February 14, 1978

This evening the cathedral of San Salvador has been transformed into an auditorium of the renowned Georgetown University.  Thus there is revived that ancient partnership between the faith and academic learning that was lived out in an earlier epoch by venerable cathedrals and famous universities.  And I am reminded that it was in the shadow of those cathedrals that the centers of higher learning came into existence --- centers that today are the glory of all branches of scholarship throughout the world.

But there is something novel about this partly sacred, partly academic coming together of Georgetown University and our cathedral.  I am the pastor and teacher of the faith in this Archdiocese, and it is the university that comes to me, in my own cathedral, to confer on me its doctorate in humanities.

I wish to draw attention to the originality of this act as I express my gratitude and my welcome.  This novel sign of a humble pastor, vested with the insignia of a university degree is, I believe, evocative of the prophetic and ecclesial dimension of the intentions both of Georgetown and of him who, filled with emotion and gratitude, receives this great honor.

At this solemn moment of my life I do not want to be anything more than a sign, a sign whose greatest glory and greatest satisfaction it is, as it was for John the Baptist, to decrease in notoriety so that the eternal Word of the gospel may increase and triumph.

Georgetown’s generous initiative has come to a climax here, in this cathedral, symbol of the university and of the teaching authority of the bishop.  I wish, in accepting this honor, to identify it with the gospel message I preach in an intimate communion of ideals and affection with my beloved clergy, with all the selfless dynamic men and women consecrated to the religious life, and with those people of God who have been entrusted to me.

For me, this generous and noble gesture of Georgetown University, this grant to me of their highest academic distinction, Doctor of Humanities honoris causa, has four aspects to it.  And I, along with my Church and my people, express my undying gratitude for them:  (1) the act expresses solid support for the cause of human rights; (2) it is an act that gives recognition to all who have collaborated in this cause; (3) such an act of solidarity brings consolation and hope to all who have suffered the loss of their liberty and dignity; (4) it is an echo of denunciation and a call to conversion.


Support for the cause of human rights

The reason why (honoris causa) Georgetown University gives its approval to the modest labor of this archbishop is, first and foremost, to express solid support for that noble cause of Christian humanism that our Church proclaims and defends.  A celebrated university’s giving to a member of El Salvador’s hierarchy a doctorate of humanities indicates approval, in a way that will resound across the world, of the “new humanism” that the contemporary Church teaches and practices.  The Church does so after much reflection --- reflection that occurred mainly during two solemn convocations of its modern magisterium:  the Second Vatican Council and the assembly of Latin American Bishops held in Medellin.

As he brought the Council to a close, his Holiness Paul VI was able to challenge modern humanism that deny the transcendence of the highest things to acknowledge the value of the Council’s “new humanism”:  We too, and more than anyone else, promote the betterment of the individual…  This Council has recognized that the fundamental calling of men and women is to the attainment of the fullness of their rights and their transcendent destiny; their highest aspirations for life, for personal dignity, for an honorable freedom for learning, for the renewal of the social order, for justice and for peace --- these have all been purified and encouraged (Allocution at the end of Vatican II, December 7, 1965).

This service to human dignity that the Church cannot renounce was raised by the Pope to its highest theological level when he recalled:  In the countenance of every individual, especially in a countenance made transparent by tears and suffering, we can and should recognize the countenance of Christ (Matthew 25:40), the Son of man; and in the countenance of Christ, moreover, we can and should recognize the face of the heavenly Father: “To have seen me is to have seen the Father,” said Jesus (John 14:9).  Our humanism becomes Christian; our Christianity becomes theocentric --- so much so that we can also assert that, in order to know God, it is necessary to know human beings (Allocution at the end of Vatican II, December 7, 1965).

It was also a theological, transcendent perspective that inspired the Latin American bishops at Medellin when they directed the evangelization of our continent toward the service of human rights and the betterment of human beings.  They felt it to be an authentic summons of the Spirit, one from which the Church could not turn away:  a muted cry pours from the throats of millions… asking their pastors for a liberation that reaches them from nowhere else (Medellin Documents, Poverty, #2).

In this same evangelical context of service to humanity, Paul VI has acknowledged, and praised, the efforts being made by the people of El Salvador, stemming from that global vision of the individual and of humanity that is propounded by the Church to improve the conditions of human life (cf. Populorum Progression, #13).  Two months ago, the Pope clearly denounced to our ambassador at the Holy See the Church’s lack of freedom, the grief that results from the violence and repression, and the manifest injustices that prevent created wealth from reaching everyone in an equitable fashion (Message to the Ambassador of El Salvador, December 15, 1977).

This, then, is our Church’s “new humanism.”  The Church has the same task as before --- that of redeeming persons from sin and leading them to eternal life --- but it starts from the situation in this world where there exists the duty of planting the kingdom of God now.  This is the cause to which we want to be faithful, together with all that it entails.  And Georgetown’s homage is a great satisfaction to us not only because, in itself, it is an honor, but above all because it is an acknowledgement of the authenticity of our cause: the cause of Christian humanism.

Recognition of collaborators in the cause

I cannot accept this honor for myself alone.  I feel that, in justice, I must share it with the whole of our local Church --- and also with those who, though not belonging to the Church, have made this cause their own through their sympathy, their support, and their collaboration.  I am referring to countless priests, religious communities, lay Catholics, Protestants with a true sense of the gospel, and others of good will who have embodied this cause even to the heroic lengths of death and persecution.

I understand that being joined in this honor does not so much mean taking pleasure in a duty performed in the service of a noble human cause; above all it means a call to a renewed commitment to the humanism of the gospel, the only humanism that can successfully humanize the relationships among persons in this world.  Georgetown’s presence in, and attitude toward our archdiocese indicates a God-given encouragement to the betterment of the human race.  This is in keeping with the hopes expressed in the Church’s teaching:  If further development calls for the work of more and more technicians, even more necessary is the deep thought and reflection of wise men and women in search of a new humanism that will enable modern human beings to find themselves anew by embracing the higher values of love and friendship, of prayer and contemplation.  This is what will permit the fullness of authentic development, a development that is for everyone the transition from less human to more human conditions (Populorum Progressio, #20).

Vatican II highlights a valuable contribution to this fertile field of humanism that our poverty-stricken people can make:  The future of the world stands in peril unless wiser men are forthcoming.  It should also be pointed out that many nations, poorer in economic goods, are quite rich in wisdom and can offer noteworthy advantages to others (Gaudium et Spes, #15).

Solidarity in hope

I also want to interpret this spiritual and cultural honor that Georgetown has made to our Church as a gesture of solidarity, one that brings encouragement and hope to those who here suffer, in so many different and humiliating ways, from the violation of their fundamental rights.  For the motivation that brought Georgetown here to render me this unforgettable homage had its beginnings there --- in the tragic experience of those who have been abused, those whom the Church has believed is its duty to defend, and to denounce the abuses.  This voice raised in defense and denunciation has too often been silenced, distorted, or calumniated by those with vested interests, or naively misunderstood by some at home and abroad.  But today this Church knows that it has been clarified, strengthened, and encouraged by this act of a prestigious university, calmly thought out within its learned environment --- and a university sufficiently distant not to be hurried into acting either by pressure or passion.

The academic decision coincides and harmonizes with the apostolic attitude of our Church, which, quite sincerely, wished only to live out the mission of the Servant of Yahweh: sent to bring good news to the poor… to bind up hearts that are broken… to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison… to comfort those who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2).

Within the sphere for which our Church is responsible, we wanted our human service to be a faithful echo of the noble voice of Paul VI speaking to the United Nations:  we feel we are making our own the voice of the dead and of the living (Paul VI, Address to the United Nations, October 4, 1965), he said on that occasion, speaking of the tragic consequences of war.  Here we can think of the dead, victims of cruelty and of those who continue to live, but in terror, under threat, bearing in their bodies the marks of torture, of outrages committed against them.  We also make our own, the Pope went on to say, the voice of the living who go forward confidently, the youth of the present generation who legitimately expect a better human race.  And we also make our own the voice of the poor, the disinherited, the suffering, and those who long for justice, for a life with dignity, for freedom, for well-being, and progress (Paul VI, Address to the United Nation, October 4, 1965).

So I say that today, here with me, honor, respect and admiration is being shown to the sufferings, the fear, insecurity, and marginalization endured by so many of my sisters and brothers.  This fact is a ray of comfort and of hope. Georgetown represents here in the cathedral of San Salvador the sincere solidarity of humane, Christian culture.  This culture crosses frontiers and rises above the worldly parleys of diplomacy and of politics.  It is placed at the service of equality, freedom, and the dignity of all human beings.

An echo of denunciation and call to conversion

Finally, I think that the ecclesial and prophetic meaning of this act of homage to humanism would be incomplete were we to forget that powerful segment of humanity that assaults and sacrifices the dignity of the images of God.  It does so because it pursues an authentic cult of violence, whether institutionalized or reactionary.  Our Church’s service to, and in defense of, human dignity, together with the sorrow and the shame of so many persons and of so many homes abused and left desolate has brought her to utter an anguished cry of denunciation and repudiation.  No to violence, she has cried out impartially against any hand raised against someone else, carrying out an act of violence that stains the world with sin.
But this cry of denunciation and of repudiation has never aroused in the Church a passion for vengeance, nor has it aroused ill will.  Its call for justice has always been like that of a mother reminding her quarreling children that they are siblings.  Its voice has always carried a word of redemption, summoning the guilty to conversion, and offering pardon to those who repent of fratricide.

The Church’s voice has here an echo of that fraternal love that, arising from faith in the truth revealed by God, has inspired its fruitful social teaching.  The Church offers this teaching as an ingredient --- and a much-needed one --- for the dialogue that has to take place between government, capital, and labor to end the bloody violence, repression and the social ills of our country can be cured and put behind us.  In this way a solid peace can be built on the foundations of justice and love.

In her declarations there has also been an echo of the dignity of a Church that puts its loyalty to the gospel before the privileges that come with power and wealth, since these elements often get in the way of her testimony and credibility.  But the Church does not reject the idea of a constructive dialogue with those in power, so long as they display sincerity and effectiveness in a common service to humanity’s double vocation: created to live with happiness and dignity in this world, and to enjoy beyond history, a happy destiny.


Mr. President and representatives of the committee of governors of Georgetown University, Doctor Timothy Healy and Robert Mitchell:

In communion with the whole Church of the Archdiocese of San Salvador and united with the ideals of all women and men of good will who are at work in our country for the cause of humanity, and in solidarity with every woman and man whose liberty or whose dignity has been attacked by any kind of violence --- I receive with gratitude the high honor of the doctorate of humanities that, through you, the University of Georgetown confers upon me.

May God repay this generous and meaningful gesture by a growth in the Christian reputation of your illustrious alma mater.

A thousand thanks to you, also, my beloved friends, who have organized and taken part in this unforgettable event.  With your fraternal understanding and affection you have helped me, too, to understand, and to put into words, the transcendence of this happening that is so important for the life of our Church and its pastor.

And thanks to all of you my friends.  With your loving congratulations and by your presence here, either physically or in spirit, you have expressed your close solidarity with this humble servant of the humanism of the gospel.
I share with all my sisters and brothers this honor that Georgetown has bestowed on us.  It is a new voice of the Spirit, which goes on pointing out to us the path that our Church must follow.