Saturday, May 30, 2015

In Lisbon -- Echoes of World War II

            There are corners of Lisbon where you can breathe the air of the time of Tango War, the years when turmoil around World War II cut through Latin countries on both sides of the Atlantic. The café where poet Fernando Pessoa wrote every day is still open just off one side of the Rossio Square, and on the other side, tables are full at the Pasteleria Suicá where spies with a variety of allegiances met over dark espressos and egg custard tarts. 
Jewelry stores still offer gold, the bottom-line investment of those days, and pocket shops dispense shots of cherry ginjinha liquor. 
Towering over the square stands a pedestal topped by the figure of Peter IV, King of Portugal, who became Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil. 
Linked to Brazil especially by history, culture and language, and to Argentina and the rest of the South American continent by the politics of Catholicism, in the 1930s and 1940s neutral Portugal served as safe haven and funnel for spies, refugees and war criminals, many of whom found their way to the Americas.
     Along with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar (Prime Minister 1933-1968) supported Franco and the Fascists in the Civil War in neighboring Spain. He supplied precious resources, such as wolframite, to the Wehrmacht, and saw the Reich as a bulwark against democracy and communism. Yet Salazar was not racist – he wrote a book criticizing the 1935 Nuremburg Laws that codified Nazi race theory and anti-Semitism.  Salazar reverted to a treaty with the English from the time of the Crusades to insist that Portugal could not align itself with the Axis during the war. 

Railroad Station
Thus Lisbon, the elegant city on the Tagus River Estuary that flows into the Atlantic, a city of trolleys climbing its hills and exquisite tiles facing old buildings, became a haven for the grateful escaping repression, and worse. And for the fortunate with money from both sides, securing their wealth or risking it at card tables and roulette wheels – stories abound of Reich officers gambling side by side with Jewish businessmen and Middle Eastern oil potentates at the Casino above the sands of Estoril beach at Lisbon’s edge. And, a haven for the nefarious, plotting, plotting amid the blooming purple jacaranda trees.
Window today of Bertrand's, World's Oldest Bookstore (1732)

Tango War, the book, is coming.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Archbishop Romero's Beatification: Watching from Afar, Feeling Near

Surrounded by photos of some of the 75,000 persons who died in the war.

Images of the crowd of faithful in San Salvador come across my computer screen where I watch from half a world away, in Europe. White hats against the sun, home-made signs, umbrellas in bright colors for a little shade.  I am sad not to be present in El Salvador, where I spent many years, but join in the alegria, the joy.  I am part of the global crowd participating virtually in churches, schools and like here, hotel rooms, wanting to connect with the event that recognizes the man who stood up for justice, and was murdered for giving his voice to the voiceless.
House wall. Cinquera. The legend reads: "Sooner or later the voice of justice of our people will overcome."

It disgusts me to know members of the hierarchy who have blocked justice in the case of Mons. Romero's murder are present in their clerical robes. But no glory rubs off on them in honoring the martyr. (See my Los Angeles Times story from last year when the beatification was announced: Sainthood Isn't Enough for Archbishop Oscar Romero

Girl at commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the killing.
More important is to see the glowing, intent faces of ordinary-looking Salvadorans who may feel, justifiably, that they and their suffering are honored too, in the church event.  Of course, the people have canonized Mons. Romero long ago.  As often happens, the official Church takes time to catch up with the faithful.
San Salvador. Central Market. 2011.

As I watch and listen, I dig out some photos from the files on this same computer, and realize they tell me as much or more about Mons. Romero than any ceremony, about how he is carried in the hearts of people who may or may not be able to reach the front of the crowd today.

Shop. Perquin

The Archbishop's Human Rights Legal Aid Office risked investigating massacres like the one at El Mozote, where  800 died at the hands of the government army.  Wall painting. Canton La Joya

Five of this man's children were killed fighting on the side of revolutionaries during the war.
"If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people."---Mons. Romero