It is probably fair to say that on November 16, 1989, I did not know what a Jesuit was or where the country of El Salvador was located. A year later, as a college student, I found myself writing a paper entitled “The U.S. Involvement in El Salvador,” largely because I had come across a picture of the murdered priests lying face down in a garden of a university campus, and I could not help but dig further into the story and the complicity of the U.S. in their deaths. Little did I know then that I would later go to a Jesuit school for graduate studies, visit El Salvador numerous times and try to pass onto future generations the story of the UCA martyrs through my work in campus ministry at Santa Clara University.
Every anniversary provides an opportunity to awaken the memory of the six Jesuits and the two women and to recognize the ways in which their witness calls us to examine la realidad of the present day. Although their death helped to usher an end to the Salvadoran civil war, violence and war continue to be painful realities. Where does blood spill out in 2014 in the name of truth and justice, as it did for Ellacu and companions in 1989?
As much as this 25th anniversary of the UCA martyrs will be marked by numerous commemorative programs both in the U.S. and El Salvador, I cannot help but think of the 43 college students who were recently killed in Mexico. These aspiring teachers were apparently targeted because local government leaders and the police viewed them as a nuisance to eliminate. However, as we have learned from the UCA martyrs, the witness that is born from the conviction to love and serve cannot be silenced or eliminated. May their deaths not be in vain, but rather, serve as a reminder of our human vocation to be agents of transformation in our fragile world.