Friday, January 27, 2006

Service for Schafik Handal

FMLN leaders wait in line to pay their last respects.
It was a zoo trying to get into the National University last Thursday night, where one of four night's consecutive wakes was being held for Schafik Handal, ex-comandante of the guerilla, and leader of the FMLN socialist political party that the guerilla became after the peace accords. Schafik was 75 years old, born into priviledge, and had spent most of his life struggling for social justice in El Salvador. He died of a heart-attack on the 24th of Februrary in the national airport, where he was returning from the inauguration of the new leftist Bolivian president. The airport in this country is not equipped with a defibrilator.

After having the trunk checked for bombs or weapons at gate, I parked the car and we made our way toward the mass of people in red. My companions and I made a bit of a spectacle-- four priests in clericals-- three North American, one Salvadoran-- and an elderly North American woman with a cane, as we made our way through the sea of red and finally where allowed through the ropes that were blocking the entrance to the law auditorium, where we understood the ecumenical service was to be held. During our forty-five minutes of waiting in the auditorium, we began to converse with a gentleman in his fifties who had been in the guerilla, and now works as an accountant. He looked earnestly into my face, and said, "Thank you. I can't tell you how much your support meant to the people during the war. It lifted us up when we were failing." My stomach dropped sickeningly for a few moments as I thought he was talking about the U.S.-- our government pumped a million dollars a day into the repressive regime's military, and was largely responsible for the failure of the revolution. Then it became clear that he was talking about the Episcopal Church of El Salvador.

When there was still no sign of an eccumenical service, our new friend looked into it for us and let us know that the place had been changed-- it was being held outside on the platform, so the more than 5,000 people present could particpiate. We knew the service would be mostly over, but we had come for this-- so we made our way out of the auditorium and back into the crowd. The Salvadoran priest went ahead, asking people to let us through, and when the people saw the group of priests and the elderly woman they started calling to the people just ahead to let us through, and supported our companion who was using a cane by both her elbows, almost passing her along from person to person. "Be careful-- there's a step here! Be really, really careful!" we were told. We heard the voice of Pd. Luis Serrano, the Dean of the Anglican Cathedral, coming over the loudspeaker as we made our way to the podium. We stopped just short of the podium, where Schafik's wooden casket sat, and then were invited up on to the podium for the remainder of the service. At the conclusion, we were given roses to place on the casket.

After placing our roses on the casket, we followed the bishop, at who's suggestion we had come, back toward the auditorium, where the viewing of the body was to be. This time we were walking through a roped-off pathway in the crowd, where the casket would pass through on its way to the auditorium. The red sea, crowding in on either side of this open walkway, was marked with expectant faces, who had been waiting for hours outside the auditorium to see Schafik's remains; posters with his face were being held against the ropes. They were shouting, "Vive Schafik! Que vive! Schafik vive! La lucha sigue!" (Schafik lives, the struggle continues.) This mixture of grief and energy and the awe of being treated as an honored guest, walking where his body was to pass, was overwhelming, and almost frightening to me. As we entered the auditorium the bishop raised his fist and joined in the shout, "Que vive!" And the person calling out shouted, "Que viven las iglesias progresistas!" and all responded, "Que viven!" (Long live the progressive churches-- May they live!).

We waitied in the auditorium a long time for the casket to arrive, and then finally it did, and we were some of the first to be allowed up on the stage to see his body. While I'm not to into viewings, it was a priviledge not to be forgone. -Amy

Below-Bishop Martín Barahona in the auditorium

The pall bearers lift Schafik's Casket onto the stage

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