Juan Masia, SJ (Director of Bioethics department, Comillas University, Spain)
March 11, 2004. Terrorist acts with several blast explosions in 3 trains of Madrid. The next day several e-mail messages reached me: "Are you all right?" "Was this the Spanish September 11?" I could not really answer in the affirmative.
A reporter asked a 10-year-old child whether some of his friends were riding on those trains. The child answered: "Two hundred of my brothers were killed." He sympathized so much with the victims that he was suffering as if he were also a victim.
The corpses lied in state in the funeral parlor. An employee that could not refrain his anger and suffering exploded crying against the assassins demanding their execution. A father of one of the victims that was standing in front of the mutilated body of his son tried to console him and embracing him said: "Don't despair, we don't want retaliation, too many have already been killed, there has been too much violence. What we really desire is peace, only peace. I don't want the death of my son become fruitless. I'm also suffering now and with deep anger, but let's work together to stop all violence, Let's pray in silence..." There were tears in her voice when the reporter broadcasted his testimony.
The train from Alcala that crosses Madrid from South to North goes through a station by Comillas University. My students and myself use it daily. The bombs did not hit us, but we cannot say that we are all right. To say more exactly, something inside us has died.
The following are notes taken in my diary during the past days.
Ambulances, firemen, police... The reaction was miraculously fast and effective. All citizens of Madrid responded with amazing support. The capital has about 40,000 active medical personnel, nevertheless 70,000 medical staff volunteered immediately to offer their services. Many persons, families of the victims, were traumatized and needed psychological care. 1,300 volunteers, among them many students from our faculty of psychology, offered their services. There were more blood donors that it was needed. The residents living near the sites of the explosions gathered bringing blankets, water, food and anything needed. Taxi drivers took the initiative to write on the front windows of their cars "free of charge" and, for a few days, transported families of the victims and volunteers to the hospitals.
Many victims were migrant workers and young students. 60 were from Rumania. Naturally, some among them would not have proper documentation. Government officials tried to appease them and advised them not to be afraid to go to hospitals. The government decided to accept all of them and to offer them proper official papers. The victims and their families were granted Spanish nationality upon their request.
Hundreds of placards and candles, remembering the victims, were placed around the Atocha station. One of the placards reads, "Spaniards and foreigners embracing in blood cry for peace."
Nobody is in a good mood to have classes in the university, the day after the attacks, but the students gathered to share together their pain. Maria, a first-year student said, "A year ago we shouted against the war and they did not listen to us." Jose, a second-year student, said, "Every morning I commuted on those trains that were filled with workers, migrants and students."
In a place called, 'El Pozo', near one of the bomb attacks there is a Jesuit church. The Cardinal presided there a mass for peace and reconciliation. Many churches are celebrating funerals for the victims and prayers for peace. There were Moroccans among the victims and the terrorists. An inter-religious funeral service was celebrated in Rabat (Morocco). A Catholic bishop was praying there side by side with a Muslim imam and a Jew rabbi. They also prayed for peace.
People sympathize with politicians that, avoiding the expression "fight against terrorism," publicly announce: "let's protect our people from terrorism and liberate them from violence." Although there were 3 days left before the general elections, the political campaign was cancelled, by the agreement of all political parties.
Two million and a half citizens marched in silence through the streets of Madrid, at a demonstration for peace, on March 13, under the rain. Present were the youth, senior citizens and young couples bringing their babies along with them. The placards read "Peace." There were few national flags. In contrast with the exaggerated patriotism of the past dictatorship, now, instead of the flag, people prefer black mourning bands and ribbons for such occasions. Foreign diplomats and representatives of political parties headed the demonstration. No military uniforms were in view. The mourning concentration was, at the same time, a demonstration for peace and against war. Certainly 9/11 and 3/11 differ in many respects.
A group of Muslim women wearing their veils and typical customs participated also in the demonstration holding a placard that said, "We also feel the suffering." People welcomed them with applause.
From the very beginning there was a feeling that international terrorism was behind the bomb attacks. Nevertheless the government seemed to hide it and, instead, officials blamed the Vasc ETA terrorist band to look it appear as an internal Spanish issue. As a result, citizens and the mass media reacted with anger. The media continued questioning the motivation and results of the Iraq invasion and the opposition to the government and the party in power increased greatly. On the day of the general elections (14 March), 80 per cent of the electorate, a totally unknown historical record, participated and the Socialist party won. The change of government occurred. Some political observers had predicted that, out of fear, people would elect again the Conservatives in order to fight terrorism. Nevertheless, when freedom is reassessed and people get rid of fear, public opinion become stronger than armies and political parties. People's option for peace won the elections.
The religious community of the Company of Mary convoked a prayer meeting. The mother of one of the victims sent them the following letter that was read at the religious ceremony. The letter said: "On March 11 they killed my son. Please, offer a prayer, but not for him. He is in heaven now. Please, pray for the assassins and for those who planned the attacks, so that the wounds caused might be healed and the evil dominating them could be overcome. So much love is needed! Let us pray that they could find that love. My family has sworn in front of the corpse of our son that we want to make efforts to eradicate all violence from the world. No matter all existing terrorism, if the number of persons selecting the way of love increases, at the end we shall win with love."
I just went rapidly through my diary of the last days and wrote here my impressions. I would be grateful if also in Japan these notes could become material for reflection and reference. It is usually believed that, if terrorism augments fear also increases with the result of a strong support for war. Luckily, the opposite happened. Due to terrorism, people have felt the need to work for peace and eradicate violence. March 11 has given hope to all those of us that dragged ourselves along with the sadness of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, without being able to stop the spiral of violence.
<March 18, 2004>
===== Copyright ®1997-2007 Jesuit Social Center All Rights Reserved =====