Magazine article The Christian Century

Courage and Faithfulness

Magazine article The Christian Century

Courage and Faithfulness

Article excerpt

ALEJANDRO HERNANDEZ had decided to spend the day visiting a member of his parish who was hospitalized in San Salvador, about an hour away from the village of Las Minas. It was also an opportunity to take the church's young people on a rare outing. On the way the kids asked if he would make a short side trip to Quezaltepeque, so that they could swim in this popular area. Afterwards, as the youngsters clambered back into the pickup to continue on to San Salvador, a stranger tapped on the window. "Are you Alejandro Hernandez?" When Alejandro said yes, the man pulled a pistol from under his coat, put the muzzle to the left side of Alejandro's head and fired twice, shattering the side of his face.

One of the group found a phone and called the only Lutheran pastor he knew in San Salvador. Fortunately, the pastor was home and was able to call an ambulance. It picked up Alejandro 45 minutes later for the long return trip to the city.

The doctors at the hospital to which Alejandro was taken on that day last February decided that he was going to die and so did not treat his wounds. At the urgent insistence of his brother, Santiago, he was taken to another hospital. After some hours doctors rendered the same verdict. But Santiago kept trying. A third hospital, Hospital Diagnostico, immediately gave Alejandro transfusions and performed surgery.

Four days later his condition stabilized. Several plastic surgeries were performed to hold his facial bones together and to reinsert a damaged eye into its socket. On the ninth day Alejandro briefly regained consciousness. He remembers that in those first few lucid moments, taped, wired, unable to talk and in unspeakable physical agony, he felt a great anger and yearning for revenge. Then he lapsed back into semiconsciousness.

During the hazy days that followed, he had a remarkable vision. He saw his brother, father, cousin and uncle--all victims of assassinations during the '80s. He recognized Archbishop Oscar Romero, who had been assassinated while conducting mass in 1980. Alejandro approached him. "Did you forgive your assassin?" he asked. Romero remained silent. Alejandro then saw one of his former professors, Ignacio Martin Baro, one of the six Jesuit priests killed in the 1989 massacre at El Salvador's Central American University. "Have you forgiven your assassin?" Alejandro asked. Again silence. "I remember wondering whether I was somehow out of place there, and that was why no one answered me," he says. Then he saw a small Asian figure with a slight mustache, whom he identified as Christ. He approached this figure as if to seek admission and was told that he had not been called.

Alejandro later recounted this vision to Jon Sobrino, a distinguished Jesuit theologian who's life was spared in the Jesuit massacre because he was in Southeast Asia at the time. Sobrino interpreted the vision as meaning that Alejandro had to decide on his own whether to forgive his assassin. On the 22nd day after the shooting, when the doctors had removed the bandages from his wounded head and some of the wires holding his jaw together, Alejandro was able to see and to utter his first, tentative, partially vocalized word, "Hi." At that moment he was overwhelmed by an astonishing surge of well-being. He felt grace and gratitude welling up from his battered body and soul. …

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