I was living at the Andre House of Hospitality (in the Catholic Worker tradition) in Phoenix when I heard. A deafening silence fell upon our living room when the anchorman announced the murders on the news. Some of our homeless guests were Central American, so it made quite an impact. It was a shock, and it wasn’t. How could it be shocking after nearly a decade of so much killing? Yet, for them to kill Jesuits so blatantly in a massacre! What more can happen? How much longer will this war drag on and at what cost?
For those of us who had been denouncing U.S. intervention in El Salvador, it was a depressing night that over time morphed into a firmer resistance, a deeper commitment to expose a policy that was supporting an immoral regime. It was also a moment that reaffirmed for me that, despite the caricatures and deprecation of many, this liberation theology coming from El Salvador was as authentic a following of Jesus Christ and his mission that I had ever encountered. The UCA massacre was one of those moments that screamed, “This is what it means to be a Christian today! How are you going to respond?”
The martyrs have made a tremendous professional impact on me. I have spent the last 15 years dedicated to researching and writing on the church in El Salvador, the ministry of Monseñor Óscar Romero, and most of all, to the intellectual contributions of Ignacio Ellacuría. The UCA’s dedication to devoting all of their intellectual capacities to the reality of the “poor majorities” inspires my life as an academic.
However, it’s really at the level of faith that they had the most impact on me. As a Christian, I am moved by their witness to a faith that does justice. Let’s face it. The Jesuits were privileged in comparison to average Salvadorans like Elba and Celina. Yet, they did not chase prestige. They did not get lost in an ivory tower intellectualism or an otherworldly faith. They sank roots in the heart of Salvadoran reality, saw the presence of God in the struggling majority, and did all they could to participate in the liberation of this people. For that, they shared in the same tragic fate of crucifixion. Given the position of privilege we have in North America, I think that the UCA martyrs provide a model for how one can live in the solidarity called for by the Gospel. If Pope Francis has reaffirmed the call for a “Church which is poor and for the poor,” then the UCA martyrs are a guide for us in that path of discipleship.