Francisco Mena Ugarte
Francisco Mena Ugarte
Francisco Mena Ugarte is the executive director of Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ), a faith-based organization dedicated to building bridges of solidarity. He is the son of Francisco Mena Sandoval, a captain of the Salvadoran army who defected to the guerillas during El Salvador’s civil war.

The day the six Jesuits, Celina and Elba were brutally assassinated is one of those days I will always remember. Like many people, I was following the news of what was happening in El Salvador’s capital during the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (guerrilla) offensive of 1989. On November 16, I remember standing behind my mother in the doorway and watching her reaction as she saw the bodies of the Jesuits lying on the ground lifeless. She just kept on repeating their names and shaking her head in disbelief, saying, “I can’t believe they did this, I can’t believe they did this.” I remember that day very well and feel now, as I did then, that it was like losing someone from my family.

In the 1970s, Segundo Montes, SJ, Ignacio Ellacuría, SJ, and other Jesuits would come over to our house for family gatherings, birthday celebrations and sometimes for Christmas dinners. They were friends to my parents, as they were to many other Salvadorans.

A word one often encounters when talking about El Salvador or Central America is MIGRATION. I, like many other Salvadorans, did not migrate from El Salvador. I had to flee El Salvador due to the war and spent 13 years outside the borders of my country. During these years I spent abroad, conversations about the Jesuits were very common, and their presence has always been with me in different ways. As a teenager, I would wear T-shirts or sweaters with the UCA logo and would walk very tall when doing so, not so much because of what it meant as a university but more because it was a direct association and connection to these Jesuits in El Salvador.

75,000 people lost their lives in the 12 years of war in El Salvador. The martyrs of the UCA are part of that number. As we prepare to commemorate the life of these great individuals, it is extremely important we remember all and not see these Jesuits’ deaths as something separate that happened during the conflict. Thousands of innocent people died and continue to die around the world because we live in societies that truly believe that going to war is a solution to a problem. We live in a world where fear is bigger than hope. Nothing positive can come from something as ugly as a war, NOTHING.

Without knowing it, I had been preparing for my current job as director of CRISPAZ since 1981, the year my family and I had to flee El Salvador. The life of the Jesuits has had a large echo in my life. The way they lived their lives inspires me to be a better human. I will forever carry them in my heart for as long as I live. They were a tremendous sign of hope in very dark times. They continuously remind me that in dark times there is always someone who cares. I began by saying the day the Jesuits, Celina and Elba were assassinated is a day I will always remember, but more importantly, I would like to end by saying that the way they lived is something I will never forget.

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