by John Sealey
(Please see below for events and opportunities to get involved)
The martyrdom of the six Jesuits and two lay companions on November 16, 1989, was a turning point in the Salvadoran Civil War (1979–92) and even more importantly an event that brought international attention to the work of the Jesuits at the University of Central America (UCA). The martyrs insisted that a university that calls itself Christian must be committed to a preferential option for the poor, for it is the poor who reveal Jesus’ suffering, passion, and resurrection in a special way. The UCA became a social force in El Salvador that challenged the atrocities borne by the poor. The Jesuits promoted peace negotiations to end the war and confronted economic injustice and military oppression that perpetuated suffering. The life project of Jesuit Rector Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría, the UCA not only welcomed the poor, but also provided an intellectual presence “to provide science for those without science; to provide skills for those without skills; to be a voice for those without voices.”
To understand the martyrs, it is important to consider the forces that led to their assassinations. During the Salvadoran Civil War 75,000 people were killed, one-third of the country was forced to relocate internally, and another million people had to seek refuge in other countries. The tiny nation was the second highest recipient of US military aid after Israel, despite mounting evidence of widespread abuse by Salvadoran forces.
|Paintings of Jesuit Martyrs by Mary Pimmel
For a list of events Honoring the Jesuit Martyrs in pdf format Please Click Here or see listings below.
The United Nations Truth Commission found that the Salvadoran army and security forces were responsible for 85 percent of the political violence (e.g., murders, kidnapping, and torture) during the war and complicit right-wing paramilitary death squads often staffed by off-duty soldiers hired by wealthy land owners or businessmen accounted for an additional 10 percent of the violence. The leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) accounted for only 5 percent of the violence.
The Truth Commission reported that Colonel René Emilio Ponce, head of the Army’s Joint Chiefs, ordered troops to murder Fr. Ellacuría and to “leave no witnesses.” Ponce graduated from the U.S. Army School of the Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Fort Benning, Georgia, as were 19 of the 26 Salvadoran soldiers who participated in the Jesuit killings.
This realization might leave some readers confused and even ashamed, which is the identical experience of many who visit El Salvador. How could our country have knowingly supported and trained the military forces that killed the Jesuits and so many others before them such as Archbishop Romero, the four American church women, and countless catechists, indigenous, labor and community leaders? How could our country defend a brutality that inflicted so much suffering?
In the days following the assassinations, Jesuits from around the world volunteered to help fill the faculty losses at the UCA. One of them, theologian Fr. Dean Brackley, would often ask visiting delegations to El Salvador to reflect on one question in the light one’s faith, work, and understanding of the world. It is a question of ultimate meaning that the witness of the martyrs continues to beckon: “Whose interests are you defending?”
|Twenty-five years later this is an enduring legacy of the martyrs and a question we might continue to discern on a personal, institutional, and national level. The legacy and human costs of the Salvadoran Civil War also remains today as economic disparity and regional murder rates in Central America are among the highest in the world. So many of the families and children who have recently arrived at the US southern border are fleeing the violence in El Salvador and neighboring Honduras, which shares a similar history. What preference do we give these poor? Whose interests will we defend?|
|A Special Remembrance: Twenty-Five Years After a Massacre, Jesuits Reflect on the Meaning and the Martyrdom
Click Here to Read
We Remember the 25th Anniversary of the Salvadoran Jesuit Martyrs: November 16, 1989
Event listings are open to the public and arranged by city and date
Please email John Sealey if you have additions or corrections to the list below
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN
Nov. 20 6 pm lecture (LU-Mundelein Auditorium) Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ
Nov. 21 930am academic roundtable (LU-Information Commons, 4th floor)
DETROIT (University of Detroit Mercy)
MILWAUKEE (Marquette University/Gesu Parish) Website
OMAHA (Creighton University) Website