“We feel we have to keep reminding ourselves of that generosity”
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of the 6 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter at the UCA in San Salvador. I will not try to offer a comprehensive account of their lives, accomplishments, or impact on El Salvador and the world; it has been done before by people who are much better equipped to offer such analyses and reflections:
If you have a few minutes, take the time to watch this video of Dean Brackley, a BC alum, a Jesuit, and an absolutely incredible person, who volunteered to work at the UCA immediately after the Jesuits were killed in 1989. My friends and I got to meet him last spring, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that his words to us over just a few minutes were extremely challenging and even life-changing. Unfortunately, the video cuts off suddenly… I’m looking for the next part though and will post it when I find it.
When I first began to study about El Salvador, to be honest, I did not understand why there was so much focus on the martyrs. It seemed to me like it was just one more case of the church’s self-indulgent preoccupation with hierarchy and the laity that distracted attention away from the ones who really suffered: the 75,000 people, mostly poor and marginalized, who died during the war. So many Salvadoran people were killed, so why did it seem like the face of the war had become that of foreign missionaries who held positions of institutional power? I intentionally looked past the story of the Jesuits, and even Romero, instead wanting to learn about the Salvadorans who remain mostly nameless and faceless to those of us who are far away.
But while I was in El Salvador, everywhere I turned, I was reminded of the martyrs. I listened to the stories of people who had lived through the war, people who had lost loved ones, spent years fighting with the FMLN, and devoted their lives since the war to rebuilding their communities, and every single one of them spoke about the martyrs. Each person mentioned something different about why the martyrs were important to him or her, but it made me realize that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture when I did not fully engage the story of the Jesuits and how they came to give their lives for El Salvador’s poor. The poor pointed me towards the Jesuits, and so it is to their stories that I return now, again and again.
Along with Romero and the four churchwomen, the Jesuits continue to inspire in large point because they did not have to be there. Their lives, and even more, their deaths, are the greatest example we have of “making an option for the poor.” At any time, they could have called their superior and been immediately evacuated (probably much to the satisfaction and relief of many in Rome). But instead, they opted to stay, they opted to keep speaking truth to power, they opted for bold and radical love. Perhaps they are best remembered because they were murdered by killing squads, but their lives were remarkable because they lived in such a way that belied the notion that being murdered was the worst possible thing.
I talk about wanting to be a Jesuit all the time. I moan and complain about how women cannot be ordained, and how even though there are options available to me in the Episcopal church and breakaway Catholic communities, I could still not be a Jesuit like I want. I have no doubt that women have what it takes to do everything that these 6 men did, but reflecting today on their faith, bravery, and commitment to the poor makes me realize just how much I am asking for when I say that is the life that I desire. I hope everyone will keep El Salvador, with its continuing struggles especially in recent weeks, in your thoughts and prayers in the coming days, that the spirit of the martyrs may continue to inspire and challenge a new generation of leaders.