unfinished. Relatives of Othmaro were there as well as mothers and relatives of some of the young men.

I felt I was on sacred ground, the ground of martyrs.

Would I be ready to five my life? Only God knows and only God can give me strength to respond with love at that point.

But what is important now is that each day I drink from the cup of the Lord, truly opening myself to God and to others, learning how to give of myself, to empty myself for others – as José Othmaro Cáceres did.

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Today I pray for that grace of self-giving.

——

An extract on the marytyrdom from my unpublished study of Suchitoto can be found here: The massacre of Los Leones extract

The first photo is from the exhibit in the hall of the martyrs at the Universidad CentroAmericana (UCA) in San Salvador. The final photo was taken at the 2001 Mass in Los Leones, a photo held in the hands of one of Othmaro’s relatives.