When I first landed in El Salvador, all I knew about the tiny Central American country was its war. What I found was lush mountain ranges, volcanoes, and air heavy with grief. It was 2003, and I was there to produce a documentary for a public radio series titled Despues de las Guerras/Centra America: After the Wars about the violence suffered by women during and after the 12-year civil war that ended in 1992 with a death toll of 75,000 mostly innocent civilians.
I returned to El Salvador in 2006 for six months on a Knight Fellowship with the International Center for Journalists. The violence, once largely relegated to gang controlled areas, had spread across the country. Impunity was rampant. Voices of dissent were marginalized. Rights curtailed in the interest of security. The first forceful voices I heard came from the pulpit, from Jesuits denouncing the violence and its profiteers.
I had the opportunity to interview Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino. (See Goodness Revealed: An interview with liberation theologian Jon Sobrino in the January 2008 issue of Sojourners.) Just a few months earlier, the Vatican had publicized a written notification that branded his some of his writing as "erroneous and dangerous."
Sobrino admonished the church for drifting away from the reality of its flock. The U.S. and Europe, he said, are merely "anecdotes," their imperial gaze a perversion of the mission of Jesus on this earth. He challenged the assumption that wealthy nations can exploit poor nations and return later with a promise to save them.
Sobrino's book Where is God?: Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope draws a compelling connection between the tragedy inflicted on New York by terrorists, El Salvador when a tremendous earthquake strikes, and in Afghanistan when a world superpower seeks vengeance.
Another important work that sets liberation theology in a current context is the anthology published in Sobrino's defense after the Vatican's sanction titled Getting the Poor Down From the Cross: Christology of Liberation. It contains the arguments for the tenets of liberation theology by some of the world's leading theologians, the primacy of the world's poor, and the duty of the Church to "walk with them."
In the epilogue, Sobrino writes, "If a Christology animates the poor of this world, victims of terrible sins - including ones committed by so-called believers - to maintain their faith in God and in his Christ, and to have dignity and hope, then this Christology will have its limitations of course, but I do not consider it to be dangerous in the world of the poor, but rather something positive. However, it is possible that it will be seen - and it has been seen - as dangerous in other worlds."
Michelle García recently completed a Knight Fellowship with the International Center for Journalists in El Salvador. Previously she wrote for The Washington Post from its New York bureau. She is based in New York.