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Interview with Br. Jose Santamarta

24/09/2012: El Salvador

During the second half of the month of June, taking advantage of the canonical visitation paid to their Brothers in Comayagua in Honduras, we received a visit in El Salvador of three Brothers from the Marist Province of Compostela. These were Brothers Oscar Martin (provincial), Antonio Leal (councillor) and Jose Santamarta, a renowned artist in the Marist environment. We can appreciate his works in different places in Spain and in the General Curia of Rome. We have asked this brother to tell us his impressions about the country he visited for just two days. For this purpose, we gave him three personal names.

1.        El Salvador

Only two days in El Salvador do not take you too far. However, the intensity of my experience raises admiration and gratefulness in me. By courtesy of Br. Javier, I walked around part of the amphitheatre made up of the superb volcanoes surrounding the capital. I admired the beauty of its   scenery, the tropical green forests with their flowers, the “peaceful lakes” as goes the Salvadoran hymn. From my bedroom, I could see the majestic lake Ilopango. I visited a town, El Salvador, were heroes and martyrs are forged.

Returning to Spain, I bring back very fond memories such as the warm welcome of the Brothers in the communities I visited: Liceo Salvadoreño (Salvadoran High School), Escuela San Alfonso (San Alfonso School), Colegio Champagnat (Champagnat College) and Complejo Educativo Jesús Obrero (Educational Complex Labourer Jesus). I met disciplined and polite students. I carry in me the memory of the Salvadoran people, simple and hard-working. I also perceived a collective feeling of homeland, a mixture of different cultures that today live together in harmony. I discovered the Salvadorans as close, welcoming and very pleasant. They are gentle and soft-spoken. El Salvador is a small but great country.

It is true that history has made El Salvador deal with very difficult circumstances, but God gave them Oscar Romero as a testimony of the love of God for the men and women of their land; it also bears the mark of an artist, a great artist: Fernando Llort. It is of these two Salvadoran glories that I wish to speak, by initiative and invitation of the Provincial, Br. Hipolito.

2.      Monsignor Oscar Romero

I visited the chapel of the hospital where Oscar Romero was murdered. I was there at the same time a group of senior students, with their professor, were trying to accurately reproduce the scene of Monsignor’s murder. A nun who witnessed the brutal attempt was explaining the facts in great detail. That same nun was also a witness to the second unfinished mass during the monsignor’s funeral in the cathedral of El Salvador. Her testimonial was shocking. I identify Oscar Romero with a bishop dedicated to his people and their defence; to his simple, poor and unjustly mistreated people. The poor were the main characters in the life of Monsignor Romero. Oscar was the prophet and apostle of his land: he awakened the critical consciousness of his people to the light of the Gospel. As far as I could ascertain, Monsignor is still alive in the hearts of the men of good faith in El Salvador. A great defender of human dignity, to the extent he gave his life for what he strongly believed in. He is the bishop of the poor and a symbol of the unity of a people involved in fratricidal wars.

His wise and good people are aware of his goodness; that is why they call him “Saint Romero of America”. Those same people have honoured him with a beautiful monument in the crypt of the cathedral where lie his remains. They come to worship him with devotion as what he is: a saint. In today’s world, Romero is a denunciation, a path, a testimony, an invitation to commit to men and firstly and especially the marginalized and excluded people. I confess that his life has shaken me both spiritually and emotionally. Oscar Romero was murdered for speaking and for speaking out; however, his voice is growing stronger inside and outside El Salvador. Oscar Romero changed and was transformed internally following the murder of Father Rutilio Grande. The injustice and pain of his people had previously already taken his soul.

3. Fernando Llort

I visited his Gallery and Exhibition in El Salvador. Upon entering, I realized at once that it was a special gallery, not to use. I loved it.  I would have taken everything. He is a complete and multifaceted artist. Very much grounded in his land, always placing his beloved El Salvador on a high pedestal. You can tell he carries it in his heart.

I don’t know him personally; however, based on his artistic work, I can sense his rich human and spiritual personality. Why did I like him?

I admire his vibrant harmonious colours, his creativity. His clean ideas. He extensively uses the language of symbols and allegory to more easily bring art closer to the man from the street. His figures are filled with hidden meanings. He distorts figures but they appear as balanced compositions as a whole. At first sight, it appears as “decorative” art. Nothing could be farthest from Fernando’s message, technique and expertise.

I imagine him restless, in love with his vocation and his land; and a great fighter for justice and the marginalized.

I perceive in him a very intense inner spiritual life. The seed of God, “God’s tree”, that is what he calls his art workshops.

I believe that Fernando Llort’s art has taught and helped Salvadorans to look at their future with hope and to live it with enthusiasm, in spite of all…

His style is apparently childish, a little naïf and simple-minded due to its spontaneity and ecology, but it carries a great inner message of peace, religious experience, optimism and joy of life.

He knows how to involve the people, the simple people, in his art. Solidarity art. Art for everyone. I would call him the art apostle.  Congratulations Fernando. 

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