Fr. Charles Currie, SJ, is the executive director of Jesuit Commons, which seeks to foster collaborations across the global Jesuit network that will benefit poor and marginalized communities. In 1989, Fr. Currie was named special assistant to Georgetown University’s president, charged with coordinating the university's response to the assassination of the Jesuit priests and two lay women in El Salvador.
Creating a Just Future
In prophetic words at the 32nd General Congregation in 1975, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, alerted Jesuits to the reality that we would pay a price if we committed to a faith that does justice. On November 16, 1989, we had perhaps the most graphic example of how that prophecy has come true when six Jesuits and their two co-workers were brutally slain outside the Jesuit residence at the Central American University (UCA) in El Salvador.
Their assassins were soldiers, most of whom recently trained at the School of the Americas, using U.S-supplied weaponry, and firing on the command of a Jesuit high school graduate, Lt. Espinosa.
Why were they killed? Because, they were living a faith that does justice; they were telling the truth in a society built on lies; and they were trying to be the voice of the voiceless and power for the powerless. Thus, they threatened the powerful, especially the military, in the midst of a bloody civil war.
The Salvadoran martyrs we commemorate worked tirelessly and ceaselessly, teaching, researching, writing, pastoring, to serve the poor and oppressed.
They were silenced by assassins’ bullets as they lay helplessly on the ground. But their voices would continue to cry out through those who gather each year — this year for the 25th time — in tribute to their lives and their deaths. Thousands of campesinos will join all segments of Salvadoran society and hundreds from the international solidarity community in proclaiming their “presente,” linking them to the martyrs.
Today, Jesuits, their colleagues and Jesuit institutions continue to speak of a faith that does justice and a fundamental option for the poor, but too often we hesitate to pursue such a commitment too literally.
Fathers Ellacuría, Martin-Baró, Segundo Montes (Lt. Espinosa’s high school principal) and their brothers were less timid. In their new kind of a university, they committed themselves tirelessly to the “national reality” in their teaching, research and outreach. They would argue that rational, ethical Christian intellectuals could not live in a situation as desperate as that in El Salvador without trying to change it.
Our own “national reality” today comprises a world where over a billion people are desperately poor and go hungry, including one in five children in the U.S. We live in a violent society, a society of abuse in all too many forms. In our global village, there is an ever-widening gap between rich and poor and an increasing concern for the future of the environment that sustains us.
The deaths we commemorate raise serious questions for each of us, individually and institutionally. The United States is not El Salvador, but we honor the memory of those who gave their lives for an ideal of how they and their university should respond to their milieu, their “national reality.”
Anniversaries need to be as much about the future as about the past. As we commemorate what happened 25 years ago, we are challenged to be as generous in creating a just future as were the martyrs we celebrate.