November 12, 2014 — For Jesuits who were members of the Society of Jesus on Nov. 16, 1989, the day will never be forgotten — in much the same way people remember exactly where they were when they learned America was under attack on 9/11. On that fateful early Nov. morning in 1989, six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, were assassinated at the Jesuits’ University of Central America, the UCA, in El Salvador. Twenty-five years after the tragedy, Jesuits and their lay collaborators are remembering the martyrs and marking the anniversary with a series of commemorative events.
A delegation of Jesuits from the U.S. will travel to El Salvador later this week. The group includes Jesuit provincials, the president of the Jesuit Conference, the incoming international director of Jesuit Refugee Service, the president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and the presidents of nine Jesuit universities. The group will tour the UCA, participate in a university-sponsored forum and commemorate the martyrs at Mass at the Cathedral in San Salvador and at the Romero Chapel, where Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated in 1980.
“The slaughter of eight innocents had a visceral impact on me and my Jesuit brothers, one that continues to shape us. More importantly, 25 years later, it helps highlight the continuing failures of U.S. policy toward Central America,” said Father Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference. “Back in 1989, the UCA killers were instructed to leave no witnesses, but by silencing eight people, they unintentionally and, ironically, gave voice to a generation of activists proud to walk in the footsteps of the martyrs. We need that same sense of urgency and mission now, as we struggle to help those suffering in Central America today.”
Provincials of the Society of Jesus visited the UCA's rose garden, where five of the Jesuit martyrs’ bodies were found, during a 2013 trip to El Salvador.
At the time of their deaths, Fathers Ignacio Ellacuría, SJ, Ignacio Martín-Baró, SJ, Segundo Montes, SJ, Amando López, SJ, Joaquin López y López, SJ, and Juan Ramón Moreno, SJ, were administrators at the UCA. Outspoken advocates for the poor, the priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were executed in the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 1989. The Salvadoran government initially tried to blame leftist rebels, but it was later revealed that the Jesuits were assassinated by an elite army battalion on orders from the highest echelons of the Salvadoran government.
In addition to the delegation traveling to El Salvador, more than 1,300 participants from Jesuit universities, high schools and parishes will converge on the nation’s capital this weekend for the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. The event is sponsored by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, a national faith-based social justice organization founded, in part, as a response to the murders of the Jesuit martyrs.
The Teach-In will feature a wide array of speakers and the premiere of “Blood in the Backyard,” a documentary about the El Salvador martyrs. Other scheduled events include a Capitol Hill rally and congressional visits.
Each of the nation’s 28 Jesuit college and universities will also mark the anniversary with events on campus, including lectures, panel discussions, Masses and prayer services.
Father Michael J. Sheeran, SJ, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) said, "In the 25 years since the assassinations, American Jesuit institutions have been profoundly moved by the deaths of eight ordinary people who became martyrs under extraordinary circumstances. Their lives have inspired our presidents, faculty and staff to become much more comfortable taking positions on issues ranging from the human dignity of undocumented immigrants to education of the local and international poor. We have learned to model for our students the significance of endorsing the legitimate aspirations of those who have no voice, be it the domestic poor or the victims of international lawlessness. Through our trip to El Salvador this weekend, we will honor the legacy of the martyrs and stand in solidarity with our Salvadoran brothers and sisters."