Mercy Amidst Mayhem

Attending Mass like any other day at the Hospital La Divina Providencia Chapel in San Salvador, El Salvador, Maria Teresa Vasquez Martinez witnessed a tragic, historic event: the assassination of St. Oscar Romero on March 24, 1980.

Maria Teresa’s granddaughter, Anadaisy Regalado-Martinez of Las Vegas, Nevada, often attended that Mass with her grandmother. But for whatever reason that day, Maria Teresa decided not to take Anadaisy or any of her grandchildren with her.

“There had been more and more people congregating at [Archbishop Oscar Romero’s] Masses. That was one of the reasons he was assassinated,” Anadaisy said.

Archbishop Romero was shot and killed just days after giving a radio broadcast in which he told Salvadoran soldiers to disobey their superiors if they were ordered to attack innocent civilians. He was canonized by Pope Francis on Oct. 14, 2018.

“I was young at the time, but I was old enough to understand that we were in a civil war,” Anadaisy said. The Salvadoran Civil War lasted from 1979 through 1992, claiming the lives of 75,000 people. “I remember [Archbishop] Oscar Romero being a very noble person. I remember some of the talks that he gave to us children about the doctrines of the faith. … It was a very traumatizing time for us.”

Anadaisy had remembered her grandmother praying for Archbishop Romero’s safety. “He had said many times, ‘I’ve already forgiven those who are going to kill me.’ He knew he was likely to be killed,” Anadaisy said.

Yet, if it hadn’t been for the turmoil in El Salvador, Maria Teresa might never have become a Mass-going Catholic to begin with. “My grandmother had a difficult childhood and for many years, she thought that she had experienced too much suffering to trust in God.” But that was before a “miracle” of God’s mercy ignited her grandmother’s faith.

Sometime before Archbishop Romero’s assassination, Anadaisy’s own mother, Martha, had been kidnapped along with 16 other innocent people. “We never knew who kidnapped my mother, if it was the military or the guerrillas,” Anadaisy said. “For about 27 days, my grandmother begged and pleaded with the Lord to spare my mother’s life. I was only about 10 years old at the time, and I thought my mother was dead. One day, we heard a knock at the door and there was my mother, naked beneath a blanket with her hands tied up. God had brought my mother back to us.”

After that trauma, Maria Teresa encouraged her daughter to flee to the United States. For the next six years, Maria Teresa took full responsibility for Anadaisy, her two siblings, and four cousins in El Salvador. During that time, Maria Teresa started attending a parish deeply devoted to Divine Mercy. She also acquired a Divine Mercy Image, which she would keep close by for the rest of her life.

“She would encourage us to be devoted and faithful to the Divine Mercy,” Anadaisy said. “She said, ‘The Divine Mercy will protect you and your mom. Divine Mercy is going to bring you to safety with your mom. One day we are going to escape this, and we will all be together.’ She believed God would lead us all to safety, and He did.”
Despite the war, God, indeed, protected them all. “It was a very dangerous time. We used to hear bullets going back and forth. My grandmother would put us under a mattress to shield us through the night. The next morning, when the sun rose, we would see two or three people mutilated on the ground, innocent people who had nothing to do with the war.”

Anadaisy, her siblings, and her cousins finally made it safely to the United States in 1986. Maria Teresa, however, couldn’t come to the United States permanently for another 10 years. “She got a travel visa,” Anadaisy said. “She could stay with us in the United States for six months at a time. When she would visit, she would always take her Divine Mercy Image with her. She would take it everywhere she traveled, and no one was allowed to touch it. She never wanted to frame it because she didn’t want it to stick to the glass and get ruined. She kept it in a plastic covering.

“She would always say, ‘Don’t ever forget that God is always holding your hand. No matter what you go through, He is going to get you out of whatever situation you are in. You just have to be faithful.”

Toward the end of her life, Maria Teresa suffered from dementia. “Before her passing, she did not remember any of us, but even during her last two days of life, she lifted herself up to pray and requested to be taken beside her Divine Mercy Image to rest.”

Maria Teresa passed away on Sept. 4, 2019. “She was a wonderful woman who always encouraged us to be humble and good to people. She forgave from the heart and followed the Divine Mercy for much of her life.”

 

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