My Century Home Page

Broadcast on Monday 29th November 1999


My name is John Sobrino. I was born in the Basque country, nearly 60 years ago. At the age of 18, I became a Jesuit And a year after that, I was sent to El Salvador, in 1958. And since then I have practically lived my whole life here. The best thing that has happened to me in life is to have known Archbishop Romero. I was a close friend of his. And also I lived with a community of Jesuits who were assassinated ten years ago. I was away. I became first a Jesuit and then a priest - very simply, because I felt a call from God. It has given me an opportunity to serve others, especially to serve those very, very poor people here in El Salvador. At the age of 27, I studied theology. I was in Frankfurt, Germany. When I came back from Frankfurt, in '73, people started talking here a different language, as far as Christian faith and theology are concerned: for example, that this planet is a planet of poor, oppressed people, a planet of victims. It made no sense to me to say: "I believe in God", in the guise of Jesus of Nazareth, and not take the poor seriously. So I started doing theology along those lines. And then I realised that that was close to what people were beginning to call "liberation theology". Now, liberation theology is the type of theology which wants to look at God from the perspective of the poor of the world. It's a way of thinking about Christianity so that the will of God, the dream of God, the utopia of God, becomes true. I remember years ago, in a refugee camp in El Salvador, several times I went to say Mass. In the midst of so much tragedy, poverty and so on, all of a sudden I saw a peasant woman. And I said to myself spontaneously, when I looked at her face: "I have seen God". The depth of reality became present in the face of that woman: her dignity, her commitment to be there, her hope that maybe life would be better for her and for others; an experience of God. I think this is the origin of liberation theology. Maybe people understand better when they know what happens when communities, priests in their homilies, bishops like Romero in their pastoral letters, professors like us, act out of this instinct of liberation theology. What happened? Well, this university was bombed. A bomb exploded on our campus 25 times. The house where I live was bombed four times. Six Jesuits were killed. They were killed because they told the truth about the country. As Christians, they said: "God is against that." Why did they say that? Because they thought in a very specific way. And that specific way of thinking is called liberation theology. Liberation theology is a threat because it tells the truth about this world. And the truth is not told. Whoever tells the truth gets killed. Let's have this clear. Jesus was crucified himself. He offers us the good news: that following him life makes sense. Now following him, in situations like the Salvadorean one, might make it possible to be killed. As long as there is oppression, I hope that theologians will think of God from the point of view of the poor. As long as that happens, there will be liberation theology. E N D