Episcopalian Killed in El Salvador

Episcopal News Service. August 20, 1981 [81227]

SAN SALVADOR -- Dr. Rosa Judith Cisneros, an attorney and Episcopalian active in social causes, was assassinated Aug. 18 by four unidentified gunmen outside her home here.

Cisneros, 45, was hit in the head and chest by several rounds when the attack occurred as she was leaving home for work early in the morning. None of the country's warring factions claimed credit for the murder, civil authorities told Church officials.

Long active in humanitarian causes, she had served four years as legal director of CREDHO, an Episcopal Church program designed to assist peasants in winning their legal rights. At the time of her death, she was director of the Demographic Institute, a private organization concerned with family planning. She had a special interest in the women of Latin America and wrote "The Juridical Condition of the Salvadorean Woman" to pursue that cause.

Presiding Bishop John M. Allin, in Dresden for the meeting of the World Council of Churches central committee, issued a statement which noted that the assassination "robs that nation of a devoted and talented leader. Her senseless murder is a personal tragedy for the Episcopal Church in El Salvador.

"As a lawyer, author, and champion of the rights of women, and courageous humanitarian, Dr. Cisneros won the respect and trust of the public community. As a committed Christian, and through her work with CREDHO, Rosa won the hearts and admiration of all who labor as followers of the Prince of Peace.

"My first reaction to the news of her murder was: 'How senseless!' Indeed, how senseless it is that those who work to better and save lives, themselves pay the ultimate cost. Rosa knew, understood and accepted this human tragedy. She never counted the cost of discipleship and service. And now she joins the ranks of those martyrs who have willingly and fearlessly borne this burden. And, as we mourn our loss at her passing, we can but recall another martyr and servant, Stephen, who cried 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,' and 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them."'

Bishop G. Edward Haynsworth, Episcopal Church Center partnership officer for Latin American and acting bishop of El Salvador, was here at the time of the assassination and spoke of the "deep personal affection in which we all held her. She's probably been a help to each one of us at some time."

He described her "as a very capable lawyer with a tremendous concern for the rights of people, especially the rights of women in Latin America. She was an extremely courageous person and her death is probably due to the fact that she never took seriously the idea that her life could be endangered."

Haynsworth was in the country to preside at the annual diocesan convention.

Cisneros is the second member of the Episcopal Church to be killed in the violence that is swamping this Central American country. Last year the South African ambassador, Archibald Dunn, was found dead after he was held hostage for several months.

On several occasions the Episcopal Church in El Salvador has pleaded for the cessation of violence and the establishment of peace. At its convention last year, the diocese spoke out against the violence that has taken more than 20,000 lives. The convention plea was "that our people be allowed to live in a true participatory democracy based on respect for life, integrity, dignity and liberty."

The plea won support from Allin, Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury and the Episcopal Church Executive Council, which petitioned the Organization of American States and the U.S. government to act in the matter.

In mid-spring of this year, 77 Episcopal Church bishops pressed once more for the end of military support and loosening of restrictions on refugees from El Salvador.

A memorial service was held here Aug. 19.