Disappeared’ children at heart of priest’s work

Published May 1, 2005

Rev. Jon de Cortina, S.J., a Roman Catholic priest who co-founded an association in El Salvador that searches for children who disappeared in that country’s 12-year civil war, visited the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster during Holy Week in March.

Sponsored by Anglican, Lutheran, Unitarian churches and other groups, Mr. de Cortina’s visit marked a week of ecumenical action in Vancouver that commemorated the 25th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero. The Salvadoran bishop, who publicly supported land reform and criticized government power and the oppression of the poor, was assassinated while he celebrated Mass on March 24, 1980.

Mr. de Cortina, who was raised in Spain, himself once narrowly escaped death in El Salvador. In 1989, while he was away from the Jesuit residence at the University of Central America in San Salvador, soldiers murdered six Jesuit priests and two female workers. Mr. de Cortina spoke about his organization, called Pro-Busqueda, which was founded in 1994, two years after the end of the civil war. The group has documented 653 cases of disappeared children and has solved 204 of them, often through DNA testing and in co-operation with the University of California at Berkeley’s Human Rights Centre. Many children were kidnapped by the army in a campaign of intimidation. Some have been reunited with their families.


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