Forgiveness is a paradox in El Salvador. On the one hand, it takes a enormous amount of good will and forgiveness for former armies to become current political parties and to actually carry on as a government without constantly rekindling a war. It also takes forgiveness for neighbors to live together knowing that they were once enemies. In that respect, Salvadorans have done a marvelous job moving past the rancor of war and functioning as a country.
On the other hand, suspicions run deep, hurts are still festering, and things that look like small infractions to an outsider carry heavy implications for many Salvadorans. And, of course, there is always a tension between forgiving and forgetting. Ought one to 'forget' the mysterious disappearances that tore families apart? Is it a sign of not cooperating to construct a museum remembering those who were martyed? Or, ought the truth to be exposed deliberately and openly, even if there is no specific punishment to follow? Difficult questions, all.
One of the most tender issues still in El Salvador is the matter of death squads. During the war, the newspapers or other forms of information would identify someone as being an enemy and that would be a signal to death squads that the person ought to be eliminated. The death squads were organized- with U.S. assistance- as a shadowy, plausibly deniable, extra-governmental way of carrying out the government's wishes. Their primary work was to terrorize, as they would torture and often leave their victims exposed as a warning to others. One of the most gripping religous expressions that I've ever seen are the 14 paintings of torture victims that are positioned in the Romero Chapel at the University of Central America as 'stations of the cross.'
So, here's a story that I heard while in El Salvador from one of my friends who joined us midweek. In the town of Suchitoto there is a town square (like in most towns in ES) and on there lives a homeless man. He seems to have lost his mind somewhere along the line, but my friend said that the townspeople bring him food each day, make sure that he has a blanket on the coldest nights, and offer other gestures of care- most of which he is incapable of acknowledging properly. My friends noticed the man and asked about him. Then they heard his story.
He had been a leader of a death squad. His guilt finally caught up with him and was mostly what drove him mad. The people of Suchitoto have every reason to let him suffer and die after what he had done to so many of their friends and to people like them. But, instead, they care for him. They are living out what Paul says in Romans 12, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him."
I believe in the forgiveness of sins.