SAN SALVADOR (CNS)--As Maj. Roberto D'Aubuisson, the man reputed to have ordered the 1980 murder of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, lay dying in the hospital, his sister beseeched him to ask forgiveness for his actions.

``I took him by the hand,'' recalled Maria Luisa D'Aubuisson de Martinez, a committed follower of Archbishop Romero. ```Roberto,' I said to him, `You have to die in peace. I beg you, deliver yourself up to Romero, ask him for forgiveness from the innermost part of your heart, this'll give you peace, Roberto,''' she said. He reacted by momentarily opening his eyes, drawing her close to his face, then bursting into tears, she said. By that time he was practically unable to speak due to throat cancer that, weeks later, killed him. Eight years later, as she helped with preparations for the March commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Archbishop Romero's death, D'Aubuisson de Martinez admitted having lingering doubts about her brother's final thoughts and whether he had any regrets about his part in El Salvador's bloody past. ``I don't know if he meant leave me alone with this, or if it was an outburst of emotion. I never knew what was going through his mind,'' she said in an interview with Catholic News Service of that day at the hospital in February 1992. Even in El Salvador, where the 12-year civil war often divided families, two siblings could not have been more different. Roberto, five years the elder, gained notoriety for his persuasive character and skills as a military officer, which he used to organize death squads to hunt out political opponents and prevent what he perceived as the threats posed by ``international communism'' in the turbulent 1970s and '80s.

For her part, Maria Luisa turned to the Catholic Church for her formation and found her inspiration in the doctrine of the preferential option for the poor and later in the homilies of Archbishop Romero. But when young, the two shared a close relationship, D'Aubuisson de Martinez told CNS. Their paths only began to diverge when Roberto entered El Salvador's infamous military school and went on to the U.S. School of the Americas, then based in Panama, while Maria Luisa went to Guatemala as a volunteer missionary with the Sisters of the Ascension. ``The two years I spent in Guatemala working with poor indigenous communities changed my life. Having come from a very sheltered family, I came face to face with the harsh reality of poverty and injustice. This made me take a very different path than that of Roberto,'' she said. ``He became a victim of a system that did not allow any other type of thoughts other than an anti-communism mentality,'' she added. The political situation deteriorated in El Salvador following a massive electoral fraud engineered by the army in 1972. At the time, Maria Luisa was organizing agricultural cooperatives in the east of the country to demand land rights from large property owners, while Roberto had joined the intelligence services and was organizing vigilante groups in the countryside to root out troublemakers. When, on one occasion, the D'Aubuisson name appeared in the intelligence reports he was handed, Roberto reproached his sister.
She recounted: ``He told me that it was shameful and humiliating for him to find my name mentioned. He was beside himself with anger. He told me that if I was arrested to expect no help from him.'' During those turbulent days, on more than one occasion they openly argued about Archbishop Romero's use of the pulpit to denounce social injustices and the repression of opposition protests by the state security forces, she remembered. ``He warned me that we were all what he called `useful fools.' ... He said that the social movement and some members of the church were being used by international communism to destroy the country,'' she recalled. ``I told him: `Open your eyes Roberto, this situation is not brought in from outside, there are real causes to the injustice that cannot be resolved by force,''' she said. But she soon realized that contradicting him was to no avail. As her involvement with community groups took her into close contact with the incipient armed guerrilla groups, the distance between her and her brother became ever wider. After a lone gunman killed Archbishop Romero March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass, all contact was broken off between them. Rumors abounded that Maj. D'Aubuisson was behind the killing; a truth commission later found he was. D'Aubuisson de Martinez said that, ironically, it was then her turn to feel ``shame and humiliation'' for her family name. She felt people pointed her out in public places and began distrusting her loyalties.
``If I felt any guilt for him at that time, I think it was thinking that having had access to him, I should have done something. But I soon realized that it was naive of me to think that way,'' she said. It was not until the civil war was over and her brother was dying of cancer in late 1991 that D'Aubuisson de Martinez decided to go and see him again. Every day for the last three months of her brother's life, D'Aubuisson de Martinez visited him, sitting at his bedside while he watched endless TV programs, sometimes reading him the Bible, as he asked her to do. ``I had not gone there to tell him he was a bastard, but to see how he was spiritually, what he was thinking at that moment, and, naively perhaps, to see if I could ask him about (Archbishop) Romero,'' she explained. ``That was the only time I broached with him the subject,'' she said. ```I now regret not having done so at a time when he was more lucid,'' she added softly. END --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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